La Candelaria - Downtown, Bogotá
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.
La Candelaria is the historic core of Bogota and while it does have its share of romantic streets and grand architecture, it is also a bit of a dangerous area, mainly at night. A lot of the danger is overblown, but it is important to be aware of the greater potential for problems here than in the northern neighborhoods of Zona Rosa or Parque 93. That being said, there are some great attractions in La Candelaria. During the day, it is well worth strolling down its sometimes cobbled lanes and to visit some of its small shops and restaurants.
You'll also find the main cathedral in the grand Plaza de Bolivar and the famous Gold Museum as well as the Botero Foundation (Colombia's most famous painter).
On my first night in Bogota, I stayed in the downtown area at the Tequendama Intercontinental and, while the hotel was okay, I really didn't enjoy staying in this area. It's the financial center and there are lots of office buildings, but it's not the safest part of the city (the richer northern suburbs are safer) and after dark, I kind of felt like a prisoner in the hotel. It is a convenient area if you're in town for a convention or other business and it's a short ride from the historic Candelaria area, but other than a few shops and markets, there's not a lot to see here.
La Candelaria is the oldest part of Bogotá. The area east of Plaza Bolívar is full of very colourful houses in colonial style with terracotta roofs and it is very pleasant to walk around the narrow streets here. There are many museums, churches and libraries. Not all buildings are old ones, but because the commercial centre early moved more to the north very much of Candelaria was preserved and it is now supposed to be one of the best preserved old towns in South America.
When you walk along the streets in Candelaria you will probably notice the statues that are placed on roofs and balconies at some places. They are works made by the sculptor Jorge Olave and depict men and women of different trades. Don’t forget to look up!
The Bogota centre's oldest district is La Calendario. It is a charming colonial centre, very picturesque, colourful and walkable.
As usual, there is the impressive Catedral and large squarish Plaza de Bolivar in the heart of the city centre. Next to the plaza is another imposing building - Capitolio Nacional, with fine colonnades, where the government ministries and congress are.
Some truly striking churches are Iglesia de Maria del Carmen with walls in layers of red and white... and Iglesia San Agustin which is strongly ornamented.
There are many museums located in this city centre. Almost all of them are closed on Mondays.
According to all the locals I met and talked to about this subject and contrary to what I had read, the city of Bogota was actually founded on this plaza, the first mass held here, and the first church in Bogota erected here, not Plaza Bolivar. While I don't know for surtain what the truth is, I tend to adhere to that beleif, that the city was founded at Plazoleta del Chorro de Quevedo. It seems more logical to me, the church here is much more rustic and the surrounding areas much more historic in nature than the area around Plaza Bolivar (granted this is also due to tearing down and rebuilding of the original buildings around Plaza Bolivar).
This is a very small plaza (hence Plazoleta, not Plaza) with in the middle a fountain. On one side is a church, on the other two are cafes and a 'bob marley smoke shop' (for any 'special interest' persons reading this, this is the only place I found in Bogota to buy rolling papers). On one side is also Calle del Embudo (next tip). There is also a sort of monument thing of a wall with openings in it that have some statues sitting in them.
Calle del Embudo (street of the funnel), on the left side behind the wall on Plazoleta del Chorro de Quevedo, is so named because of it's shape. It is wider at one end and gradually narrows, much like a funnel. It is far to narrow for a car.
While the street is only about 80 - 100 metres long, it is lined with many bars and cafes on either side. One of which is one of the better reggae bars in Bogota (of which, beleive it or not, there are many). Perhaps that explains the 'Bob Marley Smoke Shop' around the corner?
La Candelaria is the historic centre of Bogota, and my favorite area of the city. It's cobble stoned streets, it's cafes, it's theatres, it's libraries and museums...I can't say enough. It is a very bohemian, artsy area, particularily the east and south east areas. There are also several universities in La Candelaria. I lived here for three months and loved it.
My love of La Candelaria aside...it does make pleasant area for a stroll, most of the historic buildings being nicely conserved. They are often painted briliant colours. If you can go in one of the historic buildings in La Candelaria (there are several theatres), you will quickly see that the insides are just as beautiful as the outsides. Often you walk into a courtyard with rooms all around it.
Also you will notice around La Candelaria many statues on roofs and balconies, no one could tell me why that it. But, either way, it adds a certain aire of character.
Directly to the North of the historic Candelaria lies the financial district. It consists of anonymous concrete 'International style' office buildings, but still retains some nice areas, including a park. The main office/ shopping area is centered on Avenida Jimenez & Carrera 7.
Plaza Santander and Gold museum are located here, as well as Independencia park.
It is easy to reach by Transmilenio (station Juarez).
Start at the Tequendama Intercontinental Hotel and walk south along La Septima avenue. At the corner of Avenida 19 make a left and walk all the way east to the mountain to the cable car station and take a ride to the top of Monserrate. From there you can admire the entire city.
Back on Avenida 19 walk to Avenida La Septima and make a left, continue all the way to the Gold Museum park and the San Francisco Church. You can visit the Gold Museum Collection and also later the church where you can admire the magnificient colonial altar. Then at the corner of Avenida Septima and Avenida Jimenez you can admire the beautiful republican style buildings in this area. Continue along La Septima all the way to the Plaza de Bolivar where you can admire the Congress Building, City Hall, Palace of Justice.
Continue to the east where the La Candelaria colonial district is located, in this area there are many museums, the best is the Donacion Botero Museum and Casa de la Moneda Museum.
This pretty church with a small park in the front looks nice. Just beware that within a couple of blocks south the appearance of the buildings deteriorates greatly, streets become somewhat deserted, and it does not seem that it is a good idea to proceed much further.
Not all parts of the old town is maintained as a uninhibited museum. Since its also an active working and studying area, part of the towns are well-maintained for convenience, destroying a little of museum-taste.
Biblioteca Luis Angel Arango is one of the best endowed and arranged in South America with three reading rooms, research rooms, art galleries and a concert hall. There are exhibitions and regular concerts. There is a good cafeteria on the sixth floor. Entrance: free.
The Plaza Bolivar is at the heart of the city which has a statue of the liberator at its centre. On the northern side of the Plaza Bolivar is Corte Suprema de Justica, wrecked in a guerrilla attack in 1985 and newly built in 1999.