Officially Santafé de Bogotá D.C., "Distrito Capital", Bogotá is the capital of the South American nation of Colombia. At 2,650 meters (8,660 feet) above sea level, Bogotá is one of the world's most elevated capitals, home to 6.29 million inhabitants known as "bogotanos" or "cachacos". Situated in the northern hemisphern on the Cordillera Oriental (eastern range) of the Andes, Bogotá has a rather unusual climate: At only 4°36' north of the equator, it retains approximately the same temperature year round, but has an occasionally drizzle that often draws comparisons to London.
Bogotá was founded on August 6, 1538 by conquistador Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada, a man of letters who was searching for El Dorado. The name of the city was derived from the name of the indigenous Chibcha people for the site, Bacatá.
In 1717, Bogotá became the capital of the viceroy of Nueva Granada, bringing new energy to the city.
Simón Bolívar, the "Liberator" of Spanish America, captured the city on August 7, 1816, in the Battle of Boyacá. After liberation, it was made the capital of Gran Colombia. When the confederation of Gran Colombia dissolved in 1830, it became the capital of the new nation of Colombia.
In 1940, economic migration by rural Colombians to Bogotá dramatically expanded the city, to a size of 400,000. The most important event in the city's modern history, the Bogotazo, was set off on April 9, 1948 after the assassination of Liberal leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán. The Bogotazo was the widespread looting of shops and arson of government buildings and churches (As an interesting aside, the Casa de la Moneda, or mint, was saved when the employees released a gas used in the minting process to disperse rioters). The streetcar was destroyed in the Bogotazo and eventually replaced with buses.
In 1998, Enrique Peñalosa was elected mayor, adopting the slogan "Bogotá: 2,600 meters closer to the stars". He began an ambitious campaign of urban planning, which included the introduction of the TransMilenio, banning cars from the sidewalks, public bike paths, and parks. Under his administration, crime dropped sharply and other social problems were significantly alleviated. What was once among the most dangerous cities in the world now has a crime rate lower than that of Washington, DC.
Bogotá is divided into carreras, which run east-west, and calles, which run north-south. To the east of the city lie the mountains of Guadalupe and Monserrate, upon which churches were built. Bogotá has a rather hectic transportation system, like that of many Latin American metropoli, with thousands of disorganized buses belching revolting amounts of black smoke through vertical exhaust pipes (the fumes leave at a height of about four meters to avoid "street level" pollution) and chaotically flying up and down the streets and avenues. However, Bogotá is also home to one of the newest innovations in urban planning, a bus rapid transit system called the TransMilenio. Running down main streets, the TransMilenio buses, based on the successful Curitiba model, are highly affordable and efficient, although often packed with passengers. See TransMilenio for more information.
The main sections of Bogotá are the Zona Norte (north), Centro (downtown), and the Zona Sur (south). The Zona Norte is home to good hotels, houses of wealthy people, and good restaurants. The centro houses office buildings, museums, and government buildings. The Zona Sur is generally poor.
- Museo del Oro (Carrera 6/Calle 16 (Parque Santander): An excellent Gold Museum, with thousands of pieces of pre-Hispanic gold showing exceptional talent and artistry.
- Quinta de Bolívar: Villa of Simón Bolívar. Bolívar's house and garden, well preserved.
- Monserrate: The mountain and the church. There is access by funicular and cable car, and a spectacular view of the city at the top.
- Donación Botero (Calle 11 No. 4-41): A collection of the works of Colombian painter and sculptor Fernando Botero, donated by Botero himself.
Bogotá is linked with most major cities by Eldorado International Airport. The Pan-American Highway connects the country to the rest of the western hemisphere by road.