start here! bogotá, colombia

Bogota, Colombia travel guide | someinfinitething.comStart Here! guides are a new feature on Some Infinite Thing to collect in one place my favourite hotels, restaurants, sites and other notes for a city. These posts offer strictly the best to help guide your planning, instead of wading through the “everything is equal” or “top tourist sites” approach taken by many travel guides. 

Through the years, a handful of cities have won my heart from the second I stepped on their soil—Seoul, Seville, Marrakesh, Québec City and Jerusalem immediately come to mind. Bogotá was an instant addition to this list. Her vibe—street art, museums, lively plazas; her food—endless great restaurants, market culture, street eats; her people—hospitable, arms open, and wanting to share the city’s secret nooks…

From the time we began planning Austin’s 30th birthday trip to South America, Bogotá kept creeping to the forefront as a place to visit. With the option for an inexpensive regional hop at the end of our time in Peru, we’d be remiss if we didn’t see what she was all about. Here’s the very best of that trip in one spot!

Stay

Artisan Hotel DC Bogota ColombiaFratelli Cafe Bogota ColombiaLibertario Coffee, Bogota, Colombia(Pictured: Artisan D.C. Bogota Lobby | Fratelli courtyard | Libertario Coffee’s excellent empanada)

The Artisan D.C. Hotel: From friends who had recently visited, and our own research, the city centre came up as a safe, tourist-friendly neighbourhood. We had some Marriott points to use up from recent travel, so this was a great find by Austin (it’s part of the same Autograph Collection to which Portland, Maine‘s incredible Press Hotel belongs). After a week of very outdoorsy pursuits in Peru, this was a soft landing.

The rooms were thoughtfully designed, concierge excellent and common spaces impeccable—I love a well designed hotel bar, and the Cooper Lounge was just the spot for a pre-dinner drink. For breakfast, we enjoyed Fratelli, a cute espresso bar a few minutes’ walk away. Libertario Coffee, immediately behind the hotel, had a great aesthetic and excellent coffee, too.

Eat & Drink

La Puerta Falsa, Bogota, ColombiaBogotá Beer Company, ColombiaSalvo Patria, Bogota, ColombiaTabulá, Bogota, ColombiaIMG_6225Processed with VSCO with a6 preset(Pictured: entryway to La Puerta Falsa | Bogotá Beer Company | poster art at Salvo Patria | entryway to Tabulá | Andres Carne de Res)

We ate so much good food in Bogotá. This is a pared down list of just our favourites.

Leo Cocina y Cava: Ranked #16 on the 2017 World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, and #1 in Colombia, we celebrated Austin’s 30th birthday here. We’ve been fortunate to enjoy many top-50 meals in our travels, but Leo was unique in its inventive progression, unfamiliar drink pairings and new-to-us ingredients. I usually leave a tasting menu figuring through how dishes are made and what I might replicate in my home kitchen. After this meal, I spent hours teasing out the unfamiliar tastes and reading about new-to-me produce from Colombia’s many micro-climates, food communities and historical traditions.

Leo is not-to-miss but not for the squeamish—ingredients like ant shells, fermented foods and other curiosities feature throughout the meal. Go for the non-alcoholic beverage pairing, which we preferred to the boozy offering for its striking juices, infusions and ferments.

La Puerta Falsa: If you have time for just one food stop on your Bogotá travels, make it this institution of the city’s food scene. Located just off Plaza de Bolivar, La Puerta Falsa has been serving Bogotanos traditional home cooking since 1816. It’s tiny and barely noticeable from the street, seating maybe all of 30 people over two cramped levels.

I’d recommend taking a seat and ordering a tamale—nothing like the Mexican-style tamale with which most North Americans are familiar—these are massive, rice-based, tinted yellow from curcumin, stuffed with chicken, peas and steamed within a thick banana leaf. Paired with an icy Coca-Cola, this was one of the most delicious, smoky, savoury bites of the trip. Also order a bowl of ajiaco, a thick, potato-based soup full of corn, chicken and a local herb called guascas, and garnished with avocado, rice, capers and heavy cream. The servings here are massive; as three people, we ordered for lunch one soup and two tamales with leftovers.

Bogotá Beer Company: As my husband wryly noted, BBC is the Sam Adams of Colombia. This is a “large” microbrewery chain with outposts throughout the city. We popped in one day to escape a passing rain shower, and my husband and brother-in-law returned another night. The standard, on-tap beers are solid but we especially liked their seasonally limited bottle brews.

Pastelería Florida: This legendary spot has been serving up daily santafereño (hot chocolate with fresh white cheese) since 1936. Grab a seat in the sweeping, old-style dining room and order a classic plate completo of hot chocolate, almojabana (semolina-cheese bread), soft cheese and butter. To make like a local, sink hunks of cheese into your hot chocolate to melt, then fish out the drippy, salty ribbons from the bottom of your cup with a spoon.

Salvo Patria: This charming restaurant came recommended to us several times. First, the branding is STUNNING—I wanted to take a menu home. The food and wine list also were spot on—we lucked out with a seat at the bar within a packed dining room of locals, without a reservation; the octopus and braised rabbit were standout. Don’t leave without the buffalo milk caramel for dessert; our favourite sweet of the trip.

Abasto: This is another restaurant that came up in many conversations during our planning. While we didn’t think we would get to visit, it’s where my husband’s colleague’s family took us for breakfast one morning. We dined at their Usaquén location on the upstairs patio and it was a dreamy little spot. If you go, order coffees and a sampling of the many regional arepas on menu; we especially loved the guajira and huevo versions.

Andres Carne de Res: This place is way out of our usual wheelhouse, but sometimes you leave the wheelhouse. We hemmed and hawed over whether we would visit, and ended up there for drinks one night. Seven sprawling floors of ridiculousness is how I’d describe Andres—a smoky, crowded, chaotic bar-restaurant-something-or-other. (Visit the website for a taste of what to expect.) The menu is an 80-page indexed graphic novella. The walls are gilded and bedazzled and horned. Servers walk around with glittering tongs hanging from their aprons. Drinks are served in all manner of skull and chalice and urn. You can escape Bogotá without a visit, but I’d recommend ordering a round of boozy beverages and saying you did. It was an experience I won’t soon forget.

Tabulá: We popped into Tabulá for Sunday lunch before visiting the National Museum immediately next door. The space is airy and gives the sensation that you’re dining within the courtyard of a Colonial home. Our family-style lunch of braised pork shoulder, melting yellow potatoes bathed in smoked butter (divine!), beef in tamarind sauce and a simple green salad was perfect. I couldn’t resist a charred cream Catalan for dessert.

See & Do

Paloquemao Market, Bogota, ColombiaIMG_5969IMG_5980IMG_6015IMG_6098IMG_6105(Pictured: Paloquemao Market | Bogota Flower Market)

Paloquemao Market: This market was a paradise—a labyrinthine network of produce that I never knew existed. My brother-and-law and I have a “try all the fruits you’ve never heard of” policy on holiday and we barely scratched the surface of the varieties available. Little stalls called tiendas serve up quick eats and drinks, and we knocked back delicious fruit-based shakes (pictured above) at a stall located just outside the market. The market closes at 4:30 PM on weekdays and 2:30 PM on weekends, but I’d advise getting there early to ensure you see the flower market in its full glory. Speaking of…

Bogota Flower Market: Located on Paloquemao Plaza, outside the market, this is heaven on earth for a flower fiend like me. Colombia’s second-biggest export is flowers, which means this market stocks the impossible dream of 20 long-stem roses for $3 US, and massive unusual bunches of flowers for mere dollars apiece. I surely embarrassed my company with the hundred photos I took, but I was helpless to this chaotic, beautiful, magical place. Arrive early in the morning to see the vendors in action.

Processed with VSCO with m5 presetIMG_6302IMG_6223IMG_6107Gold Museum Bogota, ColombiaIMG_6055IMG_6045(Pictured: Catedral de Sal | artisan in the Usaquén neighbourhood | Museo Botero courtyard | dislplay at Museo del Oro | the city’s resplendent graffiti)

Catedral de Sal de Zipaquirá: Hire a driver and make a half-day of visiting the Catedral de Sal (literally, Salt Cathedral) about 1.5 hours’ drive outside of Bogotá. Located 180 metres underground, the immense cathedral carved into a salt mine is like no other place I’ve visited, five continents later. Working with a guide helped us to get a full sense of the history and symbolism of place, and to take our time at the various sacred markers along the path to the main cathedral. We worked with Henry from Bogota Henry Tours for a private visit and adored his enthusiasm, reverence for this place and memorable storytelling. Arrive upon opening for minimal crowds; even during Holy Week, we felt like we had solo room to explore.

Museo del Oro (and its excellent coffee shop, Cafe San Alberto): This is Bogotá’s most respected museum, and for good reason. It comprises over 55,000 items of gold and other materials from throughout pre-Hispanic Colombia. Three floors are organized thematically and the exhibits are described in both English and Spanish (English exhibits something we found rare in many South American museums and galleries). A free one-hour tour is offered at 11 AM and 4 PM daily (except Sundays).

During our visit, we had breakfast with the sister and brother-in-law of my husband’s colleague, who are born and raised Bogotanos. He’s a sound artist and created the soundscapes and sound installations for the museum, which was such a neat piece of trivia to have in hand!

Given its roaring export market, we were surprised by the lack of coffee culture in Colombia. The coffee shop in the museum’s lower level, Cafe San Alberto, served up excellent single origin coffee and a nice respite mid-afternoon.

Plaza de Bolivar: If you spend some time in Bogotá, you inevitably will pass through the pigeon-studded main square in her historic heart. As a local told us: “it’s also not what you saw in Narcos…” The four sides of the square feature important architectural features of the city: the Palace of Justice, the Parliament of Colombia, the mayoral offices and the Cathedral of Bogotá.

Bogotá Graffiti Tour: Sadly, we were rained out of our graffiti tour, but I would be remiss to leave it off the list. These local-led three-hour guides of the city’s graffiti culture are a staple of the city, run by artists and aficionados alike who want to spread their street art gospel.

Museo Botero: Botero is a… polarizing artist… but his art makes me laugh. Given the large collection of his works and proximity to the can’t-miss Museo del Oro, a stroll through this free museum is worthwhile.

UsaquénVisit the hip, beautiful Usaquén neighbourhood on a Sunday, when its sprawling artisan market is in full swing. There tend to be lots of knockoff wares in Colombia’s craft markets, so being here among so many true artisans and their handiwork was a breath of fresh air. I walked away with a delicate hand-spun and -hammered silver pendant, and would have bought about a hundred more goods—purses, jewelry, leather, woven pieces—luggage space permitting.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

In the Know

Uber: One of the best tips we received in our planning was to take Uber everywhere, as a cheaper and safer alternative to cabs. They cost just a few dollars per trip, and were readily available. If you have to take a cab, don’t hail one down—have it ordered by your hotel or restaurant, for safety.

Sundays: Sundays are “free day” at Bogotá’s many museums and cultural sites. If you visit, prepare for crowds and lots of kids.

Carry a raincoat: Even in sunny weather, the sky sometimes opens up unexpectedly. I was grateful for a coat to get me through those fleeting showers.

The Canadian “entry fee”: We were surprised upon entry that I was ushered to a separate customs lane from my husband and brother-in-law (both American citizens) to pay a Canadian-specific reciprocity fee. Apparently, the Canadian government has started requesting biometric data of Colombians for Visa purposes, and this is the reciprocal charge. It set me back $90 CAD and was mostly just unexpected after all the reading I’d done in preparation for our trip. There are some exceptions based on your final destination in Colombia, but most Canadians will pay this fee.

Bogota Colombia graffitiOther Resources

Roads & Kingdoms: 18 Things to Know Before You Visit Bogota (2016)

The Coveteur’s Guide to Bogota (2015)

Bon Appetit: Where to Find the Best Food & Drink in Bogota Now (2015)

Conde Nast Traveler: Bogota’s Best New Restaurants (2013)

Step-by-step guide to building a travel itinerary

How to pack a capsule suitcase

12 tested tips for a successful Airbnb booking

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