Why you should care
As its name suggest, it’s literally a tower a books.
Cheap books await you by the ground-floor door at this second-hand bookstore, a lavishly balconied — but still ostensibly beige — building in downtown Bogotá. But all the truly good shit lies within. Or, in the case of Torre de Babel, above.
A literal cornerstone of Carrera 16, Librería Torre de Babel is the pinnacle of used-book browsing on the Bogotá thoroughfare, which is populated by stores hawking pre-owned titles and street vendors peddling (probably) counterfeit bestsellers. (The shop is also the birthplace of Colombian philosopher Nicolás Gómez Dávila.) Plus, the evocatively mythical, biblical name speaks to its Holy Grail reputation among in-the-know Bogotá bibliophiles.
Except this Tower of Babel is real and, much like its namesake, stretches into the heavens. Well, three floors into the heavens (their webpage claims four and my visit corroborates three — unless there’s an off-limits level I don’t know about).
Rows of books in a straight-edged, spine-by-spine formation on shelves that stretch from floor to sky-high ceilings.
Skip the ground floor with its solitary phone-scrolling staff member and head right for the second and third stories. What awaits you: rows of books in a straight-edged, spine-by-spine formation on shelves that stretch from floor to sky-high ceilings. Even the numerous windows are covered halfway by strategically positioned shelving units. But seriously, you don’t need to look outside when you’re surrounded by Colombia’s largest used-book selection.
Curated by voracious reader and owner Félix Burgos, the shop’s collection is impressive, running the gamut from dusty old tomes that would pique the interest of only the most specialized collector — “at the moment, our oldest title is a book that was printed in Florence in 1531,” Burgos tells me via email — to popular titles by well-known authors. Strategically positioned full-length mirrors give a labyrinthine feel to the place and even the harsh strip lighting does little to dampen the joy of searching for that elusive book you never knew you wanted but suddenly need. Just remember to check your bag at the counter first.
While the majority of the used books are Spanish-language, there are some alternative-language selections too, and besides, half the fun of used-bookstore browsing lies in the very browsing itself. And the reading. First-floor sofas invite you to pick a book, take a seat and skip sightseeing for the remains of the day (yes, that was a book pun). If you leave without dropping a few thousand Colombian pesos (around $7) on at least one title, you’ve clearly got a will more cast iron than mine.
Torre de Babel seems well-suited for comparison with Bogotá itself: Vast and towering, the lofty highs capture your attention with ease before spitting you back out onto the streets below. How much time passed? Does it matter? You weren’t looking out the windows.
GO THERE: LIBRERÍA TORRE DE BABEL
- Location: Carrera 8 #1614, Bogotá, Colombia. Map
- Hours: Monday to Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Saturdays, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
- Pro tip: Once you’re done buying books, go sightseeing. Bogotá’s famous Plaza Bolívar is just an eight-minute walk down Carrera 8, while the Gold Museum is a mere two blocks away from Torre de Babel.