One cool Bogota afternoon you will find yourself walking among the quaint rugged buildings of the Candelaria, the smell of coffee wafting out of a nearby café and filling your nose. You look up to see where it is coming from, and almost stumble into a couple of (unmistakable!) tourists wearing shorts, vest tops and flip flops, standing in the middle of the street, each holding either end of a large city map. They clearly did not consult this blog on what to wear in Bogota before embarking upon their journey!
Bogota does not = jungle
Don’t be those people! I mean, by all means carry a map around with you if you want (and consult it in a suitable doorway/café, away from the middle of the sidewalk). But don’t be under the common yet mistaken impression that Bogota is a tropical jungle. You could be forgiven for thinking this if your impression is based on one of the opening scenes of Mr and Mrs Smith – which gained many laughs all over Colombia, and an invitation from Bogota’s mayor inviting the film’s director to visit Bogota! But if you have recently consulted the internet, a guidebook or indeed this blog, you’ll notice from the photos that there is no tropical scenery.
A city at high altitude
Although Bogota is close to the equator, it is at an altitude of 2,600 meters (8,500ft), which means that the climate here is generally cool but fluctuates between cold, cool and warm, depending on the weather. The highest temperature on a typical day, when it is sunny, will be 22-23 C (72-73 F). A typical low temperature – when it is rainy and cloudy, or during the small hours of the night-time – will be between 5-10 C (42 – 50 F).
So…what to wear in Bogota?
This means that there will never be a need for you to wear shorts or a skirt – at least not because the temperature requires it. I live in my jeans, leggings, trousers, a t-shirt and a sweater which I’ll often just carry in my bag if it’s sunny and it gets too hot to wear it.
The wet season: be prepared!
Now, during the rainy season, the weather in Bogota can be deceptive. Typically, it will be beautifully sunny and warm in the morning. So you’ll go out without a jacket (and maybe even without a sweater – rookie mistake!) and by 1pm most afternoons – as we say in London – it will be pissing down. This isn’t just heavy rain; it’s biblical in nature. It can leave streets flooded, cars stranded and, needless to say, feet completely drenched. The temperature also drops to the lower end of the daily average. It is therefore imperative to always carry a jacket and a large umbrella with you during the wet season (even if the weather’s nice when you leave home), and preferably wear boots or waterproof shoes… or at least shoes that will put up some sort of a fight against torrential rain. In my experience, the wettest months have been March, April, October and November.
When the sun is shining…
…it is very strong in Bogota due to the altitude, and especially between 11am and 3pm. You’ll often see people walking along the street carrying umbrellas to shade themselves from the sun. This works well during the wet season as it’ll protect you from the sun in the morning and the rain in the afternoon! Otherwise it’s a good idea to wear a hat or scarf to protect your head, lest you be left with a red-head or pink parting (which turns into dandruff a couple of weeks later once it starts peeling…).
To sum up…
…if you’re planning to spend a year in Bogota, you will get away with wearing pretty much the same wardrobe all year round if you stay in the city. You will want a warm jacket for the wet season or if you decide to go on a tour to even higher altitudes, such as the páramos, where it will be cold. Equally, you will want to bring a couple of summer outfits for hot weather if you’re planning to travel outside of Bogota while you’re here (and you really must!). Medellin is warm to very warm. Cali and Cartagena are hot. In fact, anywhere you go that is at a lower altitude than Bogota in Colombia will be warmer, so you will want to bring some clothing options along with those trips in mind. But it would also be easy enough to just buy clothes here if you prefer to travel light.
Just remember, Bogota may be many things to many people, but it is not a tropical paradise! If you find yourself needing to buy suitable attire once you’re already here, take a look at my post on clothes and shoe shopping Bogota.