Colombia's trendy and metropolitan capital has everything one might want carved within its urban fabric – outstanding food, vibrant nightlife and a cavalcade of culture are but a few reasons to remain. However, this high-altitude playground sits at 2640m, so most bogotanos looking for a break from the city also look for warmth, fleeing for lower elevations further afield. Outside the capital district, there are also significant changes in landscape, where you can find lakes, waterfalls, cloud forests, mountains and a maze of small towns and villages, many of which hold on to their colonial fabric. Whether you're looking for mesmerizing underground cathedrals forged from salt, legendary cities of gold or a challenging climbing route or two, bidding Bogotá adios and exploring the surrounding department of Cundinamarca ain't a bad way to come down from on high for the day.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Bogotá Region.
MuseumMuseo del Oro
Bogotá's most famous museum and one of the most fascinating in South America, the Gold Museum contains more than 55,000 pieces of gold and other materials from all of Colombia's major pre-Hispanic cultures. The collection is laid out in logical, thematic rooms over three floors; descriptions are in Spanish and English.
Even if you've never heard of Fernando Botero, you'll probably recognize some of his highly distinctive paintings of oversized (read: chubby) characters, including dodgy dictators, fleet-footed dancers, dogs and birds. Colombia’s most famous living artist is also a prolific sculptor and his curvaceous bronze statues display equally generous girth.
ChurchCatedral de Sal
Zipaquirá's stunning Catedral de Sal, 190m underground, was carved by removing 250,000 tons of salt; the resulting space is cinematically lit and packs a lot of ecclesiastical wow throughout its cavernous chapels and naves. It's highlighted by the largest cross ever built in an underground church. Visitors must join regularly departing hour-long tours – you can leave them once you're inside if you want. The walk leads past the 14 stages of Jesus' crucifixion, the illuminated cupola and, finally, the stunning nave.
ChurchIglesia de San Francisco
Built between 1557 and 1621, the Church of San Francisco is Bogotá's oldest surviving church. In the atmospherically dark interior, with its extravagant pews and steady trickle of praying pilgrims, your eye is immediately drawn to the gilded, U-shaped 17th-century altarpiece, the largest and most elaborate of its kind in the capital.
PlazaPlaza de Bolívar
The usual place to start discovering Bogotá is the giant concrete Plaza de Bolívar, the heart of the original town. What it lacks in green foliage it makes up for in grandiosity. In the middle of the square is a bronze statue of Simón Bolívar (cast in 1846), the work of Italian artist Pietro Tenerani. This was the city's first public monument.
MuseumColección de Arte
Most of Banco de la República's permanent art collection, which features 800 pieces by 250 different artists spread over 16 exhibition halls at two addresses, is reached via elaborate staircases within the same museum complex as Casa de Moneda and Museo Botero. The collection has been reorganized into five time periods spanning the 15th century to modern day, each separately curated. The collection's contemporary art exhibition is located inside Biblioteca Luis Ángel Arango on Calle 12.
Historic BuildingCasa de Nariño
On the south side of Plaza de Bolívar, beyond the Capitolio Nacional and reached via Carreras 8 or 7, this is Colombia's neoclassical presidential building, where the country's leader lives and works. To visit, you'll need to email or go to the website and scroll down to 'Visitas Casa de Nariño' under 'Servicios a la Ciudadanía'. No permission is needed to watch the changing of the presidential guard – best seen from the east side – held at 3:30pm Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.
Housed in the expansive, Greek-cross-shaped building called El Panóptico (designed as a prison by English architect Thomas Reed in 1874), the Museo Nacional explores Colombia's past via archeology, history, ethnology and art. The collection is spread across 17 galleries that will eventually be themed by floor – the museum is undergoing a major modernization that will last through to 2023.
ChurchMuseo Santa Clara
One of Bogotá's most richly decorated churches, the Santa Clara is also its oldest (along with Iglesia de San Francisco). Deconsecrated in 1968, it was acquired by the government and is now run as a museum, with paintings by some of Colombia's most revered baroque artists. The church was once part of an adjoining Franciscan convent that was demolished in the early 20th century.
Whether it’s a guided tour of a historic landmark, private tasting of local delicacies, or an off-road adventure — explore the best experiences in Bogotá Region.