Bogota is shaking off a drug-trade past and letting its entrepreneurial, warm and creative true self shine through
Where to stay
Leading hotel group NH Hotels expanded last year with the acquisition of 10 hotels in Bogotá. CEO Federico González Tejera chose Colombia because of “the ease of doing business” and the healthy relationship between the Spanish-based chain and the entrepreneurial government, which has resulted in NH flourishing in the city.
The flagship hotel, the five-star NH Collection Bogotá Teleport Royal, shines out proudly in the financial district and is a great choice for business travellers seeking top service and amenities mixed with a splash of local panache.
It offers everything needed from a high-end business hotel – there’s a spa and pool and the well-equipped bedrooms are spacious with huge beds and powerful showers. The city’s vibrant personality is evident in the hotel’s detail – from the interiors to the delicious food to the friendliness of staff.
Where to eat and drink
Bogotá is a foodie capital with street stalls and industrial chic cafés sitting alongside fine-dining restaurants and chi chi cocktail bars (they claim to close at 3am but often only wind down as the sun comes up). Fusion food is big with many restaurateurs, who add Italian, Californian, Peruvian or pan-Asian influences to local dishes.
Gaira Café – owned by vallenato [folk music] legend Carlos Vives – sits in a side street, but enter through a lobby of twinkly lights and candles and a Virgin Mary with illuminated wings welcomes you silently before you feast on Colombian tapas. Meanwhile, a band entertains, playing everything from the Jackson 5 to Bonnie Tyler.
Make time to visit Andrés Carne de Res – 23km out of the city but a bucket-list destination with fantastic steaks, great cocktails, infectious dancing and Eighties drug barons (actors) joining you on the dance floor. It’s enormous and holds 2,000 – but don’t let that put you off.
Trees are festooned with fairy lights, pavements are lined with fibreglass cows and a face-painted hostess welcomes you with a shot of firewater. There is not a single inch of boring ceiling or wall – look up and you’ll see decorated dolls, go to the loo and the cistern is illustrated with an octopus, order wine and it arrives in a hand-painted bottle.
What to see
There is so much to see in this enormous capital but walking can be at a slower pace because of the altitude – sip coca tea to help. Stroll around La Candelaria district where multicoloured houses and colonial palaces sit alongside cool bars, coffee shops and art galleries.
If you enjoy museums, indulge your inner Indiana Jones at the shiny Museo del Oro. Another must-see is Santuario Monserrate, 3,152m above sea level and a landmark since 1657. The original chapel was destroyed by an earthquake in 1917 and replaced in 1920 by the current building, but visitors come for the views and the 1656 wooden statue of Jesus carved by Pedro de Lugo Albarracín.
A cable car takes you up the mountain in about 10 minutes. Finally, try to visit the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá – the underground edifice is one of only three in the world. Made from around 250,000 tonnes of salt, the magical, moody, ethereal sight will astonish and silence you with its beauty.
Hints and tips
Bogotá is far safer than it was but it pays to keep your wits about you and don’t walk around alone at night. Be aware of altitude sickness – visitors acclimatise after a few days but symptoms include headaches, breathlessness or lassitude.
For the flight
The government may be working hard to put the violent years in the past but the country’s complicated history is fascinating. Colombian novelist Laura Restrepo’s Delirium navigates political and personal instability in Eighties Bogotá and journalist Garry Leech’s Beyond Bogotá (he was captured by Farc, Colombia’s largest leftist rebel group) reports on how the country’s troubles have affected citizens.
A must-read is Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez’s 1967 novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. Marquez, working as a foreign correspondent, criticised the Colombian government so much that he forced himself into exile. For your tablet download the thriller Perro Come Perro (Dog Eat Dog) or Netflix’s superb Narcos about the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar.