5 Misconceptions About Traveling in Bogotá

I spent my first afternoon in Bogotá wandering around the historic district of La Candelaria.  I meandered along narrow cobblestone streets, passed by 500-year-old buildings and studied colorfully graffitied walls.  My first day in La Candelaria left me smitten.  But after spending one week delving deeper into Bogotá’s history, art and food cultures I was head-over-heels in love.

dogs on cobblestone street 2
The historic area of La Candelaria. If you look closely you’ll see two of the many dogs that roam the streets staring each other down!
A 500-year-old building is used as a canvas for some of the city’s well-known graffiti artists. Street art is widely embraced in Bogotá. So don’t worry, the artists were given permission for this project.

I’ve been very honest (here and here) about my jitters about traveling in Colombia.  And it’s no secret that I had incredibly low expectations for Bogotá.  But, hey, I can admit when I’m wrong.  And I was so wrong!  So here are some of the major misconceptions I had about Bogotá and how this bustling metropolitan city caused me to have such a change of heart.

1) It’s going to be way too dangerous:  Bogotá, and Colombia in general, gets a really bad rap when it comes to safety.  This is understandable given the country’s tumultuous recent history.  And let’s be honest, most parts of the city are off-limits to travelers.  I stayed in La Candelaria, which is full of tourists.  This neighborhood is definitely a whitewashed version of the “real” Bogotá but that comes with its perks.  There are police officers – accompanied by police dogs – everywhere.  This may sound scary, but there is a major push to make the area safe for tourists and residents alike.  During my time there, I felt incredibly safe.  There were, however, quite a few homeless people.  This wasn’t unexpected and it’s one of those realities that must be faced when traveling in a poor country.  As a seasoned traveler I’ve experienced this a lot.  It’s always sad and eye-opening, but in no way did I feel in danger in Bogotá.  I didn’t do too much walking around at night, but everyone I encountered warned that things can get dodgy.  So I was definitely extra cautious about where I went at night and always took a cab if I felt unsure.

2) It’s going to be really expensive:  “Colombia is not a cheap country” – that’s what I’ve heard time and again from guidebooks and travelers alike.  And as I researched hotel rooms in Bogotá I was a bit dejected when I couldn’t find a basic double room for less than $40 USD a night.  I was definitely preparing myself for the idea that my boyfriend and I wouldn’t be able to subsist on our ideal budget of $40 per day (per person).  So I was pleasantly surprised that I found an abundance of cheap and even free things to do in Bogotá (more on this later).

Colombia’s currency is the peso. And I managed spend fewer than anticipated during my time in Bogotá. Yay!

While eating out wasn’t dirt cheap, I was able to find gut-busting set meals – typically including soup, beans, rice, meat/veggies, fresh fruit juice and dessert – for around $5 USD.  I even saved on bottled water.  It turns out that tap water is safe to drink in Bogotá.  It tastes great and, no, I didn’t get sick!  After seven days in the capital I found it to be very affordable.  I actually managed to come in under budget, spending only $32.86 (per person) a day.

3) Being a vegetarian is going to be impossible:  In my experience eating in Latin America is a challenge for vegetarians.  When it comes to cuisine, most Latin American countries are very meat oriented.  Eating out typically offers vegetarians few options and virtually no variety.  So of course I was preparing myself for a steady diet of beans, rice and (hopefully!) a vegetable thrown in every now and again.  So, as I always do when I arrive in a new city, I went on Happy Cow to see if there were any veggie friendly eating joints in the city.  I almost fell over when I saw that there were three all-vegetarian restaurants within walking distance of my guesthouse!

It’s cheap. It’s tasty. And it’s completely vegetarian!

It turns out vegetarianism is a growing trend in Bogotá.  Who would have thought?  But I wasn’t relegated to these restaurants.  In fact, I had to put very little effort into finding great veggie options – from falafel wraps to cheesy crêpes to sautéed mushroom sandwiches.  The street food was also surprisingly vegetarian friendly.  There are food carts everywhere selling arepas con queso (thick corn tortillas with cheese), empandas de queso (cheese-filled pastries), patacones (plaintain and yucca chips) and fresh fruit.  Suffice it to say, I ate extremely well in Bogotá!

4) It’s going to be freezing:  Before I left for Colombia I checked the weather in Bogotá.  My jaw dropped when I saw that it was 7°C (45°F).  I’m from Southern California, so for me seven degrees sounded unbearably cold.  I debated packing warm clothing, but these items took up way too much room in my backpack.  Plus, since I’d be spending much of my time in Cartagena – which is currently a whopping 34°C (93°F) – I decided layers were the practical way to go.  So I packed one pair of jeans, two thin sweat shirts and three pairs of socks to serve as my “cold weather” clothes.  I figured I’d be cold, but I would just have to deal.  After spending an absurd amount of time obsessing about how bone-chilling cold the weather in Bogotá would be, I actually found the weather to be really refreshing.

The weather changes rapidly in this city. It was sunny five minutes before I took this picture.

I was told that Bogotá experiences four seasons in one day.  It’s so true.  It rained sporadically each day I was there (I always carried an umbrella with me).  And when the wind picked up I was definitely glad I packed that extra sweatshirt.  But after a few minutes the sun would inevitably poke through the clouds, leaving me baking in the warm sunshine.  The weather in Bogotá was pretty perfect and much more to my taste than, let’s say, the heat and humidity of Southeast Asia.

5) There’s nothing to do in Bogotá:  I couldn’t have been more off-base.  I spent a week there and I was able to make myself scarce all day, every day.  I got my culture fix at art museums such as the Botero Museum and the Museo del Oro.  I got my exercise hiking up Monserrate (one of the mountains that surrounds the capital), climbing 1,500 steps to get a breathtaking (literally) view of this massive city.

I’m embarrassed to say how many times I had to stop to catch my breath during this hike. But the effort was so rewarding.

I learned about Bogotá’s fascinating graffiti culture during a graffiti tour.  And, of course, I just happened to be in town during team Colombia’s first World Cup game.  Luckily they won so I was able to join in the festivities after the team’s first victory.  I’ve never heard so many car horns and vuvuzelas in my life!  After spending a week in Bogotá I feel like this is one of those cities that I could live in, which is high praise, indeed.

Crisp is one of Bogotá’s most well-known graffiti artists. The details of these animals and this portrait of a homeless man are incredible.
Madness in the streets of La Candelaria after Colombia’s victory over Greece in their first World Cup game. It was a party, indeed.

These are just a few of the biggest misconceptions I had about Bogotá.  And I know there are a lot of other travelers out there who have similar concerns.  I realize these preconceived notions turn a lot of people off of traveling to Bogotá, and even Colombia.  So I thought I’d share my experiences about how this city completely defied my expectations.

Have you ever gone to a place you thought you’d dislike but ended up loving?

About Justine

Justine Lopez is a California native who always seems to take the unconventional route in life. She also suffers from a serious case of wanderlust. In 2013, she set out on a yearlong round-the-world journey and never looked back. Since then she's lived the expat life in both Jakarta and Phnom Penh. She's now living and working as a freelance writer in Beijing. As she meanders her way through Asia she's always seeking out great vegetarian food, budget travel deals and amazing new travel destinations.

18 thoughts on “5 Misconceptions About Traveling in Bogotá

  1. I heard nothing but bad things about Ecuador before traveling there but it’s now one of my favorites. Silly how people’s misconceptions and opinions can get into your head and sometimes actually keep people from experiencing places for themselves!

    I got to be in Colombia during their World Cup qualifying matches last summer, isn’t the energy there just contagious!?

    1. It’s so true. I came so close to skipping Bogota altogether. But luckily my boyfriend convinced me to give it a shot. I really had no clue that it would be such a lively and artistic city. Being in Colombia during the World Cup is the best thing EVER! Every time Colombia scores a goal the cities and towns reverberate with cheers, honking horns and vuvuzelas. We know nothing about soccer, but somehow we have become the biggest soccer fans ever in two week’s time. The enthusiasm is definitely contagious 🙂

  2. I have the same misconceptions as you but I apply it to South America in general. I know that I shouldn’t but I just can’t help hearing stories about the safety there. I’m more reassured from reading this…who knows…maybe one day…:)

    1. I think a lot of people feel this way. And I’m in no way claiming that South America is completely safe. Because there are most definitely dangers. But the same goes for a lot of places I traveled to in Southeast Asia. I think it’s always important to be a smart traveler. And to always try your best to be aware of potential dangers in any foreign country. But so far I’ve felt really safe in Colombia. And I’d highly recommend heading here one day 😉

      1. Yeah, I just kept having this image of danger everywhere but I think I can now think that it’s ok as long as you travel smartly in these places…hopefully I will get to see these places soon..:)

        1. Definitely. The secret is to always be a smart traveler, no matter where you are. And that’s especially true for you since you tend to travel solo. So far I’ve met lots of solo female travelers in Colombia. And they seem to be doing just fine. I’m sure you would be fine too 🙂

    1. Bogota defied all of my expectations. I enjoyed so many things about it. And, it definitely didn’t hurt that La Candelaria was beautiful to look at! I love that all of the old colonial buildings are painted with such bright colors 🙂

  3. I am so glad you fell in love with Bogota! And I totally should have mentioned that I found quite a few veggie restaurants there (but I forgot because it was like 7 years ago agh haha!).

    1. I seriously couldn’t believe how many vegetarian restaurants there were. And on top of it they were actually popular with Colombians. It blew my mind! Wow, it’s so surprising to me that there were veggie places 7 years ago. Bogota is way ahead of the curve!

  4. I also thought Bogota was dangerous. Thanks for clearing that misconception out 🙂
    Some capitals in South America have a really bad reputation, but a lot of people that we know tell us otherwise…

    Looks like you’re having a fabulous time 🙂

    1. I felt very safe when I was there. There really were police everywhere and I do think they trying to make certain areas safer. That being said, the second you venture outside of these areas things can get hairy. I mean, it’s a huge city! You definitely have to be careful. But I was surprised at how safe I felt. And, yes, I’m having a fabulous time 🙂

  5. I’m going to Colombia next month and was excited to hear such positive reviews. I was also excited to hear about your experience finding fresh fruits and veggie options, as other blog posts I’ve read about that have told the opposite story. Whew!

    1. You’re going to love Colombia! Where are you going? I was mainly in the areas of Bogota, Medellin and Cartagena. Fresh fruits and veggies were everywhere and they were very affordable. As far as my experience goes, Bogota was great for vegetarians. I stumbled across vegetarian restaurants in the other cities too. They just weren’t as common as they were in Bogota. You’ll be totally fine 🙂 Have so much fun!

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