Colombia: exploring Bogotá with family
I was a little nervous about exploring Bogotá with family. My research had shown up lots of comments about muggings, pickpockets and general crime (some at knife point). Needless to say it had me on edge. My spidey senses were on full alert.
The country doesn’t have the best history, but things are changing. So whilst crime does exist there are rules you should follow. Read my itinerary blog post to find out more.
So yes, issues do exist but people still live here. There is a very high police presence, especially in tourist areas and hotels all seem to have security. We noticed while walking around that most people, including locals, carried their backpacks on their front. It’s just the way life is here. Stick to the main tourist areas and you’ll be fine exploring Bogotá with family.
Generally, I found Bogotá to be a city like any other. Areas to enjoy and areas to avoid. The people we met, mainly Uber drivers & hotel staff, were all lovely with some attempting to speak English with us and us in broken Spanish. It was all fine.
Note: you do need some basic Spanish otherwise make sure you have Google translate as most people do not speak English. Which is good, as it meant we really had to practice our Spanish (which we were rubbish at!!)
Getting around Bogotá
The easiest way to get around is by taxi! They are inexpensive and quick, especially if you use Uber or cabify. There are some ‘tourist’ taxis which we saw at airports and hotels – these are white and much more expensive. The local taxis are yellow and run on a meter – but we heard a number of dodgy stories so avoided. It’s recommended you don’t just grab a taxi off the street, but pre order one.
There are lots of buses, but it appeared that these were mainly for locals.
There is no subway in Bogotá.
Places to stay in Bogota
Staying in the right areas are key if you want to enjoy Bogotá. The suggested areas are Zona Rosa, Parque 93 and Chapinero. These are based on the north east of the city. We stayed in Chapinero and it seemed like a nice area.
However, our first night we had a long transfer from LA through Mexico city and landed around 1am. So for ease we booked a night at the Hilton hotel as there was an offer through hotels.com. There is a free hotel shuttle. You need to go to the very top floor and they are waiting outside.
The next morning we transferred into the city and stayed for 4 nights at Vila America and booked another good deal through hotels.com. It’s low season so hotels have last minute deals. It was rather plush for us!!
To be honest, we are still adjusting to the hike in prices against South East Asia. Things are a lot more expensive on this side of the pond. Usually, we would look for budget accommodation but after reading the safety concerns of other travellers I wanted to ensure we were in a safe area. Still, £30 per night isn’t bad going, including breakfast!
Budget places to eat near Chapinero
We ate out a few times during our stay in Bogota, although it’s definitely not a budget we’re used to.
Our first night we found a Mexican place not far from our hotel, called La vecindad – Mexican grill. It was very busy and the staff were all dressed up as characters (I later found out it was from a Mexican TV comedy show El Chavo). It was a bit bizarre as they would burst into song every now and again. But we had some tasty food, even though it was a bit costly (around COP 14,000 to 24,000 for a meal -£4 to £6).
We also stopped at EL MASTER Taqueria Mexicana. One of the staff spoke good English and helped us with the menu choices. We chose beef & chicken tacos and nachos. It was ok, but a bit cold. The tacos were better than the nachos which were coated in a thick cheesy goo. But the prices were more reasonable.
Salon de onces near plaza de Lourdes was a nice little cafe for empanadas and drinks. There’s a supermarket on the other side of the square where we went to grab a few more snacks. (Empanadas were 2,200 – 50p)
If you’re looking for coffee, Juan Valdez is a good chain that you will find throughout Colombia. Americano coffee tended to cost around £1-£1.50.
Things to do in Bogotá
Jardin de botanico
During our first day, we found most places to be closed as it was a Monday, therefore we decided to visit the botanical gardens. We’d passed out on the way from the airport and I noticed it was fenced in and with security.
I’m so glad we went, it was a lovely stroll around a well organised and peaceful garden. It was a mere stones throw from the city, and we caught an Uber to get there. There were different sections of the path, including a large lake area.
As we strolled around we saw our first hummingbirds. I didn’t realise they were so small. They were just buzzing around everywhere – busy little things.
After about an hour an a half we stopped at cafe Tienda for our first Colombian coffee! Amazing!!!!
We were feeling a little better by day 2 age ready to be more adventurous. We’d started to get a grip of the language and wanted to do more. We took the cable car up to the top of monserrate. We’d heard there had been muggings on the walk, but then saw people who had walked up – but it’s pretty tough at that altitude.
The cable car runs every half an hour and tickets cost COP 20,000 for a round trip.
When you arrive at the top you are met with the most stunning views of Bogotá mountains and city. We were now at 3,150m and you could definitely feel it. Ethan tried to run and had to sit down – ha ha!
At the top you will find a large church, several eateries, toilets (600 cop), a small tourist market and a small crucifix walk. It’s enough to keep you busy for a couple of hours before catching the cable car back down.
When we arrived at the bottom we saw lots of police presence and found that our route into the city centre was along main roads – so we decided to walk. We saw snippets of street graffiti, but didn’t veer from the main streets.
In fact, we never had any issues and if anything the area was very busy with people! We walked past a university with a big police presence and all along the walkway there were office workers and police with dogs.
Once we reached the CBD it was crazy busy. Lots of people, as you’d expect in a normal city.
By now it was lunchtime and it was hard to find something to eat. Places were quite busy, expensive or we couldn’t understand the menu. So we ended up having a burger, not exactly local delicacy.
After lunch we stopped at the gold museum, costing COP 3,000 to enter (kids were free). There are lots of people milling around. The museum was a bit flat to be honest. Just lots of cabinets with historic treasures – you can get an English audio guide if it interests you. A friend had recommended the museo colonial which has stolen Inca gold – but I’d got the wrong place! It was good to cool off in the air conditioning but it wasn’t our thing.
Next we stopped at Bolivar plaza. It’s a nice big square which lots of people (including pickpockets – so watch your stuff) congregate. Lots of tourists feeding pigeons.
There’s some beautiful historic buildings all around here, so a great place to take photos. Unfortunately, some of the roads and buildings were closed. There appeared to be an even going on with dignitaries. We have no idea what as we don’t speak much Spanish 🤣
By now we were pretty tired, so headed back to the room to chill.
Other places to visit
The police museum – suggested by another traveller, but we didn’t have the energy in our last day! It’s free to enter and there are yours every hour by a local policeman. The reviews sounded quite good – check it out.
Catedral de sal – an underground cathedral which you access via tunnels. The cathedral is carved from salt and is situated north of Bogotá. I was intrigued but reviews suggested it wasn’t anything special unless you were religious. So we gave it a miss.
Museo colonial – as I mentioned if you want to see some gold in Bogotá then have a look at this museum. The other gold museum was a little regimented and more of a jewellery shop than a history museum.
Once I’d got over my initial concerns regarding safety and accessibility in the city I could enjoy it more. The reviews we read are a little harsh, but I suppose it’s to make you aware that you need to be on your guard. Picking the right area to stay helps and you need to plan your day before you go out. It’s a great city and we really enjoyed the views from Monserrate and the peaceful botanical gardens!
It’s good to take a day to adjust to the altitude – so make sure you pencil it into your itinerary. But overall we enjoyed our few days in Bogotá. I wish I’d been a little more organised before we got there and maybe taken a side trip to Villa de Leyva, but we did everything we wanted.
The places we visited were memorable and we enjoyed the cool mountain air! It makes walking around so much easier – definitely a bonus for Bogotá.