Colombia’s hilly capital city surprises with its restaurants, sights, and LGBTQ+ nightlife.
Bogotá, the capital of and largest city in Colombia, is a place defined by superlatives. In fact, its citizens like to refer to their city as the world’s largest, highest city. And while there’s no strict definition of how to balance those two factors, I think I agree with the designation — Bogotá boasts an impressive population of roughly 8 million people, and its elevation of about 8,660 feet above sea level puts even mile-high Denver to shame.
On our recent visit to the city, we found plenty to do and see, not to mention eat and drink. Here is a rundown of four of our favorite things in or near the bustling Colombian capital.
Bogotá is home to Theatron (
), said to be the largest
+ nightclub in either North or
(some argue in the whole world). The complex, which is open on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings, 7:30 p.m. to 5 a.m., is located in the Chapinero neighborhood, the city’s center of queer nightlife.
Theatron holds some 4,000 partiers, although when we went, it was quite uncrowded, being before midnight. Still, the whole process to get into the club was impressive to witness, and it felt like we were attending the Super Bowl or some similar high-profile event. We wound through hundreds of feet of empty queue lines, occasionally being patted down or searched with electric wands, making our way through the city streets and even into a parking garage before finally entering the club, where we paid a small cover charge of about $4.
We were told by a local that the cover charge included a free drink once inside, but we couldn’t successfully figure this out with the bartenders, given our limited Spanish. They seemed utterly confused by the concept, so we gave up and just purchased drinks — still very inexpensive — while we walked around.
The massive club, which was originally a theater (hence the name), feels like more than a dozen clubs in one. There are so many spaces on multiple floors that most visitors will find the vibe and the crowd that they’re looking for. We wandered through places called Plaza Rosa, Metro, 360, La Cantina, and Eva. There were spaces that had the ambiance of discotheques, neighborhood cafes, neighborhood gay bars, and more. I loved the upper-level space that was open air, and surrounded on all sides by different building facades, making it feel like you were in a European city square, the warm equatorial night sky spread above you.
Beyond Theatron, the queer district in Bogota was full of an interesting array of nightclubs like Brokeback Mountain (
), plus restaurants, shops, and even what one local described to us as a “gay mall” — half clothing shops and half sex shops — called the Lourdes shopping center. We were intrigued to see it (and a little suspicious about the supposed sex shops, whatever those really were), but when we returned the next day to investigate, it was closed … we’d completely forgotten that it was a Sunday!
2. Speaking of big things, how about an enormous restaurant?
We dined one evening at
, a very popular local steakhouse, and I simply wasn’t ready for its enormity. Open for lunch and dinner, this six-level restaurant in Bogotá can hold somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,000 diners (no one could give me an exact number). It’s said to have more than two square miles of floor space, which just doesn’t seem possible to my brain — but after wandering the immense floors, maybe I can believe it.
Andrés isn’t trying to be everything to everyone (okay, the menu is rather lengthy, but half of it is alcohol and advertisements). They know the real reason you are here: meat. We tried both the grilled chicken and the steak, and they were both melt-in-your-mouth delicious. I enjoyed the simple side dish of lightly seasoned potatoes, although my husband wasn’t as impressed with them, and ate them mostly out of guilt.
The restaurant started in the early 1980s as a roadside stand and has steadily grown into its current form, thanks to loyal fans who return time and time again for the magical atmosphere and tasty protein. Plus, Andrés DC simply has an incredible amount of energy running throughout it. While we were there for dinner, we saw live video feeds of everything from musical acts to acrobats on different floors, adding to the feeling that we were in a combination restaurant, music venue, and entertainment district.
Andrés DC also includes a children’s zone, climbing wall, dance floor, and a series of hammocks outside for drunk patrons trying to recover. What more do you need in a friendly neighborhood restaurant?
3. Take in the city from the top of Monserrate.
Nestled within the Andes, Bogotá has impressive mountains all along its eastern flank. To get a better view of the city as a whole, take the cable car to the top of Monserrate. If you’re afraid of heights, you can stay firmly on the ground and take the funicular railroad up; there’s also the option to hike up — supposedly, it’s like 1,500+ stairs — but we decided that was far too cruel, even for leg day.
The views from both the cable car and from the top station are incredible, with the endless urbanity spread out before you. At the top, you’ll find numerous restaurants, a church, and a local market (with vendors selling clothes, souvenirs, and, of course, food). We spent a few hours at the top and found a nice mix of what seemed to be tourists and locals simply getting away for the day. We picked a more formal sit-down eatery; my only complaint was that there was no view of the city, as most of the sit-down restaurants are further back from the viewing areas. We also saw donkeys (but were a bit confused as to their purpose … were they to ride or just for photo ops? No one seemed to know.) Make sure to take your photo with the Bogota sign while up there, too. Note that it can be cloudy and rainy and a bit cooler at the top, compared to the bottom, so come prepared with layers. Also, going down on the cable car can take longer, due to a line of people waiting for the next one — so be prepared in case you have specific plans later in the day.
4. Tour the world-famous Salt Cathedral.
Located less than an hour’s drive north of the city, the Salt Cathedral (
) in Zipaquirá is truly a must-see incredible landmark for tourists visiting Bogotá. Miners constructed this Roman Catholic church within the tunnels of a salt mine more than 650 feet underground. Now a huge tourist attraction for the country, a new cathedral was constructed in the 1990s, and the whole complex is bizarre and beautiful. The entryway down, as well as the various tunnels inside, is dramatically lit, some areas even with changeable LED lighting that can emulate things such as the flags of different countries.
Along the way to the main cathedral, there’s a series of enormous stones and stone cutouts of crosses representing the Stations of the Cross — a Catholic tradition, where the events and places around Jesus’s last journey are remembered. Again, each is illuminated with dramatic colored lighting, and the whole interior of the complex is an Instagrammers’ delight, with must-capture photo opportunities everywhere
The new cathedral space is enormous and quite hard to grasp, and it actually does host services, including weddings. The main cross is cut into the rock behind the altar and seems to float in space. A lighting show that plays across the whole of the cathedral is worth seeing, and we found it quite mesmerizing. There’s plenty more to see here, with many other sights (as well as a gift shop and cafe). Make sure to visit the impressive Salt Dome and the Mirror of Water. Even for “recovering” Catholics like me or non-religious types, it’s definitely a fascinating engineering marvel to see while in Bogotá.