Bogota nightscape // © 2007 Candor, Flickr.com
The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá, built in the underground tunnels of a salt mine located just outside of Bogota is must-visit attraction for first-time visitors to the city // (c) 2011 Monica Poling
Zona T // © 2009 amanderson2
The Museo de Oro features artifacts from Colombia’s pre-Hispanic era // © 2011 Monica Poling
Bogota’s Catedral Primada // © 2005 Pablo De Medina, Flickr.com
San Isidro Restaurant, at the summit of Monserrate offers delicious French cuisine and romantic views of Bogota // © 2011 Monica Poling
Prior to my first trip to Bogota, some 10 years ago, friends would forward to me article clips and dire state department warnings about the dangers of traveling to Colombia. The not-so-subtle subtext, of course, being some form of, “Are you crazy?” I wasn’t particularly worried; my travel karma isn’t really one that attracts dangerous adventure.
Still, once in Bogota, I was surprised to find a city far more cosmopolitan than I expected. The teeming social scene included a large variety of trendy dining and shopping options, all at amazingly affordable prices. The people were friendly and kind — and gorgeous. What’s more, they seemed to exude a certain type of buoyant happiness that was 100 percent contagious.
Some 10 years later, upon planning my second trip, very few people even mentioned the travel warning, which continues to have some harshly worded text about the dangers of traveling to and around Colombia. Despite the warning, American travelers are clearly cluing in to Colombia’s appeal.
Bogota itself seems to have grown even larger and more upscale (with the requisite jump in prices), and if anything the people seem happier — and more beautiful — than ever.
At 8,660 feet, Bogota is the world’s third-highest capital (only La Paz, Bolivia, and Quito, Ecuador, are higher). Clients visiting this tall capital for the first time should be sure to include the following attractions in their itinerary:Zona T
Any lingering doubts your clients may have that Colombia is not the rebel-ravaged country depicted by the U.S. State Department’s Travel Warning will be squashed after spending five minutes in Bogota’s chic Zona T area. By day, the cobblestone passageway is a shopper’s paradise, housing such fashionable malls as Centro Andino, Atlantis Plaza and El Retiro, which are filled with the likes of Lacoste, Louis Vuitton, Versace, Bulgari and Cartier as well as countless upscale Colombian retailers. After dark, the area becomes a non-stop party as dozens of discos, restaurants and pubs set the scene.Museo del Oro
The best way to take a quick spin through Colombia’s pre-Hispanic history is by touring the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum.) The museum was founded in 1939, after Banco de la Republica (Bank of the Republic) purchased an historic artifact known as the poporo quimbaya, in order to save it from destruction.
The museum, a National Monument, is considered the world’s largest of its kind. It contains about 34,000 pieces of gold and an additional 20,000 objects made of bone, stone, ceramics and textiles, all belonging to indigenous cultures.
In addition to presenting a dazzling line up of artwork, the museum also displays a pictorial timeline with each exhibit in order to create a better understanding of the region’s earliest cultures.
The museum is free of charge on Sundays, and offers English-guided tours Tuesdays through Saturdays.www.banrep.gov.coBogota’s Historic Center
Clients should plan to spend at least a half day in Bogota’s historic center. A good starting point is Bolivar Square, where visitors can explore Bogota’s Catedral Primada (Primary Cathedral) and the Holy Chapel. Adjacent to the cathedral are the Casa de Narino (President’s offices), the Congress of the Republic, the Supreme Court of Justice, and the Mayor’s Office. Worth visiting is the Quinta de Bolivar, a Spanish architecture museum consisting of objects and documents that belonged to Simón Bolívar, who led Colombia to independence from the Spanish.
Beyond Bolivar Square, the historic district also houses a neighborhood known as La Candelaria, where the houses are preserved in original Colonial style, with latticed windows, carved doors and red tile roofs.
The Gold Museum — also located in Bogota’s historic center — is part of a larger cultural complex that includes the Art Museum of the Bank of the Republic, the Botero Museum, the Luis Ángel Arango Library, the Temporary Exhibits Hall, the Collection of Musical Instruments, the Concert Hall and the Mint House.
In particular, the Botero Museum is a must-see attraction for visitors. Fernando Botero, a Colombian artist known for his series of “fat people,” donated his personal collection of work to the city of Bogota in 2004.www.colombia.travel/enMonserrate
In a city that is almost 9,000 feet above sea level, what else is there to do but continue to go up? Monserrate, the mountain that dominates the Bogota’s city center, reaches 10,341 feet at its peak. Visitors can reach the summit by cable car, funicular rail or they can follow in the footsteps of the thousands of pilgrims that make the trek up the mountain every month on foot. At its summit are a church (known simply as Sanctuary), two restaurants and breathtaking views of Bogota.
The restaurants at the summit, Santa Clara (Colombian cuisine) and San Isidro (French cuisine), are popular with tourists but do not fit the tourist trap mold. Both serve authentic, delicious cuisine. Both are also popular as a date night location due to their romantic setting (although reservations are recommended after dark).www.cerromonserrate.comZipaquira’s Salt Cathedral
A not-to-be-missed attraction just outside of Bogota is a visit to the Zipaquira’s Salt Cathedral; a Roman Catholic Church built within the tunnels of a salt mine some 600 feet underground. In the early ‘30s, years before the current cathedral was built, salt miners had carved out a sanctuary in the mine where they could say their daily prayers. Built largely of salt however, and inside an active mine, the original structure was deemed unstable and shut down. Construction of a new cathedral began in 1991 and was opened to the public in 1995.
More than “just a church,” the cathedral walks visitors through the 14 Stations of the Cross, a visual depiction of the final hours of Jesus Christ. Each station consists of a tunnel with a salt-carved cross, backlit with phosphorescent light, representing a seminal moment in Christ’s final hours. The simplicity of these carvings is haunting and certainly as compelling as the more ornate churches of Europe.
While inside the cathedral, visitors can also catch fleeting glances of miners headlights bobbing in the pitch-black distance, a chilling look at life in the mines. Visitors interested in the mining experience can take a security-escorted, 30-minute tour. For the less intrepid, a 3-D movie depicting how salt is developed is also available.www.colombia.travel/en