Insider Guide: Best of Bogota
We know, you probably don't know much about Bogota.
You might also be skeptical about claims that this city of an estimated 8 million people stands shoulder to shoulder with other storied South American capitals.
But with Colombia as a whole experiencing a tourist resurgence, it's time to get familiar with its vibrant capital city.
Often called the Athens of South America, the best of Bogota is a treasure of museums, art galleries, international fairs and cultural events.
About 60% of the world’s emeralds come from Colombia, and there are myriad opportunities to buy them in Bogota.
Named the UNESCO City of Music for 2013, a slate of festivals throughout the year is celebrating everything from Beethoven to cumbia, the native Colombian music popular throughout South America.
Meanwhile, a growing gourmet scene has led to a boom in sophisticated eateries.
And, of course, it practically rains fresh brewed Colombian coffee.
So now you know -- Bogota isn't just a stopover en route to other South American cities, it's a destination on par with the best of them.
Here's how to fnd the best of Bogota.
Print and go -- Our traveler-friendly one-page guide here: Best of Bogota
JW Marriott Hotel Bogota
In the new financial district and near embassies and multinational offices, this is one of the most impressive hotels in Colombia. Comfortable, elegant rooms have all the luxurious touches expected of a five-star hotel.
Best of Bogota hotel restaurant La Mina is modeled after the famous salt mines north of the city. For a posh way to relax -- or dizzy yourself with indecision -- the hotel bar menu features 73 types of martinis.
JW Marriott Hotel Bogota, Calle 73 #8-60; +571 481 6000; from $359 per night
Charleston Casa Medina
In a colonial-era building, this 58-room boutique hotel was declared a Monument of Cultural Interest by the Colombian Ministry of Culture. Appointments like hand-carved wooden doors, stone walls and wrought-iron trim have been carefully restored to their original grandeur.
The hotel is located in Zona G, a best of Bogota gastronomic area not far from downtown, making getting around the city easy.
All rooms include iHome sound systems, excellent décor and working chimneys in the suites.
Charleston Casa Medina, Carrera 7 #69 A- 22; +57 1 217 0288; from $269 per night
Radisson Royal Bogota Hotel
Within walking distance of businesses, events, malls and restaurants, this hotel in the north of the city provides outstanding service and individualized attention.
Large, comfortable suites offer excellent views of Bogota.
A delicious selection of international food is served at the two restaurants, and in the evening guests can relax with live music and drinks in a lounge near the lobby’s majestic winding marble staircase.
Radisson Royal Bogota Hotel, Calle 113 No. 7-65; +571 657 8700; from $219 per night
Hotel Estelar La Fontana
Ivy-covered buildings, beautiful outdoor areas and attentive staff make this an easy best of Bogota pick.
La Fonatana’s central courtyard radiates the feeling of a main square in a small colonial town, complete with a fountain and chapel.
On Sundays that courtyard becomes a hive of cultural activity, with live music, local art, hands-on crafts events for children and a fair with 60 artisans and their crafts.
Hotel Estelar La Fontana, Av.127 #15A-10; +571 615 4400; from $197 per night
One of Colombia’s most important chefs opened this exquisitely renovated 1914 National Heritage Site mansion offering Harry’s original cuisine combining Colombian and international ingredients.
Hidden away on the second floor, The Chef’s Table is an intimate, reservation-only dining area where small parties can try Harry’s personalized menu with wine pairings.
Among the restaurant’s famous patrons are Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
Harry Sasson, Carrera 9 #75-70; +571 347 7155; expensive; Monday-Saturday noon-midnight, Sunday noon-5 p.m.
Graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Peru, Chilean chef Nicolás Quintano draws upon his visual arts background to combine new cooking techniques employing impeccable presentation.
A sophisticated dining experience in a best of Bogota area, Matiz offers gourmet dishes with complex and surprising flavors. The seven-course tasting menu is a unique experience tailored to the tastes of each eater and inspired by the creativity of the chef.
The outdoor terrace with its waterfall and vertical gardens is ideal for day or night dining. Cost for the seven-course tasting menu without wine pairing is COP$120,000 ($66).
Matiz, Calle 95 #11A-17; +571 520 2003; expensive; Monday- Saturday noon-3 p.m. and 5-9 p.m., Sunday noon-5 p.m.
Excellent, traditional Colombian dishes such as ajiaco and sobrebarriga have been circulating through this quaint dining anachronism for almost 50 years.
The two-story colonial-style house has an outdoor terrace with a fireplace, a private dining area for parties up to 25 people and an adorable bar. Live music is played at lunchtime on weekdays.
Casa Vieja, Calle 70 #6-23; +571 310 5247; moderate; Monday-Saturday noon-11 p.m., Sunday noon-5 p.m.
Easy on the wallet, but explosive in flavor, this local Bogota fusion chain draws its inspiration from the flavors of Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and other Asian countries, serving it all with a Colombian twist.
The focus here is on national ingredients, from moshiso leaves grown by descendants of Japanese immigrants to fish from the Colombian Pacific coast.
Wok, several locations around the city; +571 622 5980; budget; Monday-Saturday noon-10:30 p.m.; Sunday noon-9 p.m.
A cool climate mixed with Colombia’s love of good tinto (black coffee) guarantees a coffee shop on nearly every corner in the city. Although much of the quality Colombian coffee is exported, Juan Valdez is proof that some does stay in the country.
While some may balk at the inclusion of a corporate coffee dispensary, this famous symbol of Colombian coffee growers focuses on coffee education and the support of various national coffee producing areas. This is a popular place for impromptu business meetings or gatherings with friends.
Juan Valdez, Carrera 11A #93 A-10; budget; open daily 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
Bogota Beer Company
Colombia’s largest craft brewery serves beer made locally in small batches. The BBC’s ambiance mimics that of an English pub, with decor that celebrates the golden years of Bogota’s past.
Delicious beer and good bar food mixed with Colombian enthusiasm make this a place worth return visits.
Bogota Beer Company, Carrera 5 #71A-75; +571 742 9292; open daily 12:30 p.m.-1 a.m.
Gaira Cafe Cumbia House
Colombians love a party, so it’s not hard to find a place with good music and lots of energy, but Gaira Cafe is special.
Owned by famous Colombian singer Carlos Vives and family, this is as much a museum of Colombian music history as it is a leisure space, filled with instruments and memorabilia of outstanding Latin musicians.
The house band is good and has the place packed on weekends.
The restaurant serves creative and delicious Colombian food and the full bar has inventive cocktails.
Reservations on the weekend are essential to ensure a table and the cover is COP$20,000 ($11). Sundays at lunchtime Gaira presents a musical theater for children.
Gaira Cafe Cumbia House, Carrera 13 #96-11; +571 746 2696; Tuesday to Saturday music starts after 8:30 p.m.; Sunday: 1-3:30 p.m., no cover
Andres Carne de Res
Just north of Bogota, the town of Chia is home to one of the best party environments in Colombia. Colorful, offbeat decoration include statues, bottle cap designs, memorabilia, neon signs, old mattresses and anything else you can imagine.
The meat and appetizers are good, as is the service, but people come here to party. Nighttime shows are interactive and circus-like, designed to get everyone up and moving.
Andres Carne de Res, Calle 3 #11A-56, Chia; +571 863 7880; daily from noon-midnight
Salto del Angel
On the northwest corner of Parque 93, this imposing five-level restaurant provides a hip place for a rumba (party), for enjoying a cocktail or shot of Colombian aguardiente and for dancing to Latin music with the young and beautiful of Bogota.
Salto del Angel, Carrera 13 #93A-45; +571 654 5455; Monday-Sunday noon-2 a.m., Sunday noon-5 p.m.
A sophisticated shopping mall that offers international and national brands, leather goods, souvenirs and jewelry, Centro Andino was the seed for development in Zona Rosa that transformed the neighborhood into a vibrant commercial destination.
Vertical gardens and live music on select evenings add to the elegant surroundings, which are soon due to receive a fourth level and 22 additional stores.
Andino, Carrera 11 #82-71; +571 621 3111; moderate to expensive; Monday–Sunday: 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
Hacienda de Santa Barbara
A 19th-century farmhouse converted into a mall, the Hacienda is a good place to get a dose of history while getting your shopping done.
Several cafes serve Colombian coffee in cobblestone squares flanked by fountains, wood balconies and stone walkways. There are plenty of jewelry shops, high-end craft and textile stores and bars with live music, and the food court even has real restaurants.
Hacienda de Santa Barbara, Carrera 7 #115-60; +571 612 0388; moderate to expensive; daily from 10 a.m.-8:30 p.m.
Museo del Oro
You can dive into pre-Colombian culture, religion and art at this museum, home to the largest collection of pre-Colombian gold artifacts in the world.
The permanent exhibition is in Spanish and English and additional information is available on English audio guides.
Museo del Oro, Carrera 6 and Calle 16; +571 343 2222; Tuesday-Saturday: 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Sundays and holidays: 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; admission COP $3,000 ($1.65)
International Emerald Museum
A visit to Bogota offers the chance to see emeralds from the world's most fertile emerald mines.
The museum includes a simulation mine, exhibition room with a variety of emeralds and a tempting jewelry shop.
International Emerald Museum, Calle 16 #6-66; +571 286 4259; Monday-Saturday: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; admission COP$5,000 ($2.75)
Cerro de Monserrate
This mountaintop overlook founded in the early 1600s provides a best of Bogota view at above 10,000 feet.
The panoramic view of the vast city below is worth the trip, but there are numerous souvenir shops through which to browse, and delicious French and Colombian restaurants to try.
The easiest way to get here is via short cable car ride.
Cerro de Monserrate, Carrera 2 Este # 21-48; +571 284 5700; Monday–Saturday noon-11 p.m. COP$15,400 ($8.50), Sunday: 6:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. COP$9,000 ($5)
A tiny colonial town within the big metropolis, Usaquen is a district in which you’ll discover small, quirky restaurants and bars with first-rate food and live music.
A colorful arts and crafts fair is held on Sundays and holidays. Colombian musicians play the harp, saxophone or marimba on street corners, local artists sell paintings and craftsmen display jewelry, leather products, hats and bags crafted by indigenous tribes, and more.
Calle 120 and Carrera 6; Sundays 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Bogota is home to the world’s largest bicycling network, the Ciclovía, which covers close to 300 kilometers (185 miles).
This mostly flat city is good for biking, and on Sundays some major streets are blocked off to allow extra room for the bike route.
A tour shows off some of the plazas, parks and historical monuments of Bogota.
The tour costs COP$35,000 ($19), bicycle included.
Bogota Bike Tours; Carrera 3 # 12-72; +571 341 1027; tours depart at 10:30 a.m.
This little mountain town set aflame the imagination of explorers when they heard tales of the Muisca Indian tribal chief, El Dorado, who would ritually cover himself with gold dust and then bathe in Guatavita Lake.
Later explorers used that name to describe the legendary “Lost City of Gold.” This lake and quiet colonial town are among the best places to enjoy Colombian small town hospitality.
75 kilometers (45 miles) northeast of Bogota; www.colombia.travel