7 Things to Do in Bogota, Colombia: A Day in the Old Town
Another day, another old town. Colombia is full of them. Not that I was complaining though — there’s always fun to be had while walking through streets and plazas that have barely changed in centuries. We spent a day in Colombia’s capital exploring the colonial centre of the city (also known as La Candelaria) – here are 7 of the best things to do in Bogota.
Walk the Streets
Bogota’s old town contains all the aspects that an old town should. Grand plazas, decaying buildings from the distant past and ornate, perfectly preserved pieces of old-world architecture abound on the streets of Bogota. It’s best to hit the streets with a loose plan, as there are a few places that you won’t want to miss, but strolling aimlessly through the historic streets really is the best part.
Bolivar Square (Plaza de Bolivar)
This massive town square is the triumphant centrepiece of Bogota’s old town. Imposing buildings surround the plaza, a show of colonial riches and power that coursed through the veins of Colombia for so long. Obviously very few Colombians (especially the indigenous population) actually benefited from those riches though. Bolivar Square, and the streets surrounding it, is home to some of the nicest (and most important) old buildings in Bogota. Some of them house parliamentary offices so are only viewable from distance.
Colon Theatre (Teatro Colon Bogota)
One of the few old buildings that we actually went into was the Teatro Colon Bogota, which was built in 1885. It’s an elegant piece of colonial design and it’s worth taking a tour if you have the time. It would also be cool to see a show there – we didn’t get time to see one but we did watch one at a similar old theatre in El Salvador and it was a great experience.
The Gold Museum
The plundered riches of South America were mostly consisted of gold. Thousands of tonnes of it were stolen and shipped off to Europe, but some of it remains in the gold museum (Museo del Oro). Over 55,000 pieces, including decorative masks, armour, jewellery and vases crafted by Colombia’s indigenous groups are displayed in this impressive collection. It’s the best museum we visited in South America and shouldn’t be missed.
The Botero Museum
We saw heaps of Fernando Botero’s larger than life sculptures in Medellin, so it was nice to visit the Botero Museum while walking around La Candelaria. It’s free to enter and there are heaps of works by Colombia’s most famous artist (and a few other artists as well). If you’ve never heard of Botero’s art it could be described as curvaceous (or fat if you’re not being polite).
Try the local food
We ate one of our favourite meals in Colombia while exploring La Candelaria. Changua Bogotana, a creamy soup mostly made up of milk and eggs (with lots of bread thrown in) was surprisingly delicious. Someone recommended we try it at Mama Lupe, which turned out to be great advice.
Explore the rougher parts
Not all of Bogota’s old town would make it onto a postcard or the Instagram feed of a failed model / social media influencer. Some of it looks, and feels, pretty rough. Street art (or a lot of the time, graffiti) is widespread and there are some narrow streets and alleys you wouldn’t want to walk down at night. There are some cool bars scattered around and a lot of people tend to hang around in the small plazas, eating, drinking, smoking and listening to music.
Even in the rougher parts of La Candelaria we always felt safe. Colombia has a bad reputation in some circles but we didn’t have any problems during our month long trip. In fact Colombians were the most outgoing, friendly and helpful locals that we met in South America. It obviously pays to be aware and to ask locals (maybe someone at your hotel / hostel) if there are places you should avoid, especially at night. Having said that, La Candelaria is known to be quite a dangerous place, so be careful and avoid walking around at night.
After two days in Bogota (we spent the other day recovering from long bus rides) we were ready to move on to the south of Colombia. We went to the Tatacoa Desert, saw the ancient smiling statues in San Agustin and crossed the border into Ecuador. Make sure you read the rest of my posts if you’re planning a trip to Colombia!
Further Reading: 12 Top Places to See in Colombia
Would you like to see the old town in Bogota? Let me know in the comments below!