The sprawling city of Bogota, Colombia’s capital, buzzes with the energy of any giant Latino city, but it isn’t until you start exploring some of its unique barrios that you really get a sense of what its about.
From the bustle of Centro, the historic streets of Candelaria to the leafy village vibes of Usaquen and Chapinero – there’s a neighbourhood in this vibrant town that’s sure to pique anyone’s interest.
La Candelaria is one of the more popular areas to base yourself in Bogota. It’s saturated with historic buildings, quiet cobbled streets, museums and some incredible street art.
Then there’s the iconic Plaza Bolívar, which is surrounded by stunning municipal buildings and the imposing Catedral Primada de Bogotá. If you’re a fan of Narcos, you’re bound to recognise a few of the buildings.
Head down Calle 10 between Plaza Bolívar and Carrera 10, and you’ll see an older shopping precinct with morning street food carts and store windows filled with colourful and sugary cocadas and marquesa de arequipe. While you’re down there, drop into Arte y Pasión Cafe to fuel up on some caffeine.
Early morning openers are a little tricky to find, but we did manage a couple of cafes that had some kind of breakfast happening when most others weren’t due to open for another couple of hours.
Andante Cafe, one of two in town, is an un-fancy set-up that’s popular with uni students and weekday workers.
The regular menu is about sandwiches, steaks, salads and pasta, and if I can point out desserts, those cakes on the counter are rather impressive.
Grab a Piccolo breakfast (7,700) deal in the morning and you get some toast or a croissant and juice with tea, coffee or hot chocolate.
Andante Cafe, Carrera 3, #92
For a breakfast that’s a tad more French, swoop into this tiny patisserie, grab a seat in the gorgeous 1940s-style room and take a pick from a very nice selection of flakey pastries, cakes or a good old omelette.
Service is very friendly, despite our communication gap, and the espresso is ok.
Mi Rincón Francés Cafe, Calle 12C, #3-64
These guys relocated from a hole in the wall on Carrera 3, to a newly renovated retail precinct beneath the Continental Hotel. Not sure how they’ll fare without the walk-by trade, but I can confidently say they do the best coffee in Bogotá. Well, what we tried, anyway.
The usual filter methods can be had – Aeropress, Chemix, French, V60, plus espresso and cold drip. There are also a couple of cakes to nibble on.
Contraste Coffee Lab, Av. Jimenez De Quesada, #4-26, Shop 9
Colombia’s signature Willys cars, something you see a lot of in Zona Cafetera, can be seen in various locations across downtown Bogotá. The difference here is they’re not used to haul farm supplies to coffee plantations; instead, they’ve been converted into mobile coffee cars.
They’ll grind the beans and get you pumped with caffeine in no time, which is perfect, as you’d probably need it to explore the streets of La Candelaria to seek out the fabulous street art that graces many of its old buildings.
Here’s a little of what we saw.
The night time dining scene in La Candelaria can be a little sparse, but that doesn’t mean you have to leave the barrio to get a feed.
Our first stop was this corner restaurant as it was metres from our Airbnb, and I must say, the filete de res (36,500) was one of the best steaks I’d had since Argentina. Damn excellent!
It’s Colombian food done with flair, with offerings such as empanadas, patacones with guacamole, grilled meats and seafood. There are a few choices of wine, plenty of spirits and some local and imported beers.
Capital Cocina y Cafe, Calle 9, #4-10
Fish & chips (20,000)
For something a lot more low key and somewhat cheaper, jostle with the uni students at this heaving cafe-cum-bar, listen to rowdy music and chow on burgers, sandwiches, pancakes and egg dishes.
Night time gets very busy here, so either get in early or prepare to wait.
The Corner, Calle 24d, #75-42
Take the stairs up to this homestyle Sardinian trattoria and be immediately dazzled by the selection of Italian wines. It’s pretty impressive, I must say.
Italian and traditional Sardinian dishes fill the menu, with homemade ravioli, pasta and various proteins. How about linguine angelo e carciofi (28,000) – lamb with artichoke, radicchio, broad beans and olives. So delicious.
Trattoria Nuraghe, Calle 12b, #6-58
One of the city’s most popular museums, Museo Del Oro, showcases an extraordinary collection of pre-Hispanic gold work, including artifacts of pottery, stone, textiles, wood and shell. The largest of its kind in the world.
Four exhibition galleries and an exploration area offer an insight to the mining and manufacture of this precious metal by the ancient cultures. Learn how the objects were used politically and religiously, plus explore cosmology and symbolism used by those that lived in the land today known as Colombia.
Museo Del Oro, Carrera 6, #15-88
Anyone that’s in town on a Sunday and that’s also into a bit of flea market action, then a morning visit to Mercado de la Pulgas should make the day’s schedule.
Expect to see vintage books, clothing, household goods, old phones, records and anything else between. There are plenty of crafty bits and pieces, candles and even some food and drinks.
The location of the market is in a carpark in a not so great part of town, so keep your street smarts in check and you’ll get along just fine.
Mercado de la Pulgas, Carrera 7, #24-70
While you’re down at the market you’ll probably notice a lot of barricaded roads and many people on bikes. Every Sunday in Bogotá is Ciclovía, a weekly phenomenon that runs between 7am and 2pm and allows anyone with a bike, rollerblades, scooter and regular pedestrians to have free reign over many city the streets.
Five minutes from the market is a fab spot to take a load off and get your fill on meat and seafood that’s cooked on a rotating Argentinian-style asado.
We both shared the Leños & Palos plate (26,000), which is an extravaganza of five meats and more than enough for two. Prices range from 23,000 to 38,000 pesos for grill plates, all of which come with potato, salad, rice and patacóns.
Leños & Palos, Carrera 7, #20-86
For some fantastic views over the city, take either the funicular (5,500 pesos per person) or teleférico from Monserrate station. Once at the top you’ll be elbowing past hundreds of people, especially on a Sunday, fighting to get to the best vantage point to get your shot of the sprawling city below.
Be prepared to duck and dive from those dreaded selfie sticks, or do some careless damage if you’re one of the perpetrators.
Aside from the church, there are two restaurants that take full advantage of the view, plus the expected souvenir stands.
It’s the village atmosphere that attracts visitors to the barrio of Usaquén, a pocket of the city that has a beautiful square at its colonial heart, complete with a landmark church.
At one point Usaquén was a small town, but now that Bogotá has swallowed it whole, much of if feels like any other part of the city.
Cobbled streets are filled with restaurants and shops, and market-goers can get their fill every Sunday at the bustling flea market.
Usaquén is known as being food-centric, as it’s filled with a wide variety of eateries, plus bars, that suit any kind of budget.
Abasto was one restaurant that got my attention, namely for its organic farm-to-table approach to its cooking. The rustic set-up fills a former grain warehouse beautifully with a semi-open kitchen at the front, loft seating and a back dining room lined with vino, cheese and fresh produce.
From burrata to octopus, empanadas, soups and delicious fish dishes, to salads and grilled prawns on toasted bread.
We sampled the Pavo sandwich (22,900); roast turkey, avocado, arugula & mustard, plus the arroz caldoso con camarones (28,900); a delicious bowl of prawns, avocado and chilli oil done risotto-style.
Abasto, Carrera 6, #119b-52
Geographically, the most central area to stay in Bogotá is Chapinero as it’s set between many of the city’s tourist areas. One thing we found ourselves doing many times from our base in La Candelaria was booking Uber’s to get to Usaquén and Chapinero, and they aren’t exactly ‘just down the road’ and in walking distance.
Maybe it paid to stay here, rather than La Candelaria.
Chapinero may be a sprawl of different areas, but it does have a fab range of bars and restaurants, vintage stores, cafes and diverse crowd of people no matter where you go.
Grazia, Calle 69, #5-04 – come here for fancy cake and desserts and coffee.
In an area that’s filled with fantastic restaurants, it’s difficult to narrow things down when time isn’t on your side. There truly are too many.
The one that made the cut was none other than La Fama, a small slice of the South that puts on a barbecue like the best of them, thanks to the pit master being trained by pros in the US.
The menu reads just like a proper barbecue, as well. All the usual meats, ribs, sides and even burgers, sandwiches and salads.
The quarter rack of pork (31,000) is a meltingly tender flavour sensation, the pastrami sandwich (28,000) is divine and those papas nativas (6,800) – crispy fried baby potatoes, creamy in the middle – doused in garlic mayo are out of this world.
La Fama, Calle 65, #4-85
Boliviariano bus departs from Terminal de Transporte Norte in Medellín at 9am and arrives at Terminal de Transporte de Bogotá at 8pm. Cost per person is 52,000 pesos.
A taxi from the bus terminal to Candelaria will cost around 13,500 pesos.