Located more than 2,500 meters (8,000 feet) above sea level is Bogota, the high-altitude capital city of Colombia. Bogota is far larger than most people imagine, comparable in size to metropolises like New York City and Mexico City. Within Bogota, you’ll find plenty of fascinating sights. From the historic neighborhood of La Candelaria to the panoramic views of the Cerro de Monserrate, here are some of the top tourist attractions in Bogota that you definitely won’t want to miss.
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Santa Clara is one of the oldest churches in all of Colombia, and its interior is also one of the most extravagantly decorated. Built over a 50-year span in the 17th century, the church is filled with ornate features such as a barrel vault ceiling painted in a gold floral motif and nearly 150 sculptures and paintings of saints decorating the building’s walls. The church is now owned by the Colombian government, and it has been transformed into a museum. Although there are plenty of beautiful churches to be seen in and around Bogota, the Museo Santa Clara is definitely a must-see landmark in the city.
In Northern Bogota, in the district of Chapinero, you’ll find Parque 93. Also known as Parque de la 93, this is considered to be the hotspot for dining and nightlife in Bogota. During the day, Parque 93 is an excellent place to sightsee, take a stroll or just enjoy the sunshine at the park itself. There are frequent music and art festivals within the park, not to mention an abundance of rotating public art installations. In the evenings, cosmopolitan locals and international travelers alike gravitate to the trendy cafes and bustling nightlife venues, and it is a great place to have a drink and mingle.
One of the most important religious landmarks in Bogota is the Iglesia de San Francisco. Built between 1557 and 1621, the building is the oldest surviving church in the city. Since it is located just steps from the famed Museum of Gold, the Iglesia de San Francisco is a popular place to explore. Elaborate Christian artwork decorates the walls, making it more like a religious art gallery than a traditional church. Be sure to spend some time admiring the extraordinary altarpiece from the 17th century, which is gilded in gold and decorated with beautiful details.
The Botanical Gardens of Bogota, also known as the Jardín Botánico José Celestino Mutis, is the largest of its kind in all of Colombia. Founded in 1955, it is an excellent opportunity to admire the staggering numbers of plants and flowers found naturally throughout the country. Walk through rose gardens and medicinal gardens, and then bask in the view of more than 5,000 orchids in one place. Of special significance is the large building containing five rooms, each of which represents a unique climate zone in the country. You can walk through each and see the plants and atmosphere found in each of these Colombian climate zones.
The energetic main square in the heart of Bogota is the Plaza de Bolivar. Surrounding the plaza, you’ll find several historic buildings including neoclassical palaces, government buildings and the largest church in all of Colombia. This destination used to be known as Plaza Mayor, but it was renamed in the 19th century after the military leader Simón Bolívar. The Plaza de Bolivar is the center of the city, and it is what Bogota truly grew around. If you only have the chance to stop at one important destination in Bogota, it should be the Plaza de Bolivar.
The city of Bogota is very pedestrian friendly, and it also boasts the largest network of bicycle routes in all of Latin America. Every Sunday, cycling takes over the city thanks to the weekly Ciclovia. Between seven in the morning and two in the afternoon each Sunday, many roads are closed to cars. This allows cyclists, joggers or roller skaters to explore the city in a whole new way. Refreshment stands dot the sides of the road, and there are even performances along the way. Several shops rent bicycles in the district called La Candelaria.
There are several fantastic museums in Bogota, but one of the most fascinating is the Museo del Oro, or the Museum of Gold. Before Columbus and other European explorers came to Colombia, gold was a significant part of the local culture and heritage. The Museo del Oro explores that, featuring an amazing collection of gold that dates from centuries past. You’ll find incredible pieces of melted gold made by countless tribes and groups from Latin America, including the famous Pasca golden raft which may have inspired the legends of El Dorado. Onsite there is also a restaurant, gift shop and cafe.
The Museo Botero is named after Fernando Botero, who is the best-known and most influential Colombian artist of all time. Also known as the Banco de la Republica Art Collection, this museum houses Botero’s personal art collection. When you visit the museum, you’ll be able to see over 3,000 pieces of art dating from the 16th century all the way to today. Entrance is free for all, and it offers the chance to see works by Alejandro Obregón, Gregorio Vázquez de Arce y Ceballos and countless others. Most of the collection is made up of paintings, but there also some sculptures and mixed-medium pieces on display.
The city of Bogota is dominated by a mountain called Monserrate. At the top of the peak is a church and a shrine, and you’ll also be able to access stunning views over the city below. Also at the top are two lovely restaurants and plenty of souvenir stalls. There are several ways to get up and down Monserrate. A stone path takes about 90 minutes to hike up, but you can also ride the funicular. Monserrate is easily one of the top attractions in Bogota, and it is a great way to familiarize yourself with Bogota’s layout from above.
Arguably the most important district in the city is La Candelaria. This is the heart of the Bogota, and it is where Simon Bolivar escaped, the revolutionary heroine Policarpa Salavarrieta was executed and the revolution began with Grito de Libertad. In addition to all this historic significance, La Candelaria is home to numerous landmarks. You’ll definitely want to visit the Plaza de Bolivar, and you can’t miss the Palacio de Nariño. Just walking along the streets of this district means you can admire beautiful colonial architecture, and the emerald market is a dazzling spot that many visitors love.