Colonial center, chic urban barrios: such is Bogotá. Once the seat of the powerful Spanish Viceroyalty of New Granada, the Colombian capital is today one of Latin America’s hippest cities, with world-class shopping and nightlife that pulses till dawn in its zonas de rumba.
The heart of the city’s historic downtown is La Candelaria, one of the most charming neighborhoods in South America. Here, wandering the maze of cobblestoned streets, you’ll discover colorful houses dating from the 1700s, whose grillwork and red-tile roofs conceal a host of bohemian bars and hangouts. Not far away, the Museo Botero seduces with fleshy masterworks by Colombia’s best-known painter, while in the Museo del Oro, a dazzling gold raft made by the Muisca people evokes the myth of El Dorado.
Further north, the city becomes more cosmopolitan. There, in the legendary Zona T, you’ll find the continent’s most vivacious nightlife, in a restaurant-and-nightclub mecca that stretches for dozens of square blocks. Its apotheosis is Andrés Carne de Res, an aguardiente- and beef-fueled blowout that induces delirium in all who go. Down for something more subdued? The nearby Zona G offers intimate dining in a hillside refuge.
Bogotá also affords abundant opportunities for day-trippers. Monserrate, the hilltop shrine that overlooks the city, is renowned for its gold-and-vermilion sunsets, while at Zipaquirá to the north, a functioning cathedral is carved into a cave of salt. For those wishing to delve into the pre-Hispanic past, the mythic Laguna de Guatavita was once the region’s most sacred lake.
For intellectuals, Bogotá’s cultural scene makes it “the Athens of South America.” For partyers, it’s a latter-day Babylon. Howsoever, it’s certain that no other Latin capital so fully engages the mind and body, flesh and spirit, as this recocha (all-out spree) that’s pure Colombia.