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Plazas to visit near Bogotá: a journey into colonial urbanism

Plaza de Bolívar
Esteban Coronado

Esteban Coronado

I'm pursuing a major in Economics at Los Andes University in Bogotá, and a minor in Government, Law, Philosophy, and French. I'm passionate about politics and social causes. I like getting to know the city by walking it and taking pictures of it, and I love learning new things every day!

Bogotá’s center is one of the main tourist attractions of the city and it’s a place that many fall in love with, as you can see in our articles about La Candelaria and monuments in Bogotá. What is it that makes this place so different from the rest of the city? There really can’t be a better way to find an answer than visiting the plaza itself, and if fact, there are a lot of plazas to visit near Bogotá as well. 

If you have visited the center of Bogotá, then you know that one of its defining characteristics is the ‘plaza’, or urban square. It’s the plaza and its surrounding colonial architecture that give Bogotá’s center the vibe and aesthetic it has. Plazas are defining a city’s identity and they become the heart of its land, but to see this yourself you’ll have to visit different types of plazas. Luckily for you, I’ve compiled a list of the most beautiful towns and plazas to visit near Bogotá for you to escape to on a weekend.

What is a ‘plaza’ in the first place?

A plaza is an open urban space, commonly located in political or geographic centers. Plazas are the main component of many cities and give life and foot traffic to their surroundings. It’s because of these characteristics that plazas become centers in almost every sense; activities, protests, commerce, concerts, and other events all take place in plazas. They used to be constructed as a way of organizing the city and the headquarters of the state, but all plazas have changed throughout the years as their functions and surroundings have evolved, and the people that walk through them every day have changed too. But even so, plazas remain as cultural, architectural, social, and commercial hubs for their respective cities. 

Plaza de Bolívar
Plaza de Bolívar © Photograph by Pedro Szeleky on Flickr

               

Plazas to visit

As I mentioned in the introduction, you need to visit different plazas to really understand what these urban spaces represent their cities and towns and how they impact their history. Bogotá’s Plaza de Bolívar has been home to lots of important historical events such as the cry for independence and El Bogotazo. Not only that but to this day, all Colombian presidents are sworn in in this place. 

If you’ve already visited ‘La Plaza de Bolívar,’ you know why it’s so important and how it shapes Bogotá’s center, but you may not fully understand how a plaza shapes an entire city. In a city of the size of Bogotá, one plaza alone can’t change the city’s dynamics, even though it did decades ago. But what if I tell you there are still towns that work around their central plaza? What if I told you that whole towns still gather in one place only and that their markets, Sunday masses, and concerts are held in this place and this place only? These are places where you can truly get to know how a whole town’s lifestyle revolves around its plaza. It’s not uncommon for towns all over Colombia to have this dynamic, but I’ve decided to focus just on places near Bogotá in compiling a list of the most beautiful and interesting plazas for you to visit and get to know this lifestyle I’m talking about.

Guaduas

Guadas' plaza near Bogotá
© Photograph by Alexander Schimmeck

Guaduas is a small town 3 hours away from Bogotá, located northwest of the city, that is worth visiting because of its architecture, culture, and history! Its main plaza is called ‘El Parque Principal’ and it’s surrounded by colonial architecture unique to this town. Guaduas was home to independence fighter Policarpa Salavarrieta and served as a main connection from the Magdalena river to Bogotá. Visiting Guaduas and its plaza is almost like traveling back in time, given its colonial vibe and aesthetic, making it a great place to escape to on a weekend!

Guatavita

Guatavita's plazas near Bogotá
© Photograph by David Pardo

Guatavita is a beautiful town located in the northeast of Bogotá, about an hour and a half away from the city. It has colonial architecture throughout the whole town and all of it is painted white. Not only that, but it’s home to an important lake, sacred to the indigenous tribes that used to live there (you can read more about here). Guatavita is a great tourist destination with different activities to engage in and lots of sightseeing to do, some of which are covered in six reasons to visit Guatavita. Its plaza concentrates on the vibe and aesthetic the town has throughout the surrounding buildings. The town’s main chapel is located here and the bullfighting ring is not far away. Guatavita’s magic can only be felt once you’re there and Guatavita’s plaza is no different, making it one of the best plazas you can visit near Bogotá.

Ráquira

Raquirá's plaza near Bogotá
© Photograph by Reg Natarajan

Ráquira is a gorgeous place located in Boyacá, about 3.5 hours away from Bogotá. This beautiful town specializes in clay-related craftsmanship, and it has done so since ancient times. This crafting tradition, along with the vibrant colors and people you see in the streets, is a few of the reasons this town is a delight to visit and see for yourself. It’s definitely one of Boyacá’s greatest tourist destinations for a reason; here are other reasons to visit Boyacá and the Christmas lights that go up in its towns during the holiday season. Ráquira’s plaza is just as beautiful as the rest of the streets in this town. Vibrant colors, little clay crafts, and the beautiful chapel in the center are just some of the things that make it so special and beautiful. You’ll have to visit Ráquira yourself to find out what other things contribute to the plaza’s and the town’s beauty.

Zipaquirá

best plazas to visit around Bogotá
© Photograph by Jack Zalium

Zipaquirá is one of Cundinamarca’s biggest towns, so large that some call it a small city. It’s located an hour away to the north of Bogotá. Zipaquirá’s main tourist attraction is its Salt Cathedral, a beautiful underground chapel made with salt, which you can read about more in six reasons to visit Zipaquirá! Out of all the plazas on this list, this one’s the most similar to Bogotá’s Plaza de Bolívar.” They both combine gorgeous colonial architecture with modern buildings and lifestyles. Accompanied by the town’s ever-moving lifestyle, history, and culture, this plaza is one to visit to get a feeling of what colonial plazas look like nowadays in our cities. This distinguishing mixture of modern and colonial vibes makes Zipaquirá’s plaza one to be visited and felt for yourself.

Paipa

best plazas to visit around Bogotá
© Photograph by Alfredo y Paola Fan

Paipa is a cozy town in Boyacá, about 3 hours away from Bogotá. It’s home to El Pantano de Vargas where one of the most important battles for the independence of our country took place. Paipa offers an authentic ‘Boyacá’ experience, given that you can get ‘ruanas’ and ‘almojabanas’ among other treats and souvenirs unique to this department. Paipa’s plaza stands out for its beauty and historic importance and it is a microcosm of everything this town has to offer. All of this sums up to make this town’s plaza experience a memorable one true to its ‘Boyacá’ vibe and aesthetic. 

Don’t miss the chance to visit these plazas!

Guaduas, Guatavita, Ráquira, Zipaquirá, and Paipa are all wonderful places to visit with family or friends. They have sights that are truly worth seeing and hidden experiences waiting for you! Their respective plazas are just another great way to visit and experience them in a special way. Remember that you can either rent a car or buy bus tickets in transport terminals to go to these places – they’re all close but have different transport methods.

All of the plazas to visit near Bogotá listed above are amazing in their own way and offer unique vibes and lifestyles that you can only get to know by walking through them. That’s what makes these places so special: the diversity of their traits and of the things they have to offer! 

Keep reading our articles at Colture so you can keep discovering new places and activities in Bogotá, and don’t forget to keep track of our new articles!

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