Budget travelers' first impressions of Bogota are likely to be of La Candelaria. This is the colorful colonial neighborhood very close to the old town center which was largely an area to be avoided until German Escobar decided to put a hostel here called Platypus. The once proud barrio had become debilitated but now is a ragtag mix of beautifully restored old colonial homes painted in bright colors along with less fortunate sons waiting for investment. Graffiti is common on both but somehow does not take from the overall atmosphere of this lively and still local neighborhood. It is safe during the day but obviously it always pays to keep your wits about you. Motorcycle coming your way, clutch that bag or camera a little tighter and pay attention. When walking around, heed locals warnings. La Candelaria becomes the much poorer and hence dangerous Egipto before you know it. It all looks the same to us until someone asks for that expensive camera dangling from your neck. Take taxis after dark or in our case, head back to the hostel. The best photos are early in the morning anyway when the light is best and crime is surely at its lowest. The hostels in the area pay a guard to stand at the corner of Calle 16 and Carrera 3 once it gets dark. He's there specifically to protect tourists and it's a nice touch. It's also a reminder that even though Bogota has come a long way, it is a big city full of poor people. That combination with what are viewed as rich tourists can be a dangerous one. All this said, we had not one problem in Bogota in our six nights there. Exercise some caution, move swiftly and with purpose, and relax once you get to your destination.
A good way to spend the day in Bogota is to wander around here for the day. It is small enough to see in half a day depending on how much time you spend in the Churches/Museums but with all the cafes andd shops you could make a day out of it - even put on a few pounds from all the snacks available. Some of the streets are restricted to foot traffic but even those that are not still allow for some great photos.
For anyone interested in art, Museo Botero has to be very top of the list of things to do in Bogotá. The magnificent 208-piece collection was donated by the famous Colombian artist Fernando Botero whose series of 'fat people' shows skill, humour, kindness, cruelty and critical satire. The collection contains 123 of his own works along with 85 by an impressive range of European masters such as Picasso, Chagall, Dalí, Renoir, Matisse, Monet and others.
Housed in a beautifully restored colonial mansion (Casa Luis López the Mesa), the Botero collection is catalogued as the most important art exhibition in the country and comprises sculptures, drawings and paintings.
The museum is open Mon-Sat 09:00am-07:00pm (closed Tues), Sun 10:00am-05:00pm; free admission.
more pics in the Travelogue
Biblioteca Luis Ángel Arango is the largest cultural center in the country. It started in 1923 as a small library but today its collection has grown to the point that it has become the premier library of the country and is considered to be the second most important public library in Latin America.
The complex comprises over 45.000 m2 of space. There are three reading rooms, research rooms, art galleries and a splendid concert hall which is one of the most beautiful in Colombia. Public concerts are usually cheap or even free. The library is very popular with students. They come early, waiting in a queue before the library actually opens, to secure a place in the reading room. The cafeteria on the top has a good view and reasonable food.
The library is open Mon-Sat 08:00am-08:00pm, Sun 10:00am-04:00pm; it's free of charge. Exhibitions are closed on Monday.
Centro Cultural Gabriel García Márquez was created in the middle of La Candelaria by the Fondo de Cultura Economica in Mexico to highlight the brilliance of the Colombian Nobel Prize winner and inaugurated in January 2008. It was designed by Rogelio Salmona, one of the most respected Colombian and American architects and a close friend of Gabo. He also created several other noted buildings in Bogotá and other Colombian cities (MAMBO - Bogotá Modern Art Museum, among others), and worked as an assistant to the French architect Le Corbusier for about a decade.
The circular complex houses a large bookshop (including a music shop), a gallery and performance halls, where literary and other cultural events are held. There is also a room where children's arts workshops are held. The ground level displays García Márquez' life in large panels. Juan Valdez Café occupies a space with a patio on the centre's lower level, and it's a perfect place to people-watch while enjoying a cup of Colombian best coffee :)
In the heart of La Candelaria you find a small plaza, a mystical Plazoleta del Chorro de Quevedo. Surrounded by cafés and bars, it has a fountain in the middle and a small church on one side. It is assumed that the city of Bogotá was actually founded here and not around Plaza de Bolívar. But opinions differ.
Plazoleta del Chorro de Quevedo is a space that receive students, academics and musicians. They come to have coffee, beer, canelazo, or admire the creations of some of Bogotá artisans. Among the most traditional places are: Café color Café, La Pequeña Santa Fe cafe and El gato gris' restaurant.
On week nights the plaza buzzes with music; locals and tourists can enjoy the high vibe atmosphere surrounded by all types of rhythms. During the weekends it is also the meeting place for hippies who sell their hand made jewelry.
My guide brought me to walk in La Candelaria, a vibrant section of the city with small shops and ancient churches like the Bogota Cathedral. There were old houses and building of Spanish Colonial and Baroque styles. It was fun walking along the little streets and so I asked my guide if I could explore on my own and I just had him meet me after an hour…FUN!
There was actually some kind of festival at the time – I think it must be the weekend and there was loud music and people everywhere on the Plaza de Bolivar. You also see here The Fundacion Botero, The Religious Art Museum, The Coin House, The Library Luis Angel Arango and of course…The Gold Museum which was unfortunately closed at the time I visited (renovations in 2007). It is one of the most important museums of Colombia owned by the Republic Bank, with more than 36,000 pieces in gold, wood, shell and stone organized in its three floors (located in front of Santander Park).
I also enjoyed buying gifts, small souvenirs in this nice neighborhood....a great walk to better understand the culture of the Bogotenos.
If you are in Bogotá on Sunday be sure that you go to colourful Mercado de San Alejo, a flea market with people selling everything imaginable. In recent years it has became an urban tradition where hundreds of families with differents skills and knowledge have met for years. There are auctions of antiques and art collectibles.
It has shops and stands offering a wide selection of Colombian crafts. Of particular interest are ceramics, pre-Columbian reproductions and it is a good place to buy woollen fabrics. For the lovers of salsa music, there is also a meeting of collectors.
Mercado de San Alejo is open on Sunday from 09:00am to 05:00pm.
Others Bogotá's best known flea markets are Parque de los Periodistas (corner of Avenida Jiménez and Carrera 3) and Plaza Central de Usaquen in northern Bogotá.
Situated right opposite the lively Plaza de Santander near the Museo del Oro, Iglesia de la Tercera is one of the most beautiful jewels of religious architectural of colonial Bogotá, together with Iglesia de San Francisco and Iglesia de la Veracruz, located a few steps away from each other. It has this name because it was built by and at expenses of members of the Third Franciscan Order to whom it belongs.
The construction was completed in 1780. It has an impressive stone facade but rather plain interior, expect for the altarpiece carved in walnut and cedar by colonial artists. Rich iconography representing leaves, flowers, fruit, small angel faces and streamlined animals; predominant colour is sepia.
The church is open daily from 08:00am to 06:00pm.
Completed in 1567, Iglesia de San Francisco is the oldest church in Bogotá. It looks quite simple from the outside but the interior is elaborately decorated. The church is built in Mudéjar (Spanish-Moorish) architectural style. Some parts are plated with wood and columns are lined with gold following the Flemish style of the 17th century. Especially interesting is the gilded main altar which is Bogotá's biggest and most magnificent piece of art of its kind.
The ceiling is beautifully decorated and a collection of side altars is noted as well. Fine colonial works by artists Gregorio Vásquez de Arce y Ceballos and Gaspar de Figueroa adorn the walls.
The church was rebuilt after the earthquake in 1785.
A few steps from the fountain in Plazoleta del Chorro de Quevedo is a fairly narrow and short stone street, Callejon del Embudo (Funnel Alley), where bars, cafés, bakeries and quirky shops give life to this enchanting part of La Candelaria. Its shape resemble the shape of a funnel: it's very narrow at one side and then it slowly widen on the other.
There are a few places that sell delicious home made pies and cakes. And there are many bars offering chica, a traditional indigenous fermented drink derived from maize (though nowadays many different grains or fruits are used to make chicha, even coca leafs).
Beginning in the afternoon and intensifying toward the night, Callejon del Embudo is getting more and more crowded. All kinds of people come along. Music is coming from every corner and the street becomes one big party.
Set in one of the most peaceful areas of La Candelaria, Iglesia del Carmen was inaugurated in 1938. Inspired by the Sienese Gothich style, it is an impressive piece of architecture, unlike any other church in Bogotá. This is marked on the facade by a combination of red and white stripes. Its shape is a Latin cross with proportionate dimensions that give the feeling of grandeur.
The interior is very beautiful as well, with same red and white stripes from the outside. It has a decoration with Venetian mosaics (with noted image of Virgen del Carmen over the high altar) and fine stained-glass windows depicting fruit and flowers. The church houses pictures from the colonial era.
Each year on the 6th of January it traditionally becomes the place for the worship of the 'Three Wise Men'.
Iglesia de la Candelaria is located in the heart of La Candelaria, next to the Biblioteca Luis Ángel Arango. It's part of an Augustinian friary originally established in 1560. This is three-nave colonial church built in Baroque style between 1686 and 1703. It has some fine wood carvings gilded by gold and above the tabernacle is the image of Our Lady of Candelaria. The beautiful altar and the ceilings were made by Pedro Alcántara Quijano.
The church was in 1975 declared a national monument. During the centuries it had major changes to its original design. The last restoration work was completed in 2005.
Once home to Colombia's best-loved poets and politicians, La Candelaria is Bogota's oldest neighbourhood, a sort of living historical monument. It has something magical with blue, orange, turquoise, green, magenta, ochre and yellow colonial buildings adorned with balconies painted crimson, dark green and deep blue.
Pretty cobbled streets cluttered with bohemian shops, craft stalls, galleries and cafés climb up towards a hazy mountain. Here you find museums, restaurants and eclectic bookshops. Enchanting La Candelaria is a cultural and artistic heart of the city.
Eccentric rooftop sculptures draw the look towards the sky while a mixture of sounds of street musicians, chattering students and food vendors rises from parks and plazas. Handsome boulevards open up on the Plaza de Bolívar, the city's main square and crowded meeting point.
Oh, I could spent days just wandering the streets of this delightful area :)
The first time I visited Bogotá I didn’t see Iglesia del Carmen, but after seeing some photos of it I wanted to have a look during my second visit to the city. Iglesia del Carmen was open to public in 1938. That makes it the youngest church in the historic district Candelaria. It is a different looking church with its white and red stripes. The white and red stripes are not only seen on the exterior but also inside the church. There are many fine stained-glass windows. Unfortunately I couldn’t see this as the church was closed as I came there.