Visit Bogota: why Colombia's capital is Latin America's rising tourism star
Both trendy and timeless, Bogota should be top of your travel bucket list
Colombia’s capital, and cultural and gastronomic centre, Bogota, sits ensconced by snow-capped Andean peaks. Relatively cool all year around, the city is both edgy and elegant. Hundreds of years of history and artefacts can be found in the churches, convents and museums of the cobblestoned downtown La Candelaria district, where throngs of tourists take in the pastel-coloured colonial buildings and vibrant street art.
Releasing the country from the grip of more than 50 years of civil unrest, the government’s 2016 peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has resulted in improved safety and a significant growth in international tourism. In addition to its museums and galleries, Bogota is known for its theatres, cumbia (one of the many musical genres that originated here) and a rich food culture – both street food and sophisticated tasting menus. The coffee produced is both mild and well-balanced, as the country is the third largest producer in the world and it’s a good idea to start your day with a local brew.
A comfortable bed
In the upscale northern suburb of La Cabrera, Bog Hotel isn’t far from the designer outlets in Zona T. Pale wood and gold accents dominate the interiors of this boutique bolthole, which were conceptualised by designer Nini Andrade Silva. A heated rectangular rooftop pool with city views dazzles, and provides a luxurious way to unwind after a long day. Request a room with city views (some have terraces). Doubles start at Dh516, fromwww.designhotels.com.
There are seven rooms in Casa Legado, a stylish family-owned boutique hotel in Bogota’s Chapinero neighbourhood. Bright and airy, each one is named after a family member. You can enjoy breakfast at a communal wooden table, with plenty of snacks and drinks available in the kitchen. You’re welcome to enjoy the courtyard, borrow a bicycle and explore, or arrange a massage in the privacy of your own room. Book a stay at the family’s smallholding, Manque, two hours outside Bogota, and your guide will drive you to arepa shacks and hidden gems along the way. Double rooms cost from Dh827, from www.casalegadobogota.com.
A block from the Andino shopping centre and Zona T, the GHL Hotel Bioxury in the El Retiro district offers a dynamic synergy between nature (a plant-filled atrium, garden and eco-friendly touches) with pared-down luxury. Muted greys and neutrals are complemented by soaking tubs in the larger rooms, while floor-to-ceiling city views make it a good place to rest after a day’s sightseeing. Doubles start from Dh386, from en.bioxury.com
Find your feet
Get a bird’s-eye view of the city from the heights of Cerro de Monserrate, at an altitude of 3,048 metres. The hill, considered sacred since the area was first inhabited by the indigenous Muisca, is the site of a church, as well as restaurants, cafes and touristy shops. Take the cable car up, but make sure you bring something warm, as it can get chilly with little notice.
Wander around Plaza de Bolivar, taking in the city’s eclectic architectural styles. This is Bogota’s sentimental centre, established by its founder Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada, and it has paid witness to more than five centuries of history.
Meet the locals
Join the bougie crowds who gather on Sundays for the Usaquen flea market, which features street musicians, puppet shows, gourmet food stands and stalls. From excellent coffee to beautifully crafted jewellery, you’re unlikely to get any real bargains, but will definitely walk away with some gems.
Mercado de Paloquemao is Bogota’s sprawling farmers’ market, with vendors serving up local, freshly made specialities. Colombia is known for its wealth of fruit, some of which you’ll struggle to find anywhere else – look out for lulo, spiky guanabana (soursop) with its custardy interior, a variety of granadillas, feijoa (pineapple guava) and guama (ice cream bean). Book a tour of the market with Foodies Colombia (www.foodies.com.co) and taste a variety of local dishes, such as arepas (corn flour pockets) or tamales (corn flour dough steamed in corn husk or in banana leaves) stuffed with chicken and cheeses.
Book a table
Chef Leonor Espinosa’s research on Colombia’s broad and vast culinary heritage, particularly that of isolated indigenous communities, is presented on a plate at her eponymous eatery, Restaurant Leo. This is fine-dining par excellence and is routinely ranked as one of the best restaurants in Latin America. A meal costs about Dh237 for an 11-course tasting menu without drinks.
At El Chato in the Chapinero Alto neighbourhood, chef-owner Alvaro Clavijo serves seasonal sharing plates of Colombian ingredients influenced by his time cooking in kitchens in Paris, New York, Barcelona and Copenhagen. The must-eats here include the charcoal-coloured squid ink crackers with crab, mushroom tartare, chicken hearts and the whole-roast chicken rice with vegetables. A meal at El Chato costs about Dh99 per person without drinks.
Harry Sasson may be one of Colombia’s best-known chefs and his namesake restaurant may be a magnet for the rich and famous, with its large glass windows, impeccable wait staff and long tables that cater to family groups. The food, though, is fuss-free and a fusion of Latin American, Asian and European fare. The robata, empanadas and grilled meats are outstanding. You can expect to spend about Dh110 for a full spread.
Bogota has plenty of markets and shopping malls, and Usaquen, Andino and La Zona Rosa stand out. For local handicrafts, go to La Plaza de los Artesanos on Calle 63 or Artesanias de Colombia for more upscale items. At Mambe on Carrera 5, you’ll find fair-trade curios sourced from rural and indigenous communities around the country.
Seek out Colombian-Pakistani jeweller Aysha Bilgrami’s eponymous store – she crafts gorgeous earrings, amulets and bracelets from reclaimed and recycled silver and precious metals.
What to avoid
Stay alert while walking in the colourful La Candelaria area, and don’t walk with your eyes fixed on your phone. Rather, stow it away until you’re seated comfortably somewhere away from the crowds.
The Museo del Oro is a must-visit, displaying more than 34,000 pieces of gold and relics. Here you’ll learn not just about gold, but about pre-Colombian cultures prior to the arrival of the Spanish. Try to go on one of the guided tours at 11am or 3pm. Entry to the museum costs Dh3.5.
Head to the outstanding Museo Botero in Calle 11, where you can view 200 pieces of artist Fernando Botero Angulo’s personal collection (including Chagall, Renoir and Picasso), for free. The museum forms part of a larger collection with other exhibition halls, and it costs Dh7 to hire an audio guide.
Etihad Airlines flies to Bogota from Abu Dhabi with one stopover in Frankfurt, from Dh6,133 return, including taxes.
Emirates flies from Dubai with one stopover, generally in Sao Paulo, from Dh7,405 return flight, including taxes.
Updated: July 27, 2019 12:19 PM