Emeralds and culinary delights.
One of South America’s premier cultural destinations, Bogotá has evolved beyond the shadowy history of its scandalous past into an abundant playground of luxury tourist attractions. While the formality of the Colombian capital is still evident in the monumental colonial buildings and free museums scattered throughout the city’s districts, the cordial semblance of order is dwarfed by a passionate liveliness that extends throughout its winding, graffiti-lined streets.
Experiencing the best of Bogotá with only four days to spare requires some research. As a sleepdeprived columnist, adjusting to a significantly higher altitude, convenience and comfort are high on my list of hotel priorities. Fortunately, the NH Collection Bogotá Teleport Royal Hotel, which is a contemporary upscale hotel, is nestled into the beautiful northern section of Bogotá. This is also where the longest continental mountain range in the world, the Andes, meets a vibrant business district and surrounding elegant neighborhoods. The NH spa treatments, expansive suites, and marble bathrooms were truly impressive.
The heart of the city’s art scene lies within Bogotá’s first official neighborhood, La Candelaria. This trendy, bohemian district is defined by its old-world charm and historical relevance. Although I only had one day to roam the cobblestone streets, there are a few must see attractions. Start early at the Museo Del Oro, one of South America’s best museums, with a selection of the largest collection of pre-hispanic gold art in the world. Perfectly preserved relics are exhibited alongside bilingual descriptions that illustrate the many different cultures that once resided here. On Sundays, entrance is complimentary after 3pm.
There is a large artisan market across the street, which I quickly discovered was a mecca for poncho and gift shopping. Bring cash and buy in bulk because the garment quality and prices are incredible. My adventure continued down Calle 11 to the Museo Botero, a free modern art museum that houses an internationally acclaimed
collection donated by renowned Colombian artist, Fernando Botero. The space is stunning and peaceful, with garden-lined fountains and art by Picasso, Monet, Matisse, Dalí, and Botero himself.
A trip of this nature would not be complete without an in-depth look into the booming culinary scene of this lively cosmopolitan capital. Within its mountainous landscape, I experienced everything from street food to canapés. Bogotá delivered with both variety and ingenuity. I had the pleasure of watching Top Chef Spain and Master Chef Colombia judge, Paco Roncero, create a series of plates for the Collection Bogotá Teleport Royal Hotel’s gala. He is the culinary advisor for the hotel group. My inner foodie was at once spoiled and star struck. His scientific flair for molecular gastronomy has earned him a variety of accolades including a two-michelin star award. When asked where he would choose to have his last meal on earth, he quickly replied, “With Andres Carne del Res”.
Located just beyond the outskirts of Bogotá, the indescribable combination of fine dining and allnight dance club atmosphere was well worth the drive. Upon arrival, guests are treated to a large shot of aguardiente (direct translation: firewater), Colombia’s national alcoholic drink. My initiation was complete. The restaurant itself is a surreal disco town that seats 2000 people, has a 19-page menu, and is 2.76 miles square. I dined on a selection of small plates and Argentinian steak while costumed entertainers roamed the candlelit alleys and neon dance floors between tables.
Alternately, if you’re looking to keep the party within the downtown district, the Gaira Café Cumbia House is my recommendation for live music and a coastal inspired menu. Owned by popular Colombian singer, Carlos Vives, the piñata filled multi-level restaurant is impressively designed with a stage that hosts an 11-piece house band.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed shopping for ponchos, I wasn’t leaving Bogotá without an emerald. The eastern portion of the Andes, between Boyaca and Cundinamarca, is where most Colombian emeralds are mined. I found beautiful, high-quality specimens from a mine in Muzo at Don Esteban Joyeros in the Centro Comercial Hacienda Santa Bárbara (conveniently located around the corner from my hotel). The house jeweler had my new ring re-sized within 48 hours, spoke a bit of English, and certified all of his stones. The overall experience was so lovely that I returned with the entire British press team to show them where to purchase emeralds.
The transformation of Bogotá continues to fascinate those willing to push past its somewhat modest exteriors. The mentality of insurgency is no longer. Crime rates continue to decrease as business development booms. In the past five years, the city’s streets have steadily filled with tourists looking to uncover the cultural gems that lie within this urban jungle. With a population almost equal to that of New York City, the contagious buzz of Bogotá is certain to satisfy all the senses.