Colombia’s capital, Bogotá, is a city that divides opinion. Its detractors cite poverty, gridlock traffic and crime, as well as depressingly regular rain, and with 7.6 million tightly packed inhabitants and some decidedly drab neighbourhoods, Bogotá rarely elicits love at first sight. Given a day or two, however, most people do fall for this cosmopolitan place with its colonial architecture, numerous restaurants and raucous nightlife. Besides, love it or hate it, odds are you’ll have to pass through it at some stage during your travels in Colombia.
Situated on the Sabana de Bogotá, Colombia’s highest plateau at 2600m, the city was founded on August 6, 1538 by Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada in what was a former citadel belonging to the Muisca king Bacatá, from whom the city’s name is derived. For many years, Bogotá’s population did not expand in step with its political influence, and even in the 1940s the city had just 300,000 inhabitants. That all changed in the second half of the twentieth century, thanks to industrialization and civil war, which prompted a mass exodus of peasants from rural areas who live in dire conditions in the slums on the southern approach to the city – in marked contrast to the affluent neighbourhoods in the northern part of town. Today, Bogotá is South America’s fourth-largest city and home to one of the continent’s most vibrant cultural scenes.
The city’s historic centre, La Candelaria, is full of colourfully painted colonial residences. It begins at Plaza de Bolívar and stretches northward to Avenida Jiménez de Quesada, and is bordered by Cra 10 to the west and the mountains to the east. Downtown Bogotá is the commercial centre, with office buildings and several museums, while North Bogotá, a catch-all term for the wealthier neighbourhoods to the north of the centre, offers stylish shopping districts and enough dining options to suit most palates and wallets.