Bring a jacket. Weather in Colombia is not seasonal. It’s so close to the equator that every day is pretty much the same, and the weather is determined by altitude: the higher you go, the colder it gets. At 8,612 feet, Bogotá—which other Colombians like to call the Fridge—has mild daytime weather year-round, but it gets cool at night (around 48 degrees Fahrenheit). As a born-and-bred Bogotá native, whenever I’m back in the city I shift to jacket mode even when it’s sunny because the temperature can drop unexpectedly. Don’t make the tourist mistake of walking around in flip-flops.
Orient yourself with the mountains. Bogotá is flanked by mountain ranges to its west and east. You can see one of them, the Eastern Andes, from most places in the city, so they’re a good way to orient yourself. Most Bogotanos use these mountains as a reference point, which is why most maps of the city have east at the top instead of north. It’s also why in Bogotá, subir (“go up”) means “going east” and bajar (“go down”) means “going west.”
An ajiaco with chicken and avocado at Cazuelas de la Abuela. Photo by: Pablo Uribe Medina
Find your ajiaco. A formidable soup made with chicken, no fewer than three kinds of potatoes, corn, and a local herb called guascas, ajiaco is Colombia’s national dish. What else goes in it is a matter of personal—or familial—preference. Some might add capers, cream, avocado or rice, while others might regard those ingredients as nothing short of sacrilegious. I’m in the pro-cream and avocado camp, but you do you. Explore your options; get a taste of ajiaco at La Puerta Falsa, at La Pola in Las Aguas, or at Las Cazuelas de la Abuela in Chapinero.
Beware aguardiente. Colombians will be relentless in offering you shots of the national firewater—a spirit made from distilled sugar cane and aniseed—at social gatherings. You’ll come off as impolite if you turn them down, and they will keep insisting anyway. Most brands contain a lot of sugar, taste like boozy liquorice, and will give you a nasty hangover. If at all possible, stick with the sin azúcar version.
Brace yourself for altitude sickness. Bogotá is not as high up as La Paz or Quito, but it’s above the “soroche” (altitude sickness) line. Some people hardly feel it, but others need a day or so to acclimatize to the thinner air and will feel dizzy, tired, and short of breath. Local remedies include black coffee and aguapanela (brown, unprocessed sugar melted into boiled water).