Choosing Bogota, Colombia as a vacation destination might be out there for some people. For us, it was a long time coming. For years Colombia has been deemed off-limits based on The US. Department of State – Bureau of Consular Affairs travel advisories and public perception. Sadly, public perception stems from the Pablo Escobar days of drug-related kidnapping and extortion. Before deciding to make this trip, I did a ton of research.
Despite this, in general, Americans consider Mexico to be safer, frequenting all-inclusive resorts that are severely guarded. Guess what; it’s no different in Colombia! Colombia has made great strides to lower its crime rates, and they value tourism – they protect tourism. Does this mean that you are 100% safe – no. But you are also not 100% safe anywhere in the world.
For clarity, let’s compare the crime rates of America to Colombia. I’ll let you be the judge here. But unless you struggle with math, it’s evident that while Colombia has a higher rate of “violent crime” and “violent international crime,” America is no haven for anyone. The numbers speak for themselves, and crime exists everywhere globally.
Crime rates aside, let’s get on with what’s so fantastic about Colombia, why you should consider it, and why I will visit again.
Why not is the best response, but I’ll give you some specific reasons to consider it:
Bogota is one of South America’s coolest cities. It’s the capital, and it’s very trendy!
Bogota has so much to offer, such as diverse cuisine, art, history, and tons of sophisticated nightlife.
There is an endless supply of museums and parks.
Colombia is a very religious country; this brings hundreds of magnificent churches to explore.
It’s affordable, way more affordable than Mexico.
Where to Stay in Bogota, Colombia?
A concern for anyone traveling to Colombia is where to stay. It boils down to a couple of neighborhoods that are safe for tourists. Some people will disagree here and give you a longer list. While there are a few other neighborhoods, these are the main two for tourists:
We chose to stay in Chapinero, and we booked the Holiday Inn Express Suites. Chapinero is an affluent neighborhood that has an abundance of restaurants and several high-end hotels to choose from:
All the brands you are already comfortable staying with.
Zona T (Zona Rosa)
We chose not the stay here because it’s the cities capital of nightlife. Not to say that we don’t enjoy a good night out, we do, but we are past nightclubbing. The thought of staying in the heart of a nightclub area gives me a headache. Zona T is slightly north (about a mile) of Chapinero. When searching, hotel options for Zona T Chapinero will display. All the above recommendations for Chapinero will show. Zona T is packed with nightlife and shopping; here some hotels to choose from:
Not necessarily the brands most American’s are familiar with, but these are high-end hotels with phenomenal reviews.
Potential Safety Issues in Bogota Colombia
My intent for sharing here is not to freak people out or give you the impression that you can’t enjoy Colombia. Instead, this is to educate you on how to avoid classic big city schemes. These scams happen all over the world:
Pickpocketing: Many big cities across the globe have pickpockets. Bogota is no different. The rule of thumb is don’t carry valuables, don’t flash your phone, and be alert.
Taxi’s: The scam goes like this. You get in and give your destination, and you end up on an isolated street, and you get mugged. In some cases, taken to an ATM and forced to withdraw cash. They call it the millionaire ride because you might have to withdraw a million pesos – a few hundred dollars. In a nutshell, don’t use taxis and you will be fine.
ATM Theft: There are three versions of this scam. 1. Card skimming, which occurs globally. 2. A combo taxi scam (see above). 3. El fleteo – which is being watched withdrawing cash and then being followed and mugged. Avoid taking money at night and stick to safe locations like a mall or inside a bank.
Drink Spiking: Nothing new here; drink spiking goes on all over. Drink at reputable places, don’t accept a drink from a stranger, and if you are concerned, watch your drink being made.
Things To Do In Bogota Colombia
We spent five nights in Bogota, and while I’m satisfied that we hit the highlights, there is plenty more to see and do. If you are into museums and parks, then you will need more time than five nights:
Plaza Bolivar, Bogota
Located in the famous La Candelaria district, Plaza de Bolivar or Plaza Bolivar is the capital’s main square. This is a total freebie, walk around and take in the sights. The square is home to the Palace of Justice of Colombia, Lievano Palace, the National Capitol, and The Primary Cathedral of Bogota. There are several free museums to take in here.
Changing of the Guards at Plaza Bolivar
You can watch The Changing of The Guard Ceremony on Wednesday and Friday at 2:30 pm and on Sunday at 3 pm. It’s completely free and worth watching. La Candelaria is famous for walking tours and history; however, it is notorious for pickpocketing, and it’s said to be unsafe at night. Do not book to stay in La Candelaria – it is not advised.
The Gold Museum was not on our list of things to see or do; it was a standard stop on one of our days out. We humored the visit, and as far as museums go, it was interesting. It is one of the most visited touristic highlights in the country, has 55,000 pieces, and contains the most extensive collection of gold artifacts in the world. I am not a museum person, and I could have skipped this one.
Monserrate is the name of the hill or mountain that shadows the city of Bogota.
10,341 feet above sea level, it is home to the famous 17th century white church that can be seen for miles when there is no fog. Much like Christ the Redeemer, Monserrate is synonymous with Bogota Colombia, and most people recognize it. You can get up and down three ways: hike, cable car, or train. At the top, there is the church, restaurants, and souvenir shops. Well worth seeing but plan accordingly. As I mentioned, Colombia is very religious, and we were there over Easter, so all churches were packed with people attending mass. This resulted in an extremely long wait to get back down.
Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Lourdes
Located in Chapinero, it was built in 1875 in the neo-Gothic style, featuring an ornate, vaulted interior. It is known for its polychrome stained-glass windows of German origin. This is where I learned about the Cross’s Stations, which prepared me for the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira – Bogota, Colombia.
Ciclovia – Street Bike Riding
Ciclovia means “cycleway,” and many of the main streets are closed for this event on Sundays from 7 am to 2 pm. You can rent a bike and participate or watch. We did not participate, and it’s unavoidable to see. It’s as if the entire city comes out to bike on Sundays! Please make a note of this because it does cause delays.
Laguna de Guatavita (Lake Guatavita)
Lake Guatavita is a sacred lake for the Muisca people. Legend says that the Muisca celebrated a ritual in which the Zipa, a title for a ruler of ancient times, was expected to offer gold to the gods. It’s said he would cover himself with gold and float out on Lake Guatavita to offer up gold. There is a gold Muisca raft representation of the initiation of the Zipa inside the Gold Museum.
I’m not going to lie. This one sucked. I don’t know how many steps are required to get to the top because I never made it; I quit halfway. Not only could I not breathe, but it was sweltering hot. I’m not physically fit, but this challenged those that were in shape. Add to this; once I went back down, the locals tried to put me on a bus back to the exit. I flat-out refused.
Not sure about you, but I ain’t getting on a bus in the middle of nowhere solo. Solo, as in me, the driver, and no other passengers. No, I’ll pass. You’d have to kill me to get me on that bus – it’s just not happening. I stood my ground, knowing that the driver would pick up my friends who went up and come back for me. And, just like that, he did!
Outside of the physicality of this one. The exit is on the other side. If you drove and parked, you need to pay to take a bus back to the parking. This was not explained upon entry, and several people had an issue with this even though it was only pennies.
A beautiful view that I got to take in through the lens of my friends, but this one is for the birds!
Villa de Leyva
We stopped here en route to Casa Terracota. This place is packed with charm. It’s oozing with streets paved in stone. Part of The Colombian National Network of Heritage Towns is home to Plaza Mayor, the largest square in Colombia. The streets are filled with quaint shops and restaurants and home to a winery and a vineyard.
Hotel Del Salto at Tequendama Falls – Colombia
Ever since I saw the photos of Hotel Del Salto at Tequendama Falls, I wanted to visit this allegedly haunted hotel. Colombia was already on the list for 2019, and I chose Bogota explicitly to see this once hotel, now museum. Outside of the obvious reasons, like being directly opposite a huge waterfall, the hotel has a long and somewhat morbid history heightening the urge to visit.
Hotel Del Salto at Tequendama Falls is a significant tourist attraction for Colombian’s and international travelers alike. The hotel sits 18 miles southwest of Bogota and is easily accessible by car or bus. It invites a crowd of tourists longing to take in the view of Tequendama Falls. To explore the stories of suicide that created such notoriety and to find out if it is haunted.
Villa de Leyva’s Casa Terracota is an architectural marvel that took the artist and environmental activist Octavio Mendoza 20 years to complete. Often referred to as “Casa de Flintstones” by locals, this unusual house is made entirely of clay. Coming in at a whopping 5,400 square feet, Villa de Leyva’s Casa Terracota is considered the world’s biggest piece of pottery by many.
Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira – Bogota, Colombia.
Hailed as one of Colombia’s most significant architectural accomplishments, The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira is the most stunning and unusual cathedral you will ever visit. From the moment you start to walk down the pathway leading to the tunnels, you know you are about to experience something inspiring. It’s dark, wet, mysterious, and reminiscent of a scene from Game of Thrones. Once a working salt mine, this cavernous system is now described as a “Jewel of Modern Architecture” as the church was carved inside a salt mine 650 feet underground.
If you can only pick one thing to do in Bogota, this is it. It’s simply amazing.
What You Need to Know
Americans do not need a visa to visit Colombia.
Very little English is spoken, so get creative. We used Google translate, and we tried our best with the bit of Spanish we do know.
Do not use taxis; they are known for the “millionaire ride” scam where you could get mugged.
Uber exists in Colombia but doesn’t use this option. While this is safer than a taxi and trackable, it does not matter if something goes wrong.
I don’t recommend using public transportation. Stick with a private driver that the hotel will arrange, and you cannot go wrong.
If we take perceptions alone into consideration, this might have been our riskier trip to date. Factually, we have been to places a lot more dangerous. I loved Colombia. It exceeded my expectations for a vacation. The food was fantastic, and there is and an endless supply of things to see and do. Getting around is simple, it’s ridiculously inexpensive, and it’s rich in culture and history. Add to this a direct flight from Orlando, we will be going again specifically to see Cartagena, and that’s a rare endorsement from me.
The only thing that could have made this trip any better would have been meeting Nicky Jam and scoring a big fat snog – no me puedo contener.
Nikki Webster is a travel writer who covers how to travel while grinding a day job, how to travel without breaking the bank, hotels, cruising, and off-the-beaten-track experiences. She is particularly fond of Florida and writes extensively about the state. She flies around 60,000 miles per year and has visited 54 countries, 50 states, and six continents. You can read all about her travels at www.britonthemove.com.