Bogota is a city with an impressive cultural diversity, beautiful scenery and many things to do and see. Among the possibilities is a seemingly endless number of museums, theaters and art galleries, as well as historic and cultural venues. If you’re planning a vacation in Bogota and are enticed by the idea of immersing yourself in Colombian culture, you shouldn’t miss this article.
As a native bogotano and a university student specializing in tourism, I’ve witnessed many of the attractions that Colombia‘s capital has to offer, and based on my personal experience, I’ve come up with a list of the top five museums in Bogota.
Museo Nacional de Colombia (National Museum of Colombia)
This cultural venue — set interestingly in a former prison — is the biggest and oldest museum in Bogota (read Mark Chesnut’s review and check out photos of the museum here). Its collections are the result of various anthropological investigations, donations and acquisitions, with some 20,000 pieces representing the nation’s history. Among the artifacts on display: vestiges of the first inhabitants and cultural items from pre-Hispanic societies, items from current indigenous and Afro-Colombian cultures, testimonies from various periods of history, and artistically significant works by artists including Fernando Botero, Alejandro Obregón, Guillermo Wiedemann, Juan Antonio Roda, Eduardo Ramírez Villamizar, Edgar Negret and Enrique Grau.
The National Museum also has a permanent collection of international exhibitions, including works by Sorolla, Eugène Boudin, Henry Moore, Picasso and additional master works of European painters like Rembrandt. The venue is much visited thanks to its admission structure that makes it accessible to a wide audience.
Museo del Oro (Gold Museum)
The amazing collection of the Gold Museum, which is operated by the , has been declared a national monument, and is considered the most important collection of its kind in the world.
Created in 1939 by the Banco de la Republica (Bank of the Republic), the museum brings together some 34,000 pieces of gold and other precious medals, as well as 20,000 items made with ceramic, textile and precious stones from indigenous groups including the Quimbaya, Calima, Tayrona, Sinú, Muisca, Tolima, Tumaco and Malagana. Here, visitors admire exquisite items like masks, pendants, bracelets, collars and hundreds of figurines.
The Gold Museum is a place where you can learn about goldsmithing throughout history in Colombia, as well as the meaning of the work and what various pieces represent. Guided tours are available in English and Spanish, with five permanent exhibitions:
• Precious metal work, which describes mining and manufacturing techniques in ancient metallurgy.
• People and gold in pre-Hispanic Colombia, which highlights the use and context of precious metals within the political and religious context.
• Cosmology and symbolism, which explores mythic themes and shamans.
• Offerings, which provides an in-depth look into the world of ceremonial offerings.
• El Exploratorio, which encourages interaction and reflection about the museum’s collections.
Museo Botero (Botero Museum)
On the west side of this museum, which is dedicated to the work of Colombia’s most famous artist, you’ll find 123 works by the master himself, Fernando Botero, including paintings, drawings and sculptures. In these works, it’s easy to appreciate the style that characterizes Botero’s art, his extraordinary mastery of technique, the coherence of his vision and his creativity, sensuality and sense of volume. Botero’s fondness for unexpected details, irony and respect is also apparent in his treatment of Colombian themes and his allusions about universal painting. These works, from the final decades of the 20th century, permit viewers to enjoy the language and style that marked Botero’s mature phase.
On the east side of the building is the international collection, which is home to 85 high-level works that provide an overview of the evolution of modern painting and sculpture. The oldest work is Gitane au tambourin (before 1862) by Camille Corot and the most recent is the the gran oleo de Barceló (1998). Artists on exhibit include Picasso, Leger, Renoir, Monet, Dalí, Giacometti, Beckmann, Freud, Calder and Bacon — reason enough why the Botero Museum is considered to have one of the top five most important international art collections in Latin America.
Museo de la Independencia Casa del Florero (Florero House Museum of Independence)
This historic former home, which has Arabian and Andalusian influence, dates to the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Located on the northeast side of the Plaza de Bolivar, this is where a historic event took place on July 20, 1810, led by the Spanish José González Llorente and criollo Antonio and Francisco Morales.
The Museum of Independence allows visitors to learn about Colombia’s struggle for independence, with personal objects, portraits, drawings, sculptures, uniforms and other items on exhibit. There is also a copy of the nation’s declaration of independence and a collection of Colombia’s constitutions. The historic home’s corner balcony and lovely architecture elements provide lots of great photo opportunities.
Museo Quinta de Bolivar (Quinta de Bolivar Museum)
In the year 1800, a man named José Antonio Portocarrero purchased land to construct a country house to honor the Viceroy Amor y Borbón. In 1820, the property was acquired by the the government of New Granada and given to Simon Bolivar, the nation’s liberator, as a sign of gratitude for his work in the fight for independence. The home served Bolivar as a place of rest and celebration of his military victories. It was there that he sought refuge after the September conspiracy and the disintegration of the short-lived nation known as Gran Colombia (which included present-day Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama).
After his last journey of to the coastal city of Santa Marta, Bolivar gave the property to his friend, José Ignacio Paris, and in later years the home was used as a women’s school, an agave distilling factory, a tannery and hospital. In 1922, the government purchased Quinta de Bolivar and converted it to a museum. Recently restored, the venue now offers a peek at what the home must have looked like when Bolivar stayed here. Visitors can wander the salons, the dining room and a game room, among other spaces like the kitchen and the grounds, where the trees were supposedly planted by none other than Bolivar himself.