Mists permitting, you’ll be able to see the gleaming white Basílica del Señor de Monserrate high above the city, beckoning from the thickly forested mountains that form Bogota’s spectacular backdrop. Originally built as a monastery in 1657, it is no wonder that this glorious spot has been a site of pilgrimage ever since.
The original stone path marked by statues depicting the 14 Stations of the Cross still leads from the colonial Candelaria district up to the sanctuary. It is a steep climb to a chilly 3152m (10,339ft) still used by pilgrims (and exercise buffs), particularly on weekends and religious holidays. Most tourists take advantage of either the funicular, a steeply pitched train, or teleferico, a cable car system, which both make the trip inexpensively throughout the day. If you do choose to walk, note that there have been muggings, so it might not be the best choice if you’re alone with an expensive camera.
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.
The original foundations for Bogota’s Catedral Primada, more properly called the Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, were laid in 1538 when Spanish conquistadores first christened the old indigenous city, “Bogota.” Then a simple thatch-roofed hut on a muddy market plaza, it was gradually rebuilt into a sturdier adobe structure in the 1590s.
As the spiritual center of a city prone to earthquakes and social upheavals, it is no wonder that the national cathedral has been rebuilt several times, most recently in 1823. Despite a long history of disasters, today’s neocolonial beauty, with its tasteful echoes of mission revival style, remains the final resting place of Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada, the city’s Spanish founder.
The elegant whitewashed interior, with its stately rows of gilded Egyptian columns, isn’t the city’s most ornate by a long shot. But these arches overlook Colombia’s most important masses, and the place is packed on Sundays.
Parque 93 is more than a grassy square in the center of Bogotá. It is one of the centerpieces of the city with great restaurants, exciting nightlife and outdoor activities. Many locals come here for a walk, for a sporty outing and a picnic with friends or decide to attend one of the numerous events. Not only are there are regular festivals and art installations taking place under the shady trees, but the park is often frequented by Bogotá’s wealthy. Thus, if you plan on a night out in Parque 93, be prepared to be surrounded by the local jet set crowd.
Head to Bardot Bar, which is popular with the Colombian models and actors, or pop in at the Bogota Beer Company, where you can get some of the city’s best brews. At El Salto Del Angel you can grab both a steak and prove your salsa skills on the dance floor. Classic Colombian parties can be found at Kukaramakara and El Sitio, which are a favorite among the local crowd and feature local bands.