Guest post and photos by: Ana María Martinez
The cosmopolitan and vibrant city of Bogotá D.C. sits on a plateau atop the Eastern Andes in the center of Colombia. The political and economic capital of the country, it is located at an average of 2,640 meters above sea level and it spreads as far as the eye can see over the Bogotá savanna. The city also serves as its entertainment, sports, cultural and artistic capital and it is jam packed with things to do, restaurants to try, and new adventures to undertake for families of all sizes and kids of all ages all year long!
Bogota with Kids
One of the best things about traveling to Colombia with children is the fact that most Colombians wholeheartedly subscribe to the idea that “children should come first”. As such, families traveling with children are given preferential treatment from the moment they arrive at its new international airport by way of a dedicated line for immigration. And they continue to be given deference while standing in line at stores and attractions, and even when waiting for elevators around town. Unfortunately, this does not translate to the stroller friendliness of Bogotá’s streets, but that’s for another post!
My family is originally from Colombia and now that I have two girls, we make it a point to travel there throughout the year. Bogotá is one of our favorite destinations because there is always something new to try and because exploring its attractions is very affordable thanks to the current exchange rate.
Coming up with a top 10 list of things to do in Bogotá is a real challenge, but here are some of our favorite adventures to get you started!
1. Get the full view in Monserrate
A great first stop for visitors is the mountain of Monserrate. Sitting at 3,152 meters above sea level, it is the perfect spot to get a lay of the land and take in the vastness of the city. Getting to the top is very fun, too. While some people may choose to walk, if traveling with children visitors should opt for the cable car or the funicular. Many choose to take one on the way up and the other on the way down. They both offer unique perspectives and are a fun activity all on their own.
Once at the top, visitors can check out the beautiful church and monastery, shop the local wares, or dine in one of the delicious and beautifully appointed restaurants. If you happen to be there in the month of December, you will get to see the mountain top decorated with very festive and traditional Colombian Christmas lights. The city is usually pretty lit up, as well, and a view from the top is not to be missed.
Please note that the top of the mountain is paved with cobblestones and there are lots of stairs. As such, we would not recommend taking strollers. Explore on foot and bring a baby carrier, if needed!
2. Let the kids run the show at Divercity
Divercity in Santa Fe Mall is a city built for kids! Here, children ages 3-13 can try their hand at being veterinarians, doctors, policemen, fighter fighters and more. There are more than fifty attractions for them to role play, explore, and learn with the goal of making children better citizens. Some of the attractions are “jobs” where children earn “Divis” or Divercity cash that they can then spend on fun activities like rock climbing or getting pampered at the kids’ salon. My five-year-old fell in love with the very well behaved Golden Retriever she “examined” in the Vet Exhibit.
Although parents may not enter the attractions with their children, safety here is paramount and each child is given a bracelet that Divercity staff uses to check them in and out of each attraction. Parents can always see where their kids are based on their check-ins and no one can leave Divercity unless they are with the parent assigned as “group leader.”
Baby siblings can join in the fun as well, with a few attractions exclusively geared for the under 3 crowd. My ten month old was a great fan of the ball pit, dinosaur swing, and the Bongaloo- a little wind tunnel filled with balloons! Hours vary throughout the year and some busy weeks the days are broken out into two different “shifts” to make sure it does not get too crowded, so make sure to check before you go. Tickets are fairly inexpensive and some even include a lunch package.
3. Learn a lot at the Museo de los Niños
Bogotá’s Museo de los Niños (Children’s Museum) is a great place to learn. It is different from other children’s museums we have visited around the world in that each visit consists of a guided “route” which is made up of three 30-minute modules. You can buy more than one “route” to add more modules to your visit. The schedule for the modules available each day is posted weekly on the website.
When we went the tours for the general public started at 1pm and the museum was reserved for school field trips in the morning. We found this format to be great because it allowed for my five-year-old to gain a deeper understanding of each of the topics covered and gave her the opportunity to be hands on.
The biggest challenges, however, are that tours start at a specific time and that they are divided by age. If you have children in different age groups, you will either have to split up your party (one adult goes with each group) or get guidance from the museum staff regarding which age group tour might be most appropriate for all of the ages in your group. We personally had a great time since the guide encouraged me to explore the different activities with my ten month old while she did her thing with my older girl.
During our latest visit, we explored a physical activity station, learned about the art and science of bubble making, and dug in the dirt to understand how biological recycling works. Other modules include themes related to gardening, the science of food and cooking, the five senses, energy, and more.
4. Let the Kids Loose at Monki’s Place
If you need to kill time on a rainy afternoon or just need a safe place to let the kids roam and burn energy, we’ve found no place like Monki’s Place. This three-storey house converted into a dream playground has play spaces divided by age group.
At the very top, children aged 1- to 4-years-old have an amazing space to crawl, totter and run. One side of the room is lined with play houses equipped with all you would find in your dream home. The other side of the room has a “market” set up, complete with shopping carts, pots and pans. There is even a jump space with a small trampoline and a slide perfect for little ones. Finally, there are two living rooms on each side of the room, for parents to sit, relax, and let the little ones explore.
The two lower levels are geared towards older kids (with some spaces for the 3 and up crowd) and are truly a kid and preteen paradise! There are indoor soccer fields, trampolines and climbing courses, and even a Lego room where kids can let their imagination do all the work. A friendly hostess comes by once in a while to inquiry whether anyone wants snacks or drinks. You pay at the end of your visit based on the amount of time spent there. Monki’s is a very popular birthday party location, so check before you go to make sure they are open to the public during your desired time.
5. Shop and play at Centro Comercial Andino
As in many places around the world, Bogotá’s shopping centers serve as social hubs for locals and visitors alike. Most shopping centers have kids’ areas with games and small attractions. Of these, one of our favorite places to visit is the Centro Comercial Andino.
Located in one of Bogotá’s more upscale neighborhoods, this mall offers more than most to keep kids engaged and entertained while parents eat, shop, or relax. The fantastic indoor playground and arcade, Game Box, is located on the top floor of the building. This particular game area is nice because it also has an exclusive area for babies and toddlers with rides, swings and the always popular ball pit.
One of the things that set Andino apart, however, is its unique “adoption” program. Kids, with a parent’s identification document, can check out doll strollers, tricycles, dolls and stuffed animals for the duration of their shopping trip. Kids receive a button identifying them as the official caretaker of their new friend and there is even a doll sized area for kids to take their adopted dolls and animals for a little bit of fun!
My five-year-old had a wonderful time styling and strolling her new little friend while we checked out the stores. The doll strollers were the perfect size for her and the hardest part was getting her to turn the doll in at the end of our visit. Andino also has arts and crafts and kids’ shows periodically on the schedule.
6. Get Outside at the Parque Simon Bolivar
When we want to get away from shopping and indoor games, the Parque Simon Bolivar is our favorite destination! Spanning close to 113 hectares, the park has lakes, running and cycling trails, and a great children’s playground. In this busy metropolitan city, the Parque Simon Bolivar is the perfect oasis to stretch, run and play. For us, a great day here includes a stroll and a picnic. The best part is that it is free!
7. Exercise and play at the Ciclovia
One of our most favorite days to spend in Bogotá is Sunday because of the Ciclovia. Colombians are serious about their fun, so every Sunday (and on holidays), the city closes off some of its biggest and most important thoroughfares and encourages everyone to get outside. Families, dogs and strollers in tow, take to the streets to run, walk, bike, and roller blade. Throughout the city, there are even stages set up for impromptu Zumba and aerobic lessons open to all who happen to be walking by. The streets really do come alive, making this a great way to experience the city with kids from a completely different perspective.
Participating in the Ciclovia is free and there are plenty of police and volunteers guiding participants through intersections where cars may be crossing. There are also food and refreshment stands along the routes.
8. Try Your Farm Hand at Parque Finkana
If you are looking to really get outside, a visit to the Finkana theme park a short distance outside of Bogotá is a can’t-miss! Here, visitors young and old can spend the day experiencing the sights and smells of farm living. There are educational exhibits, horse shows, organic gardens, and lots of opportunities to pet and feed the farm animals, plus much more. If you are feeling adventurous, you can milk the cows, play pony polo, and even sign up for horseback riding lessons.
The park is closed on Mondays and schedules vary depending on the month, so plan ahead. There are a number of ticket options, but they are all very affordable. Do keep in mind that most interactive activities are charged separately, so if you are on a tight budget decide ahead of time how much and where you want to spend your time. Still, there’s plenty to do with the general admission ticket.
If you decide to venture to Finkana, keep in mind that the weather is a bit colder as you leave the city. Also, although the park is about an hour outside the city, keep in mind that traffic can get especially heavy getting in and out of Bogotá on the weekends (Colombians love to travel!), so make sure to account for any additional travel time. Finkana often hosts private events that may lead to early closing times. It is always a good idea to call ahead and check out what’s happening before making the trip.
Another great option, also about an hour outside of Bogotá, the Restaurante La Granja offers a unique culinary experience with great atmosphere. Here, you can also check out the farm animals and participate in fun activities and arts and crafts. Lots of playground equipment surrounded by interesting animals will keep kids of all ages entertained while you eat.
9. Make Your Own Pizza at Archie’s Trattoria
All the exercising is sure to make you hungry and making their own pizza is one of my kids’ favorite ways to get full and get happy. At Archie’s kids are a big deal. In addition to arts and crafts, children get their own chef to help them make their own pizza. All the way from kneading the dough to picking the ingredients, children get the full chef experience. In addition to the pizzas and pasta dishes, Archie’s Trattoria has desserts and coffees for everyone! My daughters are especially fond of the gelatto, and I can’t say I blame them. I’m a fan, too!
10. Fill Up on Traditional Colombian treats
Perhaps our most favorite thing to do in Bogotá is to try all of the typical Colombian treats and pastries. There is a bakery or café in pretty much every corner, and most of the time, you can’t go wrong. The best thing to do is follow your nose to find the fresh baked goods! My personal favorite since I was a little kid are the buñuelos – amazing fried, cheese dough balls of goodness that are crispy on the outside and soft as clouds on the inside. In the same family as buñelos, our family encourages visitors to try the pandebonos (Colombian bread made with cassava starch and cheese), pandeyucas (yucca bread) and almojabanas (another soft, cheese bread). All are great with a hot coffee or herbal tea, or a glass of fresh fruit juice.
In Bogotá, you also can’t miss the traditional arepa de choclo, Colombian corn cakes filled with melted cheese and butter, or the Colombian empanadas, fried meat and potato cakes.
On the sweet side, my daughter’s favorites are the obleas, crispy, flat wafers that are topped with a variety of delicious add-ons. The most traditional obleas are topped with arequipe or dulce de leche, a deliciously creamy caramel. Colombians also enjoy them with shaved, toasted coconut, nutella, or nuts. However you choose to have them, you can’t go wrong.
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