La Candelaria District of Bogotá

La Candelaria, dating back to the 16th century, represents the oldest part of Bogotá, with the Plaza de Bolívar at its heart. Full of narrow, cobblestone streets lined with single- or at most two-story pastel houses, colonial churches, graffiti walls, museums and other government buildings, this historical center of the city is best explored wandering on foot--you could spend hours if not days here. While many of the once-dilapidated homes have been painstakingly restored to their original glory, you will still encounter a few houses neglected by their owners, as rules for renovation here are unbelievably strict. This is the area where you will find the Botero Museum as well the the national opera house--Teatro Colón--and its beautiful neo-Classical facade. Next to the opera and curiously across the street from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, sits the aptly named Hotel de la Ópera, where I stayed and suggest anyone who visits Bogotá should stay. Housed in the former lodging of Simon Bolívar’s bodyguards, the hotel features both a new and an old section. Ask to stay in the old section, where the mix of colonial and republican architecture remains with 27 rooms rising from a leafy courtyard where a delicious breakfast buffet is served each morning. Around the Chorro de Quevado or La Plaza del Chorro where Bogota was founded, you will find the university students and bohemian set hanging around drinking chicha and eating in the more eclectic, affordable restaurants. Once frowned upon in Colombia, chicha is making a bit of a comeback. Resembling an unfiltered apple cider of sorts, the strongly alcoholic drink is most commonly made from fermented maize--and hopefully spit free in modern times. As you wander La Cadelaria, be sure to look up at the rooftops and balconies to see if you can spot one of the many human statues by Colombian artist Jorge Olave scattered through the neighborhood.