Bogotá is a vast city of roughly 8 million inhabitants, but in reality it’s more like 20 towns (now called localidades) that were joined together by decree decades ago; most are still centered around a Spanish main square with a church left over from colonial times. Getting to know the whole city and its wide range of culinary offerings would probably take months, and even few Bogotanos claim to know it completely. But here’s an attempt to cover as much ground as possible in a single day of feasting, drinking, and wandering.
This guide focuses on the northern half of the city, but it would be remiss not to at least mention the pork bones at Vamos Donde Rafa and the tamales at El Gordo in the respective southern localidades of Kennedy and Rafael Uribe Uribe. Bring your appetite: Colombian meals can be starchy (read: filling), so pace accordingly.
Let’s begin in the heart of the city:
9 a.m. Breakfast at Doña Blanca
This downtown institution has been feeding teachers and students from the nearby Los Andes University for decades inside a modest red house. The neighborhood market, known for its bakery, is open most days at 5 a.m., when they begin to put out their delicacies, including the main attractions of cheesy breads — buñuelos, pandebonos, almojábanas, pandeyucas — and tamales. There are thought to be around 40 distinct versions of Colombian tamales, and some of the best consist of a corn filling cooked with chicken, pork, carrots, green peas, potatoes, rice, and a boiled egg, all wrapped in a plantain leaf. Doña Blanca serves some of Bogotá’s most-celebrated versions. Doña Blanca, Carrera 1 # 20A-05, Bogotá
11 a.m. Onces at La Puerta Falsa
Walk down along the Eje Ambiental, the canaled waters of the San Francisco River, and in about 15 minutes you’ll arrive at Plaza de Bolívar. This is the city’s main square, which houses City Hall, Colombia’s high courts, the Congress building, and the Primatial Cathedral. Next to this church, you can find Bogotá’s oldest restaurant, La Puerta Falsa, open since 1816. This is the ideal stop for onces santafereñas, a tradition dating back to a time when the city was Spanish and named Santa Fé de Bogotá. According to legend, onces — “elevens” — refers to the number of letters in the word aguardiete, which local monks would sneak out to drink. In deference to God, these monks would refer to Colombia’s national liquor in code.
Now, onces is a mid-morning or afternoon snack, usually consisting of a cheese bread and a hot beverage, like aguapanela (basically melted unprocessed sugar). For a true Bogotano experience, drop cheese into your hot beverage and then fish for it with a spoon while chatting with the staff, some of whom have been serving famous politicians and journalists for decades. La Puerta Falsa, Calle 11 # 6-50, Bogotá
1 p.m. Lunch at La Perseverancia Marketplace
Almost every localidad in Bogotá has its own marketplace, but the one in La Perseverancia is ideal for lunchtime: It is comparatively small, so there is little risk of getting lost among all the options, and the nearby office population means that the kitchens here usually serve lunch until late — some until 4 p.m. It’s also probably the most welcoming marketplace for a tourist to visit. Remodeled in 2017, the building’s facade is painted by local muralist Guache. Many restaurants offer traditional Colombian dishes from most regions in the country, but go for the ajiaco, the quintessential Bogotá stew, from the stand El Concejal. La Perseverancia Marketplace, Carrera 5 # 30A-40, Bogotá
3 p.m. Post-lunch empanadas at Del Quindío Tienda Café
Colombian empanadas are crescent moon-shaped, deep-fried, made from corn flour, and filled with potatoes and animal protein, or cheese. They’re the perfect afternoon snack to accompany a chat over coffee. Everyone has their own spots, but one favorite in Bogotá is this unassuming neighborhood tienda named after the Quindío region of Colombia, which is famous for its coffee. The place is decorated like a rural Quindío coffeehouse, and is one of the few remaining traditional spots in a rapidly changing Chapinero. Del Quindío Tienda Café, Calle 64 # 8-18, Bogotá
5 p.m. Ice cream break at Orso
This newish gelateria (currently with three locations, all in the Chapinero localidad) has quickly captured Bogotano affections with an always-evolving slate of powerful flavors. Some are nostalgic, like the one made from Kinder eggs, and others are patriotic, made from local fruits like uchuva (ground cherry), feijoa, or guayaba agria (sour guava). But it’s the more experimental flavors that merit a visit: The basil and white chocolate and banana-chai combinations are must-tries when they’re available. Orso Heladería, Calle 66 # 4A-08, Bogotá; Carrera 9 # 81A-19, Bogotá; Carrera 11A # 93-94, Bogotá
6 p.m. Coffee at Azahar
Colombia is famous for its coffee, but for years, most of the top-quality beans were sent abroad, and what was left behind failed to live up to the expectations set by the exported varieties.
Now, a new movement is reclaiming quality coffee for Colombians, and Azahar is at its forefront. Here, drinkers can explore the differences between beans grown in the various regions of the mountainous country, prepared with methods that make the flavors really pop, like Chemex. Stop by one of two locations in the evening to recharge after exploring San Felipe, the growing gallery district, or gastronomy hot spot Parque de la 93. (The latter is just a few blocks away from Orso.) Azahar, Calle 74 # 22-91, Bogotá; Calle 93B # 13-91, Bogotá
8 p.m. Dinner at Salvo Patria or Abasto
Cozy Salvo Patria is a restaurant, coffee shop, and cocktail bar, all under the roof of an old English-style house. Local, responsibly sourced ingredients are combined in internationally recognizable dishes, like the octopus with hogao (a tomato sauce), or the roasted lamb neck with peto (cornmeal). The restaurant’s original mission was to provide quality coffee to Colombian customers, and its devotion to that pursuit remains its cornerstone. The menu is small but varied. Regular specials reflect available ingredients, and the chefs are always trying something new. Every dish is crafted carefully — nowhere is this more evident than in the picture-perfect milhoja, a napoleon with dulce de leche — and the open space, complete with fireplace, will make you feel like you’re in a Colombian family home. Definitely a must-visit.
If you can’t find a place at Salvo Patria, or if you want to explore other parts of the city, Abasto might be your best alternative. While impossible traffic is perhaps Bogotá’s biggest downside, the Usaquén neighborhood in general — and Abasto’s food in particular — make the trip worthwhile. Like Chapinero, Usaquén was a separate suburb of the city before Bogotá’s massive 20th-century expansion. Around the main square, the cobblestone streets are home to a wide variety of restaurants and bars, along with a fascinating weekend flea market.
Abasto has two locations in the city; the decor at this one is inspired by small-town marketplaces. Their short but creative menu reinterprets some Colombian classics with exceptionally fresh produce, like ají sauce made with lulo. Dinner is wonderful, but Abasto also has one of the best breakfast and brunch menus in town. Salvo Patria, Calle 54A # 4-13, Bogotá; Abasto, Carrera 6 # 119B-52, Bogotá
10 p.m. Drinks at Red Room
Although Usaquén has many bars, cocktail culture is truly blooming back in Chapinero. One of the best places to experience it is at Red Room, a bar located inside a house that has been named a cultural heritage site. The house, which also hosts a Portuguese restaurant, is almost entirely red inside. There’s live jazz on weekends, and the cocktail menu is frequently updated. Red Room, Calle 70A # 11-64, Bogotá
12 a.m. Party at Armando or Dance at Galería Café Libro
Clubbing in Bogotá is an intense affair. Most discos close at 3 a.m., and the party usually doesn’t really get started until midnight. Armando Records is four distinct venues in the same building: a concert hall, a club, a terrace, and a pizzeria. Some of the top Latin American (and occasionally some North American and European) bands and DJs come through Armando. The bartenders might even mix up some off-menu cocktails, if you ask nicely.
For a night out sans clubbing, try Galería Café Libro, a salsa institution. The rest of the country mocks Bogotanos for our less-than-perfect moves, but the best dancers always crop up at this Cuba-inspired bar and restaurant. On weekends, its two locations usually feature a live band that will make you want to join the locals in proving the country wrong about our dancing. Armando, Calle 85 #14-46, Bogotá; Galería Café Libro, Transversal 15B # 46-38 (Palermo); Carrera 11A # 93-42 (Parque de la 93), Bogotá
3 a.m. Late-night cravings at El Cañón del Chicamocha
This 24-hour desayunadero, or breakfast spot, is the place to fulfill any greasy post-party cravings and stave off a hangover. Open since 1976, El Cañón del Chicamocha is named after a canyon in the Santander region, and offers, of course, the specialties of santandereana cuisine. These include pepitoria (a stew made from goat’s blood and intestines), mute (a casserole made from corn, chickpeas, pork’s head and ribs, tripe, cow’s leg, and potatoes), and génovas charaleñas (a sort of spherical beef sausage). There’s also a wide variety of meats and soups. This won’t be the most refined meal you’ll have in Bogotá, but it’ll get you back on your feet after a long day of eating, drinking, dancing, exploring, and eating some more. El Cañón del Chicamocha, Calle 57 # 19-40, Bogotá