When planning a trip anywhere new, I inevitably do some googling about what to wear. While I know there’s no way to completely avoid looking like a tourist, my goal is always to land somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between the locals and those wearing fanny packs and American flag t-shirts.
Recently I’ve gotten a couple of reader questions about what to wear while visiting Bogotá, which makes me think that you all think I know what I’m talking about…at least a little bit. Part of that is true: after about two years in this city I can pick out tourists in a snap and know how to dress based on an invite’s time and location.
When you think of Colombia, Bogotá is kind of in a category of its own. For one thing, it’s location at about 8,500 feet above sea level means that it’s much cooler than the rest of the country. Temperatures don’t vary greatly and for the most part, hover around the low fifties. That said, there are afternoons when the sun can bring the temps to the low seventies, and chilly evenings where it can sink as low as the forties. December and January are the warm, dry months and April/May and October/November are quite wet. Another way that Bogotá differs is that as the capital and center of business, dressing seems more formal and sophisticated than the rest of the country.
Keep reading for a few of my ideas of what to bring—or leave behind—on a trip to Colombia’s capital city.
I am not sure the purpose behind ‘travel pants.’ You know the ones—some kind of moisture wicking material, heinous fit, some permutation of rolling up or zipping off at the knee. If you’re hiking, why not just wear exercise pants? Ok, maybe you want to zip off the lower half but can’t you just take a layer off the top and save yourself $95?
I think there’s some kind of tricky marketing going on here, that Columbia sportswear is trying to tell you that these are multipurpose pants, taking you from a trek in the Serengeti to a candlelit dinner. You’re not fooling anyone that these are regular pants. Let your nice pants be nice pants and your outdoor wear be outdoor wear. When I see people walking through the restaurant district in these I always wonder, where did these people think they were going?
Just to get down to it, you won’t be doing crazy trekking in Bogotá and despite some big infrastructural gaps, Bogotá is a modern city. Leave these weird travel-y clothes at home and just dress regularly.
One sunny afternoon last year Cody wore flip-flops to a barbecue which earned him lots of remarks about catching a cold and being a true Californian. Bogotanos have a funny relationship with the cold, meaning that they are always sure it’s around the corner, waiting to make you sick. I can’t say that I’ve seen many Colombians in Bogotá wearing them, and along with tank-tops, shorts, or any other type of clothing usually worn in hot weather, sandals are a sure-fire way to get people’s attention.
Weather aside, the streets are dirty and the cobblestones perilous. Some of the bricks will look sturdy, only to shift under your weight and splash you with water and whatever street sludge lurking underneath. Stick with some hip sneaks or ankle booties.
Anything you’ll miss
I listen to music on my phone as I walk the dog, I don’t always carry my bag in front of me, I’ll walk to meet friends after dark—some of these things that were once given ‘safety’ rules have gone by the wayside as I’ve gotten to know the city better and become more relaxed. But just when that starts to happen, I’ll hear a story about a phone being snatched or a cab’s window broken and purse stolen.
Even when I start to take petty crime for granted, I never wear my wedding ring and have a pile of shoes and bags that I think are too flashy and live in my closet, collecting dust. The one rule I never break is to wear things I’ll miss, those that are expensive or for other reasons special. It’s not a good idea to flaunt wealth in the first place, but worst case a cell phone can be replaced. Definitely don’t do it with something that has sentimental value.
So, what should you wear? I have a few basics below. If you want visual examples, there are lots of good travel blogs that break down outfits and give more specific ideas.
Dress it up a bit
I think most folks coming from the U.S. are aware that outside our borders the manner of dress is a bit more formal—I mean, you will not see people grabbing take out in pajamas. I’m not sure if it’s to do with the cooler weather or fact that there is a lot of business in Bogotá, but people do dress nicely and take a lot of pride in their appearance. Even drivers and bank tellers wear suits! Don’t worry, you won’t need a tux. However, if you’re looking to blend in you can’t go wrong with darker/muted colors and being on the nicer side of casual. Think dark wash jeans, no white tennis shoes (unless they’re Converse—it seems like everyone has a pair) and a fitted jacket instead of a hoodie.
Something people frequently say about Bogotá’s weather is that you can experience all four seasons in a day. The weather will usually start off sunny, gradually darken with clouds and then have a couple hours of drizzle—or vice versa. It’s easy to forget you’re straddling the equator when it’s cloudy, but it can get hot in a snap once the sun is shining full force. That said, layers are a must in Bogotá.
On a regular day, I’ll wear skinny jeans with Converse or slip-on sneakers. On top, it’s a tunic style t-shirt or loose collared shirt, over which I’ll wear a sweater or scarf. Sometimes I’ll wear a light jacket, and I always bring an umbrella.
I’ve come home from a cloudy morning bike ride with sunburned hands. And with the weather changes throughout the day, chances are you’ll be in the sunshine at some point. That said, sunscreen is a must here—even if it’s chilly, you’re still getting pounded with some brutal equatorial rays.
Have you been to Bogotá? Let me know if I’ve missed something or leave your own thoughts in the comments!