Home to eight million people, gruesome traffic, and all the other trappings of a big city, Bogotá is a great place to live, but also overwhelming.
Fortunately, there are plenty of nearby locations to take a quick getaway. So before you let all the cars and congestion drive you mad, do yourself a favor and get out of the capital for at least an afternoon. These are some fun day trips you can take.
Nobody knows how many have died searching for the mythical El Dorado. Europeans arrived by the shipload, with countless intrepid, and ultimately foolish, men dying on a fruitless quest for this City of Gold. According to legend, what lured the conquistadores was mythical Guatavita and its sacred lagoon where rituals involving gold spawned tales of a village with so much precious ore that they threw it into the water to win the favor of their Muisca gods.
While the ceremonies were real and some gold was pulled from the La Laguna de Guatavita, most quixotic treasure hunters were all but disappointed. Nobody who visits this beautiful landscape today ever is, however. Just a short trip from Bogotá, it may be the best way to spend a Saturday. Reaching the lagoon includes a short walk up a hill at high elevation. But most people in good health will have little trouble. And seeing Guatavita firsthand is certainly worth some effort.
Why Go: seeing a site of legend
Distance from Bogotá: northeast, 47 miles (75 km)
How to Get There: bus or car takes you to the small town of Guatavita, with the lagoon located another 15 km away. transportation to the sacred lake is available through companies in town, although driving yourself is the most convenient
The closest trip of all is just over the mountains to the east of the capital. Even on a bad traffic day, it won’t take long, and there is one major reason to go: El Tambor. This parilla is as authentic as it gets. Arepas, morcilla, chicharonnes, chorizo, yuca, and every type of meat are all piled on the table in an outdoor setting that makes it all taste even better.
After you eat, there are a few other reasons to enjoy the area. The large San Rafael reservoir offers a pretty view, and the more adventurous can paraglide around the body of water. Or, to extend the trip, continue northward to Guasca for some trout fishing and more picturesque views in a tranquil little town. La Estancia San Antonio, a large finca apart from it all, offers lovely, rustic cabins and delicious food if you care to stay the night.
Why Go: good eating
Distance from Bogotá: east, 9 miles (15 km)
How to Get There: bus, car, taxi
Zipaquirá – Catedral de Sal
Buried nearly 700 feet underground in salt mine lies one of Colombian’s greatest treasures. People have been digging salt from this location since well before Spanish conquistadors had ever heard of the Americas, with the humble work of the indigenous Muisca community transforming over the centuries into the modern operations of today. As the engineering advanced, a massive cathedral replaced the original church where workers would pray that they made it home safely without the earthen roof above caving in.
It never has, and now La Catedral de Sal is considered the First Wonder of Colombia. The mine’s history is as fascinating as the colorfully lit sculptures within are marvelous. The path deep below ground passes an array of small crosses — representing the 14 stations of the cross — that honor the sacrifice made by Jesus before leading you to the massive nave where a 52-foot cross hovers majestically above the alter.
Why Go: see Colombia’s “first wonder”
Distance from Bogotá: 28 miles (45 km)
How to Get There: bus, tourist train
Chia – Andres Carne de Res
The northern suburb of Chia is a double-threat offering, allowing you to enjoy an afternoon in a pleasant surroundings or an experience unique in this world. While a day trip will help you relax in a chill location outside the capital, the better option is a “night trip” to the renowned Andres Carne de Res.
Some say the Colombian restaurant, with a 40-page menu and walls covered in handmade oddities, is what Magic Realism would look like in physical form. And here you can eat your fill, dance salsa throughout the sprawling revelry of the vast property, and enjoy the bottles of aquardiente that everyone is passing around. Then, after a night that will undoubtedly last longer than expected, you’ll arrive back in your bed in Bogotá rejuvenated by an environment like none other. As for the next morning, well, that might be another story …
Why Go: uniquely Colombian night out
Distance from Bogotá: north, 17 miles (28 km)
How to Get There: bus, taxi, car (Andres offers transportation options)
There is nothing truly remarkable about Santandercito, but that is part of the draw. It represents a relaxing, peaceful getaway that isn’t overcrowded and offers a few noteworthy attractions. The nearby orchid garden, walking trails, ecopark, and zoo (with lions, tigers, and jaguars) are all worthwhile ways to pass an hour or two. And the boutique Alto de la Palma Hotel is a good place to stay, if a bit pricey for the area, to turn the trip into a full weekend escape.
The road there also takes you past the Salto de Tequendama, where a (at times) roaring waterfall that will draw your gaze. While it unfortunately consists of wastewater from Bogotá — and on occasion isn’t pleasant to the nose — the scene of the whitewater rushing over a giant cliff is always easy on the eyes.
Why Go: tranquility and relaxation
Distance from Bogotá: west, 35 miles (56 km)
How to Get There: bus, car