In this destination report, we will explore the sights and sound of the Colombian capital of Bogota during a short one-day stopover.
After a great night sleep in my Bogota hotel I checked out early and took an Uber to La Candelaria, the old colonial-era quarter of the Colombian capital.
Traffic was horrible and it took me almost one-and-a-half hour to get there. Although I’ve visited and lived in plenty of cities infamous for gridlocked traffic, I never seen anything really like the mad morning rush hour of Bogotá before.
I was extremely happy when my Uber finally arrived at La Candelaria and I finally stood on Plaza Bolivar in front of the city’s Cathedral.
Plaza Bolivar is the focal point of the old town neighbourhood known for its cobblestoned streets and colonial-era buildings and makes for a logical starting point of any Bogotá visit. Other important buildings which line the square are the national capitol, the ministry of justice and Palacio Liévano which houses the mayoral office.
There was a peace protest ongoing in front of the Cathedral of which I didn’t think much at the time as it seemed like perhaps a daily happening. Unfortunately, I couldn’t be more wrong.
While exploring the streets towards the back of the Cathedral, suddenly a long line of black SUVs suddenly pulled up. Many of these cars had US Government or Maryland plates on them and secret service agents with sunglasses sitting inside.
Within minutes a number of pick-up trucks carrying heavily armed Colombian soldiers and police officers arrived as well. Together with the American agents, they started sealing off a large sector of the old town.
Being curious what was going on and not enough Spanish to ask around, I settled down in a cafe and used the WiFi network to surf a bit on the internet. It turned out that US Vice President Mike Pence was visiting Bogota for a Lima Group meeting to discuss the ongoing crisis in Venezuela.
Also in town was Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, with whom the American VP would meet as well.
I was lucky that I managed to have a quick peek around Plaza Bolivar, as the square and a big chunk of the old town would remain off-limits for visitors for the rest of the day.
Luckily enough, La Candelaria is a large neighbourhood and there were still plenty of cute little hillside streets open to explore. It’s a very photogenic area as many houses are painted in bright colours, with some featuring large wooden balconies or verandas.
One of my favourites part of the area was a small square called Plazoleta Chorro de Quevedo, featuring a whitewashed church and an unusual-looking tree. It is also reportedly one of the oldest parts of the city of Bogotá.
Around Chorro de Quevedo Square
The colourful streets and alleys around Chorro de Quevedo are certainly well-worth exploring as well. There are lots of murals and artworks on the building walls of these alleys, making it an interesting part of Bogotá to visit.
Many houses in these alleys have been converted into craft shops and small cafes and pubs, which seemed to be popular with locals and tourists alike.
Walking further to the north, I soon found myself out of the old town district and into a part of town dominated by high-rise towers and modern avenues and parks.
This part of Bogotá, centred around Parque de Los Periodistas Gabriel García Márquez (also called Journalists’ Park), was certainly lively as well thanks to the hundreds of students from the nearby Universidad de los Andes campus roaming through the nearby streets.
Besides the more modern tower buildings and office blocks there are also some historic buildings to admire in this area such as the beautiful Parish of Our Lady of the Waters, a church erected in 1644.
I climbed up the hill on Carrera 1 towards the Montserrate cable car station, which I planned to take to the top of the hill for some sweeping views over the city.
Unfortunately, the queues were extremely long and barely seemed to move forward at all. I couldn’t even see a single gondola going up or down! As I had a flight to catch later in the day and my Bogotá stopover was basically limited to one night and little more than half a day, I decided not to waste any further time by waiting in line.
Instead I headed back towards La Candelaria to wander a bit more around and to just absorb the city’s vibe. As I was a wee bit tired from the climb up, I however first required a beer to cool down.
Especially if you arrive straight from Europe or a low-lying place in the Americas you shouldn’t forget that Bogotá has an unique climate. Being situated at an altitude of 2,640 metres (8,660 ft) above sea level, the air in Bogotá is a lot more thin. Although it’s unlikely you develop severe symptoms of altitude sickness, it is common for unacclimatised foreigners to get tired more quickly than usual when walking around.
I decided to make a much-needed rest at the first decent-looking place I would encounter on my way back to La Candelaria, which turned out to be a cute Mexican eatery. I wished I didn’t eat the big plate of tamales before as the food here looked delicious. As I wasn’t hungry at all, I just drank a beer or two.
Back to La Candelaria
After the much-needed break, I spent some more hours walking exploring almost every nook and cranny of La Candelaria. As I was still feeling tired of the long flight from Europe the day before and the high altitude did slightly affect my condition, I decided I would take it easy for the rest of the day.
Although it is seductive to try to see and do as much as you can if you only have a short stopover in a city, it is not always the best option as you might end up feeling like you rushed through it all.
As I always believe that visiting a place is as much about taking in the vibe and environment as it is about seeing the main sights, I decided to make another stop at a cafe on Chorro de Quevedo square for some more great Colombian coffee and some cake.
After I finished the coffee I moved on to explore the southern side of La Candelaria. Centred around the neo-Gothic Nuestra Señora de El Carmen church, this is also a lovely part of Bogotá to walk through.
Exploring the area proved however to be challenging as also here many streets were sealed off by soldiers and police officers due to the ongoing visit of the American delegation of Vice President Pence.
Going to the airport
After spending some more time walking around and making a last stop for a cold beer, my Bogota stopover came to an end as it was time to head to the airport to catch my onward flight to Panama.
Finding a taxi proved however to be a challenge. As I had no mobile internet on my phone and couldn’t easily find a public network or restaurant with wifi, I couldn’t order an Uber.
There were also seemingly zero taxis cruising around this part of Candelaria. Normally, it would be an easy walk to Plaza Bolivar or to any of the main roads, however, these places were all still fully blocked off for traffic because of the Pence visit. It took some 30 minutes of walking before I managed to reach a busy enough street where I could hail down a cab after a five-minute wait.
The adventure didn’t end there as about halfway to the airport, the car broke down with a huge puff of smoke coming from the engine. The poor driver didn’t manage to get his car running again. Luckily, he was friendly enough to help me hail down another taxi so I could continue my way to the airport after some delay.
I’ve always wanted to visit Colombia before and even though my stopover was extremely short, I managed to have lots of fun and ended up liking Bogotá a lot.
Of course, a one-day Bogotá stopover is hardly enough to do the city – let alone the entire country – any justice. Basically, I only managed to explore one single area of the city – La Candelaria – and not that much else.
That said, La Candelaria is for sure worth an entire day on its own as the area is full of beautiful historic buildings and bustling streets and alleys full of local colour and life. There are also quite some appealing places to stop by for a meal or drink.
Although I barely scratched the surface of Bogotá and cannot make too many conclusions based on just a short stopover, I did find all the people I met to be extremely friendly and eager to help, even though my Spanish is limited and not many people spoke English. I also felt extremely safe at all times during my visit.
The stopover certainly strengthened my wish to see more of the country. One day I definitely hope to return to Colombia, explore Bogotá for a full 2 to 3 days, and see more places across this interesting country.
Trip report index
This article is part of the ‘A Piece of Panama With a Bit of Bogota and a Slice of San Jose‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:
1. Review: Air France Economy Class Bucharest to Paris (Airbus A320)
2. Review: Air France Business Lounge Paris CDG Airport Terminal 2E – Hall K
3. Review: Air France Economy Class Paris to Bogota (Boeing 787)
4. Review: Hotel Morrison 114, Bogota, Colombia
5. A Short One-Day Stopover in Bogota, Colombia (current chapter)
6. Review: Copa Club Bogota Airport, Colombia
7. Review: Copa Airlines Economy Class Panama to Bogota (Embraer RJ-190)
8. Review: Tryp by Wyndham Panama Centro
9. Visiting the Panama Canal
10. Panama City and the Casco Viejo
11. A day trip to Isla Taboga – the island of flowers
12. A Panama Day Trip to the Portobelo Forts and Tropical Isla Mamay
13. Review: Copa Airlines business class lounge Panama Airport
14. Review: Copa Airlines economy class Panama to San José (Boeing 737 MAX)
15. A day in the Costa Rican capital of San José
16. Review: Santamaria VIP Lounge San José Airport
17. Review: KLM economy class San José to Amsterdam (Boeing 787)
18. Review: KLM Crown Lounge (Non-Schengen) Amsterdam Airport
19. Review: KLM economy class Amsterdam-Bucharest (Boeing 737-800)