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Bogota was founded on August 6, 1538 as Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza. I became the capital and seat of the government of the "New Kingdom of Granada" and the Spanish Crown named it Santafe in 1540. Simón Bolívar renamed the city into Bogota to honor the Muisca people that lived in this area before the Spanish conquered them. The origin of how the words Bogota and Muisca are linked is disputed. SOme say that the Spanish promounciation of Muisca was Bacata and others suggest that Bacatá was the name of the last Muisca leader.
From 1991 to 2000, Bogota was known as Santa Fe de Bogota and nowadays it is officially Bogotá, Distrito Capital, or abbreviated: Bogotá, D.C.
In 1533 it was believed that the Río Grande de la Magdalena was the trail to the legendary El Dorado.
To find El DOrado, on April 6, 1536, Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada with 800 soldiers started heading towards the interior of Colombia. On their way, they heard news about Indians inhabiting the south and making large salt cakes for trade. Jiménez de Quesada decided to find the salt villages and arrived on March 9, 1537 in Muisca territory with only 162 men were left. The Spanish killed the last leader of the Muisca on April 20, 1537, and in 1538, Jiménez de Quesada establish a military camp at what is today the Chorro de Quevedo square.
Bogota’s downtown area is walkable and you can explore most of the important sites in 1-2 days by foot. Click here for the self-guided walking tour of Bogota.
You will, however, need to be careful should you plan to hike up Cerro de Monserrate as knife-point muggings have been reported there during the day. Weekends, when hundreds of people hike up, are deemed to be safe.
I had mapped out a self-guided walking tour of Bogota’s downtown area (link) and we decided to stay at Hotel Bh Bicentenario (map) which is close to the beginning of the tour, the bus terminal and has good reviews.
We liked this hotel a lot. The staff was super friendly, the receptionists spoke good English (other staff did not) and the rooms were spacious. clean, modern and showed little signs of wear. Breakfast was included and Wifi was fast and reliable.
The view from our room was great and, even though the hotel is located in one of the busier parts of town, it was quiet. A great plus is that the hotel is not just close to the major attractions (as you can see from our self0guided walking tour), but it is right near many restaurants, supermarkets and other stores. When we get back to Bogota, this hotel will be on the top of my list.
For Pinterest users, here is a pin that you can use:
Make Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) your first stop. It is one of the world’s most impressive gold museums with about 34,000 gold artifacts and English translations for most of them. I was super impressed by the beauty, craftsmanship and diverse uses of gold for the many religious and non-religious artifacts and jewelries.
Now take a walk to Plaza de Bolivar by crossing the small plaza in front of the museum and turn left towards Plaza de Bolivar by following the pedestrian zone. If you plan to buy souvenirs, or eat and drink something, this is a good place and all the street vendors will be happy to help you spend your money.
At the plaza, you will see hundreds, if not thousands of pigeons that people keep feeding.
Originally created in 1539, today’s appearance of Plaza Bolivar was created in 1960. At the center of the plaza stands Bogota’s first public monument, the statue of Simon Bolivar. Around the plaza you will find Museo del 20 de Julio, Catedral Primal, Capitolio, Casa de Narino, and Palacio de Justicia. My advice is to take in the plaza, then explore the Catedral (map) and then walk through the beautiful old streets with colorful historic buildings to Iglesia del Carmen.
Iglesia del Carmen looks like a giant candy cane with its red and white stripes.
If it is open, then take a look, otherwise continue the tour through the colorful old town to Museo Iglesia de Santa Clara.
Iglesia de Santa Clara is a former church built in 1674 that is now a museum. It is one of the oldest and supposedly most beautifully decorated churches in Bogota. Sadly, we arrived there at closing time and did not have time to go in as we spent way too much time at the gorgeous Museo del Oro.
For all adventurous readers, there is one more place that you can visit. It is Plaza de San Victorino and it is located outside of the historic downtown area. The walk from Iglesia de Santa Clara to Carrera 10 is only a few feet, but it is like stepping from a beautiful sleepy and protected world into a busy metropolis with all its noise, pollution and chaos. Sadly, the crime rate increases also and you are advised to use common sense as you should in any other metropolis. Plaza de San Victorino is a great place to experience the hustle and bustle of Bogota. There are many stores and street vendors that will be happy to sell you almost anything under the sun.
The last point of interest is Cerro de Monserrate.
Sadly, the trip there has seen multiple robberies and the recommendation is to go with the masses of pilgrims on weekend mornings. Even the walk to the cable car (funicular) is to be avoided. So, take a cab to the cable car station and then take the funicular up.
Check out the operating times for the cable car here: https://cerromonserrate.com
One of the must-do’s in Bogota has nothing to do with Bogota. It is a trip to Villa de Leyva.
Click here to see what to do in Villa de Leyva.
Here are some more photos of downtown Bogota:
Here are descriptions and tours of the destinations that we visited: