BEST TIME TO GO: December to March, mid-June to mid-August
FUN-FACT: The Gold Museum (Museo de Oro) displays a collection of 34,000 pieces of exquisitely crafted, pre-Columbian gold, the largest of its kind in the world
GETTING THERE: Delta flies from Atlanta and New York (JFK) to Bogota
ENTRY DOCUMENTS: Valid passport
CURRENCY: Colombian peso
MUST-TRY LOCAL FOOD: No greater selection of traditional dishes (a 32-page menu) and charcoal-grilled meats than at Andres Carne de Res—the original in the north district of Chia (a culinary pilgrimage place for Bogotanos) and Andres DC in more central Zona Rosa. However, go to Casa Vieja for ajiaco, a creamy chicken and potato soup, topped with corn, avocado and capers.
BEST BUYS: The Sunday flea market in the Usaquen district of Bogota offers a vast emporium of arts, crafts, jewelry and clothing. Under luxury goods, fine reproductions of pre-Columbian gold jewelry and emeralds, sold loose or set in designer jewelry (emerald shops are licensed by the government)
There are many good reasons for travelers to spend some quality time in Bogota, one of the oldest cities in the Western Hemisphere and nowadays one of its liveliest and most interesting capitals. Actually, Bogota has emerged as a role model of urban reinvention: from miles of bicycle paths and a state-of-the-art bus system to gourmet dining and must-see museums such as Museo de Oro. There are also dozens of stylish, five-star and boutique hotels: the 38-room Hotel Porton Bogota bridges both categories. The logical starting place in getting to know Bogota is La Candelaria, the cultural heart and soul of the city, formed by grand old mansions roughly grouped around Plaza Bolivar with a bronze statue of Simon Bolivar right at the center. Throughout this historic quarter are grand sites to see: the Cathedral adjoining the ornate Sagrario Chapel, San Carlos Palace with its sumptuously furnished salons, the Italianate Teatro Colon and its neighbor, the chic Hotel de la Opera. Casa de Narino is the formal name for the presidential palace, which you can see from the Plaza de Armas, stage for the four-times-weekly Changing of the Guard. No tour of this most historic corner of Bogota is complete without a visit to Museo Botero, housing the splendid collection of the famous native-son artist Fernando Botero who donated his own work, as well as such modernists as Giacometti, Picasso and Dali. Also essential to the Bogota experience is a cable car ride up Monserrate Hill, as well as a descent down into the vast subterranean Salt Cathedral in the mountain town of Zipaquira.
Mainstreet Bogota, Avenida Caracas, is the urban link of the Pan American Highway which continues to picture-perfect Villa de Leyva, with a setting right out of “Man of La Mancha.” Come for the Saturday market, see the religious art treasures in the Museo del Carmen, stay in a restored colonial (La Posada de San Antonio, for one), and explore the state of Boyaca province on horseback or mountain bike. And any time is the time to hop a domestic flight from Bogota to Cartagena, a sun-drenched, fun-loving resort surrounded by well-preserved remnants of the Spanish Main’s days of glory on the Caribbean Sea. Visitors can walk the ramparts and wander through the labyrinth of tunnels that lace the San Felipe de Barajas Fortress, then adjourn to the walled-in old city to explore either on foot or by horse-drawn carriage. Visitors should stop along the way to enter the Church of San Pedro Claver, the Gold Museum and the dungeons of Las Bovedas, many of which have been turned into craft shops. In the heart of the old town, the most recent conversion from historic to contemporary is Casa San Agustin, a luxury boutique hotel that preserves the remnants of an aqueduct within three white-washed, colonial-era buildings. In all hotels, large and small, in Cartagena, guests can count on concierge desks to assist with packing a picnic for a day cruise to the best beaches of Baru or the Rosario Islands.