Bogotá is a city of contrasts. From its founding in 1538 until today, it has been growing steadily and shaping its identity. Bogotá was a typical colonial city in the beginning, but around the turn of the 20th Century, other European tendencies began to replace the dominant Spanish influence. France's influence is evident in many of the palaces built during this period. Residential areas show English influence in houses built during the mid-20th Century. And finally, one can feel the United States' influence in the new skyscrapers and huge shopping centers built toward the end of the 20th Century. The best way to experience this vast variety of architectures is by visiting Bogota's distinct districts, which retain their rich individual characters. Immerse yourself in the city's culture, entertainment and varied cuisine.
Barrio La Candelaria
This, Bogotá's oldest district and its historical center, dates back to the city's foundation. Keep your eyes open as you walk these streets as points of interest abound. The district is located between Calle 7 and Avenida Jiménez de Quesada, and between Carreras 1 and 15, and it is comprised of two distinct zones, easily distinguishable by their location and style. The residential sector lies toward the eastern hills. It is famous for its colonial houses with their wooden balconies and clay tile roofs. The once white walls are now painted in bright colors more in keeping with the spirit of the city. This area contains many places worth visiting, including
West of Carrera 7, you will find the
Nueva Santa Fe, part of a project to revive the city center, lies to the south of La Candelaria. The new neighborhood is a perfect example of late-20th-century architecture in Bogotá. Nearby, you will see the impressive
The area surrounding the
Characterized by its many parks and open green spaces, this is the best area for sports and relaxation in the west end of Bogotá. Come to walk, run or just sit. Features of the district include the Unidad Deportiva El Salitre, the
Also known as Calle 72, this is one of the most important business sectors in Bogotá. Perhaps the most interesting place in the area is the
This area between Calles 60 and 70 and between Avenida Caracas and Carrera 7 was one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Bogotá in the mid-20th Century. Although it has gradually lost its prestige over the years, it is now an important shopping area. You will also find interesting buildings here, including the Neo-Gothic church Nuestra Señora de Lourdes and the
On Avenida Ciudad de Quito, between Calles 53 and 63, lies the important sports and entertainment area of El Campín. Football (known in the United States as soccer) games are held regularly in the
Recently converted into the largest pedestrian-only zone in Bogotá, this area between Calles 72 and 100 has become one of the most important commercial districts in the north of the city. Along the length of the street you will find important cafés, restaurants and shops. Have a look at the
La Zona Rosa
This area is particularly famous for its restaurants and discotheques. The nightlife here is perhaps the liveliest in Bogotá. During the day, people come to shop, and at night they come to eat, dance and have fun. Into its small area, La Zona Rosa packs bars, restaurants and clubs that cater to every taste and every rhythm.
This route through the city's east hills has one of the widest assortments of restaurants and discotheques in Bogotá. The area offers spectacular views of the city both by day and by night. On the weekends, the Vía de La Calera attracts and challenges many cyclists, who ride up and down one of the steepest streets in the city.
Parque de la 93
Since its beautification, the area around this park has become one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Bogotá. The area is characterized by its wide range of international restaurants, many of which have terraces overlooking the park. This is an ideal place for a gastronomic tour of the five continents.
Bogotá is the geographical, political, cultural and financial center of the country. Colombians from all over the country live in the capital, bringing with them their customs, cultural expressions and traditional cuisine. There are many places in Bogotá where you can try delicacies from every region in the country, as well as many international restaurants from every country you can imagine. Whatever your tastes, there's an establishment somewhere in the city to satisfy them. There are restaurants in every corner of the city; however, many of the best restaurants center around the following hubs.
La Candelaria & Centro Internacional
La Candelaria is an area of the city center whose streets, churches and facades have witnessed three hundred years of history. The area has many fine examples of colonial architecture. Many restaurants are located in spacious houses built around beautiful patios. The most popular places here include Café de L'Avenir, Andante Ma Non Troppo, and Los Últimos Virreyes. Restaurante La Romana serves up Italian cuisine along with selling its dried pasta and other specialties for guests to take home. Habakkuk Burritos offers an interesting twist on something familiar with its Mexican/Asian fusion cuisine, along with the more basic, plain Mexican dishes.
In the exclusive Chapinero district, visitors will find a nice variety of upscale, delicious cuisine. For mouth-watering seafood, Restaurante Le Poivre serves it up, French style, with the ambiance to go with it. Close to the presidential residence is El Gabinete is a comfortable restaurant for all kinds of weather, with its cozy fireplace and outdoor patio for sunny days. The well known Pozzeto features traditional Italian dishes and live piano music on the weekends. Desayunadero de la 42 is open around the clock and specializes in northern Colombian cuisine, which includes plenty of roasted meats.
La Zona Rosa
The Zona Rosa lies in the north of the city, near the Andino shopping center between Calles 80 and 86, and Carreras 8 and 11. This is one of the main shopping areas in Bogotá, and the international array of cafés, restaurants, bars and discotheques here will appeal to all gastronomic tastes. There are typical Colombian restaurants such as Casa Vieja, and North American-style places such as Friday's and Tony Roma's. If you fancy seafood, try La Bodega Marina. For Mexican, try La Taquería or Harry's Cantina. And for Mediterranean, visit Niko Café. Some of these places function as eateries by day but at night turn into bars where you can dance and have a drink. Most establishments are open all week, but they tend to be livelier Thursday through Sunday.
El Parque de la 93
The area around Parque de la 93 is considered the most exclusive neighborhood in the north of the city. Cafés, bars, nightclubs, hotels and international restaurants surround the park. Most of the restaurants here have terraces with park views. The range of restaurants and international cuisines here should satisfy anyone. For a light snack or meal, try one of the many cafes, such as Crepes & Waffles. Hatsuhana and Kyoto Oriental Groceries serve such Eastern delicacies as sushi, teppanyaki and nabemono. Pesquera Jaramillo and El Buque serve fresh fish and seafood. For a taste of Spain, try Pajares Salinas.
Three and a half centuries after Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada founded Bogotá, the Spanish writer Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo referred to the city as "The Athens of South America." Needless to say, Quesada's intention was not precisely to reproduce ancient Greece in the New World. Like his fellow Spanish conquistadors, he arrived in search of riches. Although he returned home without finding El Dorado, the city he founded eventually became famous for precisely the reasons he stood out himself. Jiménez de Quesada was no violent man; he was a law graduate, a writer, and one might even say, a poet.
When Quesada landed in 1538, he immediately understood he was on good land. Impressed by the savannah, with its rivers protected by enormous hills, he immediately decided this would be the site for the city. Not even the difficulties in building at such altitude and such distance from the sea could dissuade him. Thus, on August 6, 1538, Santa Fe was founded on the West Range of the Andes, at 2640 meters (8661 feet) above sea level, 700 kilometers (435 miles) from the Atlantic Ocean and 370 kilometers (230 miles) from the Pacific. The city was named after Santa Fe in Granada, Spain, where Quesada was from. Soon after "de Bogotá" was added to the name, after "Bacatá," the name the natives gave to the place. In 1819 it became simply "Bogotá."
Santa Fé did not remain a quiet place for long, at first because seekers of El Dorado came and went incessantly and later because the city remained almost ungoverned. The city changed hands, from Santo Domingo (now the Dominican Republic) to Lima (the capital of the viceroyalty of Peru) in 1550. The great distances between Nueva Granada (as Colombia was then known) and the centers of power in Hispanic America meant that the local governors worked more or less independently and at times anarchically.
For this reason, a new viceroyalty was established in Santa Fé in 1739. Thus began the cultural flourishing of the city, which reached its height toward the end of the 18th Century, with the Ilustración Granadina or, Granadan Enlightenment. Figures appeared such as Celestino Mutis, who taught Newtonian physics and founded the Jardín Botánico and the Observatorio Astronómico, and Antonio Nariño, precursor of Colombia's independence.
Santa Fé was the cradle of the independence movements. The first insurrection took place on July 20, 1810, the first step toward Nueva Granada's independence. The revolutionaries won a brief independence in 1813, but Santa Fé fell under Spanish rule once again in 1816. The following period of terror finally ended on the August 7, 1816, with Simón Bolívar's triumph in the Battle of Boyacá. Bolívar's plans included making Santa Fé the capital of Gran Colombia, a confederation of states that stretched over most of the continent. But Bolívar's dream was never realized, and the city assumed the more modest role as capital of the Republic of Nueva Granada, which was renamed Colombia in the second half of the 19th Century.
After independence, Bogotá became Colombia's historical as well as geographical center, witnessing further fights and battles. Civil wars toward the end of the 19th Century between federalists and centralists would feed later disputes between the Liberal and Conservative parties. During this period, the ambiguous feelings toward everything Spanish became palpable, feelings that moved between familiarity and resentment, between a desire to imitate and a desire to break with Spain. Examples of colonial architecture can still be seen in areas such as La Candelaria. At the beginning of the 20th Century, however, several French-style palaces were built nearby. This was the Republican period, by which point the population of the city had reached 100,000. A new cultural flourishing could be seen in the streets, driven by the creation of universities, and a traditional Bogotá character began to develop: men dressed in black gathering to drink coffee and speak about politics and other issues. The streetcar appeared at the same time, and gaps between social classes widened as more people immigrated to the city from the countryside.
Bogotá's cold and drizzle also started to gain a reputation. Bogota's history is, one might say, rather wet. The legend says the mythical Bochica separated two stones to empty the lake that covered the savannah, thus preparing the territory for Jiménez de Quesada to build the city many, many years later. During the Republican period it wasn't the lakes, but the rain which gave the people of Bogotá their identity. While the architecture started acquiring a Parisian feel, the people started looking more and more like Londoners. Historians have written about the rain in Bogotá on many occasions. For a long time, at certain hours of the afternoon, Bogota became a river of umbrellas. However, although it is still rainy and cold, the capital has lost much of this image. Increases in population and pollution have raised the temperature here as in other places.
Modernity arrived in Bogotá thanks to violence. On the April 9, 1948, Colombia's 20th century history was split in two. It all started in the capital, with the murder of the political leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, a liberal loved by the people and despised by the governing class. The people took to the streets, raided the shops, and burnt the churches and official buildings. Until that day, the city of 400,000 people had withstood many earthquakes. But the "Bogotazo," as this event is known, left behind a ruined city. That was the end of the streetcar and of the city's aspirations to be like London or Paris. From that time on, the North American influence became clear. The first modern buildings went up, and twenty years later, the first skyscrapers and shopping centers appeared. Migration from the provinces continued, and the contrasts between the rich North and the poor South became even more striking.
Recent local governments have concentrated on bringing people back to the city center and improving a transportation system that takes nine million citizens to and from their destinations every day. At the moment, the underground is being extended; new transport systems are being established; and roads are being built.
Bogotá is a city in which energy and chaos, insecurity and emotion, violence and creativity come together. It is certainly not a quiet place, but then one would never call it boring either. Those who enjoy Bogotá find a strange fascination in its chaos. The city is full of contrasts: gray by day, colorful by night, surrounded by green mountains protecting the vast valley, sunshine announcing rain, professional beggars, abject poverty next to modern shopping centers, and a true synthesis of classes, styles and regions. People sip coffee waiting for the rain to stop. At once, modern, classical and primitive, Bogotá is a unique city.
Bogotá offers visitors a wide variety of accommodations. Whatever your preferences regarding location, architecture, style and price, the city has a place to meet your needs.
Barrio La Candelaria
Bogotá's historic neighborhood offers various kinds of accommodations. The Hotel Dann Colonial is an ultra modern hotel offering all the standard conveniences in the historic, colonial part of the city. The four star Hotel Bacatá is a luxurious and comfortable accommodation in the heart of La Candelaria, within walking distance of many popular Bogotá attractions. Housed in a beautiful colonial house, Hostería La Candelaria offers three different patios and a quality in-house restaurant. Hotel Zaragoza offers every convenience to its guests in a wonderful location. For those on a budget, don't forget the Hostelling International Bogotá, on Carrera 7 (at Calle 6). This hostel offers comfortable accommodation at very reasonable prices for individuals and families who wish to stay in the city center.
Finally, the many hotels in the city center include Hotel Tequendama, strategically located in the Centro Internacional. This hotel remains one of the capital's main tourism and cultural centers, offering high-quality service as well as Colombian and international cuisine. The Doral Plaza is a modern hotel ideal for the business traveler as it is located near to many financial and business areas. The Hotel del Parque is a two towered, deluxe hotel with all the amenities.
Avenida Chile & Chapinero
Calle 72, also known as Avenida de Chile, is the financial center of Bogotá. Apart from many banks and businesses, the area contains one of the most popular shopping centers in Bogotá, Centro Comercial Granahorrar. Built in 1945 Casa Medina on Carrera 7 (at calle 69) was recently declared a national monument. This hotel brings together all the amenities you expect in a luxury hotel. It is decorated with authentic colonial antiques.
More luxurious international hotels lie toward the hills, one of the most exclusive areas in all of Bogotá. The Howard Johnson Plaza Bogotá is considered one of the best hotels in the world. Hostalagos del Norte is located in a highly commercial area, perfect for all kinds of travelers, with easy access to main attractions. Hotel Lourdes, located very near Avenida Chile is easily accessible from many parts of the city and offers modern luxury to all its guests. Hotel María Isabel Bogotá is a good option for those here on business, as it is close to the airport and the American Embassy, and La Casona del Patio Amarillo is a small, cozy hotel with an internal patio and an amazing restaurant.
La Zona Rosa
The Zona Rosa area, between calles 90 and 79, is one of Bogotá's best entertainment areas, with restaurants and bars of all types. For many years, this has been one of the most popular and fashionable areas in the city. Zona Rosa has many small, comfortable hotels, and if you want nightlife, this may be the place for you. Good choices here include the Hotel Charleston and Hotel La Bohéme.
Parque de la 93
The Parque de la 93 area, between calles 101 and 90, also ranks as one of the city's top shopping and dining areas. On Carrera 15, you will find the Hotel Andes Plaza hotel, with its mirror facade outside and excellent service inside.