Colombia is a country which refuses to let its past define its future. Like a phoenix that rises from the ashes, Colombia is a country of revival which has resurrected itself from the dark shadows of violence. This is evident in its capital city, Bogotá, where urban street art mixes with colonial buildings and cobbled streets, whilst large shiny-new shopping centres, which have only just opened, could make you think you were in the US.

It must be said, however, that Bogotá is not your typical travel destination. The climate in this mainly industrial, sprawling city is mild, but bring your brolly because there’s a good chance it will not only rain, but pour down in true tropical style. Do not expect tropical temperatures however, because at 2640m above sea-level Bogotá is one of the highest capitals in the world, which might explain the breathlessness you feel from walking up the hills and around town.

Let’s begin with the cobbled streets of the central Candelaria neighbourhood, well-known amongst tourists because of its colonial architecture, narrow streets and colourful hipster cafes and bars. Verdant hills are the scenic backdrop to multi-coloured pastel houses, perfect for pretty pictures. In the area you’ll also find the Botero Museum and the Luis Ángel Arango public library, which is more of a cultural centre than a library. The Botero Museum is free to enter and displays Botero’s iconic work alongside other significant South American art – one of the largest collections on the continent. Good things come in pairs: just down the road you’ll find a cultural centre dedicated to Colombia’s other iconic artist, novelist Gabriel García Márquez.

Colourful houses in the Candelaria neighbourhood
Colourful houses in the Candelaria neighbourhood


If you are looking for your classical music fix, the Luis Ángel Arango library and cultural centre holds chamber music performances throughout the year in their award-winning concert hall. This venue has been graced by the likes of the Emerson String Quartet as well as more local talents, such as Colombian pianist Blanca Uribe. It also celebrates local compositions and traditional Colombian music, so you will find a variety of concerts on their programme. The prices are more than affordable, allowing Bogotanos the means to attend performances that would be out of reach otherwise. Teatro Colón also stands nearby, and as the name suggests it is more of a theatrical affair, though it does hold classical music concerts, such as a performance from the Astor Piazzolla Quartet later this month.

In the city's main square, Plaza Bolívar, you’ll find the Supreme Court, the Palacio de Justicia, Colombia’s Parliament, the Capitolio Nacional and the mayor’s office. Just behind the Capitolio is the Casa de Nariño, where the president lives and works. There, on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays at 3:30 PM, you can watch the ceremony for the changing of the Presidential Guard. On the left side of the square, you can take a peek into the city’s neoclassical cathedral, Catedral Primada de Colombia. And if you go to visit Latin America to snap a selfie with a llama, Plaza Bolívar also gives you the perfect opportunity to do so, thanks to locals showing off their animals in colourful garb. Just watch your belongings, as like most tourist zones, the area is notorious for pickpockets.

El Tiempo newspaper headquarters
El Tiempo newspaper headquarters


On the more serious side of things, Plaza Bolívar is also steeped in history, as here in 1985 a guerrilla group called M-19 took control of the Palacio de Justicia. Intersecting the square is La Séptima, one of the city’s most important historical streets, along which Colombian president Jorge Eliecer Gaitan was assassinated in 1948. At the time, once news spread that the president they hoped would save them from turmoil had been killed, the city burst into violence, with buildings set alight and many casualties. This spot is now called Gaitan’s corner, in memory of the events of that day, and a memorial with quotes and his portrait lies just opposite the headquarters of El Tiempo newspaper – another one of the capital's landmarks. On the way there you might see old tram tracks, as the street was once home to Colombia’s first tram, started in 1910. Etched into the side of the avenue there is also an old map of Bogotá, showing how it looked when it was a mere colonial town. Now counting ten million residents, it seems incredible how quickly it has grown.

Once every two years in April, churches, town halls, theatres and various other locations around the city become the stage for international classical music stars which get the locals queuing for miles. The Teatro Mayor Julio Mario Santo Domingo, in the north of the city, hosts the International Classical Music Festival of Bogotá, which features local artists such as the Orquesta Filármonica de Bogotá, as well as international guests, such as previous performer Isabelle Faust. Some among the over 60 concerts are free, to encourage local Colombians to attend – and boy, is there a turnout! The 5th edition of the festival, “Bogotá es Brahms, Schubert, Schumann”, begins on the 17 April this year.

The Teatro Mayor is also a modern architectural sight worth visiting. The sloping, zigzagging ramp leading to its entrance is lined with colourful flowers, whilst the modern building sits above. Inside there are various performance halls, with the main one often welcoming ballet and opera companies from across the globe.

Panorama from Montserrate
Panorama from Montserrate


Finally, your visit to Colombia’s capital would not be complete without a panoramic view. Climb up Montserrate for an overview of the metropolis: this large hill has a tranquil monastery sat on top which can also be reached by cable car – a welcome break away from the loud streets below.

Bogotá has its fair share of varied history and world-class entertainment. It is also the ideal starting point to visit Colombia’s other major tourist destinations such as Cartagena, which also hosts high quality classical music festivals taking place in January. Other day-trip ideas from the capital include many historic colonial towns, such as Villa de Leyva, and the Salt Cathedrals, where places of worship have been carved into a former set of salt mines. With so much history and culture, Bogotá really deserves to be added to your bucket list.