For my second post in a series about Bogota’s neighborhoods, I’m writing about the colourful La Macarena. When you’re doing your research about where to live in Bogota, La Macarena is one of those neighborhoods which will come up again and again, along with Chapinero, Rosales, Chico and Parque de la 93. Just up the hill from Bogota’s Centro Internacional and about a 20-minute walk away from the historic centre of La Candelaria, its location makes it a popular choice with expats.
Food and culture in La Macarena, your local neighbourhood
Some streets in La Macarena have a real local-village feel, with cafe owners greeting their neighbours and passers-by, and a sense that ‘everyone knows everyone’ – well maybe not quite, but more so than in other parts of the city. If I want to go to a nice restaurant, La Macarena is always a good option, coming a close second to Bogota’s Gourmet Zone or ‘Zona G’. It has tapas, barbecue, Arabic and Italian restaurants among others, as well as plenty of burger and sandwich joints to choose from.
I loved the Syrian-Lebanese lamb sandwich they made me up at the Sandwich Taller, and you have to check out Lachoco Latera chocolate shop for dessert. If you’re with kids, you can leave them to play and read in the little kids’ corner while you try their handmade whisky-flavored chocolates – and there are so many other flavors to choose from! There’s a great book store in La Macarena called Luvina (also known as the Cultural Corner) which has a real community vibe to it with regular book readings, movie nights and poetry and musical recitals. You can check out the upcoming events advertised in the window.
Contemporary and Urban Art in La Macarena
La Macarena has a number of independent contemporary art galleries showing the latest pieces from the rising stars in Latin American contemporary art. Many independent art galleries in Bogota are a bit hidden away. The entrance may look like the door to any other house, or be a big closed gate. But don’t be put off. Ring the bell or knock and more often than not you’ll be welcomed in. Galleries to check out include the Alonso Garces gallery, the Valenzuela Klenner gallery, Espacio El Dorado and the NC art gallery. On the other side of La Parque de la Independencia (Independence Park) you’ll find the MAMBO – Bogota’s Museum of Modern Art, which always has great exhibitions and is really worth a visit.
Other things to do in La Macarena
Other than the fantastic contemporary art and restaurant scene, La Macarena is home to the planetarium, the bull ring and has the Cine Colombia Embajador cinema, though the movies at this theater are usually dubbed into Spanish. The Cine Colombia’s at Gran Estacion in Salitre, in Centro Andino shopping mall or in Titan shopping mall are a good bet if you’re looking for movies in English with Spanish subtitles.
My view on La Macarena as a place to live
I think there are big pros and a few cons to living in La Macarena.
La Macarena is on a steep hill
Or this may be a pro depending on your feelings about the physical benefits of walking uphill! La Macarena is spread out over the steep streets which slant upward toward Bogota’s eastern hills. The gradient on some of the streets really is steep making it a great workout if you’re walking or riding your bike home from work each day! It would be less convenient for people with kids and mobility difficulties, unless you have a car or are happy to take a taxi or Uber home each time you go out.
Some streets might feel a bit sketchy
Although La Macarena is now largely a middle class neighborhood, some streets are home to poorer people where the buildings are not in a great condition, and it may feel a bit unsafe at night. My view is that any part of Bogota can feel unsafe, and the best thing to do is not take any risks, like walking home in the dark or walking down an empty street at any time of the day. I don’t think it’s a reason to rule out La Macarena as a place to live.
The cost of rent
As La Macarena has become trendier and popular with the middle class bogotanos and expats, rents have gone up. It may therefore seem expensive compared to other areas.
It may be uphill but it’s also not a bad location if you want to go downtown or up to Chapinero or Chico, with the Carrera 7 at the bottom of the hill – which gives easy access by car and bus to the north of the city or Avenida El Dorado for Salitre or the airport – and the Circunvalar Avenue (also called Carrera 3 and Carrera 1 at various points) which is also a good route up to the north of the city or downtown.
The art, food and culture scene
As you’ll have read above, there is no shortage of restaurants, bars, cafes, bookshops or art galleries in La Macarena. There’s so much to see and do, and if you ever just feel like going out for a wander, it’s a lovely area to do this.
Being from London, I’ve always been spoilt for choice when it comes to lovely big green spaces and parks. Bogota doesn’t have as many of these, and in some parts of the city, the ‘park’ is actually just a square of grass with a couple of trees and benches. But La Macarena has the Parque de la Independencia, and also the Parque Nacional if you walk 10-15 minutes north. These are nice parks by Bogota standards and great for a picnic or to just relax in the open and get a breather away from the car fumes.
Now, many people will tell you to be careful in Bogota’s parks, as there are sometimes some sinister characters around. Again, I still think this could be true of anywhere in Bogota, not just the parks. The difference is that these people know that in the parks, people will be distracted, chatting to friends, playing with their dogs or children, or maybe lying down with a book and not paying attention to their belongings. So my advice is – enjoy the parks in Bogota and follow the usual Bogota safety tips. Keep your phone on you and hidden away, don’t leave your bag unattended, and make sure you’re not walking through the park after dark. The exception to this last point is at Christmas, when many of the parks have beautiful Christmas lights and many people go to see them, so there is a greater police presence.
Do you live in La Macarena or go there often? What are your favourite places? Please share these in the comments section below!