This past spring, Recommend was whisked away on a whirlwind tour of Bogota, Colombia. Although we wished we could’ve spent more time in this South American hotspot, during the short time we were there, Bogota managed to enthrall and enrapture our senses with its culture, museums, pre- and post-Columbian architecture, and its world-class local and international cuisine.
There is no denying that it’s difficult to capture the essence of a city in only 48 hours—give or take a few hours because you have to sleep, too—but we’ve managed to pack our 2-day getaway into a handy itinerary that you should feel free to photocopy and hand to your Bogota-bound clients. It includes details on some of the city’s highlights, must-try dining venues and one of the best places to call home while vacationing in Colombia’s capital city.
HIGHLIGHTS: Our busiest day began with a morning stroll of La Candelaria, Bogota’s charming historic center and truly the cultural heart of Bogota, attracting tourists and locals alike. Narrow cobblestone lanes snake in and around this neighborhood dotted with historic churches and stunning colonial buildings rising only two- or three-stories tall. Here, top museums can be visited such as The Botero Museum, housing over 200 works of art donated by Colombia’s very own Fernando Botero. This colonial home turned museum features artistic works from the mid-19th century up to the end of the 20th century, and 123 of the pieces on display are Botero’s own paintings and sculptures. Up next was The Gold Museum, housing more than 33,000 pieces of pre-Columbian gold from the intricate to the grand in a collection that displays miniscule animal figurines to full body golden garb worn by tribe leaders.
Then we hopped on a gut-wrenching cable car ride up to the top of Monserrate, a hill that rises 10,341 ft. above sea level where all of Bogota is laid out in full view, and a spot where millions of pilgrims—and since then travelers—have gathered since 1640.
DINING: The San Isidro Restaurant, on top of Monserrate, was where we dined for lunch. Most of the menu offers classic French cuisine, but the ajiaco, a Colombian soup made with potatoes, chicken, and corn and served with a side of rice, avocado and capers, was delicious.
For dinner it was Club Colombia, which is housed in a large vine-covered house and which serves only Colombian dishes. Its fireplace lounge is ideal for a pre-dinner cocktail and quite inviting as the nighttime temperature tends to drop. Colombian tamales wrapped in banana leaves made with corn and filled with potatoes, pork and vegetables were mouthwatering, while the heaping salad of seasoned avocados, tomatoes and onions was passed around the table more than once; the shrimp ceviche, which the restaurant is known for, is made with fresh cilantro, onions, lemon juice and avocado. Divine.
FAVORITE MOMENTS: The 10-minute cable car leading to the top of Monserrate—definitely sweaty palms and heart palpitations here. Also, sitting peacefully on a bench in the open-air garden courtyard at The Botero Museum.
HIGHLIGHTS: In the quaint town of Zipaquira lies the impressive Salt Cathedral, located 590 ft. below ground. This massive underground structure has expansive caverns that separate into three sections depicting the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ. Most of the details are handcarved and large slabs of marble were brought into the cathedral for some of the altars.
It was back to the city-center after for a coffee break at the Juan Valdez Cafe in Bogota. The cafe’s outdoor seating is great for people-watching and the espresso was strong and aromatic; exactly what we needed during our afternoon break. We winded down the day visiting Bogota’s Zona Rosa shopping district, a section of the city with three large malls located a block from each other where shoppers can find high-end stores and local merchants, too.
DINING: After our visit below ground at the Salt Cathedral, we had lunch at a small restaurant on the outskirts of Zipaquira town named Sanalejo, a Colombian word for a room used to store antique items and knick-knacks—and the ambiance was fitting with mismatched chairs surrounding dining tables, old paintings and photographs, plastic fruit, vases and the kind of stuff found in an attic. Our wonderfully seasoned chicken breast came sizzling on an iron skillet and we snacked on large fried cooked plantains with tomato and cilantro sauces.
For our last night in Bogota, dinner was at Gaira Cafe Cumba House, a dinner-and-a-show setting serving coastal Colombian cuisine. We dined on plate-sized arepas; empanadas made with cheese, beef or chicken; fresh shrimp with coconut rice; and slim cuts of perfectly grilled meats.
FAVORITE MOMENTS: While touring the cathedral (remember we’re underground), the lights turned off—not once, but twice. It was so dark we couldn’t see our hands in front of our faces and the blackout lasted only a few seconds, although it felt like an eternity. It was a truly unique experience (only in an underground cathedral). Also, after lunch at Sanalejo, our driver informed us that the van’s battery died. With help from a few locals and the restaurant’s owner, we pushed the car into a busy intersection before the driver popped the clutch and we hopped right on in. That’s just how it goes in Bogota, no worries—life goes on.
The chic Movich Chico 97 is where we rested after spending hours exploring Bogota on foot and car. Situated in the northeast section of the city, about a 30-minute ride from El Dorado International Airport, Movich Chico 97 is part of the hotel chain Movich Hotels & Resorts, which has properties in Medellin, Cartagena and Pereira.
This 75-room hotel is located in a busy residential and business section of Bogota, which was a plus when it came to people-watching especially while seated al fresco at the hotel’s street-level restaurant. Rooms have all the necessary amenities a client would expect: air conditioning, comfortable king-sized bed, complimentary WiFi, a minibar with local soft drinks and snacks, a flat-screen TV, and spacious bathroom. Front desk clerks are fluent in English and very professional, and although the lobby is small, it has an inviting spot to sit while sipping a fresh espresso ordered from the lobby’s coffee bar.
The continental-style breakfast offers a nice spread of cheeses, croissants and breads, fruits, waffles and pancakes, fresh orange juice and strong local coffee, a plus for early-morning sightseeing tours; the omelets made with fresh vegetables or the scrambled eggs with sausage is a delicious way to start the day.
The hotel is located near most of the aforementioned sites: about a 20-minute drive to La Candelaria; walking distance to Gaira Cafe Cumba House; and a 40-minute drive or so to the Salt Cathedral.
when to go
During our time in the city, the weather was chilly and rainy and the Andes Mountains cradling Bogota were blanketed in a constant mist. The climate, which is temperate with no seasons except for a few months of rain (September and October; April and May), goes hand-in-hand with its landscape: Bogota is nestled high in the Andes, about 8,530 ft. above sea level. The driest months are December to March—perhaps the best time to visit—and the average temperature year-round is 57°F.
Major airlines like Avianca, Delta Air Lines, LAN and United provide nonstop service to El Dorado International Airport (BOG) from Miami, New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta. We flew into this busy gateway via Copa Airlines, which departed from Miami to Panama City’s Tocumen International Airport for a layover. About 95 percent of Copa Airlines’ flights go through Panama City and reach 10 destinations in Colombia. The airline also flies from Toronto to Panama City and will soon open service from Boston. Overall it offers 65 destinations in 29 counties in North, Central and South America and the Caribbean. A plus is the complimentary meals and beverages.
Q&A with Claudia Davila, director of tourism, ProExport Colombia, USA
DC: The outlook of tourism to Colombia has changed over the years. How is ProExport taking advantage of this positive shift?
CD: ProExport is leveraging this positive shift to attract more tourists by showcasing the attributes of the cities and generating investment and employment opportunities and social development. Our recent tourism numbers and improved national safety have helped to create partnerships with new airlines, major hotel chains and international cruise lines.
DC: We stayed at the Movich in Bogota, which is a modern, boutique hotel. Are more boutique hotels popping up around Colombia?
CD: All over Colombia there are new boutique hotels opening up. Mainly in Cartagena, Bogota, the coffee region and Medellin. Cartagena has more than 25 boutique properties in the Walled City; the coffee region as well, where the coffee farms are now boutique properties maintaining the charm, but offering more amenities and services. As the demand increases, there is more investment coming in the hotel industry and several chains and boutique properties are opening up.
DC: I attended the ProExport Colombia Tourism Seminar in Miami this past May. What is the ultimate goal of the event?
CD: We have done several events in major U.S cities for the past nine years and have held such tourism seminars in New York City and Los Angeles in 2012 as part of ProExport’s business matchmaking forums. Other smaller seminars are held year-round with our partner airlines and tour operators. The ultimate goal is to generate business opportunities between U.S. and Colombian companies, and also to provide up-to-date information on the state of the tourism industry in Colombia, the tourism products and destinations.
The next event of this kind will be held in Chicago in September (as of press time, dates were TBA).