New Visions of Bogota, Colombia

Ready and Waiting for Tourists

By Sandra Scott

TravelLady Magazine
Copyright 1995-2007 TravelLady Magazine  





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 Florentine.

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 money.

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.


Sandra Scott


Tours & Tourism in Bogotá

TravelLady Magazine

Full set of articles on Tourism in Bogota









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