With a myriad of free and low-budget outdoor and cultural activities to choose from, a wallet full of cash is unnecessary for travelers wanting to discover the ins and outs of Colombia’s capital city, Bogotá. Here’s how to get more bang for your peso.
People wander the stalls of the flea market in Usaquén © Dalomo84 / Getty Images
With several free walking tours to choose from (though donations are encouraged), understanding Bogotá’s layered personality needn’t leave you cash-strapped. Take a stroll with Beyond Colombia for an informative historical and cultural tour of La Candelaria. For insights into Colombia’s social and political situation, including the FARC conflict and peace process, the Heroes Tour is a great option that reveals the country’s ever-changing face without the stereotypes. Sign up for the Bogotá Graffiti Tour and discover how the city’s vibrant street art culture evolved from being a criminal activity to an appreciated form of urban art. For a peek into the presidential palace, the Casa de Nariño offers daily 45 minutes tours. Pre-registration is essential.
Hop on a bike and participate in Bogotá's Ciclovia © Ivan_Sabo / Getty Images
Every Sunday between 7am and 2pm over 100km of roads are closed off to cars, transforming the city into a buzzing beehive of joggers, cyclists, walkers, rollerbladers and skateboarders. Strolling along the carless ciclovia is free and a fun way to meet the locals, try street food and people-watch. If you’d like to discover much more of this far-stretching city, hop on a bike. Café Magola Buendía and Bogotá Bike Tours both rent bikes for a couple of dollars an hour. With several routes to take, a good option is to start in the historical center and head north up La Septima (7th Avenue) towards Chapinero. You’ll be spoiled for choice when passing Zona G – Bogotá’s Gourmet Zone located between Calle 65 and 72. Stop and have coffee at Masa, perhaps a traditional Colombian sweet snack at Dulce Mini-Mal or lunch at Crepes and Waffles. If you’re feeling energetic, follow La Septima all the way to Usaquén; every Sunday the neighborhood hosts a Flea Market, filling the quaint colonial streets and cobbled alleyways with stalls selling a mishmash of handmade arts and crafts, health remedies, food and drinks.
Hit the lawns of Parque Simón Bolívar and catch a yoga class © Nathalia Mateus Briceño / 500px
Open every day, Parque Simón Bolívar’s 360-hectare green zone offers visitors a moment of calm amid the city’s incessant pulse. Bring along some snacks and have a picnic under a tree or by the lake. Close by are the Botanical Gardens whose well-kept grounds provide a unique glimpse into Colombia’s diverse flora – there are over 19,000 different plants from all over the country. It’s well worth the one dollar entrance fee.
Grab a towel and stretch tight muscles in one of many free and donation-based yoga classes held in several parks throughout the city. On Saturdays, classes are given at 9:30am at Parque El Country in Calle 127 and at the Claustro San Agustín in La Candelaria at 11am. Sundays are full of options: 9am at Unidad Deportiva el Salitre, Parque Alcalá, Parque Virrey and the Botanical Gardens. Every first Sunday of the month the Fundación Danza Común, located in the center, give an open class and every last Sunday of the month yogis gather in Parque Nacional.
Join the frenzied moshing at Rock al Parque – South America’s largest free music festival – which, for three days in July or August, unites local and international rock, metal, ska, punk and reggae bands. Additionally, jazz, salsa and hip hop versions of this festival take place throughout the year. Get your cultural, recreational and sports fix at the Festival de Verano (Summer Festival) in August which offers over 300 different activities, such as yoga, volleyball, a traditional kite festival, live concerts and free bike rentals. The celebrated biennial Ibero-American Theatre Festival returned in March 2018, converting Bogotá into a whirlwind of multi-cultural theater, dance and cabaret shows. Plenty of admission-free acts perform in plazas and parks around the city.
Enjoy the view from the top of Colpatria Tower © Mtcurado / Getty Images
Bird’s eye view
Outdoor fans will enjoy the 3-to-4 hour hike up to the huge boulders of the Páramo Las Moyas, which sits at 3,200m above sea level – expect great views of the city while you picnic on the rocks. A quicker, relatively less strenuous excursion is the walk up to the Mirador de Usaquén which overlooks the north of Bogotá. The steps begin at Carrera 5C with Calle 127, near a residential complex called Cerros del Country. Alternatively, pay $7,000 COP (roughly USD$2.50) and take the elevator up to the 48th-floor of the Colpatria Tower. The viewing deck offers a stunning 360-degree panorama of the surrounding mountains and the sprawling metropolis below, including the BD Bacatá building which, at 67 floors, surpassed Colpatria Tower as Colombia’s tallest skyscraper. The mirador is open to the public on Fridays 6pm-9pm, Saturdays 2pm-8pm and Sundays 11am-5 pm.
Learn about the Bogotá's architecture at Iglesia Museo de Santa Clara © OSTILL / Getty Images
Within La Candelaria’s boundaries, Colombian culture is at your fingertips. Marvel at the antiquity of some of the city’s oldest churches, Iglesia de San Francisco or the Catedral Primada in Plaza de Bolívar. Art lovers must definitely peruse the permanent collection on display at the Banco de la República and the revered Museo Botero. Discover the intriguing historical evolution of Colombia’s police force at the Museo Histórico Policía located at the ex-HQ, a neoclassical building west of the main plaza. On Sundays, 35 museums are admission-free. Ones particularly worth visiting include the famous Museo del Oro and Museo Nacional, the opulently decorated Iglesia Museo de Santa Clara and the 19th-century mansion, Quinta de Bolívar. Alternatively, skip the Sunday crowds and go during the week. There is usually a $3,000-6,000 COP entrance fee.
Lend your mother tongue and improve your Spanish speaking skills with a few hours of language exchange. Every week, La Villa bar hosts its ‘Gringo Tuesday’ night where dozens of tongue-tied locals and foreigners congregate to practice Spanish, English, Portuguese, German, French and Italian. If you’re in town on the first Saturday of the month, drop in at A Seis Manos’ language exchange from 4 pm. Talking is followed by artistic shows, games and a late-night party.
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