Step back in time at historic, high-altitude and high-octane Bogotá, and discover previously turbulent but now prosperous Medellín
Bogotá and Medellín are two of the most vivid cities in Latin America, teeming with culture and full of captivating stories just waiting to be told. Soak up authentic colonial charm in La Candelaria, Bogotá’s old town which has everything from timeless old-stone squares to strangely enchanting graffiti-adorned neighbourhoods. Head to born-again Medellín for a flourishing art scene, underappreciated green spaces and panoramic cable car views.
Bogota & Medellin holiday highlights
Head to Bogotá for a fantastic range of things to do, in a beautifully preserved setting. Colombia’s capital is one of the largest cities in Latin America, tucked on a plateau in the Andes at 2640 metres above sea level. It’s famous for La Candelaria, its vibrant historic centre which is full of charming plazas, museums and stately colonial-style homes with beautiful gardens and imposing doors – the most well-known is Plaza Bolívar, whose pristine public space and superb stone buildings bear resemblance to Venice’s Plaza San Marco. Lap up the rustic vibes at the stunning 19th-Century cathedral where you’ll be able to see plenty of fascinating religious artefacts, and visit the Museo Botero (closed Tuesdays), a colonial house filled with some of Latin America’s most important artwork which attracts half a million visitors per year.
Although Bogotá is sprawling and not always easy to navigate, it’s actually a brilliant city to walk around. The free, twice-daily graffiti tour around La Candelaria is the most popular; street artists have worked after dark for years to create some incredible works of art, so much so that graffiti has actually been legalised in the capital and is actively promoted in certain areas as part of Bogotá’s cultural identity. And while the city is decidedly hectic, it’s also very pretty. Spend some time at Simón Bolívar Park, right at the heart of the city and also its largest green space. It covers over 970 acres (making it larger than New York’s Central Park) and has earned the nickname, ‘Lung of the City’), with some amazing facilities – you can go kayaking on the peaceful lake, swim in an Olympic-size pool, make use of a gym and sauna, and even a motocross track, amusement park and water park. For some spectacular sweeping views at sunset, climb up to 3000 metres above sea level at Monserrate Mountain which towers over Colombia’s capital city below. This has been a pilgrim destination since the early 1600s and has a historic religious retreat built at the very top – its statue, El Señor Caído or The Fallen Saint, depicts Jesus Christ after being taken off the cross.
Medellín has a troubled past but the city has slowly rebuilt its reputation to become one of the most important economies in Latin America. It was named ‘the world’s most innovative city’ by the Urban Land Institute in 2013 and is a great place to visit, with loads of activities and things to do. Head towards the Museum of Antioquia and Rafael Uribe Uribe Palace of Culture in the Old Quarter and you’ll find Plaza Botero; this outside park has 23 sculptures by Colombian artist Fernando Botero, who donated them for the museum's renovation in 2004, including Hombre a caballo (Man on horseback), Cabeza (Head) and Mujer con espejo (Lady with a mirror). The plaza is illuminated during the Christmas season and is a top spot for taking pictures.
Much like Bogotá, there are a surprising amount of green spaces and picturesque landscapes around Medellín and its surrounding areas. Medellín is nicknamed the ‘City of Eternal Spring’ thanks to its year-round pleasant climate, and you can easily spend an afternoon browsing its tree-lined boulevards and trendy outdoor food and flea markets. The city also has a series of metrocables, a cheap and relaxing way to travel around and get a bird’s-eye view over the thousands of speckled houses below – hop on and head to Santo Domingo for the best views and the Biblioteca de España library park, or to the newly opened Parque Arvi, an ecological nature reserve. If you’re willing to travel a little further then be sure to visit Guatapé, a small Andean resort town two hours east of Medellín, still in the Antioquia region. Get lost wandering round gorgeous paint palette-coloured houses and discover El Peñol – you’ll have to brave a 600-step climb up this towering rock, but the reward is incredible views over tree-topped hills intersected by turquoise lakes below.