Encircled by stunning, lush mountains, this capital city of Colombia is an attractive and engaging amalgam of colonial charm and cosmopolitan, big-city South America.
More than 400 years of history and culture can be found in the city’s maze of streets, alleys and squares. For our NewNowNext tour of this city that has moved from “danger zone” to hip capital of South America, we’ll visit a few world-class museums and chic designer shops. Colombia, long thought to be a pit of hell for tourists, has finally emerged from its troubled past. No need to pack your bullet-proof vest or stun gun anymore, it’s now not only safe, but it has a surprising surfeit of things sophisticated travelers might want to do/see/buy.
What exactly, you ask? Well, here are nine of our favorite things to do in beautiful, strikingly cool Bogotá.
This little clothing boutique is a perfect destination to set as an excuse for getting lost in La Candelaria, the city’s historical center. The winding streets flanked by colorful colonial houses reveal a thriving center of bohemian art. The store bills itself as selling graffiti art and T-shirts, where you can pick up very amusing designs, such as Che Guavara imagery subtitled with words like “Cliché,” or a representation of the pope, wearing heels and robe flying up in the air around him à la Marilyn Monroe. You can also pick up paintings and prints by local artists, not to mention the chance to meet the Colombian version of a hipster.
Located at the foot of Monserrate — the breathtaking funicular ride to the best view of Bogota — this boutique is owned and operated by Colombian designer Catalina Navia. Her expertly sewn shoes and handbags are one-of-a kind creations, bursting with bright colors and unique constructions that would sell for hundreds more in any boutique shop in New York or Los Angeles. Also selling unique men’s and womens clothing and a whole bevy of whimsical accessories, Catanavia would be right at home in Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Shoreditch in London, or Silver Lake in LA.
Although the mall is hardly a big destination for most out-of-town travelers, El Centro Andino in the Zona T neighborhood is one of the toniest in the whole city. Not only is it a great opportunity to see how wealthy Colombians shop and dine, but there are plenty of boutiques here that you can’t find in the United States, like French clothing brand Chevignon. Or Colombian brands like Color Siete — a sort of tropical J. Crew with deliciously supple cotton fabrics — and Velez, the best leather goods company in the whole country. Because of the exchange rate and general cost of merchandise in Colombia, items from these stores are generally a great deal.
Eat & Drink
Located right next to the Botero museum, Juan Valdez is Colombia’s crowned prince of coffee, and this is a country that knows a thing or two about great coffee. This particular modern coffeeshop is the perfect place to unwind after wandering around La Candelaria. The coffee ice cream or any number of French style pastries also make for a delicious snack.
“The False Door,” as the name translates, describes itself as the oldest eatery in Bogotá, dating back to 1816. The miniscule space boasts a high, vaulted ceiling with some ancient wood beams, and is a favorite breakfast spot for the lucky Bogatinos. Aside from coffee, the chocolate completo gets you a biscuit, toast and butter, and a hot chocolate accompanied with a piece of white cheese. And yes, you dip the cheese into your chocolate. It’s pretty fantastic.
This charming little nook is found on the Chorro de Quevedo, a relaxing miniature plaza in the Candelaria distrct — but not overrun by tourists, busy Colombians, or people trying to sell you things. Arguably the oldest plaza in Bogotá, the tiny Chapel of San Miguel holds a peaceful vigil over the area. Staffed by knowledgeable café aficionados, Café Color Café serves a wide variety of coffees, as well as crepes, arepas, and other nibbles.
A museum devoted entirely to gold may not seem that exciting, but it’s anything but boring. This world-class, impressively curated museum tells the history of Colombia through the lens of gold. It turns out that this shiny commodity was an essential part of Colombia culture, from the economics and fashion of native Souther Amercan tribes to colonization, and beyond. Some of the pre-Columbia pieces displayed are haunting in their beauty.
Fernando Botero is a world-renowned artist, known for his representation of the especially rotund, be they people, animals, or even fruit. His unique style also lends itself to some fantastic sculpture. This museum, in a beautiful colonial mansion, is free to the public and contains some of Botero’s best work. It is also home to a wide array of works by other international artists, including de Kooning, Degas, Picasso, and Miró.
Perched on the easternly edge of the city, Monserrate is a site of Catholic pilgrimage, but also the best place for a stunning view of the city. Located ten minutes away from the Cantanavia boutique (see above), the summit is accessed via a Swiss-engineered funicular that brings you more than 10,000 feet in the air. At the top you’ll find a 17th century church, craft market and restaurants serving traditional Colombian food. It’s not for those with a fear of heights, but conquering them will allow you to see all of the stunning metropolis.
Previously on NNN: Theatron in Bogota is the gay club not to miss.