Whatever impression people have of Bogota it is sure
to be wrong if they have never visited the capital of Colombia or have
not visited recently. Our first impression on the drive from the airport
to the Crown Plaza Tequendama Hotel in the heart of the city was how
green the city is. A wide green area separates the divided highway, the
mountains that ring the city are tree-covered, and there are plenty of
parks. This is especially impressive because the population is about the
same as New York City.
The Crown Plaza is the grand old lady of Bogota located in the center of
the city with easy access to all the tourist spots. The climate is such
that air conditioning is not usually necessary and not available at the
Crown Plaza. The service was excellent from the moment the traditionally
garbed bellboy, complete with a pillbox hat, greeted us to our final
checkout on the executive floor. The lobby, which is reminiscent of the
grand hotels of Europe, has a mural that depicts the creation of the
world according to the indigenous people of Colombia.
Most impressive in Bogota is the Candelaria area where the colonial
style buildings have been beautifully preserved. The Cathedral fronts on
the large Plaza Bolivar and is just one of many churches in the district.
Most have ornate golden altars. Each church is unique such as the red
and white Iglesia de Maria del Carmen, which is a blend of gothic and
The large open plaza is also home to the Palace of Justice that has been
restored since the 1999 storming by guerillas. Above the portal is the
thought provoking phrase, “Arms will make you free, but laws will give
you liberty.” The city has a full contingent of military and police,
which ironically makes Bogota very safe, at no time in any place in
Columbia did we feel our safety was in jeopardy.
One of the best pastimes is wandering the streets of Candelaria admiring
the colonial architecture. Each street is a photo opportunity with
brightly colored buildings, many with intricate balconies, some with
privacy screens and others laden with flowers, but always with the green
mountains as a backdrop. Many of the buildings still carry the
traditional names of the streets such as Calle del Olivo.
There is always something interesting to see on the streets – musicians,
street performers, and vendors selling handicrafts. There is artwork in
the parks and even eye-catching statues of people in everyday poses.
Colombia’s best-known artist, Fernando Botero, donated his collection to
Bogota. It includes impressionist works by Picasso, Monet, and Calder
but it's the work of Botero that is the most interesting. Always easy to
recognize, Botero celebrates plumpness. He brings fun to art by
depicting himself in rotund form as the El Presidente, El Capitan, and
El Guerrilla. Adjacent to the Donacion Botero Museum there are other
museums including one devoted to religious artifacts and another about
The most famous museum in Bogota is the Gold Museum. With only one-third
of the 35,000 pieces on display it is still the world’s largest
collection of gold ornamentation, it is especially thought provoking to
realize that most of the gold was hauled away by the Spanish. When the
doors of the circular Salon de la Ofrenda close music pierces the
darkness, slowly the golden objects are highlighted symbolizing gifts
offered by the indigenous people to restore the balance and harmony in
the universe. Nearby the brilliant gold of the Muisca Raft is dazzling
in the spotlight and surrounded by blackness, which brings out the
intricate detailed workmanship.
The Museo Nacional de Colombia, housed in a converted fort-like jail,
explains Colombia tumultuous history. Gostinos Restaurant, with a view
of the Museo from the floor-to-ceiling window makes a great place for a
shrimp or lobster meal. At Gostinos the Mixed Ceviches (marinated
seafood salad) served on clamshells feature shrimp with a variety of
unique sauces created by the owner, Santiago, and his chef. All are
wonderful from the Mexican to the Italian to the Mango Ceviche. Santiago
is a supporter of the Slow Food movement. A reaction to the fast food
restaurants, Slow Food proponents take the time to enjoy every aspect of
dining - the look and the smell, plus savoring the taste. A meal at
Gosinos personifies the Slow Food concept, it is a place to relax and
enjoy eating. The meal should include the typical drink, Corozo, a
frothy swirl of milky and dark rose-colored palm juice, with a
refreshing taste similar to cranberry. Of course, a meal has to end with
Juan Valdez’s signature drink, coffee. Juan Valdez coffee shops are the
found in many parts of the city.
Part of the charm of Bogota is the presence of the green mountains
especially Monserrate which is visible from most parts of the city and
easily recognized because it is crowned with El Santuario de Monserrate.
With spectacular views of the city it is easily reached by a cable car
or by a grueling uphill trek which is the path of pilgrims on Sunday.
For the perfect day trip from Bogota take the high road along the
mountains to Zipaquira to see the magnificent salt cathedral. On the way
stop outside of Bogota at the vista spot to see Bogota spread out in the
valley far below. The drive to Zipaquira is beautiful with green valleys
and cows grazing in the fields making one think of Switzerland.
The cathedral is the focal point of Zipaquira’s brick central plaza
ringed by traditional buildings but it is only a short distance from the
center of town to the magnificent subterranean cathedral built in salt
mines that were in use even before the arrival of the Spaniards. It
especially impressive on Sundays when mass is held and music can be
heard in all the chapels and walkways. Along the way to the main altar
there are Stations of the Cross. Especially impressive is the altar in
front of a waterfall of stalagmites behind a font used for baptisms.
There are plenty of things to do in Bogota, including shopping. The
Crown Plaza has many shops plus it is connected to a large mall. But,
there are many, many malls in Bogota that will satisfy the shopping urge
of even the most dedicated shopper, including Salitre Plaza with 237
trademark shops, 37 food establishments plus five restaurants, the
biggest indoor play area in the city, and a multi cinema complex. The
ten-year old plaza receives 52,000 shoppers a day.
An article in El Tiempo, the leading newspaper in Colombia, reported
that the growth of foreign tourism to Colombia increased 12% last year;
whereas, in the rest of the world the average increase was only 4.5%. It
is easy to understand why. Colombia has much to offer from cities to
fincas to mountains to the Caribbean.