Backpacking in Bogotá: Is Colombia’s Capital Worth a Visit?

After 15 hours of travel, two plane rides and one sleepless night, I finally arrived in Bogotá, Colombia.  I’d dreamt of visiting South America – and Colombia especially – for years.  But now that I’d finally arrived, something just didn’t feel right.  Usually when I first step foot in a new country, let alone a new continent, my stomach fills with butterflies (the good kind) and I feel all kinds of excitement.  Typically my adrenaline pumps to such a degree that all I want to do is check into my hotel, put down my backpack and start exploring.  But as I touched down at Bogotá’s international airport, I felt a little apathetic.  I just wanted to get to the hotel, lie down and sleep.  Maybe it was because I had taken a red-eye flight and barely slept for 24 hours.  Or perhaps it was because I’d only eaten a small sandwich in as many hours.  But maybe, just maybe, I was second-guessing my last-minute decision to travel to Colombia.

Was I right in choosing Colombia as my next destination?  Would South America pale in comparison to my experiences in Southeast Asia?  Would I even be able to travel on a budget of $40 a day?  And what is there to do in Bogotá anyway?  My lack of enthusiasm was disconcerting, not only because it’s out of character but also because I’d wanted to visit South America for as long as I can remember.

Outside of the airport, my boyfriend and I hailed a cab and drove for 30-minutes to La Candelaria – a colonial hamlet in the center of Bogotá.  We arrived at our guesthouse and huffed it up three flights of stairs with our ridiculously heavy backpacks. The fact that we were winded is pretty pathetic, but at 8,612 feet (2,625 meters) the air is a little thin here.  As I knocked on the door of the apartment which would serve as our home for the next week, I was overjoyed at the prospect of heaving myself onto the bed and passing out.  But once I got inside I was distracted by how much I loved the apartment.  It was colorful and homey and the view from the terrace was unreal.  And once David, our gregarious host, recited the long list of things to do in the area my apathy immediately transformed into excitement.  I felt like my old self again.  So I went to my room, put down my backpack and immediately set out to explore.

The spectacular view from the terrace at my guesthouse.
A bird’s-eye view of the city.

Despite my initial apprehensions, I was immediately smitten.  Looking out over the city, all I could see was an expansive sea of buildings nestled at the base of lush green mountains, which creates a dramatic and unexpectedly beautiful setting for one of South America’s largest cities.  Bogotá is home to over seven million people and sprawls as far as the eye can see.  But despite the city’s daunting population, La Candelaria feels less like a capital city and more like a quaint but lively town, chock full of culture and history.

Built in the early 1800s, La Catedral Primada is one of Colombia’s largest churches.
Many of La Candelaria’s facades are adorned with bold and bright colors.

Bogotá was founded in the 1500s by a Spanish conquistador.  And La Candelaria is an impeccably preserved colonial neighborhood.  Walking around town there are pieces of this city’s fascinating history located around every corner.  I was completely charmed by everything from the cobblestone streets to the boldly painted buildings to the 17th century churches.  Its historic relics are perfectly contrasted by the city’s hip cafes, impressive museums and international eateries.  Much to my surprise, Bogotá really does have it all.

Cobblestone streets evoke the city’s colonial past.
Iglesia de la Candelaria, which gives La Candelaria its name, was constructed as early as 1686.

If it’s not obvious, I didn’t have high expectations for Bogotá.  A lot of tourists tend to skip it altogether and, sadly, I came close to doing the same thing.  Luckily, my boyfriend convinced me that bypassing the capital would be a big mistake.  Of course, he was right!  All it took was a simple stroll around La Candelaria to make all of my apprehensions fade away.  And after spending a day in Bogotá, my decision to come to Colombia was reaffirmed.  I’m so glad I didn’t bypass this amazing capital city.  And for anyone who is wondering whether or not Bogotá is worth it, it most definitely is.

Have you ever been to Bogotá?  What were your impressions?  If not, do you think Colombia’s capital is worth a visit? 

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.

22 thoughts on “Backpacking in Bogotá: Is Colombia’s Capital Worth a Visit?

  1. Wow, that birds eye view of the city – what an urban sprawl! Never seen anything like that in SE Asia, not even Bangkok or Jakarta! 😮 Bogota does look an interesting city from a historical perspective.

    1. Yeah, I hiked up to this amazing viewpoint and I couldn’t believe how huge the city was. It was a pretty spectacular sight. Bogotá is definitely a great city based on it’s history. But it also has so much more to offer (more to come soon!).

  2. I’m so glad that you apprehensions about Colombia and South America went away; before I went to Central America I had the exact same feeling, I thought that I wouldn’t love it as much as Asia, turns out, it’s just as beautiful and mesmerising. 🙂

    1. Me too! I’m glad to hear that you loved Central America just as much as Asia. As you can see it didn’t take long fokrr me to love Bogotá. And I’m so excited to explore the rest of the country!

  3. Isn’t it amazing what a good guesthouse can do to lift your spirits? And that view…. I’m now always afraid that nothing will ever top SE Asia for me. But, even if it doesn’t, I still love the new experiences! Ultimately, I have yet to regret a travel destination at the end of the day. Even the less than optimal ones have been rewarding in some way or another!

    1. It’s so amazing what a difference a hotel room can make. That view definitely made all of my anxieties dissipate. And you’re so right. All of my travels have always been worth it. There’s always a reward, even if it’s challenging.

  4. I love Bogotá! I only got to spend about 4 days there but we were staying with the family of a Colombian girl we’d met in Santa Marta which made it a really unique experience. They were incredibly hospitable, and our friend took us to some places I know we wouldn’t have found otherwise. La Candelaria is a great neighborhood for wandering, and if (when) I go back I’d like to stay in that area.

    1. I know. It’s such a great city, right? That’s really awesome that you were able to stay with a Colombian family. I bet that made for a great experience. If you ever go back, I definitely recommend staying in La Candelaria.

  5. I always heard that Bogota is rather rough and dirty. It’s great to get a different viewpoint as well though and from what I can see, it seems like a pretty interesting and cool city.

    1. I was honestly so surprised by Bogota. The neighborhoods I visited were anything but rough and dirty, although those areas definitely exist. It really is a captivating city. I think it was the artistic vibe that interested me the most. Everything from the pre-Colombian gold work to the modern paintings of Fernando Botero to the street art. It’s definitely a cool city!

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