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Bogotá: Closer To The Stars

Nov 1, 2008
2008 / November 2008

Bogotá, dubbed the “Athens of South America” for its well-educated and polite citizenry, is statistically a safer city than Madrid — at least according to the Colombian Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators. The organization is more than eager to push tourism to new plateaus, aiming to improve on the record number of visitors to Colombia in the past two years — more than 1 million in 2006 and 2 million in 2007. Despite predictions and fears of a global economic slowdown in 2008, Bogotá, Colombia’s capital city, is projected to continue growing.

As Bogotanos will inform you, the city high up on the altiplano is 8,530 feet closer to the stars and is considered the cultural, financial and tourist heartbeat of Colombia. More secure than Caracas and more accessible than Quito, Bogotá is reveling in its contemporary importance.

Increased stability — the obvious work of the mano dura (literally “hard fist”) campaign of President Alvaro Uribe in his second term — looks to be bearing fruit, at least on the surface. His conservative policy of zero tolerance, backed by the U.S. government and President Bush, has its detractors, but there’s nothing like a safe city to boost a president’s ratings. After hitting record highs last summer, Uribe’s approval rating, according to Gallup estimates, leveled off at 78 percent in September.

It is Bogotá’s internationally recognized academic institutions, tourism boom and AAA financial qualification that are making the capital so attractive to foreign investors. Projections show the city increasing year on year beyond the 7.5 percent growth of the Colombian economy in 2007 and the million tourists who visited Bogotá in the past two years.

Bogotá has it all and has it in quantity: the lofty heights of the chapel at Monserrate, the high-rise buildings of the international business centers, the colonial rooftops of the Candelaria district and, beyond, the invasiones where families displaced by the long-running internal conflict have taken up residence on the edges of the city.

If the numbers of foreign tourists seeking quality and affordable cosmetic surgery and those attending international events such as the Iboamerican Theatre Festival continue to climb, this Andean city just might become the key international and cosmopolitan focal point of northern South America.



This affordable and largely undiscovered addition to Bogotá’s boutique hotel scene is located in La Candelaria, just a stone’s throw from the curiosities in this area. High beams and cozy brick walls adorn all 10 of the guestrooms. Despite its downtown location, the hotel is a mere 15 minutes from the airport. Internet access is available all through the building, so you can easily withdraw to one of the verdant courtyards with your laptop. The hotel is planning an expansion that will include 12 suites and a spa.$$
Calle 9 No. 6 – 45, La Candelaria
tel 57 1 281 0811


Despite its location on one of the capital’s busiest thoroughfares, as soon as you step into this regal establishment all thoughts of the hustle and bustle are left at the door. Choose the level of accommodation to suit your needs — the 58 elegantly decorated guestrooms range from the standard deluxe room to the far more extravagant suite with a fireplace to ward off the Bogotá evening chill. All guestrooms are equipped with WiFi and cable television. $$$$
Cra 7 No. 69A – 22
tel 57 1 217 0288


One block from the seat of Colombian power and the Plaza de Bolívar in the colonial center known as La Candelaria, La Ópera is a triumphant display of style and substance. Two colonial-era mansions have been combined to create one of Bogotá’s most opulent establishments. Unrivaled views of this unique area are offered from the hotel’s El Mirador restaurant. For those needing further R&R, La Ópera specializes in spa treatments. Internet is available in the rooms.$$$
Calle 10 No. 5 – 72, La Candelaria
tel 57 1 336 5285



Situated in an elegant townhouse beside the Parque Nacional is Carbon de Palo, where diners come to fulfill their carnivorous needs. Finely prepared cuts of beef are grilled over glowing coals and washed down by libations drawn from a decent wine list. While this is part of a chain, you won’t find the hoi polloi dining here, and the attention is second to none — making this a place to remember and revisit.$$
Carrera 6 No. 35 – 52
tel 57 1 287 8847


This is just about the most exclusive restaurant in Bogotá, where — if you can get a reservation — you’ll be rubbing shoulders with actors, politicians and the Colombian high and mighty. Rather than gawk at your fellow diners, tuck into a sumptuous feast of róbalo fillet wrapped in banana leaves or shrimp sautéed in coconut milk, cilantro and peppers. Chef Leonor Espinosa has thoroughly investigated the theme of Colombian cuisine and personally sources the ingredients from far and wide through Colombia’s various regions. One of Bogotá’s best — and supposedly in the top 80 restaurants worldwide.$$$
Calle 27B No. 6 – 75, La Macarena
tel 57 1 2867091


Angle for a table on the atmospheric ground floor and then settle back for some mouth-watering antipasti followed by a risotto or stone-baked pizza. This longstanding Italian restaurant oozes an authentic quality that gives it the edge over so many other establishments in the Zona T area. In order to ensure a table at weekends you are advised to call ahead.$$
Calle 83 No. 12 – 20
tel 57 1 257 2088

Checking in with Elsa Victoria Muñoz Gómez
Director of the Bogotá Institute for Tourism

Global Traveler: How has Bogotá changed in the past decade, including in terms of safety?

Elsa Victoria Muñoz Gómez: Bogotá is finally in fashion and the statistics are showing this — 53 percent of all foreigners arriving in Colombia now come through Bogotá. Our city is strategically located as the gateway to South America, and the profile of people arriving ranges from businesspeople to visitors coming to our festivals to backpackers.

We have increased security and now have a full generation of citizens who have a feeling of belonging in the capital; before this was not the case. We have accomplished this with the eradication of coca plantations and the capture of some major drug cartels, along with the demobilization of armed groups such as the paramilitaries. And there is now a process of inclusion, providing jobs and income, which also helps.

GT: Why is Bogotá a draw for business and tourism?

EMG: Bogotá is incredibly competitive and we can boast that in northern South America this is the only truly multicultural and international capital city. Not only do we have people from all corners of Colombia living here, this is a real hub for everything from business to rural tourism to cosmetic tourism.

GT: What are your biggest hopes for Bogotá?

EMG: We need to build on the services that Bogotá offers, not only in the tourism sector but also on a social level. We need to strengthen the attractions that we already have, such as the Candelaria, Monserrate and environmental tourism. We need to integrate the capital with the surrounding areas, to share in the benefits. I would like to see people not only enjoying the city but also neighboring towns like Sopo and Suesca. We need to increase the security, improve our transport networks and place an emphasis on the environment to make Bogotá a priority destination where people plan to stay longer.


No trip to Bogotá could be considered complete without a visit to the world-renowned Museo del Oro (Calle 16 No. 5 – 42, tel 57 1 343 1424, http://www.banrep.gov.co/museo), situated in the city’s colonial Candelaria district. In the same area, head over a few blocks past the opulent Plaza de Bolívar to the Museo Botero (Calle 11 No. 4 – 41) to see the works donated by Medellin-born artist Fernando Botero, referred to by Colombians as “the man who paints fat people.” Other sites worth noting are the Museo Arqueologico in the Casa del Marques de San Jorge (Carrera 6 No. 7 – 43), which houses a stunning collection of pre-Columbian ceramics, and the Museo de Arte Colonial (Carrera 6 No. 9 – 77, tel 57 1 286 6768), with austere and provoking works dating back to the colonial period in varying styles, mixing the old world with the new.

For a bird’s-eye view of the city, take the funicular or cable car up to the top of the Cerro de Monserrate (Carrera 2 Este No. 21 – 48, tel 57 1 284 5700, http://www.cerromonserrate.com), where at 10,000 feet above sea level you’ll see absolutely everything.

In the true style of a Latin American capital city, Bogotá also offers unstoppable nightlife, fashionable bars and fine dining. For a flavor of some of the rumba Bogotana make your way to the Zona Rosa (Calles 79 – 85 between Carreras 11 and 15) or to the Parque de la 93 (Calles 93A – 93B between Carreras 11A and 13).

Just the Facts

Time Zone: GMT– 6
Phone Code: 57 for Colombia + 1 for Bogotá
Currency: peso
Entry/Exit Requirements: U.S. citizens are not required to obtain a visa prior to arrival in Colombia, just a valid passport with at least six months remaining and a return ticket. On entry a visa stamp will be provided for 30 or 60 days; with a renewal you can stay up to 90 days. Upon leaving Colombia, an airport tax is required, but it is waived for people who have been in the country under 72 hours or who are in transit. The tax varies depending on whether you have spent 30 days or more; it is best to check with your airline or hotel to see in which bracket you fall. For the latest information, check the Web site of the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá, Colombia (http://bogota.usembassy.gov/).
Official Language: Spanish
Key Industries: Coal, natural gas, agriculture, mining, tourism


All international flights arrive at Bogotá’s dated El Dorado International Airport (BOG), about nine miles west of city center. It is currently undergoing an upgrade that may take years. It is the largest airport in Colombia and the major air gateway to the rest of the country, handling more than 12 million passengers a year. At first glance it appears that Bogotá’s transit system is a tribute to mayhem, but after a few days in the capital some sense can be made of the Transmilenio bus system. If in doubt, just take one of Bogotá’s numerous and inexpensive yellow cabs, although you are advised to order them through your hotel. A reputable company is Taxi Express. For more information, visit http://www.bogotaturismo.gov.co .


FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.


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