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On the hillside above Bogotá is Monserrate, the city's symbol. (Photograph by Larry Larsen, Alamy)

Insider’s Guide to Bogotá

Change is coming rapidly to Bogotá, with the spread of European-style cuisine and lodgings—a matter of pride among Bogotanos. Yet the capital of Colombia remains resolutely local, especially in the old Candelaria neighborhood.

> Where to Stay:

Two blocks from the Museo Botero sits Hotel Casa Deco, a modern inn that stands out with its color-themed rooms, deco style, and—for lovers of live music—proximity to Casa de Citas Café Arte.

In the middle of La Candelaria but on a quiet street you’ll find Italian-owned Abadia Colonial, cast from a traditional Colombian residence. Rooms, simply furnished in period style, look out on a courtyard. Also notable: a glass-roofed dining area.

Closer to the Plaza de Bolívar you’ll come upon the luxe Hotel de la Opera, in a grand, colonial-era stone edifice with its own thermal spa.

Those staying outside La Candelaria should try the homey Hotel Casona del Patio in Chapinero, a quarter known for its bars.

> Where to Eat: 

Stylish dining and expansive views make Restaurante Casa San Isidro, on Monserrate and reachable by cable car, a fine bet for an introductory meal in Bogotá; the menu, on the pricey side, runs from French classics (bouillabaisse, duck terrine) to Colombian favorites.

The folksy, popular Casa de Citas Café Arte draws big weekend crowds with live music, salsa dancing, and Peruvian dishes; try the seviche with hot ají pepper sauce.

Looking for a romantic hideaway? Head to El Gato Gris, just off Plazoleta del Chorro de Quevedo, and order empanaditas paired with absinthe, which, the menu says, will help you “see things as you wished they were.” Playful and intimate El Patio also earns kudos for its candlelit ambience and Italian fare.

You will taste country cooking the way it was prepared in Bolívar’s day at La Puerta Falsa, founded in 1816. If it’s full, check out two like-minded eateries nearby: the Antigua Santa FeAntigua Santa Fe and La Puerta de la Tradición, where you can sample Bogotano favorites such as ajiaco, a chicken-based stew.

> What to Know: 

Temperate weather reigns in Bogotá; the driest conditions occur from December into March. Many newcomers feel the effects of Bogotá’s altitude (8,660 feet); common symptoms include shortness of breath, difficulty sleeping, and mild dizziness. Acclimation usually occurs within a few days; limiting alcohol consumption aids the transition.

> What to See: 

Bogotá’s Museo Botero may be one of the most entertaining art museums anywhere, filled with Colombian artist Fernando Botero’s works depicting oversize figures, some with sly social commentary.

For all that glitters, visit the Museo del Oro (Museum of Gold), where the metal that lured Europe’s explorers shows the workmanship of indigenous peoples.

Almost as dazzling, but in service to God, is the interior of the Museo Iglesia Santa Clara, a church museum filled with frescoes and paintings.

> Travel Trivia:  

  • Colombia produces more emeralds than any other country.
  • Bogotá created South America’s most extensive urban cycling network, Ciclorutas de Bogotá, today totaling more than 213 miles. 
  • Colombia is the world’s second largest exporter of both coffee and flowers.

This guide, written by Jeffrey Tayler (on Twitter @JeffreyTayler1) to accompany a feature he wrote for the same issue, first appeared in the October 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.

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