Destination guide: Bogota, Colombia
Bogota is the state capital, but it's also a center for business, education, and tourism. Located high in the mountains, Bogota is a unique city with a rich cultural heritage.
If you enjoy culture or art, fly to Bogota and explore La Candelaria, Bogota's primary historical district. You can explore colonial landmarks and experience famous local traditions, such as the brunches and flea markets in the historical district on Sundays.
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Bogota - Practical Information
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Nationals of some countries, including most of Western Europe, the Americas, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, don’t need a visa to enter Colombia. All visitors get an entry stamp in their passport upon arrival. Most travelers receive 60 days. If traveling overland, make sure you get an entry stamp or you’ll have troubles later. Similarly, make sure you get your departure stamp or there will be trouble the next time around.
Colombian customs are looking for large sums of cash (inbound) and drugs (outbound).
In other respects customs regulations don’t differ much from those in other South American countries. You can bring in personal belongings and presents you intend to give to Colombian residents. The quantity, kind and value of these items shouldn’t arouse suspicion that they may have been imported for commercial purposes. You can bring in items for personal use such as cameras, camping equipment, sports accessories or a laptop computer without any problems.
Be sure to hang onto your receipts for any big-ticket items. Foreigners may request a refund of the 16% IVA (sales tax) on all goods purchased during their stay in Colombia. Get to the airport with plenty of time to submit your receipts to DIAN (Dirección de Impuestos y Aduanas Nacionales; the customs bureau).
Sprawling Bogotá stretches mostly north–south (and west in recent years) with the towering peaks of Monserrate and Guadalupe providing an easterly wall.
Locating an address in the city is generally a breeze. Calles run east–west, rising in number as you go north, while Carreras go north–south, increasing in number as they go west (away from the mountains). Handily, any street address also indicates the nearest cross streets; Calle 15 No 4-56, for example, is on 15th Street between Carreras 4 and 5.
The bulk of visitors stick with two major areas of Bogotá – Central Bogotá and Northern Bogotá.
Central Bogotá has four main parts: the partially preserved colonial sector La Candelaria (south of Av Jiménez and between Carreras 1 and 10), with lots of students, bars and hostels; the aged business district ‘city center’ (focused on Carrera 7 and Calle 19, between Av Jiménez and Calle 26); the highrise-central of Centro Internacional (based on Carreras 7, 10 and 13, roughly between Calles 26 and 30); and, just east toward the hills, the bohemian eatery district Macarena.
Northern Bogotá is known as the wealthiest part of the city. The north, more or less, begins 2km north of Centro Internacional. A scene of theaters, antique shops and many gay bars, the sprawling Chapinero (roughly between Carrera 7 and Av Caracas, from Calle 40 to Calle 72 or so) is scruffier than areas further north, beginning with Zona G, a pint-sized strip of high-end eateries (east of Carrera 7 and Calle 80). Ten blocks north, lively Zona Rosa (or Zona T; stemming from the ‘T-shaped’ pedestrian mall between Carreras 12 and 13, at Calle 82A) is a zone of clubs, malls and hotels. A more sedate version – with many restaurants – rims the ritzier Parque 93 (Calle 93 between Carreras 11A & 13), part of the Chicó neighborhood, and the one-time pueblo plaza at Usaquén (corner Carrera 6 and Calle 119). The rather unappealing modern buildings of the so-called ‘financial district’ line Calle 100 between Av 7 and Carrera 11.
The most popular links between the center and north are Carrera Séptima (Carrera 7) and Carrera Décima (Carrera 10), crowded with many busetas (small buses). Another, Av Caracas (which follows Carrera 14, then Av 13 north of Calle 63) is the major north–south route for the TransMilenio bus system. Calle 26 (or Av El Dorado) leads west to the airport.
The working-class barrios of Bogotá looming far south and west from La Candelaria have (occasionally well-deserved) dodgier reputations.
Budget & Costs
By Latin American standards, Colombia is cheap. A backpacker can expect to spend an average of COP$50,000 to COP$100,000 per day, more if you plan on doing a lot of clubbing. If you want a more comfy trip, with midrange hotels, some better restaurants and a flight from time to time, you’ll average somewhere between COP$200,000 and COP$300,000 per day. Some resort areas, especially along the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, have all-inclusive resort packages that cost COP$200,000 to COP$300,000 per person, which is pretty good value anywhere.
Remember that bus ticket prices are always negotiable. Start with a polite, ‘Hay descuento ?’ (Is there a discount?) then move on down the line. Prices will immediately drop at least 30%. This doesn’t work during holiday periods when buses are full.
1US gallon gas (petrol): COP$7475
1L bottled water: COP$2000
750ml bottle of rum: COP$20,000
Minimum taxi charge: COP$2800-3500 (3300)
Set lunch: COP$3500-8000
The telephone system in Colombia is modern and works well for both domestic and international calls. Telecom is the national provider; ETB and Orbitel offer competing services. Public telephones exist in cities and large towns, but they are few and far between, and many are out of order. For directory assistance or information call [tel] 113.
It is possible to call direct to just about anywhere in Colombia. The exception is if you’re using a cell phone: you cannot dial a cell phone from a landline (or vice versa). If you don’t have a cell, you can use one at a corner store. Landline phone numbers are seven digits countrywide, while cell-phone numbers are 10 digits. Area codes are single digits.
All calls by default go through Telecom ([tel] 09). However, you can specify Orbitel ([tel] 05) or ETB ([tel] 07) by dialing that prefix immediately before the number. There’s no need to worry much about this unless you’re in Colombia long enough to own and operate your own landline.
Colombia’s country code is [tel] 57. If you are dialing a Colombian number from abroad, drop the prefix of the provider (05, 07 or 09) and dial only the area code and the local number.
Email cafes almost always have a few telephone booths (cabinas) where you can make local calls for around a few hundred pesos a minute. Most generally offer a fax service as well.
Colombians love their cell phones, and in urban areas almost everyone has at least one. The three major providers are Movistar, Comcel and Tigo, with newcomer Ola a distant fourth. Cell phones are cheap, and many travelers end up purchasing one – a basic, no-frills handset will set you back around COP$40,000 to COP$50,000, or you could bring your own cell phone from home and buy a Colombian SIM card. A SIM card costs COP$10,000, which includes COP$10,000 worth of prepaid calling minutes. Because it is expensive to call between networks you could, at least in theory, buy a SIM card for each of the three providers and swap them out to change networks.
Colombian cell-phone companies do not charge you to receive calls, only to make them. Street vendors selling minutos (minutes) are seen almost everywhere. Many corner stores also have cell phones you can use. These vendors purchase prepaid minutes in bulk, and it is always cheaper to make calls with them than to use credit on your own handset. For this reason many Colombians use their handsets to receive calls only and use street vendors when they need to make calls.
Vendors generally have at least three cell phones – one for each network. The first three digits of the 10-digit number indicate the cell phone provider, so state the prefix you’re calling to and they’ll give you the right phone. Expect to pay COP$200 to COP$300 per minute for a call to the same network (more late at night or in smaller towns).
To purchase a phone you’ll need to show identification. This is supposedly for security but in fact it’s to prevent the street vendors from purchasing phones in bulk and competing with the cell phone provider’s own call centers. There have been cases of identity theft (they will photocopy your documents) so only purchase a cell phone from a provider’s official retail outlet.
The office working day is, eight hours long, usually from 8am to noon and 2pm to 6pm weekdays, but offices tend to open later and close earlier. Many offices in the larger cities have adopted the so-called jornada continua, a working day without a lunch break. It’s nearly impossible to arrange anything between noon and 2pm though, as most of the staff are off for their lunch. Most tourist offices are closed on Saturday and Sunday, and travel agencies usually only work to noon on Saturday. The many competing post offices are not open for standard hours across the country. For example, in Bogota most are open from 9am to 5pm from Monday to Friday, with some branches also open on Saturday morning, but on the Caribbean coast most companies close for lunch.
As a rough guide only, usual shopping hours are from 9am to 5pm from Monday to Friday; some shops close for lunch. On Saturdays most shops are open from 9am to noon, or sometimes until 5pm. Large stores and supermarkets usually stay open till 8pm or 9pm Monday to Friday; some also open Sunday. Shopping hours vary considerably from shop to shop and from city to countryside. Restaurants opening for lunch open at noon. Those serving breakfast open by 8am. Most of the better restaurants in larger cities, particularly in Bogotá, tend to stay open until 10pm or longer; restaurants in smaller towns often close by 9pm or earlier. Many don’t open at all on Sunday. Most cafes are open from 8am until 10pm, while bars usually open around 6pm and close when the law dictates, usually 3am (although some are open till dawn).
The opening hours of museums and other tourist sights vary greatly. Most museums are closed on Monday but are open on Sunday. The opening hours of churches are even more difficult to pin down. Some are open all day, others for certain hours only, while the rest remain locked except during Mass, which in some villages may be only on Sunday morning.
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