Santa Fe de Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, established by the Muisca people long before the arrival of the Spanish, became a significant city during the colonial era.
Following independence, Bogotá developed into the capital of the first the Republic of New Granada and thenceforth Colombia. Bogotá has always taken a central position in Colombia’s long and tempestuous history.
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The Pre-Colombian Era
Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, the indigenous Muisca inhabited the plateau where modern-day Bogotá is situated. The Muisca capital was a prosperous city called Muequetá. From there, the Ruler, known as the Zipa, ruled the Muisca civilization in an uneasy alliance with Zaque, the Ruler of a nearby city on the site of present-day Tunja. Zaque was nominally subordinate to the Zipa, but in reality, the two rulers often clashed. Upon the arrival of the Spanish in 1537, Muequetá was renamed Bogotá and the Zaque officially Tunja.
The Conquest of the Muisca
Spanish Conquistador Quesada, who had been advancing overland from Santa Marta, arrived in January 1537. The invaders were able to take the Zaque Tunja by surprise and easily made off with the treasures of that half of the kingdom of the Muisca. Zipa Bogotá proved more troublesome. The Muisca fought the Spanish for months, never accepting any of Quesada’s offers to surrender. When the Zipa was killed in battle by a Spanish crossbow, the conquest of the Muisca was not long in coming. Quesada founded the city of Santa Fé on the ruins of Muequetá on August 6, 1538.
Bogotá in the Colonial Era
Bogotá quickly became an important city in the region, which the Spanish referred to as New Granada. There was already some infrastructure and the climate was agreeable to the Spanish. Also, there was plenty of native labour who could be pressed into service to do all the physical work.
On April 7, 1550, the city became a Real Audiencia, which meant that it became an official outpost of the Spanish Empire enabling citizens to resolve local legal disputes.
By 1717 New Granada and Bogotá in particular, had grown substantially so that it was named a Virreinato (Viceroyalty), putting it on a par with Perú and Mexíco. This was extremely important as the Virreinal (Viceroy) acted with all of the authority of the King himself. He was able to make important decisions alone without the need to consult Spain.
On July 20, 1810, patriots in Bogotá declared their independence from Spain by taking to the streets and demanding the Viceroy step down. This date is still celebrated as Independence Day.
After five years or so, Bogotá was retaken by the Spanish and a new Viceroy was installed, who initiated a reign of terror, pursuing and executing suspected patriots at random. Bogotá remained in Spanish hands until 1819 when Simón Bolívar and Fransisco de Paula Santander liberated the city following the decisive Battle of Boyacá.
At the time, Gran Colombia included present-day Colombia, Venezuela, Panama and Ecuador. The nation was unwieldy, geographical obstacles made communication extremely difficult and by 1825 the republic began to fall apart. In 1828, Venezuela and Ecuador separated from Colombia. Bogotá became the capital of the Republic of New Granada.
Fast forward to the 1970s and 1980s when Colombia was plagued by the twin evils of drug trafficking and revolutionaries. Legendary Medellín drug lord Pablo Escobar was by far the most powerful man in the country. He operated a billion-dollar industry but had rivals in the Cali Cartel. Bogotá became the battleground for these warring cartels who fought the government, the press and one another. In Bogotá, journalists, policemen, politicians, judges, and ordinary citizens were murdered on a nearly daily basis.
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Bogotá is now a large, bustling, thriving city. Although it still suffers woes such as crime like most major cities, it is much safer than in recent history. Horrendous traffic is probably a worse daily problem for most inhabitants. The city is a great place to visit as it has a little of everything – fabulous shopping, wonderful restaurants, historical areas, museums and expansive parks.
Bogotá was founded on August 6, 1538 by Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada, a prominent Spanish conqueror. However, before he arrived at this astonishing land, there was a tribe that lived and cultivated the lush green landscapes.
They were the Musicas, an indigenous people that likely came from Central America in the sixth century.
Their territory encompassed what is now Bogotá and its environs and they have gained lasting fame as the origin of the El Dorado Legend. The Muisca have also left a significant artistic legacy in their superb gold work, much of it unrivalled by any other South American culture. They settled on the Cundiboyacense plateau, which is comprised of the departments of Cundinamarca, Boyacá, and the southern part of what is now Santander.
The Muisca lived in scattered settlements spread across the valleys of the high Andean plains in the east of modern-day Colombia. The Muisca were ruled by chieftains aided by spiritual leaders. The Muisca controlled and defended their territory with such weapons as clubs, spears, arrows and lances.
Important annual ceremonies related to religion and agriculture. Such ceremonies involved large numbers of participants and included singing, incense burning and music from trumpets, drums, rattles, bells, and ocarinas (bulbous ceramic flutes).
The communities were also linked by trade, especially skilled craftsmen and in particular goldsmiths, between Muisca cities.
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The Muisca today are most famous for the legend of El Dorado or The Gilded One. A Muisca ceremony held at Lake Guatavita involved a ruler being covered in gold dust who was then rowed out to the centre of the lake where he leapt into the waters in an act of ritual cleansing and renewal. Muisca subjects would then throw precious objects into the lake during the ceremony, not only gold but emeralds.
The Spanish, on hearing this story, allowed their imagination and lust for gold to run wild. Soon a legend arose of a magnificent city built of gold. Naturally, as it never existed in the first place, the city was never found and even the lake today has stubbornly refused to reveal its secrets.
For the Muisca, gold was the material of choice as it was valued for its lustrous and transformational properties and its association with the sun. It was not used as a currency, but rather as an artistic medium.
Perhaps one of the finest Muisca pieces and solid evidence of the El Dorado ceremony is a gold alloy raft on which stand figures. One of whom is larger than the others and with a headdress, is undoubtedly the Gilded One. It was discovered in a cave near Bogotá and was a tunjo. The piece now resides, along with many of the finest surviving Muisca pieces, in the Museo del Oro.
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At 2,000m above sea level and higher, the weather in Bogotá feels like it is in a state of perpetual autumn.
A moderate oceanic climate with dry warm summers and mild winters. The average annual mean temperature is 14c/58f. Temperatures below zero are possible between December and February at night.
January, February and April are when good weather is most likely to be experienced, with pleasant average temperatures that fall between 20c/68f and 26c/79f.
The wetter season is from March to December, with a greater than 50% chance of any given day being a wet one. The month with the wettest days in May, with an average of 22 days with at least some precipitation.
The drier season lasts more or less three months, from December to March. The month with the fewest wet days is January, with an average of 9 days with at least some precipitation.
Get all the information you need to start planning your trip to this magnificent destination, check the weather and climate facts of Bogotá here!
Being as large as it is, Bogotá has an amazing selection of interesting activities for all interests, not only within the city itself but also in the surrounding areas.
The museum scene is incredible, there is a lot of history, a blossoming art community, an exciting food scene, wild nightlife and super welcoming people. There are many tours, day trips and other exciting things to do.
This is the main square of Bogotá, home to Colombia’s Palace of Justice, the Cathedral of Bogotá, the Mayor’s office and the Capitol Building. It is the historical heart of the city, with buildings from as early as the 16th century. Under the Spanish, the plaza was home to bullfights, circus acts and public markets.
Be prepared for the plethora of pigeons!
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Opened in 1955, the Botanical Garden of Bogotá is home to almost 20,000 plants. There is a focus on regional plants, usually those that are endemic to the Andes and other high-alpine regions of the continent. It is a really peaceful place to walk around and there are food stalls so you can refresh yourself as you explore the gardens and peruse the exotic flowers and trees.
Museo del Oro (The Gold Museum)
This is the most interesting museum in the entire country with over half a million visitors every year passing by. Opened in 1939, the Gold Museum documents the importance and use of gold in pre-Columbian civilizations in and is home to over 55,000 gold items. There is a lot of information to absorb, so be sure to give yourself plenty of time.
Standing tall at over 3,000m/9,840´, you can see Monserrate from more or less everywhere in the city. It is a popular place to take in the view of a monastery at the summit. You can ascend the stairs yourself (2,000´) or take the cable car or funicular to the top.
Museo de Botero
Founded in 2000, this museum is home to one of Latin America’s most important art collections. The museum was created after the artist Fernando Botero donated hundreds of his works to the Banco de la República de Colombia, on the understanding that they would be displayed in a free museum. There are also works by Monet, Picasso, and other world-famous artists.
This is the oldest area of Bogotá. You can wander the narrow cobblestone streets, and take in the eclectic architecture, with art deco, colonial and baroque styles all calling the neighbourhood home. Many of the city’s finest attractions are here too, including the Botero Museum, the Gold Museum and longstanding churches and universities.
This park is in Chapinero, one of the best areas known for having some of the more interesting restaurants, nightclubs, and bars in the entire city. The park itself is relatively new, having opened in 1979. It is home to an ongoing rotation of temporary art exhibitions and is a great place to just stroll around or have a picnic. It is more frequented by locals than tourists, so it is a great place to really immerse in local life.
Explore the street art scene
Bogotá is all about its street art. Walk around areas like La Candelaria or Las Aguas (near the TransMilenio station) and see the history of turbulent Bogotá times through the eyes of the artists.
The neighbourhoods in Bogotá are as diverse as you will find anywhere in the world. With a large population, the cultural variety is immense. The best thing of all is that you should have little trouble getting around regardless of where you stay in Bogotá. The public transit system is good, if a little difficult to understand.
That means that you can comfortably choose lodgings from among the neighbourhoods in Bogotá that interest you, rather than worrying about finding accommodation where all the tourists stay.
La Candelaria, the best area for sightseeing
The historically rich neighbourhood of La Candelaria is one of the most important areas in Bogotá. Strolling the narrow cobblestone streets and winding through the centuries-old buildings of La Candelaria feels like taking a journey back in time.
La Candelaria is home to both the important government buildings of Bogota and the significant museums and art galleries in the capital.
Chapinero, hippiest place in Bogotá
While Chapinero covers a huge stretch of Bogotá that includes the hip neighbourhoods of La Zona Rosa, Chicó and Parque 93, most locals distinguish Chapinero from these neighbouring areas.
Northeast of the city, Chapinero is home to many of Bogota’s most affluent residents and it is also the heart of university activity.
As might be expected from a neighbourhood with a well-heeled, young and educated populace, there is a distinctly bohemian vibe to the area. Chapinero itself is small which means that visitors staying here can get practically anywhere on foot.
Chapinero is ideal for those who want a base that offers them some insulation from the more chaotic hustle and bustle of the city.
La Zona Rosa for nightlife
La Zona Rosa is a popular name for the nightlife neighbourhoods in major Latin American countries and this is the same in Bogotá as it is in Panama City, Buenos Aires or Mexico City.
If you are looking to be in the beating heart of the city and enjoy mixing and mingling with the locals, there is no better place to stay in Bogotá than La Zona Rosa.
Distrito Financiero for business travellers
The financial district may be the centre of commerce in Bogotá, but that does not make it a particularly popular destination for leisure travellers.
There is not a lot in the way of landmarks or nightlife, but it is a natural choice for business travellers who need easy access to meetings, seminars and the like.
Chicó y Parque 93
This area more or less splits the difference between La Zona Rosa and the Chapinero neighbourhood. Like Chapinero, it is a more affluent neighbourhood with a greater sense of safety and eminently walkable streets. Like the former, it is a hub of nightlife, but a more placid alternative to La Zona Rosa.
The northernmost section of Bogota, Usaquén is the place to stay if you plan to explore the pueblos and natural beauty outside of the city proper. In terms of architecture, Usaquén has a lot in common with La Candelaria. Ageing buildings by a neighbourhood that is surprisingly hip. Some of the city’s best restaurants are tucked away on the cobblestone streets of the colonial district.
Maybe the neighbourhood’s biggest highlight is quite possibly Mercado de Las Pulgas, a flea market where you can purchase all kinds of artisanal handicrafts. Also too, visit the shopping mall of Hacienda Santa Barbara located just a block south of the Mercado de Las Pulgas.
Colombian food is a blend of indigenous, Caribbean and European traditions. Bogotá is a great city for exploring diverse dining opportunities.
Traditional dishes from Bogotá include ajiaco (a creamy soup with three types of potatoes, corn, vegetables and chicken) and puchero (a meat stew with root vegetables like yuca, squash and potato). Of course, like in the rest of the country, tasty street appetisers like arepas, tamales and empanadas are plentiful.
A great way to get a sense of the culinary offerings, though, is to take a food tour. This takes you on a food-tasting extravaganza stopping at a number of canteens within the La Candelaria and other barrios.
Those looking for a distinct selection of cuisine will certainly find something to whet their appetites in La Zona Rosa. The cultural diversity of the country really comes together in this neighbourhood with restaurants offering the finest Colombia has to offer as well as international fare.
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