Things you need to know about Bogotá before visitng
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Bogotá is a pretty intimidating city when you first get here, and it’s not always easy to pick up how things work here straight away. But here I am to the rescue, one more time, to help you get to grips with what I consider to be the Bogotá Basics: what you need to know before visiting Bogotá, Colombia.
I’m going to give you the low-down on all the bitty snippets of info about this city so that you can hit the ground running as soon as your plane touches down.
After this guide, you’ll be armed with all you need to know about the best time to visit Bogotá, how to get through the airport smoothly, how to deal with Bogotá altitude, how to get around the city and out of it, where to withdraw cash, and what to wear in Bogotá. Oh, and also where to watch European football, like the Premier League.
I spent a total of 7 months calling the sprawling capital home, and although it has a really bad reputation for being cold, scary and unappealing, I genuinely miss it every day. There’s just something about this city!
After you’ve got to grips with the best time to visit Bogotá, altitude, what to wear in Bogotá and more, there are a few other really important guides to read:
I think where you stay in Bogotá has the biggest influence on whether or not you believe the reputation it has, and feeling like you already know a lot about the place so it doesn’t overwhelm you is also key to a good time. With a population of 7.1million, Bogotá is twice the size of Berlin, so don’t worry if it all feels a bit much at first!
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The best time to visit Bogotá, Colombia
Though the temperature is the same all year round, the best time to visit Bogotá is no doubt outside of its rainy seasons. Bogotá has 2 rainy seasons, April-May and October-November. And boyyyyy can it rain!
Torrential downpours can last hours, and the infrastructure can’t really cope, so before long the streets turn into actual rivers. I was honestly a bit peed off that I’d spent so much time and money getting to San Gil to white water raft when I could have just done it down my street in the capital.
You can expect around 18 degrees Celsius (64F) on average throughout the year, dropping to around 10 degrees Celsius (50F) at night. When it’s not raining, the Bogotá climate is very mild, and pretty pleasant, it you ask me.
Being in the foothills of the Andes, Bogotá altitude is 8700ft (2600m). While this is far from the highest city in South America, this can mean that you may feel a little altitude sickness when you first get to Bogotá. Altitude sickness can range from a little breathlessness or a headache all the way up to vomiting and more. For me, it usually means I feel a little hungover and tired.
Severe reactions to altitude at 2600m are very rare, but obviously seek a medical opinion if you feel things are too much to handle.
Your body should acclimatise to Bogotá altitude with a matter of days. To help yourself along the process, avoid alcohol and exercise, drink lots of water, eat small portions and pick up some altitude sickness tablets.
Arriving in Bogotá’s Airport
Bogotá’s El Dorado International Airport is actually pretty swanky; and having been through it countless times I have to say I still don’t hate it.
Getting through it can be a bit confusing for some people, and I feel lucky to have been able to giggle at the confusion of many family & friends’ through the glass walls of Arrivals, as I flap my arms trying to catch their attention and point them silently in the right direction.
When you get off the plane, you’ll go through all your usual passport control stuff, then be led right down the centre of some duty-free shops before finding yourself in a huge room full of luggage belts. Check the screen for your flight; there may be several on one belt, and it can take up to half an hour for them to start loading luggage, so have a wee and make yourself at home.
If your luggage doesn’t arrive for some reason, go to the little office at the far left of the hall (towards the exit) and ask for assistance. They’ll get someone to radio the luggage handlers and check.
Once you have all your stuff, grab a blank copy of the Arrivals paperwork from the little desks at the far end of the hall and fill it in.
Only then should you join the queue for the final document check with the security guys standing at the far end of the hall. There isn’t much in the way of queue management going on, so just follow everyone else and line up for the check. Sometimes it’s taken me 3 minutes to get through this part, sometimes 45 minutes.
Once you’ve passed this, they will signal you through Customs scans. Then turn left out the door and you’re free to explore the city!
A taxi from Bogotá airport to the city centre will cost between 25 and 35,000 COP, and should be picked up by queueing in the official taxi rank outside Arrivals. The line can get pretty long at times, but as an alternative you can always organise private airport transfers here.
What to wear in Bogotá
It’s fairly easy to plan what to wear in Bogotá on a trip, as the temperature is the same all year round – however, the climate in Bogotá is mild, so you will need jeans and a jacket at the very least (Bogotá locals love a good leather jacket) or a sweater/jumper.
Make sure you have a waterproof of some kind if you’re travelling to the Colombian capital during the rainy months (April, May, October and November). Waterproof shoes will also serve you very well.
The best way to prepare for what to wear in Bogotá is to bring things you can layer. It’s known as the city of 4 seasons in one day – and it’s easy to see why. Things can change from pouring with rain to burning sun in a matter of seconds, so you might find yourself stripping off layers and piling them back on constantly!
A thin windbreaker that you can wrap back up in your backpack is perfect to wear in Bogotá.
In terms of clothing style, it depends on where you stay in Bogotá. Up to the north, when things get swanky, you can expect to see ladies wear boots and nice jackets, with large sunglasses and their hair flawlessly sprayed into shape. Think Milan in the Winter. Lots of the more glamorous young women like to wear bum-boosting jeans that give them INSANELY perky derrieres.
Men often wear shirts tucked into jeans or nice trousers (I think Americans call them slacks??) with a light jacket.
Further south, it’s way more casual. It’s rare to see anyone dressed smartly here, with plain t-shirts, football shirts (Colombian, of course), hoodies, jeans and trainers the norm for both genders.
Put frankly, it’s good to dress appropriately for the area so as not to stand out as someone worth robbing.
What to wear in Bogotá’s clubs & bars
Despite a global reputation for dressing sexily, the Colombian women of Bogotá tend to go more casual than expected when they’re out enjoying the best spots for nightlife in Bogotá.
You’ll see a lot of jeans and a nice top, usually paired with beautiful heels or just platform plimsols for the younger club-goers. It’s generally too cold for short, tight dresses, but you’ll notice a couple here and there, depending on the neighbourhood.
The dress sense in Bogotá’s bars doesn’t feel wildly different from the more casual areas of London, but I wouldn’t call it hipster.
Men choosing what to wear in Bogotá’s clubs will probably want to opt for a casual shirt with jeans. Very few clubs care about your shoes as you go in, though this might be the gringo effect, as they encourage European-looking people to enter in the hopes of getting more expenditure behind the bar (sadly, this is a very sound business strategy).
For bars in Bogotá, men can get away with wearing a t-shirt and jeans instead of a shirt, but you’ll want something like a bomber jacket for warmth.
5 ways to get around Bogotá
1. Bogotá Transmilenio Bus
This is the infamous red public bus system that runs all around the city. On the main street of Caracas, you’ll see that the Bogotá Transmilenio has two-lane exclusivity in what would be the central reservation, and you’ll see the platforms every few blocks.
At first, this transport system is a bit confusing, and for some reason it’s something that many people living in Medellín quote as being ‘hell’ when actually their metro system gets just as sardined at peak times.
There are two things you need to be able to use the Bogotá Transmilenio properly. The first is your TuLlave top-up card, like an OysterCard, which you can get from any manned office in a Transmilenio station for 5k COP. The next is the free TransMi app, which allows you to make sense of and easily navigate Bogotá’s bus system.
All individual journeys on the Bogotá Transmilenio cost 2,500 COP in 2021 (less than $1 USD).
Avoid the Bogotá Transmilenio at rush hour if you can, as it really does get busy, and make sure your valuables are way out of reach – when thinking of what to wear in Bogotá, just know that deep pockets are not deep enough.
Be prepared for old ladies (lovingly known as viejitas) to strike up a conversation with you; quite alien for anyone who grew up around London! Take some spare change with you too, as every Bogotá bus journey comes with at least one Venezuelan busker – some of them are pretty damn talented.
2. Uber in Bogotá
Using taxi apps in Colombia is illegal, and although they still operate on the sly, you need to be aware of the risks. Uber drivers in Colombia will always ask you to sit in the front to look less like a taxi, and may come up with a story of how you met each other as friends.
If you’re English-speaking only, or you have a particularly foreign appearance, it’s not unheard of that they cancel your trip before you even get in the car. It’s not worth the risk for them as police are on the lookout for easy fines.
For this reason, never call an Uber if you’re really tight on time for something important, like a flight.
Calling an Uber to or from Bogotá Airport or a bus terminal is also a super easy way to get stopped by the police – they will take your passport details and give the Uber driver a fine or even a driving ban if they’ve been caught before.
Cabify is apparently also not legal in Bogotá, but at least it would allow you to pull up in a legal-looking yellow taxi so you won’t get asked any questions.
3. Yellow taxis in Bogotá
Yes, I’ve been ripped off by the official yellow city taxis rounding up and adding imaginary charges a few times, but then again I’ve been ripped off by an Uber driver making us pay extra by showing a screenshot of another trip too, so I shouldn’t completely write them off.
In the day, there’s not much hassle in taking them, and at rush hour I’ve found yellow taxis in Bogotá to be as little as half the price of what Uber was quoting.
It’s only at night or for a very long trip that I would prefer to take an Uber for security and knowledge of how much it’s going to come to.
4. Electric scooter
‘But I haven’t brought an electric scooter to Bogotá with me!’ I hear you cry. Worry not. Through the Rappi app, you can simply roam the streets of the ‘Grin zones’ of Chapinero and Usaquén until you come across a green Grin scooter sat on alone the street, scan the QR code on its handlebars and scoot off into the distance.
Make sure you’re using either the roads (Grin scooters are pretty fast!) or bike lanes, not the usual pavement, and keep your method of transport in mind when you’re choosing what to wear in Bogotá!
When you’re done, just drop the Grin scooter off wherever you like in the Grin zone for the next person to find. And the cost of Grin scooters in Bogota? There is a starting fee of $1500 COP to unlock and then $300 COP per minute of use.
5. Walk – it’s ok!
Yes, really. Despite its poor reputation, pretty much anywhere in Chapinero, Teusaquillo and Usaquén are actually fine to walk around without fear. La Candelaria is fine in the day, too.
Of course, things happen, as they do in literally any city in Europe or North America, but as long as you’re not increasing your risk by flashing expensive things, not following locals’ cues on what to wear in Bogotá or looking like you’re an incredibly lost, helpless gringo, you’ll probably be fine.
Colombia has a fairly extensive bus system, run by private companies ranging from family-run colectivo minivans to large coaches.
The majority of the buses out of Bogotá leave from Terminal Salitre in the very middle of the city (but not what you’d culturally call a ‘city centre’, so don’t stay around there). It’s fairly large, so ask around for where to find the offices for the companies that run buses to your destination. Once you have your ticket, terminal Salitre has a departures lounge, and everything.
There are also smaller, more destination-specific bus terminals dotted around the city, such as Terminal Transoriente to get to Choachí, or Terminal Satelite del Norte, but many of the north-heading buses from Terminal Salitre will stop at this one anyway.
Withdrawing cash in Bogotá
Being a capital city, there is obviously no trouble in finding an ATM in Bogotá’s city centre. Cash machines are all over the place, but my recommendation is that you seek out the ones that are found in guarded places, like shopping centres or banks, for safety.
When you aren’t near a shopping centre, your second option would be to use one of the small ATM rooms that you can find along the street. These are pods with a door so that people can’t see your transaction. The best time to visit Bogotá’s ATM rooms is definitely during the day, especially if you’re on your own.
This entirely depends on which part of the city you are in. Around the southern touristy area of La Candelaria, and up towards the North where the most wealthy of Bogotá locals live, you will see a fair level of English, but don’t go in boldly expecting it.
It’s rare to find any English at all in the non-touristy areas or in places where life is a bit more hand-to-mouth and the locals haven’t had the privilege of a private education. This may change in the next few years as the younger generations enter the workforce.
But do remember, it’s not an entitlement to have everyone speak your language in a foreign country. Learning some Spanish before you go is always the best way to go about things.
Where to watch European football in Bogotá
Yes, this is a real thing that Andy made us type into Google every time we hit a new city. He can’t live without those Premier League updates whilst travelling! In Bogotá, there are many options for watching European football matches.
Highly recommended are Buffalo Wings on Carrera 7 with 57, El Inglés (an English gastropub that makes a craaaackin’ Full English Breakfast, below) on Carrera 11 with 69, or pretty much any BBC location – one of my faves is on Carrera 7 with 59 in Chapinero.
So that’s the end of my guide to the Bogotá basics! These tips should help you get up to speed with the capital before you even arrive. If you’d like to find out more about my favourite city, you’re in luck, because I have plennnnty more guides for you to get stuck into on this ‘ere blog.
Now you’ve read all about the best time to visit Bogotá, altitude, what to wear in Bogotá & more, don’t miss out on: