And even today it is the cultural heart of modern Bogota’s slapdash modern sprawl: the graceful and carefully planned Spanish colonial city center, known as the Candelaria. The oldest part of the city is now the province of young artists and bohemian university students, whose skills in trippy graffiti and operating very hip indie businesses makes this one of Bogota’s most vibrant neighborhoods.
You might want to start your exploration at tiny Plazuela Del Chorro Del Quevedo, where this city was supposedly founded in 1537, by Spanish Conquistador Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada. (Of course it is much, much older; Jimenez merely renamed the ancient indigenous town of Bacata “Bogota.”) However, this plaza—now the epicenter of Bogota’s hipster scene, with plenty of tattoos, Chucks, handmade jewelry and fire dancers—doesn’t really get going until dusk. Be sure to stop into one of the cool little cafes for the Candelaria’s signature beverage, a traditional Andean canelazo, made with sugarcane liquor, cinnamon and panela sugar, served steaming hot for the chill altitude.
But begin instead at sprawling Plaza Bolivar, surrounded by picturesque streets lined with more tejas-topped adobes, interspersed with the city’s finest museums, coolest casas cultural, and most ornate churches. As you make your way to the most important museums close to bustling Parque Santander, be sure to check out the Emerald District (Carrera Jimenez between Calle 6 and 7), where Colombia’s signature stone can be had almost wholesale, if you’re sharp. Inexpensive eateries and artsy clubs are everywhere, but be aware that the neighborhood gets sketchy after hours; take cabs after 9pm or so.
If you’re staying in the Zona Rosa, be aware that you are a solid 45-minute, COP$10,000 (US$6) taxi ride from the Candelaria in traffic, and not all taxis are willing to make the journey—have your hotel call one ahead. TransMilenio buses make the run more quickly; get off at the Gold Museum station.