When I was contemplating my move to Colombia, I started trying to work out where to live in Bogotá by checking the cost of rent to see what I could get for my money. The problem was that I had no idea which areas were nice, safe and well-located, or which I should avoid. Now that I’ve been living here for a while, I feel qualified to provide the low-down of areas you might want to consider living in. If you want to find accommodation in Bogotá, you might find my post on how to find a place to live in Bogota useful.
I just want to mention a couple of very important things you should bear in mind when searching for apartments. The first is that where you expect to be working/studying should have a strong influence on where you eventually decide to live. This is because traffic in Bogotá is a major problem and long commutes to and from work really are something you will want to avoid, believe me!
Secondly – and I can’t emphasise enough how important this is – is which estrato category the apartment you are looking at falls into. A building’s estrato relates to the cost of bills. There are six estratos, 1 being the lowest and cheapest, 6 being the highest and most expensive. This means that two families which consume the same amount of water, electricity and gas will pay hugely varying amounts for their bills if one lives in an estrato 1 property and the other lives in an estrato 6 property. The estrato (which can also translate into English as ‘social stratum’) has also become indicative of the social status of the people living in an area, and was originally intended as a way of ensuring people only paid what they could afford to for their bills.
The reason the estrato issue is so important is that you seriously need to factor in the likely monthly cost of bills into your budget, particularly if you are looking at estratos 5 and 6; you don’t want to move into your dream flat which already stretches your budget, and then get a nasty shock when the first bill arrives! I will try to give indications of the most common estratos of the buildings in each of the areas listed below.
One more thing to remember is that every building will have a monthly administration charge on top of the rent. This covers the cost of building repairs and paying the doorman, for example, and doesn’t relate to your utility bills (water, electricity etc). When you are searching online, the rent (arriendo) will often be listed separately from the administración, and it is usually stated if the administration is included in the rent. Always good to make sure.
La Candelaria (the Historical Centre) (Estrato 2-4)
This area is popular among tourists and expats, as it is the historical centre of Bogota, where museums, cable cars to Monserrate and various language institutes and universities are located. Many people assume that this must therefore be the best place to stay in Bogota. I would say that if you’re planning to stay for less than a month in Bogota and want to be close to the main attractions, Candelaria may be a good option, but this area isn’t the safest, and the buildings are very old, so you’d be more likely to encounter problems if you were renting long-term. It is not safe to walk around the Candelaria district after dark, and it is close to some of the poorer areas of the city; so even though the area has character and is well-located for tourists, it may not be the most desirable area to live in.
Having said this, the art scene is fantastic; on every single street there are examples of street art and graffiti by well-known artists, cultural events such as film screenings and art workshops, and a fantastic selection of cafés and pubs. I find it a very inspiring area to be in and take a walk through – the feeling I get makes me think of Paris in the 1920s – but again, for reasons I’ve mentioned, I don’t think I’d choose to settle in the area long-term.
The International Centre (Estrato 4)
Close to the Museo Nacional, the Centro Internacional is located more or less between Calle 26 and Calle 34, and between Carrera 14 and Carrera 7. It is an area full of many new buildings, many of which come complete with gyms, meeting rooms, events rooms, squash courts, saunas and jacuzzis. Most parts are relatively safe, and it’s ok if you are coming home by TransMilenio or bus after dark and need to walk a few blocks to your building. The cost of a studio apartment will be around 1.1 million pesos – 1,250,000, and a one bedroom apartment between 1,250,000 and 1,700,000, depending on the size, which floor it is on, and how old the building is. The International Centre is well-connected to the city centre and the north by TransMilenio on main avenues Carrera 7, and Carrera 15/Caracas.
La Macarena (Estrato 3-4)
La Macarena is up the hill from the Centro Internacional, but when I say ‘up the hill’ I mean you will be facing an uphill trek every time you return home each day. It is quite a trendy area, popular among expats and does have character, offering many traditional-style, colourful buildings, a great selection of restaurants and a generally nice vibe. However, some streets in that area are really not safe to be walking in at night. The further you walk up, the less safe it tends to feel. There are, however, some nice buildings there, and it is close to the historical centre and some of the universities in that area, so if you see any apartments you like the look of being advertised online, it might be worth checking it out in person, and then you can judge how safe the area feels, and whether you really want to be trekking home at the end of every day!
Chapinero (Estrato 4)
Chapinero is very popular among young expats. It is well-located as the district lies between Candelaria in the south, and the posh, trendy Chicó and Zona T in the north, so it’s relatively easy to get to most of the places you might want to go to. However, although it is harmless enough during the day (by Bogota standards), some parts of Chapinero aren’t very safe to be walking in at night, and you might want to consider this if you expect to be regularly returning home after dark. As there are many students and young expats living in Chapinero, you won’t find it difficult to find a flat-share there, and there are some decent, spacious apartments in the area. You’ll probably be able to rent a room for between 500,000 and 800,000 a month including admin and bills.
Chapinero Alto (Estrato 4-5)
This part of Chapinero (‘Upper Chapinero’) is located between carrera 1 and carrera 7, as the peripheries of the city begin to slope up into the mountains. It lies more or less between calle 40 in the south and calle 70 in the north. A lot of students live around calle 45, due to its proximity to the Universidad Javeriana, one of the country’s more prestigious institutions. The zone becomes a lot nicer the further north you go (towards 70); this is close to the Zona G of Chapinero Alto/Rosales, with lots of semi-affordable (and less affordable) restaurants offering a variety of cuisine and plenty of trendy (pricey) bars.
The best thing to do in Chapinero Alto is to visit the area and take a look around and see how you feel. Some streets have a lot of new and trendy apartment buildings and are quite quiet; others are quite old and have noisy buses going down them several times an hour. It is generally well-located between the historical centre and the chic north, with good public transport connections as well as supermarkets and a gym on carrera 7. The rent will be anywhere between 1,000,000 and 2,500,000 pesos for a 1-2 bedroom apartment, depending on the age of the building, the street and the size of the apartment.
Zona T / El Nogal / Rosales (Estrato 5-6)
These are the poshest and most expensive areas of the city. It’s a nice green district with the prestigious Andino, Atlantis and Retiro shopping malls, cinemas, trendy bars and restaurants, and as long as you are vigilant, it is ok to walk around the area after dark (but not after 11pm). The buildings are generally quite old, so they don’t come with the facilities of the buildings in the International Centre, for example, but they are in a good condition and most have security guards protecting the entrance. Many of the foreign embassies (including the British Embassy) are located in this area, so you will also see many of the better-off ex-pats and diplomat-types living here.
From Carrera 7 you can take a bus down to the historical centre, and from Carrera 20 you can take the Transmilenio. If you are lucky, you might find a one bedroom apartment for around 1,500,000 pesos including administration, but you really need to factor in the likely cost of bills, as this area is mostly estrato 6. Four to five bedroom apartments are rented out in this area for 10 – 12 million pesos per month ($4000-5000 USD; £3000 – 3750).
Parque de la 93, Chicó (and surrounding areas) (Estrato 5-6)
A great area to go out for (an expensive) dinner, with plenty of trendy restaurants and bars. The area is similar to El Nogal and the Zona T in terms of price and estrato but is located about a 15-20 minute walk away from the nearest Transmilenio stop (Virrey). There is fairly good access from Carrera 7 by bus, but most people will arrive in and leave the area by car or taxi (make sure you pre-book your taxi; it is not recommended to take one from the street).
Santa Barbara (Estrato 5-6)
This area has a nice suburban feel to it and is very nice to walk around. It is close to Unicentro shopping mall, with Exito and Carulla supermarkets nearby and it is served well by Transmilenio stop Calle 127 on Autopista. If you walk along Calle 116 to Carrera 7 you will get to Santa Barbara shopping mall and the Usaquén flea market which is there every Sunday. There’s also a general market which is open everyday, where you can buy jewelry, bags and various artesanías.
Santa Barbara is also a pricey area in terms of rent (1,300,000 – 2000,000+ for a one-bedroom apartment which may or may not include administration) and in terms of estrato and the cost of bills. You can venture west of the Autopista to the neighbourhood of El Batán, which is estrato 4 and still just as good in terms of location, and there are some cheaper places in the Usaquén neighbourhood to the northeast. One thing to bear in mind if you intend to rely on the Transmilenio for transport, is that it is extremely overcrowded during the morning and evening rush hours, often with long queues just to get into the station. It may be better to take a bus, or to buy a bicycle and take advantage of the cycle tracks in the area.
Teusaquillo (Estrato 4)
What was a highly sought-after well-to-do area in the middle of the last century has largely lost its attraction to the upper classes as they’ve drifted north to the exclusive neighbourhoods of Chicó, Virrey and Santa Barbara, among others. It hasn’t lost its charm though and has a real ‘neighbourhood’ feel to it, where you’ll usually find houses instead of apartment blocks. It is popular with young expats and its proximity to the Universidad Nacional means there’s quite a student population there too. The quiet and abandoned streets at night may put some people off, and there are other locations I’d personally prefer, but it’s not a bad option.
Usaquén (generally Estrato 4)
I love the Usaquén flea market on a Sunday, and to live it’d be quite a nice area, as it offers plenty of restaurants, bars and squares, as well as the Hacienda Santa Barbara shopping mall (not great for shopping actually but it has a supermarket and a cinema!). It can feel a bit dodgy if you go too high up into the mountains, where poorer neighbourhoods are located. It isn’t really recommended to walk around the area after dark. There are quite a lot of new developments along Carrera 7 in Usaquén, which will be well-connected in terms of bus routes going down to the Zona T, Parque de la 93 and the historical centre, but will come with a high price-tag.
Cedritos (Estrato 4)
Cedritos feels like a nice suburban, green, family neighbourhood, and it feels quite safe to walk around too. Because it is quite far north of the city, it is not that convenient to commute from if you work south of Chicó. However, because of its more remote location, rent prices are cheaper, and you will find some nice apartments in nice buildings. If you are willing to compromise on location to live in a quieter, more affordable neighbourhood, Cedritos might be for you.
Salitre (Estrato 4)
Salitre neighbourhood has been up-and-coming for a number of years now, and has a lot of modern developments, with plenty of green spaces, unlike many parts of the city. There are quite a few hotels in this area as it is on the way to the airport, and is close to the Centro Administrativo Nacional (CAN), so there is a significant number of corporate buildings too, not to mention the Gran Estación shopping mall next to Salitre El Greco TM station. It is well-located to the Centre by TransMilenio, and the new M80 and M86 TransMilenio routes will take you up to Chapinero, Chicó or Usaquén. It is close to the Simon Bolivar ‘Central Park’, the biggest and nicest park in the city, and also to the Botanical Gardens, both of which provide a welcome respite from the urban jungle, and a taste of the beautiful Colombian flora and fauna – wild hummingbirds are quite common in the Botanical Gardens. Renting a one-bed apartment in Salitre would cost around $1,200,000 Colombian pesos, plus administration.
So hopefully this will have given you an idea of the options which are open to you in terms of where to live in Bogota. The main considerations are: the safety of the area; how well-connected it is by public transport to other parts of the city; things to do in the area; the quality of the buildings; the estrato (cost of bills) of the building.
Still not sure? Try Airbnb!
If you’re still not sure where to live in Bogotá and you’re planning to move here for a while (say 6 months or more), what I would recommend doing is booking yourself into an Airbnb* apartment for your first week or two in the area that most appeals to you, and see how you feel. In the meantime, this will give you a chance to look at rooms or apartments which are being advertised for rent on a long-term basis in the area. Some Airbnb properties offer large discounts to people who want to stay for a month or longer, so this might be an option too. Plus these often include all bills in the price and you don’t have the inconvenience of having to buy furniture, set up an internet connection etc!
*Please note that my link to Airbnb is a referral link, which means that if you don’t already have an Airbnb account, and you then click on my link, sign up and make a booking, both you and I will get £25.00 in Air B’n’B credit 🙂 This would be useful for me, as I use Airbnb quite often in my travels, and hopefully useful for you too!
Do you live in any of these areas? How do you find them? Is there anything you would add to what I’ve said?