Bridgette and I had arrived one day earlier to Bogota than the rest of our group, which worked out great because after our exhausting and eventful layover in Mexico City, we really needed one entire day to recuperate. Once the rest of our group arrived, we were ready to explore the capital of Colombia!
There’s so much to see and do in Bogota, but for once, I did none of the planning. My uncle planned our entire itinerary, coordinated all the logistics, and allowed me to just sit back and go with the flow. What a luxury! 🙂 While it felt a little daunting to let go of that control at first, it eventually felt really good not to have to worry about anything at all.
We hit quite a few popular tourist spots, plus a few “special” places that my uncle brought us to. Here’s the full recap with photos!
SALT CATHEDRAL— located in the outskirts of Bogota, this is a Roman Catholic church built in a salt mine 700 feet underground. What an incredible cool place to worship! While it requires a bit of a drive (about 1.5 hours) from the city center of Bogota, it’s totally worth visiting. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes as there’s a lot of walking on unstable grounds in the salt mine!
MONSERRATE— this is the famous hill at the city center of Bogota, sitting at over 10,000 feet with a church at its summit. We went on a Sunday, which happens to be the absolute busiest day of the week since people actually go worship at the church. Despite it being a semi-rainy day, Monserrate was still jam packed with tourists and locals when we went. We took the funicular cable car up to the summit and were rewarded with amazing views of Bogota all around!
Prior to the trip, Bridge had done a bit of her own research, and she had asked if she could watercolor while up in Monserrate. I promised her we would do that, but because it kept drizzling on and off that day, it was really hard to find an ideal place to watercolor. We eventually decided that we would just sit in the middle of the crowded staircase and paint! Sometimes, we just have to brave it out because it’s not always easy to wait for the right environment and circumstances, especially when we’re traveling.
Founded by Andrés Jaramillo as a roadside grill spot in 1982, it is now … a lot more. And by a lot, I mean there are 500 staffers; a supervised children’s zone; at least three dance floors (turns out it’s five); an employee cafeteria bigger than a mid-sized Texas barbecue restaurant; a roughly 25-foot rock-climbing wall that could get dangerous after a few drinks; a coal-fired kitchen with about as much square footage as a Boeing 747; a DJ booth with 17,000 compact discs (they occasionally use Spotify); roving bands of performers equipped with confetti; a separate outdoor kitchen for late-night hangover soup; a doggy day care center; a stand where one can hire designated drivers; a menu that includes every major dish of Colombia; a bowl of free strawberries near the entrance; and a collection of no fewer than six hammocks near the parking lot.
We went for a late lunch, after our visit to the Salt Cathedral, so the vibe wasn’t much of a nightclub as it normally would be in the evenings. There were a number of entertainers that roamed around to perform and an extensive menu of delicious Colombian food AND drinks. We ordered large share platters of their famous beef and it was DELISH!!
CASA DE NARINO—This is the White House of Colombia, and tours are available by advanced reservations only. We got an English speaking guide which was very helpful, and at the end of our tour, we got to see the changing of the guard ceremony as well! Photos and videos were not allowed, so I only got to take one picture right before we entered the building.
CAPITOLIO NACIONAL— This is the building that houses both houses of the Congress of Colombia, and while public tours are available on most days, we did get a special private tour (due to my uncle’s connections) that allowed us to actually be on the floor where Congress meets (vs the balcony level), and Bridge actually got to sit in the chair that the President of Colombia sits! Pretty cool stuff.
The plaza right outside the Capitolio Nacional is also worth checking out to address your phobia of pigeons. People sell these little bags of food for tourists to feed the pigeons and once you have that food in your hand, you’ll be surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of pigeons! Some will even land on your head and your shoulders!!
BOTERO MUSEUM— this museum features the artwork of famed Colombian artist Fernando Botero and other artists. Botero is known for the way he depicts people in a large, exaggerated form, which makes his artwork quite funny and entertaining to look at. I especially loved the names he gave to each art piece, which intentionally states the obvious. The museum is free to the public at all times, has a lovely courtyard in the center, and a nice cafe/restaurant as well.
As I mentioned previously, my uncle Kenny has been living in Bogota for years and is deeply rooted to various communities there, including the police force and politicians. Thanks to him, we got some special experiences in Bogota that included a seated dinner at the Chinese Embassy with the Ambassador of China, horseback riding at the Police Academy, and a lovely afternoon tea at the home of retired Police Chief.
Horseback riding at the Police Academy was really special, and one of our favorite parts of the trip. These aren’t ordinary horses; they are horses that the police force uses for training and missions, so they are much, much bigger than what we are use to seeing. But, they were still incredibly gentle and we loved them so!
We got to ride (train) on the horses for a bit, and it was probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to do! These trainers were no joke…they made us turn around 360 degrees while the horse was moving, stand up on the horse, lay on our backs against the horse, as well as other tricks. There were some that felt impossible for me to do, but the trainer wouldn’t let me get off so easily and kept pushing me to complete the training. I wanted to let him know that I was simply a tourist, and not actually training to be on the police force, lol! Bridge was way more courageous than I was, and seemed completely unfazed by the possibility of falling off the horse and being crippled for life.
Here’s a tip: you can’t go to Bogota and not buy a custom leather jacket. There is a neighborhood lined with shops that sell leather jackets, leather boots, and leather accessories. The price is significant cheaper than the States, and the best part is that they can measure you and custom make a jacket for you in just a couple hours! Bridgette got a custom made white leather jacket (which she loves) for just USD $80.
Ofcourse, I cannot end our Bogota post without a shout out to my Uncle Kenny’s extraordinary restaurant, Cooking Tai Chi! It’s the number one Chinese restaurant in Bogota, and serves the best, most authentic Chinese food in the city. We dined there numerous times on this trip and were treated to some amazing dishes. Plus, there are lots of fabulous cocktails, an area just for hotpot, dim sum and sushi!
Thank you so much to my Uncle Kenny for the best hospitality for our Bogota trip, and for planning everything so meticulously for our loud and rowdy group! Hope we’ll get to go back one day and see more of Colombia!