Bogota is back!
After decades of internal strife, Colombia is once again peaceful, prosperous and safe. Tourism is playing a huge role in Colombia's recovery; while other South American nations saw their visitor numbers decline in 2009, the number of visitors to Colombia climbed by seven percent.
Bogota, the capital city and the nation's economic and cultural center, provides fabulous opportunities for visitors. It has more than two dozen museums, hundreds of parks, a wealth of colonial architecture, and some of the hottest night life in South America. If you have two weeks to spend in Bogota, you'll find something new to see and do every single day.
But what if you've only got a day? Listed below are the "must-sees," Bogota's very best attractions. Fortunately, all are clustered within and near La Candelaria, the old colonial heart of the city. There's more good news, too: La Candelaria is just a short, inexpensive taxi ride from Bogota's El Dorado Airport.
Cerro de Monserrate First stop: Monserrate. This Roman Catholic Sanctuary, located 2,000 feet above Bogota, is accessed via either a cog rail or cable car. From this mountaintop the vast panorama of Bogota spreads out before you. It's an amazing view, but Monserrate has its own charms, including a splendid church, fabulous gardens, and dozens of shops where you can bargain for local crafts.
Bolivar Plaza This vast space is the heart of Colombia. It is surrounded by the Catedral Primada (the nation's "first cathedral"), the Colombian House and Senate, and the Supreme Court. Just one block away is Casa de Narino, home of the Colombian President. The plaza is always aswirl with activity; You'll find chains of school children making their way among the buildings, picketing (and peaceful) protestors, tourists, government workers and the dapperly-dressed elite. From here it's a pleasant walk to the other must-sees.
Museum of Colonial Art Located in a fabulous colonial mansion, this museum houses hundreds of pieces from the time of the conquest and the early settlement of Colombia.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez Cultural Center Colombians are justly proud of their Nobel Prize-winning author, whose works are celebrated throughout the world. This new facility provides extensive information on the author, whose novels include 100 Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera . Stop by to learn more about the author, and to have a cup of good Colombian coffee in the open air cafe.
Botero Museum Fernando Botero is Colombia's best known artist, famous for his depictions in paint and sculpture of "the fat ones." The Botero Museum houses the artist's own collection of artwork, including a thunder-jowled Mona Lisa. The museum also includes works by Picasso, Monet, Renoir and Matisse.
Museum of Gold This spectacular museum is home to more than 30,000 pieces of pre-Columbian artwork, including the famous raft of Guatavita, source of the El Dorado legend. The Gold Museum is located on one of downtown Bogota's busiest plazas, the site of an informal market for Colombia's famous emeralds (and for its equally famous fakes!)
Colombia is still a bargain. Just remember: when you get hungry, avoid the American-style restaurants and instead choose one of the local favorites. A McDonald's hamburger, for example, goes for US $ 7, and fails to live up to the dubious standards of its American origins. La Candelaria's Restaurante Masiz, on the other hand, serves a four-course Colombian meal with veggies and fresh-squeezed fruit juice for $ 3.
The coffee is great too – naturally. Oma and Juan Valdez are the big chains (they are the Starbucks of Colombia), but try a locally-owned shop. At Cafe Negro the service is as fun as the coffee is rich.
For more information on Bogota's attractions, see Tours of Colombia .