This is the historic old quarter of Bogota, located directly beneath the city’s most prominent landmark, Cerro Monserrate. Many of Bogota’s sites of interest are situated here, along with dozens of hotels and restaurants. Among the most popular are the Gold Museum, Botero Museum, and the church of San Francisco. There are dozens more, and this is the most scenic, and architecturally pleasing part of the metropolis. Personally, riding the tram or cog railway up the 2000 foot high face of Monserrate should not be missed, regardless of the weather.
The streets of Candelaria are mainly rough cobblestones, so comfortable footwear is a must. In addition, some of the streets are exceedingly steep, so much so that many taxis refuse to navigate them. Many could be skied if covered with snow. It is a very walkable neighborhood, as long as you watch where you’re going and pay attention to the many holes and assorted obstacles. In addition, it is home to many poor residents, desperate for anything that helps them survive, and wandering around alone at night is definitely not recommended. During the day, the barrio is heavily patrolled by police and is reasonably safe.
There are several plazas that merit a visit, and the two most interesting are Plaza del Chorro del Quevado, and just a couple of blocks away, the massive Plaza de Bolivar. The former is almost as high up as you can get the steep streets below Monserrate, heaped with history, and a very popular gathering place for musicians, surrounded by cafes and beautiful vintage buildings. It’s close to many of the hotels and hostels in the area, and adjacent to a couple of narrow alleys that abound with shops selling very funky arts and crafts. The pizza slices available here are excellent, huge, and cheap, hot and crocante straight out of the oven.
Plaza Bolivar is home to the National Congress, National Cathedral, the Colombian Supreme Court and several other important looking buildings. It is often the site of both political demonstrations and performances from the army and Bogota’s Symphony Orchestra. This is the macro to Chorro de Quevados micro, and adjacent to Carrera 7, a dense pedestrian street with multitudes of vendors, selling every type of local specialty. The streets are chaotic with traffic and crowds sporadically, but this is a fine place to wander and work up an appetite.
Plaza Bolivar in the heart of Bogota
A great place to start exploring La Candelaria is from the top of Cerro Monserrate, looming over the city and impossible to miss. It is possible, and quite popular, to hike the trail to the summit, but this is an energetic trek that should be done in a group, as there have been robberies reported. The much easier option is to take the aerial tram, or very steep cog railway. Both are terrific rides, although the tram affords a better view as the railway spends much of the route in a tunnel. From the top the whole of Bogota is visible below and it’s a sight to behold. There is a pretty chapel, acclaimed restaurant, and several other shops providing souvenirs and refreshments. From this vantage point it’s easy to take in most of the major sites of La Candelaria directly below.
There are numerous dining and drinking choices in the old section, and several bars offer live entertainment. It’s the true dark heart of the city, and certainly nothing fancy, but if it’s bonafide Bogota that’s sought, La Candelaria is where it’s at.