Colombia’s mountainous and seemingly unexciting capital is a place where few decide to spend their holiday, choosing instead to venture to the livelier cities with a more appealing climate and less of a precarious reputation. Big mistake – your stopover in this cultural and quickly-growing gastronomic hub proposes a plethora of enticing options, from sushi to reggae to Picasso and of course, plenty of salsa.
12PM, SATURDAY AFTERNOON
When in Rome…Bogotanos are known for being up before the 6am sun, which always rises with equatorial precision and speed. By 7am, most people are zipping around the city on motorbikes, gliding through the traffic on bicycles or squeezed onto the crowded but uniquely South American Transmilenio, a bus system designed to alleviate the chaotic commute of around two million passengers a day, almost a quarter of the city’s population. In this instance, it might be best to not do as the Romans do – you are on holiday, after all. Taxis won’t break the bank and are always by the meter.
Depending on where you’re staying, head north for brunch towards the culinary delights on offer at Masa (Calle 81 #9-12, somosmasa.com), where, arguably, the best bread in the city is baked. Try their brunch menu of French toast, Colombian-style eggs and a myriad of fresh juices, the hallmark of any eatery in Colombia. At the back you’ll also find a hefty selection of magazines, newspapers and books, in English as well as Spanish for the solo traveller. If you want to try something more traditional, the historic neighbourhood of La Candelaria offers breakfasts to sustain – rich, meaty soups either with chicken, corn and potatoes (Ajiaco), egg and milk (Changua), or ribs and vegetables (Caldo de Costilla). Also try one of the many types of tamales, cornmeal steamed in a banana leaf. La Puerta Falsa (Calle 11 #6-50) boasts many of these options, and is a favourite with both tourists and locals, known for being one of the oldest restaurants in the city as well as a classic Colombian sweet shop. Another oddity served here is the combination of chocolate and cheese in the Chocolate santafereño – you may be pleasantly surprised.
Staying in the Candelaria to revel in the colours and colonial architecture of its lively cobbled streets, you can take advantage of the independent art galleries inconspicuously wedged amongst enviable painted houses. There are also larger galleries such as the famous Botero museum (Calle 11 #4-41; banrepcultural.org/museo-botero), and the Banco de la Republica’s art collection next door, which curates you through centuries of Latin American art, with the occasional well-known European piece. If the sun is out, a similar level of artistic appreciation can be had simply wandering throughout the lanes, acclaimed for their brilliant street art, a transient and competitive scene where graffiti is often and rapidly supplanted by other artists. You can take a tour with Bogotá Graffiti Tours (bogotagraffiti.com), free and indispensable for those interested in Colombia’s turbulent history and the meaning behind the paintings. If you’re still hungry, Dos Gatos y Simone (Carrera 2A #16-12; dosgatosysimone.com) cooks up delightful fusions of Mexican and Colombian cuisine at enviable prices.
As evening draws closer, take the cable car or funicular up to the Cerro de Monserrate (Carrera 2 Este #21-48, 18000COP ( £4) both ways, cerromonserrate.com/en), the iconic backdrop of Bogotá; the vantage point lets you absorb the city in its fullest from just over three thousand metres. By 5.45, the sun should be starting to set, and the streetlights beginning to twinkle. By night, the view is even more stunning than during the day.
After a late tapas feast at La Taperia (Carrera 4a #26d-12; lataperia.co) in the bohemian Macarena neighbourhood, proper stone baked pizza at the Shoreditch-reminiscent Madre (Calle 12 #5-83), or local options for two at the elegant, romantic El Son de los Grillos (Calle 10 #3-60), quench your post-dinner thirst with a craft beer brewed on-site at the Bogotá Beer Company (various locations; bogotabeercompany.com), the “biggest small pub in Colombia”. A touch of glamour can be found at Centrico (Carrera 7 #32-16; centrico.co) where food, cocktails and the most breathtaking view of Bogotá is served.
11PM, SATURDAY NIGHT
Colombians are famous for their fondness for rumba: partying. Since they are consistently voted one of the happiest nationalities on earth, it is hardly surprising that they paint the town red in a number of locations scattered across the city. The weekends entice the city’s youth and more seasoned dancers to the Zona Rosa, bars and nightclubs abound. For a unique experience and Latin tunes, Andres Carne de Res (Calle 82 #12-21; andrescarnederes.com) serves delectable cocktails in quite remarkably kitsch surroundings, and dinner if you arrive a little earlier. If electro is more your jam, head over to Baum (Calle 33 #6-24; baumclub.net), a hotspot for international DJs such as Nina Kraviz and Ben Klock. Moving from Baum towards the north of the city, you will stumble into Chapinero, away from the tourists and a prominent LGBT neighbourhood. The real treasure here is Theatron (Calle 58 #10-18; portaltheatron.co), a friendly, sprawling gay club, rumoured to be the largest in South America. Its thirteen areas complete with outdoor stage and food stalls, women and men-only rooms and a colossal converted cinema. Theatron occupies an entire block of the city, and what’s more, until 2am, entry (called cover here) also grants you a plastic cup, where you can get unlimited refills of double spirit and mixer, with an even more generous measure if you slip the busy bartenders a note or two. To wind down for the night, shimmy down the road for some top class reggae at the emblematic Casa Babylon (Calle 49 #7-27).
11AM, SUNDAY MORNING
Dancing feet rejuvenated, it’s time to take advantage of the famous ciclovia scheme. Established in 1974, Bogotá was the first to pioneer such a scheme and since then, cities around the world have cottoned on. Hire a bike from Bogotá Bike Tours (Carrera 3 #12-72; bogotabiketours.com), where you can rummage through an eclectic collection of second-hand books. From there, cycle leisurely up to Usaquen to immerse yourself in edible euphoria in what feels like a small village. Stroll through the flea market and artisanal stalls before relaxing for a leisurely lunch at Abasto (Carrera 6 #119B-52), a paradise for locally-sourced, organic ingredients. The stall-lined lanes are the perfect place to pick up some souvenirs and gifts to take back, whether it’s freshly ground organic coffee, or a mochila arhuaco, a cross-body bag woven from virgin wool and made by one of the many indigenous tribes of the North-East. Or, even better, a symbolic Colombian Vueltiao hat to keep the sun out of your eyes in your next destination.
Photos author’s own.