Monserrate has been considered an important sacred place since before the arrival of the Spanish: the local Muisca indigenous people called the mountain quijicha caca, or ‘grandmother’s foot’, and considered it important to their religious traditions, due to the fact that the sun rises directly behind the mountain during the solstice in June. This is visible from the modern Plaza Bolivar and is thought to be why the first cathedral of the city was constructed there.
During the colonial period a religious group known as the Brotherhood of Vera Cruz asked for permission to build a small religious retreat on the top of the mountain, which they named after the Morena Virgin of Montserrat, near Barcelona. Over time, the saint statue which had been the principal religious attraction of Monserrate was replaced in significance by El Señor Caído (‘The Fallen Lord’), a figure of Jesus which has been removed from its cross. The shrine of El Señor Caído remains the principal reason for believers to visit the church of Monserrate today.
Today the mountain and church have become an important destination for tourists and pilgrims – some of whom even crawl up on their knees! – and getting up to the top is easier than ever: in 1929 a funicular railway route was opened, and a few decades later, in 1955, the city inaugurated the cable car route.
As all of downtown and south Bogotá, and large sections of the north, are visible from the top of Monserrate, it is a hugely popular place to visit to enjoy unparalleled views over the city, particularly at sunset. There are several different ways to reach the top of the mountain, including by cable car, funicular railway, and on foot.
Cable car: The cable car operates from Monday to Sunday (excluding Monday holidays) and costs up to 20,000 COP (US$6.67) for a return journey – except on Sundays when the costs drops to 11,000 COP (US$3.67).
Funicular railway: The funicular railway operates between Tuesday and Sunday, and is operational on holidays, unlike the cable car. The costs are the same as taking the cable car, with similar discounts on Sundays, and for people over 62-years-old. Both journeys are short, although the cable car offers more spectacular views on the way up. Exact prices – as well as any changes to opening hours – can be found on the Monserrate website.
On foot: Hiking to the top of the mountain is another option for visitors. It’s not a hike for the faint-hearted: the church sits at 3,150 meters (10,335 feet) above sea level – a gain of some 400 meters (1,312 feet) in altitude from the starting point. It takes roughly an hour, but it’s worth giving yourself plenty of time for the hike, not only for the difficulty of the altitude but also to enjoy the nature along the trail. Walking the trail is free, and the path is open every day (apart from Tuesdays when it’s closed), between 5am-1pm to go up, and 5am-4pm to come back down.
A popular option is to take transport to the top, and then walk down – regardless of how you choose to visit Monserrate, it’s up there with the best tourist attractions in Bogotá and is one of the city’s unmissable sights.