Art, grit and beauty collide in Bogota

Graffiti in Bogota

Bogota has a huge graffiti art scene

Gritty, dirty, beautiful, ugly Bogota is a city of contrasts. It is a love it or hate it city but with its art, culture, stunning mountain views, history and energy, Bogota was a city I enjoyed.

The graffiti and bicycle tours are musts and provide an insight into the city’s rich political history and the evolution of its art which is now, in itself, a tourist attraction.

Bogota actively encourages street art, attracting artists from across the globe and many are paid by shop owners to colour facades. Much of the art carries a political message and the artists are as diverse as their murals – with one a university architecture professor.

I stayed in the historic centre of La Candelaria, which is close to the economic centre and the fascinating Museo del Oro (entrance COP3,000 and free on Sundays). A short walk up the hill past the universities in the funicular to visit Cerro de Monserrate, 3200m above sea level, and take in the stunning view of the sprawling capital.

A musician in la Candeleria, Bogotoa

A musician in la Candeleria, Bogotoa

Each night, groups of musicians can be found jamming in the water fountain square on Carerra 2 and Calle 12B.

For cool bars, head to Zona Rosa, north of La Candelaria between Calle 81-84 and Carerra 11-15.

Not just a bar, but an experience is Andrés Carne de Res where Cirque du Soleil meets Tim Burton in a theatrical display. Tours run on Saturday nights from Cranky Croc.

I visited Bogota four times and flew in from London after a short break from my travels. Despite the airline (TA Portugal) losing my meal request and my bags, my mood could not be dampened when I touched down back in Bogota. Note to self: never ignore a 1.5 rating on Trip Adviser.

Cerro de Monserrate

A view over Bogota from Monserrate

The best way to see Bogota is with the locals and I was fortunate enough to stay with a lovely Bogotarian family. There were plenty of people who offered a room to stay and wanted to show me the city. To meet locals, join the language exchange evenings with Hiola or via your hostel.

Hostel: Cranky Croc is newly renovated with excellent showers, comfy beds, a TV room, communal kitchen and lovely staff. Noise tends to echo here so bring the ear plugs. COP30,000 for a six bed dorm, includes fluffy towel and coffee.

Tours: The “Free” Bogota Graffiti Walking tour starts from Plaza Periodista in La Candelaria at 10am each day, a generous tip is advisable.

The Bogota Bike Tour takes your further afield and into the heart of suburbia, the red light district and a local coffee factory. It can be booked through the hostel for COP35,000. Bikes aren’t in the best condition so a quick ride up the street will identify any problems.

The Salt Church tour to Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá can be done independently or with a tour.

Transport: The Trans Milenio bus system is the cheapest and fastest way to get around Bogota. You can even catch it to and from the airport, bus K6/J6 (via a short shuttle bus ride to the main bus stop).

Getting to Bogota: Local airlines: Avianca, Copa Airlines and budget airline Viva Colombia. These airlines don’t accept many international credit cards via online bookings. Avianca allows you to book online and pay in at the bank. Copa Air offers cheaper flights through its Colombian website.

International airlines: Avianca flies direct to many European cities including London, other airlines include Copa Air, Iberia, BA, KLM/Air France, Condor, Delta, United Airlines and LAN. Budget airline Viva Colombia fly to Panama, Quito and Lima.

Please note: If you are flying into Bogota from Europe or the US on a one way ticket, the airline will (usually) not let you board without seeing evidence of a booking to leave the country. Buy a cheap bus ticket or a fully refundable airline ticket before getting to the airport. This is also the case for most South American countries. Generally speaking, it is not necessary when arriving via a land border.