Bogota is on the rise. Far from what it was in the 1980’s, once a city marred by civil conflict, Bogota is proving to the world that it is a safe place to travel and is well on its way in becoming one of Latin America’s urban highlights.

Travelers that visit Colombia are discovering what they’ve been missing and realizing how diverse the country is–from colonial to modern cities with skyscrapers and nightclubs, stunning Caribbean beaches or a surf-lovers pacific coastline, jungle walks to high-alpine trekking, archaeological ruins to coffee plantations, mountain biking to scuba diving, jaw-dropping desert landscapes to temperate palm forests, the list goes on and the incredibly diverse country of Colombia is prepared to astonish.

GETTING THERE

The big three–United, Delta, and American Airlines–all fly direct from the US to Bogota’s El Dorado International Airport. Other direct flights are offered by Avianca, LAN, JetBlue, and Spirit Airlines. There is a handful of other airlines that serve Bogota as a destination, but do not have direct flights.

Once you arrive at El Dorado, it is just a quick 30-minute jaunt by taxi ($10-$20 depending on your destination) or bus into the heart of the metropolitan city. Be sure to stop at the window before you exit the airport to pick up a printed direction and set fare amount to give to you taxi driver.

TRANSPORTATION

Given that Bogota is spread out along the valley floor from north to south, using the extensive taxi system is fairly cheap and necessary to get around. A typical taxi ride between the northern and southern parts of Bogota never cost me more than $6-10. Make sure to look for a regulated cab with 411-1111 or 311-1111 on the side to prevent scams. Though I typically took taxis, Bogota’s extensive and reliable Transmilenio express bus system is another attractive option at under $1 per ride.

LODGING AND HOTELS

The top hotels in Colombia flawlessly integrate luxury and comfort with Latin culture. Depending on where in Bogota you plan to stay, hotel quality varies, as do the prices. Generally most modern and luxury hotels are located in the newer north part of the city and boutique colonial hotels can be found in the central historic district, La Candelaria.

With these hotel options there are great ways to earn and burn points on your stay.

Morrison Hotel

Morrison Hotel Bogota 114: The best hotel in Bogota you have never heard of. Located a bit farther north than other hotels in Bogota, Eduardo and his staff will make up for the extra distance and do their best to make your stay amazing, there is no better customer service in South America! The hotel is still only a short cab ride (less than $6) to Zona Rosa and the most popular shopping areas and sights of the city. The well designed contemporary rooms all provide views of the mountains bordering Bogota. The hotel itself was one of the best that I have ever stayed in–very safe, great location, incredible rooms and lovely patio for breakfast. The running path next to the hotel was a bonus. Rates in January range from $125 USD for a superior single room with a queen bed to $300 USD for a one bedroom suite.

 

Morrison Hotel Bogota 114 - one of the top rated hotels in Bogota

Morrison Hotel Bogota 114 – one of the top rated hotels in Bogota

 

Hilton

Hilton Bogota: A central location and stylish atmosphere make it easy to enjoy the Hilton Bogota hotel. Although located in the financial district, the hotel is also close to Zona Rosa—one of the most prestigious neighborhoods of the city—and Zona G, the entertainment and dining area. This makes it a perfect place for either business or a home base to set out and explore Bogota. The modern guest rooms with WiFi, a work desk and comforting amenities make it easy to relax. Choose a suite for sophisticated surrounds and extra space in the seating area with a sofa. There is a fitness center get the heart rate pumping or enjoy a relaxing swim in the heated outdoor pool. The Levels Bar is a perfect place to unwind with a specialty rum and exceptional bar food. Rates in January start at $84 USD or 35,000 HHonors points. 

The chic and stylish Hilton Bogota Deluxe King Room

The chic and stylish Hilton Bogota Deluxe King Room

Embassy Suites Bogota: The Embassy Suites by Hilton Bogotá – Rosales hotel, offers spacious suites in an ideal location situated in the northern financial and commercial district. This hotels location makes it easy to get to Zona G, the Centro Granahorrar Mall, Andino Mall, Teatro Nacional de Bogotá, and The Gold Museum or to venture out to see the city’s many historic sites. The lobby of the all-suite Bogotá Colombia hotel is stunning with its brick archway, atrium garden, and water features. The hotel has 96 two-room suites, all equipped with WiFi, three telephones with data ports and voice mail, sofa bed for watching HDTV, mini-refrigerator and microwave oven. The hotel also hosts an evening Manager’s Reception featuring live music, light snacks, and drinks. Rates in January start at $99 USD or 25,000 HHonors points. 

The spacious Embassy Suites king suite

The spacious Embassy Suites king suite

Marriott

Marriott offers both the JW Marriott Bogota Hotel located at the heart of the financial district, as well as the Bogota Marriott Hotel, located in the new financial and entertainment center of Salitre, just 3 miles away from the International Airport El Dorado. The JW Marriot sets the bar for hotels in Bogota, and has been recognized as one of Trip Advisor’s Traveler’s Choice 2013 winners. In either case, the suites are designed modern and chic with imported linen and over-sized LCD flat screen televisions. Both of these are more oriented towards the business traveler, but are close enough to any area of the city to also enjoy as a tourist. Rates at the JW Marriot in January start at $359 USD or 20,000 Rewards points. 

King Room at the JW Marriott Hotel Bogota

The JW Marriott Hotel Bogota was Trip Advisor’s Travelers’ Choice 2013 Winner

Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card from Chase offers a lucrative deal for hotel savings. For one, it doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees and there is no annual fee the first year.

Radisson

Radisson Royal Hotel Bogotá: With only one location in Bogota, the Radisson Royal Hotel Bogota sets the bar high–winning Trip Advisors Travels Choice 2013 award. Located close to the heart of the business center of Bogota, guests for both business and leisure will find plenty to do around the hotel. It is within walking distance to shopping areas and the Usaquen area, a popular location full of restaurant and bars. The property includes free WiFi, a business and fitness center, and a spa. You will find comfort basking in the luxuries and high ceiling modern rooms that feature sweeping views of the city, rich wood furnishing, plush linens, and marble bathrooms. Rates in January start at $199 USD or 44,000 Gold Points.

The stunning lobby at the Radisson Royal Hotel Bogotá

The stunning lobby at the Radisson Royal Hotel Bogotá

Radisson is part of the Club Carlson rewards program which is currently offering 85,000 Bonus Gold Points after spending $2,500 in the first three months from the sign up date with the Premier Rewards Visa Credit Card.

Sheraton

Sheraton Bogota Hotel: Also located in the new business center of Bogota in the Salitre section, Sheraton Bogota Hotel puts you within reach of everything you need – shopping at the Gran Estacion, business centers at the Salitre Plaza, recreational activities, and more. Each room has a modern look with rich and colorful fabrics that also guarantees a comfortable stay. Special amenities include a spa and gym with the latest equipment to keep you fit, including a sauna, steam bath, and indoor swimming pool. Sheraton Club guests can also enjoy the upscale Club Lounge for complimentary breakfast, afternoon hors d’oeuvres and a variety of drinks. Rates in January start at $190 USD or 7,000 Starpoints.

Modern design in the Executive King room

Modern design in the Executive King room

As a member of the Starwood Hotels & Resorts group, Sheraton offers the Starwood Preferred American Express card without an annual fee for the first year and $65 thereafter. After spending $5,000 in the first 6 months, cardholders earn 25,000 bonus points which is enough for one free night at any Starwood hotel.

THINGS TO DO

Shopping

Bogota provides some of the best shopping opportunities for diverse finds –from high quality and affordable leather goods or creative and beautiful glassware made from recycled coke bottles at ‘the glass factory’ to the high-end shopping centers with European and Latin American designer boutiques.

Centro Andino Commercial and Unicentro: At these popular shopping centers on the north end of the city you will find luxury shopping. Centro Andino Commerical is located next to most prestigious neighborhood in Bogota, and this is were you will find chic, class, and elegance. This shopping area and the surrounding blocks of Zona Rosa is a popular location for cafes, shops, and bars.

The Leather District in Restrepo: Head to the southern end of the city and wander around the streets of Restrepo, a neighborhood (barrio) known for its leather goods. You can find anything your heart desires and in just about any style, from custom-made leather boots to handbags, leather jackets, and belts–all of very high quality. Open House on Carrera 22 N 17A – 05 sur is just one of the great leather shops with high quality and good designs. Head to Milan on Calle 17 Sur No. 24D – 75 for an assortment of stylish belts. If you have enough time, some retailers can also custom make goods for you (I had two pairs of leather boots made up for me during my trip, and they cost a fraction of what I would have to pay at a department store here in the states.)

The Glass Factory: A little gem of a place in Bogota that is known as “the glass factory.” The official name is Cristal Artesanal, a small glass blowing factory located at the south of Bogota, but when people (or at least expats) speak of it, they refer to it as “the glass factory”. Popular among expats living in Bogota, this well hidden place produces beautiful and creative glassware from recycled coke bottles. Andres Carne de Res (see below) is known for using the glassware from here. When I was trying to find this place, everybody seemed to know of this place, but no one could tell me how to get there.

This is how:
Crystal Artesanal – Calle 7 sur No. 5 – 12
Tel.: 333 2299-2800089
Cel: 313 294 1923

How to get to the glass factory in Bogota, Colombia. This place is popular among expats and tourists.

The treasures I walked away with from the glass factory

Drinking + Eating

Zona Rosa and Zona G are the hotspots for dining and nightlife where you will find the best restaurants, bars/clubs, outdoor cafes, and art galleries.

Andres Carne de Res: is the most well-known restaurant and nightclub. This place is sure to provide a once in a lifetime eating experience.  The original and more classic restaurant is located just outside of Bogota in suburb called Chia, and the newer location with four uniquely decorated floors (heaven, hell, purgatory and earth) is located a block from Centro Andino Commercial in Bogota. The restaurant serves up juicy steaks, a wide variety of regional cuisine, and a great drink menu–stay late for things to get wild.

NOT your normal eating experience

Andres Carne de Res – expect the unexpected

Casa San Isidro: For amazing food and amazing views, take the teleférico (cable car) or funicular to the top of Cerro de Monserrate and dine with panoramic views overlooking Bogota.

There are also numerous cafes and bars located around the historic district of La Candelaria, but some are only open for lunch, and the streets will be empty after work hours at night. For safety reasons, it is generally not recommended to wander the streets at night in this area.

Food Must-Haves

Ajiaco is a savory and satisfying traditional soup. Made with generous proportions of shredded chicken, potatoes, corn, and avocado and then topped with fresh cream and capers. A must-have when in Bogota.

A delicious bowl of Ajiaco soup

A delicious bowl of Ajiaco soup

The arepa is a common breakfast or afternoon snack in Bogotá and is usually considered to be comida rápida (fast food). There is quite a bit of variety in Colombian arepas, which makes them all the more fun to sample. The arepa is a flat, round unleavened patty made with cornmeal or flour that is grilled, baked, or fried. You can find arepas stuffed or topped with, well, almost anything. Traditional toppings include cheese, meat, eggs, or chorizo.

Drink Chocolate Santafereño to warm you up on those cold days in Colombia. Chocolate Santafereño is a cup of hot chocolate served with a large chunk of cheese and bread. You drop the cheese in the chocolate to melt, which adds an interesting flavor and makes this sweet drink more savory.

Fruit. Colombia is full of an amazing variety of fresh fruit and fruit juice is served with almost every meal. Most of the tropical fruits in Colombia are impossible to find in the US. Some of these are a must try: mora, grandadilla, guanabana, lulo, mamoncillo, and tomate de arbol.

Explore Bogota's markets and try some of the amazing fruits of Colombia as well as other great foods ©Rand Shoaf

The amazing fruits of Colombia

Enjoy Canelazo, a beverage prepared with aguardiente (local fire water), panela, cinnamon and brandy.

PLACES TO SEE

Cerro de Monserrate (3160m/10,400ft) is one of Bogota’s marvels that overlooks the city. It’s a popular spot for tourists and locals to make a pilgrimage to as the 17th century Catholic Church sitting on summit of the mountain is Colombia’s most famous religious sites. The mountain is accessible by cable car or funicular, but it also gets a lot of foot traffic from joggers and people walking their dogs.

Bogota's amazing night skyline from Cerro de Monserrate, eat dinner up here for an amazing experience ©Rand Shoaf

Bogota’s amazing night skyline from Cerro de Monserrate

Wander the colonial streets of the historic district known as La Candelaria and enjoy Plaza de Bolívar among other important historic churches and plazas. The lively neighborhood section of the city has its narrow cobblestone streets lined with small shops and historic churches. In La Candelaria you will find a number of attractions including The Bogota Cathedral. The Gold Museum, The Fundacion Botero, The Religious Art Museum, The Coin House, and The Library Luis Angel Arango.

Wander the colonial streets of La Candelaria, lined with small shops and restaurants ©Rand Shoaf

The streets of La Candelaria

The Gold Museum (Museo del Oro): Bogota is filled with museums that reflect the country’s pre-Colombian past and wealth of indigenous cultures like the Muisca, Nariño, Calima, and Sinú. The Museo del Oro has a collection of fine gold work worth over $200 million that were used as offerings to the gods, like the most famous sculpture, the Muisca’s golden raft that represents El Dorado. The museum is located in the center of Bogota and offers English guided tours.

I also found it very interesting to walk around the government offices and by The Presidential Palace (Casa de Nariño), which had to be rebuilt in 1949 following its destruction during “El Bogotazo”–the uprising sparked by the assassination of Liberal leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán. You won’t be allowed inside, but the guard outside is changed ceremoniously each Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday at 5 pm and is worth a watch.

View of La Candelaria from Hotel de la Opera in Bogota ©Rand Shoaf

View from my hotel room

Bogota offers great weather year-round because of its proximity to the equator–providing perfect daytime temperatures. Aside from perfect weather, Colombia offers rich culture and is home to welcoming communities of artisans, writers (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a personal favorite), musicians (Shakira and Juanes), natural wonders and history that must be seen and experienced first-hand to fully appreciate.

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