Bogota, Colombia: Pros and Cons of Visiting

Bogota has much to offer visitors and generally offers great value. Highlights include the historic Candeleria, epic views of the city and Andes Mountains from Monserrate and a tasty culinary scene. We celebrated our 13 year wedding anniversary in Bogota and the nearby coffee region of Salento. It was a fun trip, but some travelers may feel uncomfortable at times. If you visit the country independently like we did, there are some things to keep in mind. Here are the pros and cons to visiting Bogota, Colombia.

View of Andes Mountains from Bogota's Monserrate, with blue sky

The great news is that the drug and political violence that plagued Colombia for years has greatly diminished due to the political deals made with FARC and measures to curb cocaine production. Hopefully, it is not your intention, but if you travel to Colombia looking to buy cocaine understand two things. 1) Cocaine is illegal in Colombia. 2) Average Colombians do not think highly of visitors asking about a substance that tragically affected their country for decades.

Bogota Hotels

We stayed in three well appointed hotels in the city. As we started and ended our trip to Colombia in Bogota, we had the opportunity to check out a few places to give a firsthand comparison. Consider booking accommodation with free cancellation in advance.

Bioxury Hotel

We loved our three night stay during our 13 year wedding anniversary at the Bioxury Hotel (pictured below). It’s modern, comfortable and well priced compared to what you would pay for similar quality in many other countries. The complimentary breakfast buffet features a scrumptious assortment of Colombian favorites.

Bioxury Hotel in Bogota - room and buffet breakfast collage

GHL Hotel Bioxury’s location in Zona Rosa is ideal given its close proximity to many delicious restaurants. The Zona Rosa area is safer to walk around at night compared to the historic center of Candelaria. So consider staying there and using Uber to visit the historic center.

Hotel Habitel

As we arrived in Bogota late from the United States, we booked our first night at the Hotel Habitel near El Dorado Airport. Hotel Habitel has a free 24-hour airport shuttle and a delicious buffet breakfast is included in the price of all rooms. The following day we used Uber to move to the Bioxury.

Courtyard by Marriott Bogota Airport

At the end of our trip, we had to depart Bogota early and traffic can be heavy. So we booked the final night at Courtyard by Marriot Bogota Airport. This is a new hotel and we liked the huge wall map of Bogota above the bed. That made it feel like we weren’t just staying in a chain hotel anywhere.

For airport stays, the rooms at Marriott are a little more stylish than Hotel Habitel. But Hotel Habitel has a nice courtyard to enjoy breakfast outside in the garden. Their shuttle service also runs more frequently than Marriot’s. Keep that in mind if you have an early flight out of EL Dorado Airport.

Tours in Bogota

Take at least one tour in Bogota. On our first day, we took the free walking tour with Beyond Colombia. Angelica was a knowledgable guide. She taught us a lot about the history of Colombia and gave insight into the best places to eat and drink in the city. She made a special point to tell us not to believe everything in the Netflix hit series Narcos, about notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. The suggested tip for the free tour is the equivalent of around $10 US, which we both gladly gave at the end of three hours. But we saw some give a little less, and the guide warmly thanked everyone the same.

Group photo on the Beyond Colombia tour

The Pros of Traveling to Bogota

Impressive Architecture in Candelaria

Bolivar Square, which houses the Colombian parliament, is as picturesque as major European squares. We even pet a cute llama with the Colombian Parliament building in the backdrop. And a street vendor selling “big ass ants” to eat, is a quirk you generally won’t find in European squares.

Alex & Bell in Bolivar Square

Monserrate: A Highlight of Bogota

The views of Bogota and the lush Andes Mountains from Monserrate are dramatically beautiful. It was our first time seeing the Andes Mountains, which surround Bogota, and we were awestruck with how green they are. A cable car or funicular train takes visitors to the top, where there’s a church that dates back to the 17th century, along with biblical sculptures around the grounds. Along with the stunning vista, it’s also a pilgrimage spot and some visitors hike to the top (we took the cable car). The top of Monserrate has several cafes, shops and a lovely fine dining restaurant named Casa San Isidro.

View of Andes mountains from Monserrate

Great Value in Bogota, Colombia

Food, shopping and accommodation are significantly cheaper than what you’ll pay in the United States. Even the trendy restaurants in the Zona Rosa, which are considered expensive, are not nearly as expensive as the equivalent in New York, San Francisco, Boston or Washington, DC. We loved our stay at the beautiful Bioxury hotel, which is ultra modern, comfortable and lined with green foliage in the lobby.

As Colombia is one of the world’s largest producers of coffee, Bogota also has excellent cafes. Our favorite is the beautifully named Arte y Passion Cafe in Bogota, where servers draw pictures in coffees table side.

Coffee artist at the Arte y Passion Cafe in Bogota

Great Bogota Museums

Bogota has a variety of good museums. Here are three museums to consider visiting. They range from art museums to museums focusing on Colombia’s trade in gold and emeralds.

Botero Museum

Fernando Botero is like the Pablo Picasso or Salvador Dali of Colombia. In 2000, Botero donated an art collection of 208 pieces to Banco de la República. The Botero Museum is located in the historic La Candelaria neighborhood, in a colonial house that previously served as the office of the archbishop until 1955.

The Botero Museum a beautiful and free art museum that includes the work of Colombia’s most iconic painter, Fernando Botero. It also features an impressive collection of works by European masters. Museo Botero was our favorite museum in Bogota.

Different museums in Bogota like the Botero Museum, Gold Museum and Emerald Museum

Gold Museum

The Gold Museum (Museo Del Oro) is fantastic. The museum features 34,000 gold pieces, with unique historic value and intricate to rudimentary beauty. Many items were involved in sacred rituals or the daily life of indigenous peoples including the tayrona and muisca. You’ll also learn a lot about the history of the region, pre and post Spanish colonialism.

In 2018, National Geographic magazine named the Gold Museum “one of the best museums in the history of the planet.” It was featured alongside the Vatican in Italy and the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, amount others.

Admission to the Museo Del Oro is only around 5,000 Colombian pesos (around $2 US).

Emerald Museum

We also visited the Emerald Museum (Museo De La Esmerelda) on the 23rd floor of the Avianca Building, the oldest skyscraper in South America. This was our least favorite museum and is mostly a showcase to sell emeralds at the end of the tour. But the sales pitch was no pressure. The highlight of this museum for us were the wonderful views of downtown Bogota. If you’re shopping for emeralds in Bogota, the Emerald Museum is a good place to include in your search.

Delicious Colombian Food

During our trip, we debated whether Colombian or Mexican food was better. The fact that we were even having that discussion is a testament to Colombia’s culinary scene because Mexicans generally rock at cooking. Some of the steaks we ate in Bogota rivaled ones we ate in Buenos Aires and Montevideo – two of the best cities in the world for quality steaks.

Chicken soup

Great Shopping in the Historic Center (Candelaria)

We both did some shopping in the Candelaria area of Bogota. We picked up some high quality items at great prices. The highlights for me are a beautiful leather messenger bag for the equivalent of around $32 US. We both bought some stylish new clothes for a fraction of what we would pay in the US or Western Europe. We also bought some beautiful handmade art work for 4,000 Colombian pesos (around $1.50). That was his asking price and we wish we had bought more of his pieces.

Gateway to Other Beautiful Parts of Colombia

Bogota’s El Dorado Airport is very modern and has frequent domestic flights around the country, along with being well connected internationally. After spending a few days in Bogota, we flew to Pereira and then traveled 45 minutes to Salento via Uber, a charming and safe town in the “zona cafeteria,” or coffee zone of Colombia. This is an incredibly beautiful area, and the Quindio palm trees in the Cocora Valley (Valle de Cocora) are the tallest in the world, growing up to 60 meters (196 feet) high. We also toured the delicious Ocaso coffee plantation, which is extremely picturesque.

The Cons of Traveling to Bogota

murals in Bogota, with blue skies

Possible Safety Issues

We did not have any issues in 5 days, but we were careful.

“Be careful. The areas around the Candeleria (old town) are safe during the day. But just outside it, may not be safe (even during the day).” – Our Uber driver in Bogota

“Only use Uber at Monserrate. Do not take a taxi.” Said the same Uber driver.

We had read the warnings about Bogota. Only take taxis from the official taxi stand at El Dorado Airport and don’t randomly hail cabs off the street. Or use Uber, which we did throughout our stay in Colombia. We used Uber Black in Bogota, which is comparable to Uber X in the United States.

We initially used Uber X in Bogota and while the driver took us to our destination safely, there were issues with his navigation because he had to turn off his device to save on mobile phone fees. As we had just arrived in Bogota, it was not comfortable to be driven in a couple semi circles. Read the many reasons why you should use Uber abroad, or another ride sharing app.

Uber Black Service

We recommend paying a little more and using the Uber Black service. We also only got in cars with drivers with good ratings. If the driver did not have a good rating, we canceled the ride before he arrived. We prefer to use services like Uber over taxis because we can see the drivers rating, there is a record of our ride, we know what the price will be, and do not have to trade cash with drivers. All of our Uber Black experiences in Bogota were positive ones. Some drivers spoke English, but the majority did not.

Candelaria is Not Safe At Night

Bogota generally shuts down early. After 8pm, there aren’t that many people walking around most places. And it’s not considered safe to walk around the Candelaria (historic center) after dark unless you’re in a group. So we stayed in the upscale Zona Rosa neighborhood, but even there it’s best not to walk around too late at night solo or as a couple.

artist drawing Jesus in chalk on the street in Bogota, Colombia

Understand that safety issues in Bogota are generally related to theft. And issues around theft generally stem from large disparities in wealth. There are extremely wealthy and extremely poor people in the city. If you visit Bogota, DO NOT be flashy with money or jewelry.

Frequent Language Barriers with Broken Spanish

Traveling independently in Colombia can be challenging if your Spanish is not very good. I speak a little bit of Spanish, which is really helpful. If you’re Spanish is not good (and ultimately mine is not), it’s best to stay in international hotels or with an Airbnb host that speaks some English.

High Elevation

The elevation can be a problem for some. I struggled with headaches and fatigue the first 36 hours in Bogota while my body adjusted to the elevation. After taking the cable car up to Monserrate, which lies at an elevation of 3,100 meters (around 10,000 feet), I immediately had to sit down while my body adjusted to the altitude. But Monserrate is absolutely stunning – one of the most dramatically beautiful places we’ve seen in any city worldwide.

Cool Weather Year Round (With a Constant Risk of Sunburn)

Bogota gets a fair amount of precipitation. And when it rains, it is not warm. Pack a sweater and a rain jacket. We were pretty lucky and generally found the weather during the day to be pleasant. It was usually low 20’s Celcius (low 70’s Fahrenheit). Warm when it was sunny and cool when the wind blew. We frequently took our sweaters on and off.

Alex & Bell with a Llama in Bogota's Bolivar Square

Also, pack sunscreen. Being at high elevation means a greater risk of sunburn. We learned the hard way, but thankfully we didn’t get burned too badly.

During winter in North America, you’ll find significantly warmer weather in Bogota. As it is close to the equator, average temperatures are the same year round. The weather in Bogota might be a plus for some, just know that it is not tropical weather like Cartagena.

Should You Visit Bogota, Colombia?

While we enjoyed Bogota and think it is a worthwhile destination, it is not for everyone. The small town of Salento was much more laid-back and generally safer to walk around at night. The receptionist at our hotel in Salento said “nowhere in Bogota is safe to walk around at night” with a slight chuckle.

For travelers looking for warmth and beaches, choose Cartagena over Bogota. Check out this article by our fellow DC blogging friends Backpacking with the Bonds for tips on traveling to Cartagena.

Want to travel to Bogota, Colombia for Cheap?

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Why Colombia for a Wedding Anniversary Trip?

We chose to celebrate in Colombia because we could fly directly from Washington, DC to Bogota on Avianca Airlines. The flight was only 5 and 1/2 hours, the same as flying direct to San Francisco and not much further than Las Vegas. We cashed in credit card points for free plane tickets, so traveling to Colombia cost us the same as traveling down the road. Our good friend, Brianne Miers, of A Traveling Life previously visited Colombia twice and has published great content on the country.

Selfie of Alex and Bell with Andes Mountains in the background

We considered celebrating in Iceland, a country much colder and significantly more expensive than Colombia. We left Colombia happy with our choice. There was a lot we loved, including our stays at the beautiful Bioxury Hotel in Bogota as well as the Reserva Monarca in the “zona cafeteria” (coffee region) near Salento, with an incredible view of the Andes Mountains.

Why We Chose Bogota Over Cartagena

A couple people told us to visit Cartagena over Bogota. Cartagena, Colombia is a tropical destination on the Caribbean, with warm weather year round. Bogota is the capital and sits at a high elevation of 2,600 meters (8,600 feet), so the weather is more unpredictable and it generally gets cold at night. But last year during our travels around Central Mexico, we visited Mexico City and really enjoyed it, so we had a hunch we’d feel similarly about Bogota. Cartagena is more touristy than Bogota, which is a pro for some, and a con for others.

Have questions on planning a trip? Leave a comment or email me at [email protected] and I can assist! 

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  • Alex Kallimanis

    Alex Kallimanis is an award winning travel journalist and travel planner who has visited 67+ different countries, including all 27 European Union countries across all continents except Antarctica. He has resided around the world, living in countries like Australia, the Netherlands and Ireland for over 7 years combined. Currently residing in the Tampa, Florida, area with his wife Bell, he still spends much of his time in Europe as a dual Greek citizen. Alex is a graduate of the University of Central Florida with a bachelor of arts degree in history, and was the president of Phi Alpha Theta (Honors History Society) during his senior year there. Alex is an avid enthusiast of sports, spas, delicious food, the outdoors, craft beverages, history and culture.

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28 thoughts on “Bogota, Colombia: Pros and Cons of Visiting

  1. I enjoyed your thorough and insightful review of a visit to Bogota. Thanks for details like the best airport hotel, avoiding certain areas after dark, and remembering to use sunscreen! I would definitely consider including Bogota on my future bucket list!

  2. It was an novel idea about a wedding trip in Bogota, Colombia, I visited there few months ago and the city surprised me with a lot of culture, and natural scenery. Thanks for sharing with us your experience and the laid back vibe of small towns in the country (as you said), could be a good setting for couples to enjoy! @ knycx.journeying

    1. Glad you enjoyed Bogota as well! The natural beauty around the city was a huge surprise to us as well. And yes, for some just looking for a laid back trip without the museums we definitely recommend Salento and the coffee region over Bogota. Happy travels!

    2. One big surprise is that there are over 60 museums in Bogotá. And if you like history there is nothing like Colombian history.

      1. Wow, 60 museums in Bogota alone is a lot! The Botero Museum is fascinating and unique for art enthusiasts. We also really enjoyed the gold museum.

  3. South America is very high on my Bucket List and I always admire how colourful and colonial Bogota looks in photos. It sounds like you guys had a wonderful trip and I would certainly consider Colombia for a honeymoon or anniversary trip. That food and coffee looks amazing by the way.

    1. We’re so happy to read that we’ve inspired you to consider a visit to Colombia! The food and drinks (coffee as well as a delicious variety of fresh juices) in one of the most ecologically diverse countries were one of the highlights. Hope you visit South America soon! 😀

  4. I haven’t been to Columbia, and this post surely outlines so many interesting things about visiting. The tips on using Uber Black are so helpful as well as an honest review of the pros and cons of visiting. I’ve had altitude sickness before and it is not fun. I never realized Bogota was so high up! I’m partial to smaller towns, so I’d most likely lean to staying in Salento.

    1. Yes, altitude sickness is no fun, Lara! Bell didn’t have a problem in Bogota, and for me, after a day I adjusted. The altitude in Salento is not as high as Bogota so that would make it another good bet for you and any travelers that might have a similar issue. Happy travels!

    2. When you arrive in Bogotá ask for “te de coca” tea from coca leaves (is safe and legal) and it will help with altitude sickness. Is what us locals use.

  5. Thanks for an honest review of Bogota. The pros certainly make it attractive. But the cons aren’t particularly good for me, especially elevation and safety. Your post certainly makes me choose Cartagena instead!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Carol! Yes, we wanted to offer a balanced viewpoint on Bogota. Salento is overall a more laid-back place. One downside of Cartagena is that because it’s more touristy, the average local there relies on tourism more than the average resident of Bogota (where there are more industries) so tourists can expect harder sells more frequently there. But then there’s year round warmth and beaches to go along with a colorful historic center in Cartagena…Lots to experience in Colombia!

  6. Thanks for the shout out! I’m glad you and Bell had a wonderful anniversary trip. Colombia is a very special place to me, and I hope to get back again soon. This time, I’m hoping to visit Bogota – the Museum of Gold is high on my list – and I’d like to get to the zona cafeteria as well and have some of that amazing coffee right at the source.

    1. Cheers, Brianne! After visiting Bogota and the zona cafeteria we can see why you returned to Colombia a second time to see more. While we didn’t make it to Medellin, the topography looks similar to Bogota. And the temperatures in the zona cafeteria are similar to the “eternal spring” of Medellin, which is lovely. Great to hear you’re interested in returning to Colombia for a third visit! The zona cafeteria has a lot to offer visitors, and Bogota has some beautiful parts also. We’d love to return and visit Cartagena in the future!

  7. We actually felt Bogota to be quite safe—compared to Medellin, where we were living, that is. If you’re coming from America or Europe it’s understandable to feel a bit sketchy, but I’d say that’s the same for any city in South and Central America.

    To your pros, I’d add the walkable neighborhoods like Quinta Camacho. And to your negatives I’d mention that there are too many commercial, franchise-like restaurants and shops (especially in the north of the city) and not enough real local-feeling spots.

    1. Thanks for sharing your opinions. Interesting that Bogota felt safe for you guys compared to Medellin (we know that’s where Pablo Escobar was from). Our perspective on destinations is so often related to prior experiences we’ve had.

      We’ll keep the neighborhood of Quinta Camacho in mind if we ever return to Bogota. Happy travels!

    1. Hi Anna! So glad you found our article on Bogota helpful! We did not do the Heroes Tour Bogota so can’t give any personal feedback there. We only did the free walking tour, which was very interesting from both a historical standpoint and also the interesting cafe we visited to try coca tea. Any other questions on Bogota! Happy planning for your trip to Bogota in January! 🙂

  8. Hi Alex & Bell, I thoroughly enjoyed your post. I am planning a trip in about a week and was hoping to get some additional insight from you. My itinerary includes the following 3.5 days in Bogota then fly to Periera (to get to Salento) for about 2.5 days and then wrap up the trip in Cartagena for about 4 days. Do you think the time I have allotted for each is enough? Or should I cut my time somewhere? Any thoughts and ideas are appreciated. I am also traveling solo so was bit concerned with your comments on safety but I think it might be ok if I follow your advice. Thanks in advance and Happy New Year!

    1. Happy New Year also, Patricia! 😀 That’s a great itinerary for Colombia as you’ll be in both the Andes Mountains and tropical Cartagena. Your days are good. We were in Salento longer as we spent a day relaxing at the Reserva Monarca lodge just outside the city (wouldn’t recommend it for most solo travelers as it’s pretty isolated there and a small place with few opportunities to meet other travelers). But 2.5 days is enough to see the highlights of Salento as it’s small town – hike the Cocora Valley among the Quindio Palm trees, coffee plantation tour, maybe horseback riding and a little time to experience Salento. We didn’t visit Cartagena but have heard great things – and the weather is hot year round there. Pack some warm clothes though as Bogota is cool year round, and both Salento and especially Bogota get cold at night. We can highly recommend staying at the Bioxury Hotel in Bogota. Comfortable stay, nice area and the restaurant right across the street – Club Colombia is very good. Use Uber so there’s a record of your rides, always know where you’re going so you don’t end up in the wrong areas and be cautious walking around at night in Bogota. Let us know if you have more questions and happy travels!

  9. Thank you so much for your article. My husband and I are visiting Bogota soon and I wonder if you know is it safe to walk up Montserrat and then take the cable car down? We are in pretty good shape, so I know we can do the hike, just wondering how safe it is. Thanks

    1. Glad you enjoyed this article and great question! We read that there are occasional muggings on the hike up to Monserrate – so I can’t fully green light that option. Apparently they sometimes have some police on the path and weekends would be busier with more hikers, so there’s some safety in numbers. Best to avoid the hike up on weekdays we’d say, when there are fewer fellow hikers. The view of Bogota and the surrounding lush Andes Mountains from Monserrate is breathtakingly beautiful and definitely one of the highlights. We took the cable car up and down during our visit. Have a wonderful trip to Bogota and you’ll love Monserrate!

  10. Thank you for all the Information on Bogota. and I am planing to visit Bogota in August 2019. Is there any good travel agents who can arrange flight and accommodation to island from Bogota or All inclusive beach resort for 3 nights. Much Appreciated.

    1. Cheers Mani – glad you found the info on Bogota useful. We planned the Colombia trip ourselves and didn’t go through a travel agent, so unfortunately we can’t give a firsthand recommendation. Try googling travel agents in your area and read their reviews. Call a couple of them and get a couple different quotes for your trip to compare. Happy trip planning!

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