When I was contemplating my move to Colombia, I started checking out the different Bogota neighborhoods and 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 Bogota, you might find my post on how to find a place to live in Bogota useful, which has a list of useful websites and other tips.
Under this list of Bogota neighborhoods I’ve given some tips on other things to consider when you’re deciding where to live, and an explanation of the estratos. If you’re still not sure, it can be a good idea to book an Airbnb* apartment for your few month in Bogota so that you can explore the different streets and neighborhoods before committing to a year contract.
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 with things like power-cuts and lack of hot water if you were renting long-term. It is not recommended to walk around the Candelaria after dark unless you know the streets very well. It is also close to some of the poorer areas of the city. So even though the Candelaria 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; there are examples of street art and graffiti by well-known artists on every single street, 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 1,250,000 – 1,500,000 pesos, and a one bedroom apartment between 1,400,000 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 a trendy area, popular among expats and does have character. There are many traditional-style, colourful buildings, lots of fantastic art galleries, a great selection of bars and restaurants and a generally nice ‘neighbourhood’ vibe. However, some streets in that area are 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 uphill 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 (particularly those close to Avenida Caracas) 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 around 800,000 pesos 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 calle 70, where Chapinero meets the Rosales neighbourhood). This is close to the ‘Gourmet Zone’ (Zona G) of Chapinero Alto/Rosales, with lots of semi-affordable (and less affordable) restaurants offering a variety of cuisine and plenty of trendy bars.
The best thing to do in Chapinero Alto is to visit the area, 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 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 1,400,000 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, 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 expats 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 1,700,000 pesos including administration, but you 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.
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 traditional handicrafts.
Santa Barbara is also a pricey area in terms of rent (1,500,000 – 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 and Park Way (Estrato 2-4)
In the middle of the last century Teusaquillo was a highly sought-after, well-to-do area. Nowadays it has largely lost its attraction to the upper classes, who have drifted north to the exclusive neighbourhoods of Chicó, Virrey and Santa Barbara. 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.
Just north of Teusaquillo is an area which has become known as Park Way. Park Way itself is actually a narrow area of green which stretches along Carrera 24, starting from Calle 36 up to Calle 45. Over the last few years, many businesses and start-ups have chosen Park Way as their home, as the rent is still reasonable, and the student population makes it great for cafés, bars and restaurants, of which there are many to choose from! There are also a couple of independent theatres and art spaces and the thin stretch of park for walking dogs. It’s close enough to Calle 30 and Avenida Caracas to walk to the Transmilenio in 10 minutes, but far enough away from all the noise and pollution. I wouldn’t mind living in this area myself.
Usaquén (generally Estrato 4)
Usaquén actually used to be a town outside of Bogota. It only became a part of the city as it expanded further north in the latter half of the last century. I love the Usaquén flea market on a Sunday, and it would be a nice area to live in as it offers plenty of restaurants, bars and squares. There’s also the Hacienda Santa Barbara shopping mall, which isn’t great for shopping but has a supermarket and a Cine Colombia cinema. I love the independent Cinema Paraíso, and just up the street from it is a wonderful specialty coffee shop, Catación Pública. Usaquén can feel less safe the further you go up towards the mountains, where poorer neighborhoods are located. I wouldn’t 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 center, 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 downtown. However, if you work or study close to Caracas Avenue or Autopista, it’s very easy to get there by TransMilenio from Cedritos. As Cedritos is less central, rent is cheaper, and there are many nice new apartment buildings. If you are willing to compromise on location to live in a quieter, more affordable neighborhood, Cedritos might be a good option.
Salitre (Estrato 4)
Salitre neighborhood has been up-and-coming for a number of years now. I really like walking in the area, and it’s not far from where I live. It has many modern developments, with plenty of green spaces, unlike many parts of the city. There are a lot of hotels in this area as it is on the way to the airport. It is close to the Centro Administrativo Nacional (CAN), so there are a number of big corporate and government buildings. There’s also the Gran Estación shopping mall next to Salitre El Greco TM station, which has decent shops, a supermarket and a cinema. It is well-located to the Center by TransMilenio, and the M80 and M86 TransMilenio routes go up to Chapinero, Chicó or Usaquén. It is close to the Simon Bolivar ‘Central Park’, the biggest and nicest park in the city, and 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. In short, Salitre has a lot going for it! Renting a 2-bedroom apartment in Salitre would cost around $1,500,000 Colombian pesos, plus administration.
Like Usaquén, Suba used to be a little town just outside of Bogotá, and only became part of the city in the latter half of the last century. Suba’s a tricky one to give an opinion on, because I don’t know it very well, and it covers a large area. There are parts of Suba which are working class neighborhoods, and probably less safe. There are also parts of Suba which have a leafy suburban feel. Renting will be much cheaper up there, so you’ll get more for your money, but getting to other parts of the city is complicated because there are only two main avenues which serve it: Avenida Suba and Avenida Carrera 86 (Avenida Cali). It has the park Parque Mirador de los Nevados which has nice views over Bogota, and one of my favorite little restaurants, Al Banun, serving Syrian-Arabic food. But Suba is probably too far out to ever be an option for me.
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 public transport connection to other parts of the city; things to do in the area; the quality of the buildings and the estrato (cost of bills) of the building.
I just want to finish with a few 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 decide to live. This is because traffic in Bogotá is a major problem and long commutes to and from work are something you will want to avoid, believe me!
I can’t emphasise enough how important the estrato category of the building is. 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 need to factor the 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 apartment which already stretches your budget, and then get a nasty shock when the first bill arrives! I have tried to give indications of the most common estratos of the buildings in each of the areas listed above.
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.
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!
*The link to Airbnb is my 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, you will get £35 and I’ll get £15 free credit 🙂 This is so useful for me, as I use Airbnb quite often in my travels, and hopefully it will be 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?