Bogota is a city that receives mixed reviews from travelers. The sprawling capital of Colombia is chaotic, crowded, and on the outside, not very charming. It doesn’t have the colorful colonial streets of Cartagena, nor does it have the vibrant character of Medellin. We’re not off to a good start here, are we? It is likely that you’ll be passing through Bogota while backpacking through Colombia, so let’s make the most of it.
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Table of Contents
- How To Get to Bogota
- Where To Stay in Bogota
- The Best Things To Do in Bogota
- Nightlife in Bogota
- Safety Tips for Bogota
- More on Colombia
How To Get to Bogota
As the capital and largest city, Bogota is the cheapest entry and exit point to and from Colombia. That’s usually how most travelers end up here, rather than by choice. Fly into Bogota’s airport, and it’s a pretty cheap taxi or Uber to anywhere in town. It only took about 20 minutes for me to get from Chapinero to the airport, at a cost of about $6 USD.
Even if you’re already in Colombia and need to get to and from Bogota, flying is the best option. Unless you’re in the neighboring Boyaca region, flights are safer and just as cheap as a bus. If you’re a backpacker on a budget, use Skiplagged to find the cheapest flights possible. It’s free to use and I’ve saved thousands of dollars on flights since I started using it religiously.
Bus travel in Colombia is hit-or-miss. I won’t sugarcoat it. Colombia has become more dangerous in recent years. Not necessarily for travelers, but definitely for their stuff. Buses, especially night buses, are great ways for malicious people to capitalize on a sleeping or careless traveler. If you insist on taking a bus, shoot for a day bus, even if it means losing a day of adventuring. Check out our guide for more on bus travel in Colombia.
Oh, and before you go, make sure to have good travel insurance handy while you’re off adventuring across the world. I use SafetyWing to keep me covered throughout my travels for as low as $40 a month.
Where To Stay in Bogota
Bogota is a massive city with many neighborhoods. There are two that you’ll likely be staying at as a tourist. The first is the historic city center, home to most of the museums and attractions within Bogota itself. The second is Chapinero, a lively district home university students and poppin’ nightlife. I’ve stayed at both neighborhoods, and I personally preferred the historic center. Chapinero is more livable if you plan on staying long-term, but if you’re only in Bogota for a few days, I’d recommend staying in the touristic center.
A good hostel in Chapinero is Selina. You know what to expect from Selinas. They are beautiful properties with great amenities at a budget-friendly price. I try not to stay at big chain hostels, but since Chapinero doesn’t have many options, Selina is your safest bet.
In the historic center, you’ll find many more options. The Cranky Croc Hostel is the most popular in Bogota. You’ll also find a few Colombian chain hostels such as Masaya and Viajero Hostel. Neither of them have disappointed me at any of their locations. Selina also has a location in La Candelaria.
The Best Things To Do in Bogota
Bogota actually has a surprising amount of attractions and activities to keep you busy. Whether you want to explore the city’s historic streets and museums or escape the hustle and bustle for some natural beauty, Bogota’s got something for you.
This big hill overlooking the city is an essential visit for anyone traveling to Bogota. You can take the funicular up Cerro Monserrat for an epic view. It’s the only way you could possibly grasp just how huge this city actually is.
The Gold Museum (Museo de Oro)
This collection of gold artifacts is breathtakingly impressive. It always bummed me out that so much gold was melted by the Spanish, so visiting this museum gives you a look at the treasures that could have still existed today.
Zipaquira Salt Cathedral and Lake Guatavita
In a small town outside of Bogota, you’ll find the otherworldly Zipaquira Salt Cathedral. It’s one of the most unique things you can do in Colombia. You can visit on your own, but I’d recommend going with a tour since most tours usually pair it up with the stunning Lake Guatavita.
Comuna El Paraiso
You’ve likely heard of Medellin’s famed Comuna 13. With the successful revitalization of Comuna 13, Bogota has an answer, although it’s yet to gain a lot of traction. I first visited Comuna 13 in 2016, years before it became the extremely popular tourist attraction that it is today. I visited Comuna Paraiso in early 2022, and felt a similar vibe to Comuna 13 back in 2016. You’ll hardly find any other tourists around, although you might want to be careful exploring this place on your own. I went with a guided tour from GetYourGuide, and I was the only person in the entire group. It isn’t too hard to visit on your own, just involving a cable car ride from the Portal Tunel Transmilenio station. However, being the only tourist up here might attract some unwanted attention, especially with Bogota’s infamy for how unsafe it is.
Also, I’ve looked up the tour I took with GetYourGuide and it’s not there anymore, so I’ll just have to give up that sweet affiliate money and give you my tour guide’s WhatsApp number: +57 313 3611084
His name is Francisco and he is a rad dude.
Villa de Leyva and Raquira
Although I’d recommend longer than a day trip to visit these places, you could do both of them in a weekend. The bus to either Raquira or Villa de Leyva will take about four hours, depending on the traffic getting out of Bogota. Both of these towns are in the stunning state of Boyaca, whose lush rolling green hills are reminiscent of the Alps. For a small town getaway, you couldn’t dream up better places.
La Candelaria is the most scenic part of Bogota’s historic district. You’ll likely end up here if you’re staying in the center. Colorful, colonial-style buildings line these narrow streets. The towering, green hills of Bogota serve as a beautiful contrasting backdrop to the colorful buildings. La Candelaria is the main tourist hub of Bogota, so just roam around, shop, eat good food, and do ya’ thing.
Plaza Bolivar and Carrera Septima
Plaza Bolivar would be what I’d consider to be the main plaza of touristic Bogota. On weekends, you’ll find market stalls and lots of people. This historic plaza is highlighted by a beautiful church and other historic buildings. Walk down Carrera Septima and you’ll find more street vendors and a good vibe.
Chorro de Quevedo
This little area of Bogota’s historic district might be my favorite in the city. It’s a popular local hangout where rolos come to drink chicha and listen to cuenteros. Storytellers, comedians, and other performers will fill up the square with crowds of eager listeners. Despite being pretty fluent in Spanish, I missed practically every punchline because of the thick rolo slang involved. Regardless, it was a fun experience. This place is also a poppin’ nightlife hub so stick around for some drinks and fun times.
Here are a few other ideas for things to do in and around Bogota.
Nightlife in Bogota
If there’s one thing Bogota excels at, it is nightlife. It is one of the best party cities in Colombia. I only have one word for you: Theatron.
This monstrous nightclub in Chapinero is home to thirteen different dance floors and boasts a capacity of 5,000 people. It feels like a mega mall just for nightlife. Theatron used to be a gay club, and while it’s still a huge staple of gay nightlife in Bogota, the crowd is much more of a mix these days. There are outdoor areas and stages. Each dance floor feels like its own individual nightclub, with its own bar and DJs. You’ll find music ranging from salsa to reggaeton to house and more. It is one heck of an experience, and easily one of my favorite nightclubs in the entire world.
That’s truly all I have to say for nightlife in Bogota. I’m sure there are other places to go out and have fun, but for me, it’s Theatron or bust.
Safety Tips for Bogota
While I don’t consider Colombia to be as dangerous as people make it out to be, Bogota definitely has some sketchy neighborhoods. My best advice to you would be to follow these rules:
Be wary on public transportation
Taxis and Ubers are pretty affordable in Bogota. However, if you insist on taking public transportation, always keep an eye on your stuff. If something or someone gives you bad vibes, step away from the situation.
Keep your belongings strapped to you at all times
Wear your backpack on your front, no matter how corny it may seem. All it takes is for someone to grab your phone out of your hand or pocket and run out the door before it’s gone forever.
Stick to well-lit and busy areas at night
There’s safety in numbers. All it takes is straying down one dark, empty street for you to be separated from your belongings, or worse.
Taxis are affordable and worth it
I love walking everywhere, but even I’ll recognize when it’s not the best decision to walk somewhere. Taxis are worth paying for to get from place to place. Sure, you might save a few bucks by walking, but you might lose a lot more than a few bucks if you find yourself in the wrong neighborhood.
Bogota isn’t a favorite for travelers, but with a good attitude and open mind, it doesn’t have to be all bad! Like I said, I enjoyed my time in Bogota, but I’ve also been told that I’d be able to find fun in an office supplies store. Bogota is understandably a quick stopover for most travelers, but hey, make the most of it! Bogota can be a great time, with enough highlights to keep you busy for a few days.
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More on Colombia
The Backpacker’s Guide to Medellin, Colombia
One Month Colombia Backpacking Itinerary
The Best Places to Work Remotely in Colombia
The Best Party Cities in Colombia
One thought on “The Backpacker’s Guide to Bogota, Colombia | 2023”
I liked my stays in Bogotá, the museums and the architecture in particular, but it is true that it took me a few days the first time to feel comfortable. You have to go gradually, but in the end it’s no worse than anywhere else.