City of Gold

A mile and a half up in the An­des, Bo­gotá is a place whose fu­ture glit­ters even more than its past

Business Traveler (USA) - - INSIDE - By Lark Gould

A mile and a half up in the An­des, Bo­gotá is a place whose fu­ture glit­ters even more brightly than its past

Bo­gotá may not be on the bucket list for jet­set­ters in search of the new best beach. But for busi­ness trav­el­ers who have any­thing to do with ex­ports of tech­nol­ogy, engineering or bank­ing, chances are they have crossed paths with the wide boule­vards of Bo­gotá.

The city is one of the world’s largest – in the same league with NewYork and Mex­ico City in land mass – near­ing 9,000 feet in al­ti­tude but only eight mil­lion in pop­u­la­tion, al­though guilty of the same crazy-mak­ing city traf­fic of cities with dou­ble the in­hab­i­tants. Still, with a mod­ern his­tory that dates back to the first Span­ish con­querors and a mélange of rich cul­tures – na­tive, Mid­dle East­ern and Euro­pean – Bo­gotá is per­haps one of the most col­or­ful and invit­ing cities in Latin Amer­ica to end­lessly ex­plore.

“Bo­gotá is a very met­ro­pol­i­tan city and very close to the US – even closer with the new Open Skies agree­ments that al­low for more fre­quen­cies, more routes and more air­lines from the US,”says Claudia Dav­ila, the US Tourism Di­rec­tor for Proex­port Colombia.“The US is our num­ber No. 1 mar­ket and I would say 40-50 per­cent of those visi­tors are here on busi­ness.”

Santa Fe de Bo­gotá (named short­ened af­ter in­de­pen­dence from Spain in 1824) found its kick­start in 1538 when Span­ish ex­pe­di­tions ar­rived at the al­ready thriv­ing me­trop­o­lis of Ba­catá in­hab­ited by Muisca peo­ple of the Chibchan cul­ture. Fast­for­ward through a va­ri­ety of wars, plagues, famines, drug bat­tles and civil up­ris­ings, and you find the trans­formed and mod­ern Bo­gotá of to­day, a rough-hewn city sewn from the seeds of hard­ship that has nev­er­the­less learned some lessons in how to work hard, have fun and live well.

Busi­ness trav­el­ers ready to get out and in­ves­ti­gate the city around them can check out the best of Bo­gotá and reap some mem­o­rable ROI for their time. “If you have a few days, Bo­gotá can be a very re­ward­ing place to ex­plore,” says Dav­ila. “Bo­gotá is now a vi­brant, cul­tural city with lots to of­fer and lots to share – the food, the mu­sic, the trea­sures, the his­tory – it’s all within easy reach in Bo­gotá.”

High­lights in the High­lands

As sprawl­ing cities go, Bo­gotá makes sense. It’s got the East­ern Cordillera of the An­des moun­tain range to the east and an in­tel­li­gent grid sys­tem at the core – with

north, south, east and west sec­tions to tar­get. Car­reras (streets: Cr., Kra., and Cra.) run par­al­lel to the moun­tains from South to North. Calles (also streets: Cll. and Cl.) cross the car­reras and run from East to West. Avenidas, (Av. or Avda.) are larger av­enues and main streets.

Bo­gotá is di­vided into 20 dis­tinct lo­cal­i­ties, or Dis­tricts, and within each of th­ese are a se­ries of zones. Shop­ping, restau­rants and mu­se­ums cor­re­spond with th­ese zones or street clus­ters mak­ing Bo­gotá a very sen­si­ble city for visi­tors.

A bird’s eye view of Bo­gotá could be ex­plained this way:

Zona 1 Norte. Mod­ern, up­scale and do­main of the high­est in­come bracket neigh­bor­hoods. Find here im­por­tant com­mer­cial cen­ters: with the best restau­rants, shop­ping cen­ters, and nightlife in the trendy Zona Rosa.

Zona 2 Noroc­ci­dente. The city is grow­ing out in this di­rec­tion and it is the sec­tion of Bo­gotá to watch in com­ing years.

Zona 3 Oc­ci­dente. Bo­gotá’s in­dus­trial center. It is where El Do­rado In­ter­na­tional Air­port lies and is the lo­ca­tion of the Na­tional Univer­sity.

Zona 4 Sur. This is an area of in­dus­trial zones and sprawl­ing work­ing class bar­rios spread­ing out to the south of the city.

Zona 5 Cen­tro. The cen­tral sec­tor is the city’s most im­por­tant com­mer­cial, cul­tural, gov­ern­men­tal and fi­nan­cial zone. Banks and gov­ern­ment of­fices are lo­cated here, as well as the city’s cul­tural heart in Can­de­laria.

Most visi­tors stay­ing in Bo­gotá will al­ready be in or near the lively Old City center called Can­de­laria. For those seek­ing colo­nial Latin Amer­ica, th­ese streets are steeped in his­tory and care­fully pre­served for all their char­ac­ter­is­tic color and gran­deur. Sit­u­ated squarely in the center, Plaza de Bo­li­var pro­vides a seam­less ori­en­ta­tion ex­pe­ri­ence as well as a great meet­ing place by the hero’s statue.

From there it is a stone’s throw to the city’s circa 1553-1823 (present form) Capilla del Sa­grario cathe­dral that also holds the tomb and many paint­ings of Gre­go­rio Vazquez de Arce y Ce­bal­los (1638-1711), one of the coun­try’s most cel­e­brated pain­ters of the time.

In this em­i­nently walk­a­ble area you can dis­cover a pha­lanx of mu­se­ums worth the time, start­ing with the Museo de Oro. Two of earth’s most prized prod­ucts char­ac­ter­ize the rise of Colombia: gold and emer­alds. For any­one look­ing for El Do­rado, the Gold Mu­seum has the map.

Museo del Oro is home to more than 35,000 ob­jects of pre-Colom­bian gold work. This is the place to see a gold replica of a Muisca boat used in the rit­ual of throw­ing gold into nearby Lake Gu­atavita to ap­pease the gods. Sim­i­larly, there is a model of the Ci­u­dad Per­dida – the Lost City of Taironas – found near Santa Marta in 1975. The dis­cov­ery has been deemed larger and more sig­nif­i­cant than Machu Pic­chu in South Amer­ica’s ar­chae­o­log­i­cal eurekas. Also be sure to check out the strong room il­lu­mi­nated by the glint of 12,000 pieces of gold.

Another im­por­tant ad­di­tion to any tour of Bo­gotá is the Botero Mu­seum where some 123 works of Fer­nando Botero and 87 works by other in­ter­na­tional artists of the

“Bo­gota ia a vi­brant, cul­tral city with lots to share — the food, the mu­sic, the trea­sures, the his­tory”

Re­nais­sance and Im­pres­sion­ist pe­ri­ods can be en­joyed in an im­pres­sive mod­ern space. There’s no charge, in ac­cor­dance with the leg­endary Colom­bian painter’s wishes.

As a com­ple­ment to the Botero, the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art of­fers a look at the Latin Amer­i­can fo­cus in graphic arts, in­dus­trial de­sign and photography. Nearby, con­sider a so­journ in the Mu­seum of Colo­nial Art to take in its im­por­tant hold­ings of rare colo­nial art from Colombia.

His­tory of the city, the coun­try and the land can be found amid a smat­ter­ing of great col­lec­tions, which in­clude the Museo de Bo­gotá, for an in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the city sur­rounds, Museo del Siglo XIX, a pre­served house with fur­nish­ings from the late 19th cen­tury, and the com­pelling Museo Arque­ológico where pre-Columbian relics can be viewed in a pre­served 17th cen­tury Span­ish man­sion.

If time is short, the best choice for area his­tory would be the Museo Na­cional down­town. The build­ing, a for­mer prison, houses what may be the coun­try’s strong­est arche­o­log­i­cal col­lec­tion, in­clud­ing gold trea­sure. The top floor fea­tures 20th cen­tury fine art and sculp­tures.

Shop­ping Al­ti­tude

The deals to be found here are in emer­alds and leather goods. With Colombia’s me­te­oric rise in wealth and liv­ing stan­dards over the past ten years, it’s no sur­prise that malls con­tinue to flour­ish. Among the top shop­ping mall des­ti­na­tions you’ll find Santa Fe (Au­topista Norte), cur­rently the sec­ond-largest in South Amer­ica. It’s lo­cated just a short fiveminute walk north of the Por­tal del Norte Trans­mil­lenio sta­tion.

Uni­cen­tro is a mod­ern mall filled with western re­tail shops. Gran Estación is lo­cated in the west of the city near the air­port El Do­rado. Cen­tro Andino, in the Zona Rosa, is a huge up­scale space and a great place to find rec­og­niz­able Amer­i­can brand items, such as Levi’s, Diesel, Esprit, Adidas, even Burger King.

For more in­dige­nous items, the col­or­ful Ha­cienda Santa Bar­bara is in an old “ha­cienda” in­side the trendy bo­hemian neigh­bor­hood of Usaquén. This is the place to buy Colom­bian sou­venirs, jew­elry and cer­ti­fied emer­alds. On Sun­days the Usaquén flea mar­ket is nearby.

Gem hounds will want to head to what could be con­sid­ered Emer­ald Cen­tral in Bo­gotá along Avenida Jiménez. The stones here come right from the mines and need to be ex­am­ined like di­a­monds for the four C’s.

For leather­wear that is made to or­der, try Bar­rio Gai­tan where rows of stores and sew­ing ma­chines knock­ing out leather cloth­ing can whip up any re­quest.

Be mind­ful that there’s a 16 per­cent VAT added to pur­chases, es­pe­cially at high-end re­tail sto­ries.

What’s Cook­ing in Bo­gotá?

For fruit fa­mil­iar and fruit not seen else­where, the spot to ogle and squeeze is the Palo­que­mao food mar­ket. Look, touch, see, smell and then head for the flow­ers, also a spec­ta­cle in th­ese parts.

But to taste the real fruits of Bo­gotá’s culi­nary tra­di­tions, head to Can­de­laria and to Chap­inero – also known as Zone G (for gourmet). For an“off-the-grid”din­ing rec­om­men­da­tion: Estrella de los Rios. It’s a small place

in the more run down Macarena neigh­bor­hood but it has a big rep­u­ta­tion and it may be hard to get a ta­ble. Estrella looks af­ter her guests like they’re fam­ily and word is, if she doesn’t like her guests, she kicks them out – per­haps, again, like fam­ily. She cooks what she likes and changes her mind of­ten – usu­ally Colom­bian to Cuban to Coastal. Av­er­age tab might be $55 for five cour­ses.

Typ­i­cal Colombia dishes can be sum­ma­rized in th­ese four plates:

Arepas: Corn flour based pan­cakes, some­times made with cheese or slightly salted, de­pend­ing on per­sonal taste.

Em­panadas: The clos­est com­par­i­son would be pas­tries or pot­pie. Each re­gion has its own recipe – usu­ally in­volv­ing meat, pota­toes, veg­eta­bles and rice wrapped in a corn flour crust.

Ta­mal: A mix­ture of meat, chicken, po­tato, veg­eta­bles and yel­low corn wrapped in plan­tain leaves and then boiled. Should be ac­com­pa­nied by a large mug of hot choco­late.

Aji­aco: Tra­di­tional thick soup based on pota­toes, chicken, avocado, dairy cream, herbs, corn and other in­gre­di­ents.

Span­ish cui­sine from ta­pas to paella are also fre­quently found among Bo­gotá’s eater­ies. Con­sider Ta­pas Macarena; it’s a tiny, one-room cafe with an open kitchen and a lot of at­mos­phere, where you can in­dulge in small Span­ish-style plates washed down with va­ri­ety of beer and wine pairings. Ex­pect to spend at least $30 per per­son.

La Paella, a restau­rant in Can­de­laria across from a mu­seum de­voted to the life and writ­ings of Colom­bian au­thor Gabriel Gar­cia Mar­quez, serves all man­ner of paella. Down home Colombia spe­cial­ties

can be found at Sopas de Mamma y Postres de la Abuela. Go for aji­aco and san­co­cho broths – save room for the pud­dings.

For Asian fu­sion with a Colom­bian ac­cent, try Harry Sas­son Res­tau­rante. Or go French with a great wine list at La Ta­ble de Michel. Both are in Zona G.

Nightlife is best left to the Zona Rosa. Lively, open late, this is where Bo­gotá finds its mojo when the sun goes down. Lots of mu­sic in th­ese houses of hip­ness – from jazz to salsa to Indie to funk. Ones to hit: In Vitro, fre­quented by film­mak­ers and artists, free ad­mis­sion mid­week. Also The End for late night night­caps and Salto del An­gel for wild times and danc­ing on ta­bles.

If the goal is din­ing and danc­ing, An­dres Carne de Res is the place. Lo­cated in Chía, it’s around 14 miles north to­wards Zi­paquirá – a 45-minute drive from Down­town Bo­gotá. Once found, hun­gry scene-seek­ers will think they’ve died and gone to Dis­ney­land.

An­drés Carne de Res is an amoe­boid, 2.7 square mile sprawl of 11 din­ing ar­eas, two dance clubs, five kitchens, plus a climb­ing wall. This is where Colom­bians go to party. Not a place to dude up or get fancy. Lots of at­mos­phere, lots of folksy fun – a good place to loosen ties and bond with as­so­ci­ates.

Be­yond the City

Mon­ser­rate may be the eas­i­est lo­cal ex­cur­sion to take for time and dis­tance. It’s the most fa­mous peak in Bo­gotá and, at 10,000 feet, of­fers some stun­ning views of the city. A moun­tain­top restau­rant serves French cui­sine in fancy sur­round­ings – an ex­cel­lent choice for im­por­tant meet­ings and guests. A Swiss-made cable car (daily through 11:00 PM, $7.50 roundtrip) takes visi­tors to the top – a 90-minute climb for the ac­tive set, al­though due to ran­dom crimes in the cap­i­tal, walk­ing is highly dis­cour­aged.

A not-to-be-missed out of town ex­cur­sion is Zi­paquira and its fab­u­lous salt cathe­dral. It’s about 33 miles from Bo­gotá in a moun­tain area known for salt mines in op­er­a­tion well be­fore the com­ing of the con­quis­ta­dors. The town was es­tab­lished in 1602 and a cathe­dral dug out of the mines and tun­nels even­tu­ally be­came un­safe. A new cathe­dral was crafted from the sub­ter­ranean sodium chlo­ride a few paces away with spa­ces soar­ing to 75 feet and enough stand­ing space for 10,000 souls. Tours in English, Span­ish, French and Ger­man are con­ducted through­out the day. A sou­venir square in the colo­nial streets makes the jour­ney a fes­tive desti­na­tion.

Another salt cathe­dral and min­ing town can be seen nearby in Ne­mo­con. A great way to get there is by the Tourist Train, a sight­see­ing rail­way ex­cur­sion that leaves from La Sa­bana Sta­tion in Bo­gotá. De­part Bo­gotá at 8:30 AM, ar­rive Zi­paquira at 11:30 AM. The re­turn leaves Zi­paquira at 3:15 PM for a 5:40 PM ar­rival back in Bo­gotá. Roundtrip fare is $22. To make the trip by car av­er­ages two hours.

Lake Gu­atavita is a pow­er­ful iden­tity an­chor in th­ese parts and thought to be the ori­gin of the leg­end of El Do­rado. Muisca kings would have re­li­gious cer­e­monies in the mid­dle of the lake with their bod­ies cov­ered in gold dust. Sac­ri­fi­cial of­fer­ings in the form of gold ob­jects were given to the la­goon and the bot­tom of the sa­cred lake is be­lieved to hold many of th­ese trea­sures to this day. It’s a hike from the drop off point to the lake, about an hour for a roundtrip walk and guides can be found to ex­plain the sights. For­eign­ers pay a $7 en­trance fee.

Par­que Nat­u­ral Chi­caque is a lovely, 750-acre pri­vate re­serve about an hour’s scenic drive from the city. It’s a cloud for­est of eco­log­i­cal paths that run along peaks and across wa­ter­falls for an im­mer­sion in the magic of the Colom­bian coun­try­side. There’s a restau­rant there and tree houses for overnight lodg­ing. Bird and but­ter­fly species abound and su­per-trained eyes may light upon some of the UFOs that have been re­ported there.

For more in­for­ma­tion visit colombia. travel/en/ BT

Clock­wise: La Can­de­laria Colo­nial dis­trict, view of the fi­nan­cial dis­trict, La Can­de­laria, his­toric neigh­bor­hood in down­town Bo­gota, Golden mask in the Gold Mu­seum

Pho­tos: En­tree found at Sopas de Mamma y Postres, view of open kitchen at Ta­pas Macarena

Pho­tos: Zi­paquira salt cathe­dral, Lake Gu­atavita

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