La Candelaria is one of Bogota’s most iconic areas; a view into the humble beginnings of a city that now boasts more than 8 million inhabitants and is one of the 5 biggest cities in Latin America. Tourists are drawn to the area for the excellent selection of restaurants, the incredible museums and the historical landmarks that jut up along the horizons of the areas steep streets.
Start a day in La Candelaria early at El Chorro de Quevedo. This is the area where the whole city started, although these days it has been conquered by youthful types smoking, drinking and playing hippy-ish games. For breakfast, head to El Gato Gris for some eggs or soup and a delicious coffee. Before leaving El Chorro, be sure to pick up a chicha from one of the small stores down the tiny alley. It’s a typical Latin American drink that, in Colombia, is made up of oat, aguardiente and a few other little tricks…
From here, kick of your day properly with some culture by heading to my favourite gallery/museum in Bogota: The Botero Museum, a beautiful space that boasts a great Botero collection (no surprises there) and a range of work from artists such as Picasso, Dali and Miro. The museum also, on the upper floors, houses temporary collections of modern art, which are often well worth checking out.
By now your legs are probably tired, so head down to the corner of the street and pick up a coffee from Juan Valdez. Take 5 minutes before exploring the Gabriel Garcia Marquez Cultural Center, which holds a huge collection of books and is one of the many examples of the architecture of Rogelio Salmona that are so prevalent in Bogota.
Once finishing up here, you should head to the nearby Plaza Bolivar – one of the most iconic points on the Colombian map. Bogota’s main square is a dramatic area, not just for the impressive architecture, but for the turbulent history that it carries. Guerilla attacks, city riots, the beginning of Colombia’s independence – it all happened here and for that reason it’s advisable to read up a little on the city’s history before you arrive.
Plaza Bolivar is made up for four main buildings: the cathedral (east), the Justice Palace (north), National Capitol (south) and the Lieveno Building (west. The seat for the city’s mayor). In the center of the square, like in all of Colombia’s main squares, is a statue of Simon Bolivar.
Walking towards the National Capitol you will see on the corner the Mayor School of Bartolome, a beautiful school building that is still functional. Wander past the security guards and you will past the spectacular buildings of the presential palace, as well as the congress building and the home to El Tiempo – Colombia’s major news outlet.
Walk the entire square around the presidential palace to arrive back in the main square and from here retrace your steps back towards the Gabriel Garcia Marquez Cultural Center. Along the street, opposite the cathedral, is La Puerta Falsa, one of the most iconic and important landmarks in the city. Now a restaurant serving decidedly local foods, it’s the perfect place to rest and pick up a starter for your lunch: hot chocolate and cheese.
For lunch I’d recommend the decidedly un-Colombian Mongolian Restaurant that’s located opposite Cranky Croc Hostel on Calle 12d # 3.
After lunch head over to the Gold Museum which is just slightly outside of the historic center on kr 6 # 15. You’ll need a good few hours to explore the entirety of this huge museum, so be prepared. It’s a fascinating insight into Colombian history and the history of gold in South America, so well worth a visit.
Nearby to the Gold Museum are a number of market stalls and some traditional shopping centers that sell a huge selection of souvenirs, so set aside an hour to do some shopping before heading to Bogota Beer Company for a well-deserved pint. Things are getting distinctly high-end, you might think, but don’t worry, after dinner that will change…
For dinner I recommend taking a quick taxi out of La Candelaria into La Macarena, where you’ll find a selection of restaurants ranging from typical Colombian fare, to Brazilian, Mexican, British, Spanish, Italian, Cuban, Indian and more. It’s one of the gastronomical highlights of Bogota, so should be visited before taking a taxi back into La Candelaria where your night can get messy again.
For the best nights, start out in Doña Cesi, before frequenting either El Candelario for a selection of modern hits and Latin classics, or El Goce Pagano for a night of pure Colombian salsa.