Spotlight On: Bogotá, Colombia

I first visited Bogotá in 2002 at the beginning of President Álvaro Uribe’s administration. Things were changing. A few years later, in 2005, I returned on assignment for this magazine (touring with DJ Paul Oakenfold). Things were still changing. These days, change has finally come to the city.

Take Bogotá’s Museo del Oro (Gold Museum), for example. A decade ago, its spectacular wares, both intimate and fragile, knocked me out. I was floored by the world’s largest and finest collection of pre-Hispanic gold work. But today, the recently renovated museum — now all shiny, modern and culturally respected — parallels Colombia’s changing face. You see, Colombia has always been good, but it’s only of late that people have begun to pay attention.

Back in the day, those who dared visit the country always came back with the same story: “What a wonderful place with wonderful people!” Colombians have always rolled out the red carpet for visitors because they were determined to have you leave with a different impression than they know you arrived with. It’s one of the charms of a South American gem that is now witnessing a long-fought-for and long-overdue tourism renaissance that begins, for most visitors, in Bogotá.

At an elevation of 8,530 feet, Bogotá is South America’s third-highest capital city. Under the thumb of imposing Andean peaks sits its historical center, Plaza de Bolívar, in the city’s most colonial barrio , La Candelaria. Flanked by the rust-bronzed neoclassical buildings of the Catedral Primada de Colombia (Primada Cathedral) and the Capitolio Nacional (National Capitol), this exemplary Latin epicenter also includes the baroque Capilla del Sagrario (Sagrario Chapel) and the modern Palace of Justice and City Hall. Ten years ago, the area was swamped with pigeons and armored military vehicles. These days, only the pigeons remain. When it rains, which is often in Bogotá, it is strangely beautiful.

And if it does rain, a perfect opportunity presents itself. A half block east on Calle 11, past 300yearold colonial homes and the Museo de 20 de Julio (the House of the Vase), is La Puerta Falsa, one of Bogotá’s oldest and most atmospheric cafés, which has been in business since 1816. This is the spot to ward off the bitter wind and rain with a cozy canelazo — Bogotá’s signature drink made from aguadiente, Panela (a sweetener derived from sugarcane), cinnamon and lime, served hot. If afternoon buzzes are not your thing, everyone else is ordering another bogotano staple, hot chocolate with cheese, buttered bread and a biscuit (chocolate completo). Within two blocks on the same street, you’ll find don’t-miss stops dedicated to two of Colombia’s most revered cultural icons: famed painter of portliness Fernando Botero (at the Museo Botero) and One Hundred Years of Solitude novelist Gabriel García Márquez (at the new Centro Cultural Gabriel García Márquez).

But if there is one thing in Bogotá that carries mythical status, it’s a restaurant 14 miles from the city center in the suburb of Chiá. Strangely named and even more esoterically described by all those who have visited, Andrés Carne de Res is, in the simplest of terms, a steak house. But it’s so much more. A surreal atmosphere that includes menus housed inside metal boxes hanging from wooden pillars, it’s a spot that attracts the beautiful people who come for lunch at noon and who don’t end up stumbling out until 3 a.m. Like Colombia itself, it’s that good.



SLEEP

Hotel Charleston
(from $345)
Carrera 13 No 8546, Zona T (T Zone)
www.hotelcharlestonbogota.com

Hotel de la Ópera
(from $165)
Calle 10 No.572 (Calle del Coliseo), La Candelaria
www.hotelopera.com.co

EAT

Andrés Carne de Res
Calle 3 No. 11A56, Chiá
www.andrescarnederes.com

La Puerta Falsa
Calle 11 No 650, La Candelaria

SEE

Capilla del Sagrario
Calle 10 (in front of the Plaza de Bolivar)
http://idt.hechorealidad.com/capilladelsagrario

Capitolio Nacional
Calle 10 con Carreras 7 y 8
www.marriott.com/city-guide/city-poi.mi?cityId=100&attractionId=46279

Catedral Primada de Colombia
Avenida Carrera 7
www.catedraldebogota.org

Centro Cultural Gabriel García Márquez
Calle 11 No 560, La Candelaria
www.fce.com.co

Museo Botero
Calle 11 No 441, La Candelaria
www.lablaa.org/museobotero.htm

Museo de 20 de Julio (also known as La Casa del Florero)
Calle 11 694 0115712826647

Museo del Oro
Calle 16 No 541, Parque Santander
www.banrep.gov.co/museo