Bogota | Tips & Tricks to survive the city

Bogota is the capital city of Colombia, for us it was the starting point of our adventure travelling the South American continent.  It sits at 2640m above sea level which makes it almost double the highest point in the UK, Ben Nevis at 1345m.  I struggled to get acclimatised, Lynne on the other hand didn’t really feel it at all.  Here’s some tips & tricks to help.

La Candelaria the historical heart of the city was our base to explore and is considered one of the safer areas. The further you get away from the centre the less safe it felt although we never quite felt at ease anywhere.  It is an edgy and quite dirty city the exhaust fumes adding to the difficulty of the altitude.

Bogota
Plaza Bolivar 

Our tips & tricks to surviving the altitude

Altitude sickness or Acute Mountain Sickness(ams) known as Soroche in Bogota can be pretty inhibiting when you are affected by it and can become quite dangerous and even life threatening if not acted upon when the symptoms appear.  I was affected by it quite badly while in Bogota and wished I’d of know a little more about it before hand.

Symptoms

You may get a headache which can be quite bad, feel sick and dizzy, tired and short of breath.  A loss of appetite is also common.  These symptoms may get worse at night.

What to do

The ideal thing to do is to go down to a lower altitude but if you have flown into Bogota then this may not be possible straight away.  You should rest and take it easy don’t go any higher until you start to acclimatise which could take a couple of days sometimes longer.  They advise ibuprofen but I find it’s bad for the stomach so use paracetamol. Avoid alcohol drink plenty of water and eat food high in carbs.

How to get to Bogota

We flew from Manchester via Frankfurt and had done quite a bit of research to find the best entry point to the continent and Bogota was the cheapest for us.  We then built our plans around this. If your are already in the americas cheap flights can be found from most of the neighbouring countries.

Buses are also and option if you are already in Colombia there is an extensive network of bus routes to the major cities the distances can be misleading though as Colombia is a very large country.

Getting around Bogota

Basically apart from getting from the airport and back we walked everywhere.  We had been advised not to use the taxis and being new to the country were not yet confident enough to use the busses. There is a bus from the airport to the centre of the historic district which was where we were staying but as we arrived after dark and didn’t know where the hostel was we had arranged transport via the hostel which worked out quite well as he took us right to the door.

Just a side note about navigating a new town without mobile service. We are so used to being able to find anything now we just search and then get directions to almost anywhere without any hardship.  Losing that ability is difficult.  We ended up getting a local Simm for my phone which so far we have found essential.

We got a Claro Simm which has twelve gig of data useable over a month which can be topped up.  If your going to do this take your passport to the official store in the city. Stand in line in the first queue just in at the doors there you will be given a number to wait your turn to be seen. Once you have this ticket it’s a quite easy process even without knowing much Spanish.  They even fit the Simm for you.

Our tips & tricks for getting cash

You will need to change money at the airport to pay for your bus or transport into the city.  This is best done at the exchange desk right next to the exit where the taxis wait.  Don’t change a lot as it’s not the best rate.  We changed £40 which turn out to be just about right until we found a cash machine.

It is possible to use the cash machine without charge in Colombia we found the best bank to use is Davidenda and to be the easiest. BBVA was our second choice this one is also free. Always refuse the offered conversation rate as it is way better to except your own banks rate.  If you have a Starling bank card like us your get a good rate and don’t pay fees at the home end either so it’s a good all round choice.

Where to stay

Almost everything you will want to see will be in the old city district known as La Candelaria so it makes a lot of sense to stay here.  It is also one of the safer districts in the city although I would still advise you take care as you would in any city really. The further away from this area you get the less safe it feels. We found Bogota has an edginess to it and never really felt at ease away from the touristed areas.

We heard Zona Rosa which is the party area of town was a safe option but for us there was nothing of interest there so didn’t investigate.

Bogota
Demonstrations Labour day

Things to see and do In Bogota

Plaza Bolivar 

Here you’ll find one of the main squares in Bogota and is located in the heart of the historical area of Bogota.  It is one of the main attractions in Bogota and a site for various gatherings, demonstrations and protests.  

We found this out as we were there on 1st of May and witnessed the May Day demonstrations by various groups parading down to the square.   The buildings around the square are impressive and to the north you have the Palais of Justice which houses the high court buildings, to the West you can find the Leiviano Palace, to the South is the National Capitol building which houses the congress and to the East is the Primary Cathedral of Bogota or to give it its full name The Metropolitan & Primate Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception & Saint Peter of Bogota.  

It’s a splendid building, in fact all the buildings surrounding the square are impressive.  Throughout the day and into the evening you’ll find street food vendors selling everything from fruit drinks to hamburgers with some local delicacies such as advocados, empanadas and grilled corn on the cob for sale.  Its a great place to people watch from the steps of the cathedral. 

Bogota Free Tours 

There are many free tours advertised in Bogota ranging from Cycle Tours through the city, Walking Tours to the historical sites and cultural areas and Food Tours taking you to the markets and other local eateries to try the local food.   These tours are free but you are expected to provide a substantial tip to the tour guide at the end.  Our hostel had flyers on the different tours available and it was a case of contacting the guide on WhatsApp and meeting at a central point to join the tour.   We didn’t have enough time in Bogota to participate in any of the tours but we will certainly do that if we return.  

Bogota Colombia
Sprawling Bogota viewed from Monserate
Monserrate

If you look up from almost anywhere in Bogota you can see the hill top of Monserrate. It’s a mountain that rises to over 10000 feet above sea level and if you thought Bogota was at a high altitude then to reach the summit of Monserrate you’re going to have to go even higher.  At the top you’ll find the Sanctuary, a beautiful restful church, the walk of the cross depicting the walk Jesus took with his cross to the cruxificion, restaurants, cafe’s, toilets, gift shops and many many great spots for taking some fabulous pictures of Bogota.

How to get to the top of Monserrate?

There are 3 ways to get to the top of the mountain and the first way is one we never even considered and that is to walk.  There’s a clear footpath that snakes up and round the mountain for those mad and crazy people that want to walk or dare I say run up to the top.     The second way is by the Teleferik Cable Car which takes you from the base to the top in a few mins offering spectacular views over Bogota as you make your way up the mountain side.  

Sadly for us, on the day we visited, the cable car wasn’t operating.   The third way is by funicular and this was the way we made our way to the top of the hill.  The funicular runs every 15 mins so you never have long to wait for the next one.  There are 2 running simultaneously. AS one goes up the other is coming down.  This was a great ride up and offered fantastic views of the city as you climbed higher and higher. 

When is it open and how much does it cost?

The funicular and cable car are open all day long with the funicular usually from 6.30am until midday and then the cable car from midday until late in the evening, around 11.45pm.  On Monday holidays its only the funicular that runs and its all day from 6.30am until 11.45pm.

The return price is around COP23000 which is around £4.50 but you can get a single ticket if you want to walk either up or down and they do a family ticket and a special price for senior citizens.   All pricing information can be found here. 

Bogota
Artefact from gold museum
Museo del Oro (Museum of Gold) – Carrera 6

This museum is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the whole of Colombia as it houses some really important artefacts and tells the story of Colombia through the ages.  Approx 500,000 visitors per year walk through the doors.   It houses the largest collection of gold artefacts in the world and shows the usage of materials such as ceramic, wood and textiles by the indigenous people.  

The museum houses approx 6000 exhibits and an audio guide is available in many languages.   We found that most of the descriptions on the displays were in both Spanish and English so we didn’t need the audio guide.  As well as the exhibits the museum also has a restaurant, toilets and a big gift shop.   The cost to enter is only COP4000 which is less than £1 and over 60’s got in for free.  Bargain.   The museum is quite close to the central historical area and many other of the museums which the city has to offer.

Food & Drink in Bogota 

Like any capital city Bogota has a lively restaurant & cafe culture.  We were in the Candelaria district which was brimming with all sorts of eateries.  There is an abundance of street vendors selling the local arepas as well as empanadas and other bread type foods stuffed with cheese or meats.   You can also get fruit and fruit drinks from the street vendors and I even saw a van selling creamed rice.  As we only had a few days in Bogota we only tried a couple of places and here’s our view on them.

La Falsa Puerta – Calle 11

Everyone says if you visit Bogota then you HAVE to eat at La Falsa Puerta.   For approx 205 years this establishment has been feeding the people of Bogota pretty much the same menu.   The 2 things that this little restaurant is famous for is the Soup – Ajiaco, a wonderful creamy chicken soup served with rice which just warms the cockles of your heart and secondly –  Tamales which are loved by many people but weren’t my favourite.   

This little restaurant is a little bit more expensive than a general local cafe but the soup was amazing.  It was very touristy and unlike most places, service wasn’t included on the bill however the waiter asked us to leave his tip on the table which we didn’t mind doing as he was helpful with the menu and quite pleasant.  It is somewhere you’d visit once, even if just for the soup.  

Arte y Pasion Cafe – Calle 16

We came upon this place purely by chance and I’ve never seen a coffee cafe where you can have your coffee prepared in so many ways.  Traditional barista, percolated, filtered, hot, cold, iced all sorts of weird and wonderful ways.  As it was late in the day when we visited coffee wasn’t an option Chris had a natural fruit juice and I had a Gin and tonic.   Their cocktail menu was impressive. They also serve cake and the vibe of the place is like something our of the 1920’s.  Really cool decor and abiance so if you get a chance then go. 

Booking resources for your trip to Bogota

Flights

You can compare cheap flights on the Expedia platform or here on the Aviasales website.  Both will give you a good idea of how much its going to cost you to get to your chosen destination.

Accommodation

We have always tended to use Booking.com having said that if your on a tight budget another good site to try as a comparison is Hostelworld, If your looking to compare different sites you can do that on Hotellook, we tend to look on here first to make sure we are getting the best deal.

Tours & Tickets

You can book your visits as you go at the entrance to your chosen attraction or site.  Or you could use the following links to book in advance or just to find out what your choices are in the area. GetYourGuide and Tiqets are our go to choices you could try Viator to see how they compare.

For a full list check out our resources page. Don’t forget always shop around to find the best deal for you. What works for us should be good for you but it’s always reassuring to check.

Some of the links on this page contain affiliate marketing links, which means we may get paid commission on sales of those products or services we write about. You will never be charged a fee for shopping through one of our affiliate links. You may even get a discounted rate and we will make a small commission. Our editorial content is not influenced by advertisers or affiliate partnerships.

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