24 hours in Bogota

23:23, Oct 20 2013
CERRO DE MONSERRATE: The devout come to this church atop the mountain seeking miracles.

Bogota is a surprising city. The capital of South America's most infamous country, Colombia, is also a place where you can see works of art by Picasso and Monet, view the world's largest collection of pre-Hispanic gold, and wander one of South America's most charming colonial districts.

Once a land for the brave, Bogota is today a sophisticated and inviting city.


If Bogota has a nucleus, it's Plaza de Bolivar, the elegant, pigeon-smothered square at the heart of La Candelaria, the city's colonial neighbourhood.

A few steps north, La Puerta Falsa is as much a city institution as the square itself.

Opened in 1816, just six years after Colombia's independence, the hole-in-the-wall cafe is famed for its chocolate completo, a mug of hot chocolate into which you drop hunks of cheese and bread - it's much better than it sounds.


The tamales, a Bogota speciality of rice, chicken, pork, egg and vegetables wrapped in a palm leaf, are an excellent kick-start to a day.

La Puerta Falsa is open 7am to 10pm Monday to Saturday.


Much of any visitor's day will be spent in La Candelaria, and it's worth devoting an hour or two to its colourful streets.

From La Puerta Falsa, walk east, heading up the hill into the most beautiful and evocative streets. Wooden balconies overhang, and strolling past the multicoloured colonial homes is like walking through a packet of Lifesavers.

Turn left onto Carrera 2 and down into Plazoleta del Chorro de Quevedo, the square where Bogota was founded in 1538. The 12 window-like holes in the wall at the rear of the square represent the original 12 homes built here.


Return west and on Calle 11 you'll come to the so-called Cultural Block - the national library, the Mint (now a museum) and, most compellingly, the Botero Museum in a restored inn.

It contains the unmistakable bloated figures of Colombia's most famous painter, Fernando Botero, who donated all the works and also curates the collection.

Two rooms feature Botero's private art collection, with paintings and sculptures by the likes of Picasso, Miro, Dali, Monet and Giacometti.

Entry to the Botero Museum is free, daily except Tuesday.


At the edge of La Candelaria, Casa Vieja offers a true taste of Bogota and the Andean regions of Colombia. Set inside a typical colonial house with whitewashed walls and wood-beamed ceilings, the restaurant serves up local favourites such as arepas (corn cakes) and sancocho (a stew of chicken, potato, cassava, plantain and corn).

For the true Casa Vieja experience, however, try the ajiaco con pollo, a soup made from three kinds of potatoes - the Bogota savannah is potato nirvana - shredded chicken and corn.

Casa Vieja is on Avenida Jimenez and is open daily.


Bogota's greatest individual treasure is its Gold Museum. Spread over three floors, its collection contains around 55,000 works of gold.

Much of the gold was discovered in the tombs of indigenous people who worshipped the sun, believing the more they could reflect the sun with gold, the more blessed they'd be.

In the end, it's Bogota that's been blessed by this remarkable collection, which ranges through regions and people of the country.

The displays build in importance until they reach the museum's finest piece, the Muisca Boat or Offering Raft, a finely wrought representation of a Muisca chieftain being rowed to the middle of a sacred lake, where he would ceremonially scatter gold and emeralds. See banrepcultural.org.

The museum is closed Mondays.


As day dips towards evening, head the short distance out of the city to the funicular and cable car station at the foot of Cerro de Monserrate.

The devout come to the church atop this mountain seeking miracles, but the masses come for the view. Perched 500 metres above the city, it offers the finest and most extensive look at Bogota, with a view over the high-rise city centre, La Candelaria and the southern suburbs.

It's only from here that you get a full sense of the size of this city of seven million people. Grab a cup of canelazo, a blend of the local aguadiente firewater, cinnamon and unrefined sugar, and watch the sun roll away for another day.


Zona G, north of the city, is where many of Bogota's classiest restaurants gather, though after a heavy lunch at Casa Vieja, it may be time for a light dinner.

Among the restaurants is Crepes and Waffles, which is both a chain and a Bogota institution. It's also part of the city's conscience, with its restaurants employing only single mothers. The crepes and waffles of the name will satisfy all tastes - meat lovers, vegetarians and sweet tooths.

If you want something more high-end, nearby Harry Sasson, the creation of a Bogota chef, was this year named among the world's 50 best restaurants.


Nightlife in Bogota revolves around chic Zona Rosa further out in the northern suburbs. It's a cluster of restaurants, upmarket stores and bars, including the Bogota Beer Company, a pub and craft brewer. It has pubs across the city but began here in Zona Rosa in 2002.

At night it's loud and friendly, with half-a-dozen of its handcrafted beers on tap, from the gentle Candelaria Clasica (which was named the world's best koelsch at the 2012 World Beer Awards) to the Chapinero Porter. To slake a really big thirst, try the three-litre carafe.

The writer travelled courtesy of the South America Travel Centre.

GETTING THERE Lan Airlines has a fare to Bogota. See lan.com. South America Travel Centre organises trips to Bogota and Colombia. See southamericatravelcentre.com.au. Check out the latest South America deals here

STAYING THERE The five-star Hotel de la Opera is one of Bogota's finest. Standard colonial rooms cost around $182; see hotelopera.com.co.

The Sofitel Victoria Regia has rooms from $524. See sofitel.com.

GETTING AROUND Bogota's TransMilenio rapid bus transit service covers the entire city. Buses have their own lanes to counter traffic. Trips cost only about $1.20, tickets available at TransMilenio stations. Taxis are plentiful, but book through hotels rather than flag down in the street.