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One of the world’s highest capital cities, Bogotá is touted as “2,600 meters closer to the stars.”
While that elevation (8,530 feet) means you’re more likely to be shrouded in clouds than gazing at a starry night sky, when it comes to coffee and culture, the metropolitan city does not disappoint.
Here are some of the best ways to experience the city:
Botero and beyond
Bogotá isn’t known for its art scene, but it should be. The city packs a punch with its numerous art galleries, of which there are more than 100, many of which are either free or inexpensive to enter. Every October, the city hosts the International Art Fair of Bogotá, a four-day extravaganza of artists showcasing their contemporary works, in a variety of formats and mediums.
The Museo de Arte de la Universidad Nacional is one of the most established galleries, bringing together some of the most experimental and ambitious projects in the city. El Parqueadero, located on the first floor of the Museo de Arte del Banco de la República, provides a blank canvas for artistic productions in a space that started off as the museum’s parking lot.
Galería MÜ is one of the first galleries in the country dedicated solely to fine art photography and focuses on showcasing Colombian artists as well as hosting workshops on the history of photography.
Museo Botero pays homage to Colombia’s most famous artist, Fernando Botero, with his signature plump women and full-figured fruits. Located in a beautiful colonial mansion whose rooms wrap around a courtyard, the gallery is free to enter. It houses 208 pieces from Botero’s art collection, 123 of these are works he created and 85 are from his private collection of renowned international artists, which include Picasso, Money and Chagall.
A look at the walls
Bogotá has a unique street art culture, which is as much a part of the city as the walls themselves. Local artists are allowed to take over sections of the city’s buildings, and the result is a colorful, engaging and conversation-sparking collection of murals.
Aptly-named Bogotá Graffiti Tour offer two free tours a day. The graffiti art provides an insightful lens into a complex city, and taking a tour is a fantastic way of understanding the social and political commentaries this artform seeks to convey.
Latin American history shines at some of Bogotá’s best museums. Aside from the well-known Museo del Oro – Museum of Gold – which houses more than 55,000 pieces of gold, many of which are sacred Amazonian ornaments, the city offers numerous other institutions to lose yourself in for the day.
Santa Clara is a former church turned museum, and a stunning colonial-era building built between 1629 and 1647. It costs less than a dollar to visit and see paintings by some of Colombia’s most revered baroque artists, alongside intricate gold floral motifs and religious statues.
Museo Nacional de Colombia is located in a former prison, designed by English architect Thomas Reed in 1874. Ethnology, art and archaeology are all on display here dating from 10,000 BCE across 17 exhibition rooms.
Museo Colonial is another must-see museum, located in a building that is historical itself – built back in 1610 as a former Jesuit school, it oozes history. The museum is home to a wide variety of paintings, sculptures, antique furniture and decorative arts.
A cup of café
No Bogotá guide would be complete without mentioning coffee. Although the city isn’t located within the coffee triangle, the region famous for its coffee production, numerous coffee shops have sprung up in recent years now that the country isn’t exporting all of its best beans.
Historically, Colombians drank pasilla, the dregs of the coffee industry, which was brewed up into a wincingly strong tinto. Luckily things have since changed, and although you’ll see locals enjoying a cup of tinto from a street vendor, the good stuff is not to be missed.
Lucia Londoño Tostadores and Varietale both offer great coffee tasting tours without leaving the city. Visitors learn about how coffee is grown, harvested, roasted and brewed and get a step closer to becoming coffee connoisseurs.
And those who would rather skip straight to the coffee are spoiled for choice.
Arte y Pasión Café in Plaza Bolívar is a charming, old coffee house with vintage décor. Amor Perfecto in Chapinero is one of the country’s first specialty coffee shops and worth a visit for their award-winning coffee and unusual methods, such as the honey process – coffee that is left to dry in its own pulp, creating a sweeter brew.
Azahar in Parque de la 93 is a chic spot that uses coffee sourced directly from farmers, and they’re fully transparent about their prices too.
A market for distinctive souvenirs
Worth the schlep north, Usaquén is a neighborhood that’s somehow both charmingly old fashioned and trendy, with a buzzing food scene.
But the best activity is the Sunday flea market, which is open from around 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (give or take, after all this is Colombia). Usaquén market has endless local crafts, including pottery, soap, jewelry, shoes, deli items, and other handmade items.
Climbing for a view and searching for species
A trip up to Monserrate on a clear day takes visitors a little bit higher still for a panoramic bird’s eye view of the sprawling city. The funicular offers a stomach-churning wobbly ride, or there are copious stairs. There’s a church at the top, and a couple of overpriced restaurants, but the real attraction here is the city skyline.
Another wonderful outdoor activity is visiting the Bogotá Botanical Garden, an oasis of calm amid the chaotic city. Colombia is one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet, and the gardens have an impressive selection of flora from the many ecosystems, with a particular emphasis on Andean and páramo species.
Flavors of Colombia
One of the best things about Bogotá is the burgeoning food scene, and the fact that visitors spending dollars enjoy a great exchange rate, meaning you can eat Michelin-star standard food that won’t break the bank.
Leonor Espinosa is one of the country’s most beloved chefs, and with good reason. She sources fresh food from local farmers and is passionate about weaving cultural traditions into her menus. LEO, her namesake restaurant, offers a 13-course tasting menu.
At Matiz, meanwhile, every dish is like edible art, with the menu casting far and wide across land and sea for its ingredients.
A more traditional, homespun experience can be found at La Puerta Falsa (False Door) restaurant in La Candelaria, where diners can slurp a bowl of warming ajiaco soup – made with three types of potatoes and chicken and served with avocado and rice – and finish up with a hot chocolate, of course dipping almojabana bread into it.
The must-not-miss destination, however, is Andrés Carne de Res, located in Chía, about an hour’s ride from Bogotá depending on where you’re staying. But most people who flock to this infamous institution don’t go for the food – they go for the party.
Much better suited to non-pandemic times, the gargantuan restaurant seats 2,000 people – and they still have to turn people away at their doors. The menus are 40 pages long, diners leave their tables halfway through the main course to salsa (there are five dance floors) and there’s also, for some reason, a 25-foot climbing wall.
Alongside the DJ there are multiple live bands on hand, as well as a few hammocks in the parking lot for anyone too tired to make the drive back to the city.
Lucy Sherriff is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Bogotá and covers environment, travel and gender issues.