First Day in: Bogotá

The 5 best things to do with you first 24 hours in Bogotá

 Family fun in Plaza de Bolívar.

Family fun in Plaza de Bolívar.

Bogotá’s kind of like that kid in school. You know the one—the kid who you were a little afraid of, who dressed really cool and was kind of a badass. I’ll admit, Bogotá made me a little nervous at first. You can’t really plan a trip to the city without hearing lots of stories about its not-so-distant, very violent past. Or, for that matter, its present state of affairs which, while much improved, still warrants some suggestions for keeping your wits about you and “not giving papayas.” (A popular anti-mugging/theft tip in local slang, “No dar papaya” amounts to “don’t make it easy for them” or “don’t make yourself a target.”)

But in the same way that you come to find that the cool kid is actually not mean, so too does Bogotá reveal itself to be much less scary than you might expect. It helps to have a good introduction to its charms, and you can easily fill your first day with activities that will show you why the city is one you’ll want to know better.

Ready, set, vamanos!

Scopin' juice and fruit.

Getcha Juice On | You might as well learn this right up front and come to terms with it: Colombia is going to ruin you on fruit. The sheer abundance, the quality, the mindboggling diversity of it all—you’re going to be really insufferable when you come home and start whining about how you can’t find your favorite anywhere. Much of Colombia’s rainbow of fruits is available in juice form, at pretty much every restaurant you go to as well as from street vendors. I advise you to go wild. Get a glass, try something you’ve never heard of, get two more glasses, try something familiar that will suddenly taste better than ever before. Hoard the juice. Revel in it. God I miss it. I can’t find copoazu anywhere.

Santuario de Monserrate, sittin' pretty on top of Cerro de Monserrate.

Zoom Up to Monserrate | Bogotá sits at an elevation of 8,660 feet, which is already pretty high, but it lies at the base of a line of rugged green mountains, so there’s always the option to go higher. The ride—or climb—up to the Cerro de Monserrate is one of the “musts” of a visit to Bogotá. From the top, at 10,341 feet, you get a impressive panoramic view of the city’s sprawl and the mountains that lie to its east. There’s also the Santuario de Monserrate church, some pretty gardens, a couple of impressively situated restaurants (priced accordingly), trinket stalls and a modest lineup of vendors selling hearty snacks like sausages, yucca fries and soups. You have two options for riding to the top: the funicular and cable cars (teleférico); the funicular starts its runs a few hours before the cable car does. You can also walk up if you like to sweat and aren’t affected by the altitude. To get to the station at the base of the mountain, taking a cab is probably the best option. Otherwise, take the meandering walk up via Parque de los Periodistas, continuing on past Quinta de Bolívar.

Strolling La Candelaria's colonial streets.

Wander La Candelaria | The old heart of Bogotá has been grabbing headlines in recent years for its ongoing revival. It’s still a little scruffy, but it has genuine charm—street after street of handsome colonial buildings, ornately decorated churches, classical government buildings, the huge expanse of Plaza de Bolívar and the pulsing energy of an area popular with artists and students.

Gold figurine depicting the ceremony that gave rise to the legend of El Dorado.

Gild Your Brain at Museo de Oro | I’m less and less enthusiastic about museums with each passing year, but this one is definitely worth a go, especially if you’re trying to wait out some of Bogotá’s not-infrequent rain showers. The history of gold and how people have obtained, used and valued it is told through displays of artifacts that date back far before the conquistadors ever set foot on the continent. Don’t be surprised if the trinkets and adornments on display inspire in you a primal urge for possession—the desire for this shiny yellow metal seems to run through us all, as it has for thousands of years.

Parque de Usaquen is a cool, quiet place to hang out and people watch before or after a meal at one of the nearby bistros.

Head North | The further north you go in Bogotá, the swankier it gets. Up above La Candelaria and the Centro Internacional (which you’ll know by the Torre Colpatria, the tallest skyscraper in Bogotá) lie neighborhoods like Zona G, Zona Rosa, Parque de la 93 and Usaquen, where you can wrap up your day and shop, dine, drink and dance with Bogotá’s chicest citizens. Zona G is shorthand for “Zona Gourmet” and, logically, it’s a good place to go out for a bite to eat. Usaquen used to be a completely separate town and many of its buildings date back to colonial days. Now that it’s locked in Bogotá’s urban embrace, it’s a swanky little area dotted with farm-to-table bistros and brunch hot spots. Shopping, dining and nightlife options in Zona Rosa and Parque de la 93 are vibrant and almost overwhelmingly abundant.