Home to more than 8 million people, Bogotá is the capital and by far the largest city in Colombia. This is a place of contrasts: the south, mostly lacking resources, distinguishes itself from the well-to-do north; glassy skyscrapers next to colonial buildings; open air markets and fashion stores. Bogotá has gone through an explosive growth over the last 50 years and although it is clear that it has a few structural problems, it is also clear that things are improving recently. Heavy investments in public safety and a revamp of its public transport system, for example, contribute to enhance the experience of those visiting the city.
The La Candelaria district covers the historic center and is the place where Bogotá was officially founded in 1538. This area, where centuries hold houses and cobblestone streets can be found everywhere, still preserves some of its colonial flair. This is the most visited district of the city, besides housing most of the city's and the country's government bodies. Its heart is located at the Bolívar Square, which fills an entire block surrounded by the Metropolitan Cathedral, built in the early 19th century, and by the buildings of the National Congress, the Palace of Justice and the City Hall. Just one block away from there, the Nariño Palace is home to the Executive branch of the Colombian government.
The center of Bogotá also hosts a great variety of museums, including at least one that should be high on the checklist of every visitor to the city. The Gold Museum (Museo del Oro) is without a doubt one of the most impressive collections of Pre-Columbian artifacts in the entire world. Gold and ceramic pieces crafted by the many indigenous cultures of the country and of nearby nations can be found in its galleries. The Botero Museum, which is part of the Republic Bank art collection, features 123 works authored by the Colombian artist Fernando Botero, alongside 85 other works from names like Picasso, Monet, Renoir and Dali donated by Botero himself. Next to the Botero Museum, the Mint Museum (Museo Casa de Moneda) is located at the same place where the first gold coins of the Americas were minted, in 1622. It features an important numismatic collection, as well as depictions of the technical processes used in the production of coins and paper money.
The access to the cable car and to the funicular that go up the Monserrate Hill is also located in La Candelaria. Up on the hill, at 3,170m (10,400ft) above the sea level (the city sits at an average altitude of 2,640m, or 8,660ft) you are bound to be rewarded the best panoramic views over Bogotá. A hint to consider when planning this trip is the possibility of, for example, go uphill aboard the funicular while returning with the cable car, perhaps near dusk, in order to enjoy nice day and night photo opportunities of the metropolis in one single tour.
Heading to the north of the capital you will gradually get to a much more modern area, full of residential and office buildings, besides a larger concentration of nice restaurants. You will soon be at the Santa Fe district, whose landmark is the National Museum, with exhibits mainly geared towards art collections, archeology and ethnography. Further north you will then reach Chapinero. This is where the G Zone is located (G for Gourmet): here, in a small area bounded by streets 66 and 72 and by Carreras 4 and 11, a revolution is transforming Bogotá on a gastronomic destination. Restaurants in this area specialize in food from all over the world: Chinese, French, Italian, Middle Eastern and Peruvian cuisines are just a few examples of what is available there. The T Zone (also known as Zona Rosa - Pink Zone), between streets 79 and 85 and between Carreras 11 and 15, is another busy area of the capital, full of shopping options, restaurants, pubs and night clubs.
About 50km (30mi) north of Bogotá lies the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá. Its interior, carved inside a salt mine up to 150m (500ft) below the surface, hosts an interesting art collection sculpted mostly in marble and salt. This architectonic marvel was considered Colombia's finest on a national poll conducted in 2007.
Bogotá is located approximately in the middle of Colombia and is, no surprises here, the country's main transport hub. Its international airport has direct flights to most of the large cities in the Americas, besides a few European destinations. Bogotá is also a common connections hub for domestic flights. In case you'd rather drive or take a bus to move around the country, consider that the city of Pereira, in the Coffee Zone, is 310km (190mi) west, while Cartagena, by the Caribbean Sea, is 1,070km (665mi) north. The country's second largest city, Medellín, is 430km (265mi) northwest. Before hitting the Colombian roads, however, check current safety conditions.