What to do in and around Bogota ?
Colombia’s capital city, Bogota, is inhabited by more than 8 millions of people. It stays the most visited city of the country even if it doesn’t look very attractive at the first place. With its overspread surface, going to a place to the opposite one in the city can take you more than 1 hour. Bogota is well-known for its horrible traffic. And this for a good reason, it doesn’t have a metro system like other big capital cities. What would look like one is called Transmilenio but this is a bus system who has its own lane. So no risk of traffic jam but it is always crowded. Of course, to move 8 millions of people you need space… So between a saturated transportation system, traffic ways completely stucked, moving around Bogota is not easy.
But what to see in Bogota and around it ?
Beside that, Bogota has some interesting activities to offer if you have days to spend in the Colombian capital city.
This is the thing not to miss ! Monserrate is a mountain/hill at east of the city. Easily accessible by cable car and/or funicular or even by foot, it offers a spectacular view of Bogota. Up there, you will find a church, some restaurants and souvenirs boutiques. I advise you to go there when the sky is clear. The view will be even more fantastic !
Price ticket round-trip in cable car : 21 000 COP
I wanted to go up in cable car and go down with the funicular, but on that day, the funicular was shut down for works.
This is the historical center of Bogota. Geographically, it is not really in the center but more at the east. Down there, you will find some colonial architecture specific to colonial towns in Colombia. Colorful houses, paved alleys. But in this area are located the best cultural attractions of the capital city such as museums, like Gold Museum or Botero Museum, or theaters.
J’ai fait la visite de la Candelaria avec un free walking tour, l’un des meilleurs que j’ai pu faire, avec cette compagnie ici.
I visited La Candelaria with a free walking tour, one of the best I made, with this company here.
Simon Bolivar Park
This is a park exactly located in the middle of the city on a geographical view. With his huge area, this is the ideal place for a perfect nature getaway.
It is situated next to the Simon Bolivar Park. Even if they look close on a map, don’t get wrong that you will need at least 15-20 minutes to get to one or another.
This is probably a name that doesn’t ring a bell to you, and yet, this city located at 1 hour drive from Bogota has the most famous monument of the country : the Salt Cathedral ! Yes … A cathedral entirely made of salt ! And I didn’t get there ! The entrance is super expensive : 57 000 COP and the monument itself didn’t attract me at all.
Jaime Duque Park
Instead, I went to a park I didn’t know about at all before my friends told me : Jaime Duque Park. Also at 1 hour drive from Bogota. This is a familial park very appreciated from Bogotanos because it has some attractions and a zoo. To make it simple, this is not a park with European or American standings. It stays cute and nice but no more.
Villa de Leyva
This is a very beautiful colonial city located at 3 hours and a half from Bogota. It is really appreciated of Bogotanos for a week-end getaway outside of the city. White paved streets and houses are very characteristic of Villa de Leyva. You will find numerous delicious cafés and restaurants, I was surprised to find that much in such small village. I really like the calm and relaxing vibe of Villa de Leyva despite the fact that it is quite touristy.
This is an artesanial town located at 40 minutes bus ride from Villa de Leyva. This is a very colorful place a little alike Guatapé. And in the main street, you will be spoiled with artesanial shops. Raquira is well-known for its pottery and hammocks. Not far from here, you can get to admire some waterfalls still preserved from tourism. I went there with a local guide and he confessed me not wanting to show them too much to everyone just to keep them a little bit more secret.
Moving in Bogota
Like I said, Bogota is a huge city ! But for a capital city … it doesn’t have a metro system ! Yep, really surprising !! So you can imagine that all land ways are saturated all the time … except Sunday morning ! The only public transportation system is the bus !
And the bus … nobody recommend me to take it ! Very practical !
Why ? Everybody say this wasn’t safe as a foreigner to take it because a lot of robberies happen. This is more likely because they are all and all the time overcrowded !
But if you are willing to go on a bus adventure, there are 2 types of buses : the Transmilenio and the others. The Transmilenio is a bus system who got his own proper line. On other words, there will be no traffic jam ! Perfect … unless there is space to get into !
Usually, stops are not only for one bus line. Several different buses pass over this same station, which means you will need to fight over to get onboard if people in front of you wasn’t expecting this bus !
The other buses are those we are usually use to. They take normal traffic ways. There are facing traffic jam and it can be endless between traffic and repeated unknown stops.
So how to move around Bogota ? In taxi. Or more specifically in Uber. Even Uber is not legal in Colombia. This is the most safe way because the price is already set before. So, the driver has no interest to deviate of the initial itinerary.
« Normal » taxis have taximeters but some of them are tampered. So, it means you have 2 prices : local one and tourist/foreigner one. It is a bit out of luck. Then adding to that, if the driver is honest or not, if he will drive more just to take advantage of you. And finally, the final price is just incomprehensible. The price ride is a number, it starts at 25 and go up from XX to XX. At the end, you need to multiply this number by 100 and you got your final price. But for some unknown reasons, I never got the right amount.
For example : I took a taxi from Salitre Terminal to my accommodation near Bolivar Park
I immediately ask, before to get in, the approximatif price’s ride. The driver told me between 8000 and 10000 COP. Very well then. He seems to drive honestly and takes roads I recognize, everything is fine. The taximeter doesn’t go skyrock, I feel confident. Arriving at my destination, 81 is writing on the taximeter which the driver converts to 8100 COP, clearly displayed !! And there, he asks me to pay 10000 COP … WTF ! And why, how ? No idea. And by the way, why to argue for something that anyway is already lost. As usual, principle and honesty are not there
Anyway, I don’t recommend you to hail for a taxi in the streets. If you want one, call one !
I prefer to recommend you Uber even if this is illegal … but I consider that we are not pigeons to whom we’ve been robbed off because we are Western ! An other taxi app is Cabify, same, still illegal. But in Buenos Aires, this one is legal. An other one is called Beat. It is becoming popular among Bogotanos because its price is lower than Cabify or Uber. The only downside is that there are less cars available.
Getting around Bogota
If you want to go on a week end trip near Bogota like Villa de Leyva for example, you need to take a bus. To do so, you will need to go to one of the two bus terminals of Bogota : Salitre Terminal or Norte Terminal. Choose the one close to your accommodation. All buses leave first from Salitre located more in the center of the city and then go to Norte, more in the north of Bogota, to pick other passengers.
Buses are quite comfortable. Their condition is pretty good, some are news and others more older, it depends of you luck. There are no toilets in the buses so you will need to be patient. And usually, the buses are on time !
Bogota hasn’t left me a very positive impression. I wasn’t thrilled nor disappointed. I just didn’t get along with the city. It deserves a quick stop though but no more than 2 days. However, I loved Villa de Leyva and Raquira ! The colonial history is found in those cities more than the rest of the country. A little more further away, you can find Barichara but I decided not to go.