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Business Travel Guide: Bogotá, Colombia

There are so many golden legends anchored in our memory about Colombia that, upon landing in its capital, Santa Fé de Bogotá, we expected to set foot in a mythical land. But today, Eldorado is only the name of the airport. The days of the quest for gold are long gone. Today, any gold in Bogotá is purely the result of hard work and commercial or industrial activity. Bogotá is foremost a modern business city.

During "la Violencia" in 1948, some of the rich Colonial and Republican architecture in the city was torched, looted and destroyed. Architects rushed to reconstruct, oblivious to the past. As a result, the city today is composed of heteroclitic high rises, aligned along Avenidas and Calles and often clogged with heavy traffic. Even at an elevation of 2,560 meters and nestled in the middle of the Andes, it's hard to escape the modern feel of this city.

With a population of nine million, Bogotá is home to an intense intellectual, artistic and political life. It's also the seat of many multinational companies and the strategic financial and economic hub of the country. Boasting 30 universities, Bogotá is South America's intellectual mecca. Colombian writers and philosophers are highly regarded throughout the continents. Thank God, the old City—the Centro Historico—has escaped destruction and deterioration, as witnessed in the awesome La Candelaria quarter, around la Plaza Bolivar with its cobble-stone streets, imposing monuments and multitude of churches, museums, book stores and brightly-painted Colonial houses with carved doorways and sheltering eaves.

The décor reminds us that the city named after the Indian chef Bacata was founded by Jimenez de Quesada (born in Santa Fé) and became the capital of La Nueva Granada that comprised Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Panama. Following its independence from Spain, it also became the capital of Gran Colombia formed from the same states. Today it's just the capital of Colombia the Distrito Capital (DC). Authorities contend that the city is safe—which is true if you don't wander into the southern part of town, especially at night. But indeed, at night most of the streets are empty save for the Zona Rossa with its many restaurants, clubs, coffee shops, supermarkets and hotels.

Facts to Know Before You Go

Currency: Colombian Peso

Bogotá's unit of currency is the Colombian peso, and it is the only means of payment. The exchange rate fluctuates daily. Check the it at www.xe.com for daily rates. US dollars are not accepted anywhere, except in some hotels, and only the large hotels offer currency exchange. Exchange houses and banks require visitors to fill out an "exchange form" and leave a photocopy of their passport. The best way to obtain pesos is via credit or debit cards. We recommend taking several different cards to ensure maximum flexibility. VISA, MasterCard, Diners Club and American Express are accepted virtually everywhere. Banks will provide cash advances as long as you produce your passport for identification. There are scores of ATM machines usually with both Spanish and English language options.

Transportation:

Bogotá's airport in Santafe de Bogotá is the El Dorado airport and has only two terminals. The main terminal services international flights, while the Puente Areo is for domestic flights, although Avianca Airlines flights to the United States do in fact leave from the Puente Areo terminal. Shuttles, known as busetas travel between the two terminals; however, they do not run regularly. We recommend checking with the airline's information counter upon arrival at the airport. Also, note that the counters are open during peak hours only. Option B is to check with a travel agency at one of the airline company's downtown sales counters when confirming your return flight. If that's all too much trouble, you can simply hop in a taxi at a cost of 5,000 pesos to travel between the two terminals. During the day you can also take a colectivo (shared taxi), or an Aerovan (minibus).

To travel into town from the airport, buses stop in front of both terminals, and tese are safe to take during the day. The city now has first-class buses or ejecutivos complete with washrooms. However, if you arrive at night, avoid the buses, as the area is not safe at night. Even locals suggest grabbing a taxi from the airport after sundown. Taxis wait outside the terminals and cost 10,000 pesos to travel downtown by day. At night the driver can charge double fare. Taxis are efficient, clean and inexpensive and can be flagged down anywhere on the street or can be called via telephone. All taxis have meters; do insist that the drivers use them. Several categories of buses operate in Bogotá with prices varying up to 100 pesos (a few cents). The route and final destination are written on a piece of cardboard placed in the windshield. There are also super ejecutivos, which are air-conditioned and have TVs.

Information:

You can read the Bogotá Daily online in English at www.Bogotádaily.com and the Bogotá Free Planet at www.Bogotáfreeplanet.com. These are not local papers, but rather daily news stories about Bogotá compiled by US media outlets. Spanish-language papers available are El Espectador and El Tiempo.

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Where to Stay

Bohème Royal
Calle 82 No. 12-35
571-644-7100
Boheme Royal

Modern and comfortable, the Bohème Royal is located in the Zona Rosa, close to numerous nightclubs, shopping and restaurants. Among the hotel's 66 rooms are eight business suites with contemporary décor and noise-reducing double-glazed windows. Also available are several small boardrooms suitable for business meetings. The 24-hour business center offers free Internet access. Room service is available and there is an on-site restaurant and bar. Valet parking is free; a concierge can assist with most travel needs.


Crowne Plaza Hotel Tequendama
Carrera 10 No. 26-21
Bogotá, 0000
800-496-762
www.ichotelsgroup.com

Crowne Plaza Hotel Tequendama

The Crowne Plaza Tequendama is a deluxe property only six miles from the El Dorado International Airport, making it an excellent choice for business travelers. The hotel offers complimentary breakfast, ATM machines, currency exchange, secretarial services and a well-equipped business center. Relax in the sauna, whirlpool, and fitness center after a hard day's business dealings. All 587 rooms cater to the up-market traveler, with high-speed Internet access, satellite TV, in-room safes and valet services.

Four Points by Sheraton Bogotá
Avenida Eldorado No. 69C-80
571-210-5000
www.starwoodhotels.com

Four Points by Sheraton Bogota

Also conveniently located just five minutes for El Dorado International Airport, and a mere seven blocks from the United States Embassy, the Four Points by Sheraton Bogotá is a little on the smaller side but it's still a great hotel for those in town on business. With 248 rooms and eight separate meeting rooms, there's plenty of space for that important meeting. Free airport transportation, free parking facilities and round-the-clock concierge service and business center access are also available. The hotel also boasts three restaurants: Chimney's, serving international cuisine, the Boston Piano Bar, and the Cooks Restaurant, which serves Italian fare.

Radisson Royal Bogotá Hotel
Calle 114 No. 9-65
Teleport Business Park
888-201-1718
571-629-5599
www.radisson.com/Bogotáco

Radisson Royal Bogota Hotel

Known as a favorite with business and leisure travelers alike, the Radisson Royal Bogotá is characterized by its excellent location in the Teleport Business Park, just five minutes from the Bogotá World Trade Center and 35 minutes from the El Dorado International Airport. The Radisson Royal is also close to many corporate businesses, shopping, entertainment, and the Usaquen area, a popular location filled with restaurants and bars. The hotel boasts 251 sound-proof guest rooms and suites with panoramic views of the city, and all necessary amenities: high-speed wireless Internet, cable TV and voicemail. After a hard day's work, perhaps in one of the hotel's twelve meeting rooms, relax in the indoor heated swimming pool or work out in the fitness center complete with steam bath, whirlpool, beauty salon and massage room.

Sofitel Bogotá Victoria Regia
Carrera 13 No. 85-80
571-621-2666
www.sofitel.com

Sofitel Bogota Victoria Regia

This hotel features 99 rooms with three non-smoking floors, WiFi internet, business center, 24-hour room service, 24-hour gym, Mediterranean cuisine at Basilic restaurant, bar and terrace, voicemail and cable TV in each room. It also has three meetings rooms for those all-important business meetings and can accommodate up to 100 people. Located fifteen kilometers from Eldorado airport and five kilometers from the city center, the hotel is within walking distance to a wide variety of shopping centers, luxury boutiques and restaurants.

Where to Dine


Astrid y Gaston
Carrera 7A, No. 67-64     
571-211-1400
www.astridygaston.com

14/20
$$$$$

This Peruvian restaurant shines a beacon on Peruvian cuisine, which plays a significant role in South American gastronomy.  A clientele of connoisseurs comes here for the perfect ceviches that are served with style.

Casa San Isidro 
Cerro de Monserrate
Paseo Bolivar Estacion Funicular 2 Piso
571-281-9309

14/20
$$$$$

Casa San Isidro

Established near the church of Monserratte overlooking the city of Bogotá, this classy restaurant specializes in seafood. Take the cable car up 2,000 feet to this swanky eatery. The architecture and décor are classic and the restaurant dates back to 1928 when members of the government, artists, and wealthy executives would come here to eat. Seafood specialties include conger eel, sole, and salmon or lobster, squid and shrimp, which can all be enjoyed with a dizzying choice of wines from around the world.

Criterion
69A No. 5-75
571-310-1377

13/20
$$$$$

Said to be the only place where foie gras can be savored in Bogotá. The two brothers who own the place—Jorge and Mark Rousch—trained in England and Canada and find their inspiration in modern French cuisine with their own unique twist.

Harry Sasson
Calle 83 No. 12-49   
571-616-4520
www.harrysasson.com

12/20
$$$$$

Harry Sasson

This is the Colombian rendition of a chic brasserie.  Under a high ceiling and with views of a handsomely-decorated and exposed kitchen, well-heeled diners appreciate and share the warm ambiance of Harry Sasson and the restaurant's paellas and rice preparations. This is one of the most sought-after eateries in Bogotá.



Leo Cocina y Cava
Pasaje Santa Cruz de Mompox
Calle 27B No. 6-75
571-286-7091

13/20
$$$$$

Leo Cocina y Cava

Chef Leonor Espinosa is the star of the Colombian kitchen and politicians and affluent businessmen crowd her restaurant: Leo Cocina, a sleek, modern venue where reservations are a must considering its smallish size. Espinosa's reputation stems from her creativity in revamping basic local concoctions. The menu constantly changes, with Cassava, plantains, rice and maize all used in different ways. Intriguing dishes include tuna with grilled Santander ants—a local delicacy—in a reduction of panela and roasted asparagus.

 

Off the Clock

Botero Statue
Botero Museum
Calle 11 No. 4-41/4-93

In addition to the paintings and sculptures of the great Colombian artist Fernando Botero, some 80 masterpieces of the impressionist and modern schools (Degas, Klimt, Ernst, Picasso) are displayed.



La Candelaria

La Candelaria

Named after the church Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria, the Old City of Bogotá is the core of the historical center. A promenade in the cobbled pedestrian streets is littered with brightly painted, red-tiled houses, wood-carved balconies and wrought iron doors. A delightful walk in the day, but for safety's sake, avoid the deserted area at dusk.

La Plaza Bolivar

La Plaza Bolivar

All important events take place here from bullfights to political rallies. It's also the area where the city was founded on August 6, 1538. Around the plaza are several institutions: El Congresso de la Republica, El Palacio de Justicia, El Catedral Primal, and El Alcadia.


Object at Museo del Oro

Museo del Oro
Carrera 6 Calle 16
Santander Park

This unique museum was created by the Banco de la Republica in 1939, which purchased these precious gold objects from private collectors and even from tomb looters to avoid their dispersion. The collections of over 30,000 pre-Columbian gold items are fascinating.


Monserrate

Take the cable car to access the summit of Monseratte at almost 10,000 feet high, where one can enjoy breathtaking views of the city and the plains beyond. The convent of Monseratte is the destination of a pilgrimage where the faithful kneel before a tortured statue of Christ dating from 1656.

Colombia: South America in a Nutshell

Colombia lies where South America begins. This enviable position was the ideal gateway for the Spaniards for the conquest and the looting of a new continent.  It is still today a strategic position. The country’s northern tip contains a curving stretch of Caribbean coast, while the west embraces the Pacific; the interior sports a portion of both the Andes mountain range and the Amazon rainforest: a perfect summary of the geography of the continent.

Colombia has long been a troubled nation, with ongoing conflict with what seemed to be an out-and-out guerrilla war, drug trafficking and a wide poverty gap contributing to the country’s divisive and dangerous past.

However, since the election of Álvaro Uribe in 2002 (and despite some of the subsequent scandals plaguing his administration), this gloomy picture has begun to light up a little bit. Strides have been made in the social and educational sectors, and maybe because of these advances, the country appears to be safer. A decrease in the amount of kidnappings, homicides and guerilla terrorist activity is undeniable. With a stable currency, a strong economy thrives, based not only on the natural resources (oil, emeralds, coal, gold, nickel, silver, textiles, leather and a fertile land allowing a healthy agriculture with its famous coffee and flowers) but also on the ingenuity and dynamism of the Colombians.

Perched at 8,661 ft., the capital, Bogotá—reputed throughout the continent as the Mecca of the Hispanic intellectuals—is located on the “altiplano” between the cordilleras (mountains) in the center of the country. Founded in 1538,  Bogotá lays claim to more than 50 museums celebrating its past and present, as well as broad avenues, leafy bicycle paths and modern education centers—signs of the city’s resurgence, and hopefully permanent departure from its reputation as one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

Medellin could likewise be chosen as an illustration of this timid but real revival. Once the home base of Pablo Escobar’s infamous cartel, Medellin, Colombia’s second-largest city, has a new metro and cable car system and active and dynamic industries. Its location in the populous Aburrá Valley also gives it the benefits of a temperate climate—always a draw. A pending trade agreement between the United States and Colombia could cement the city’s position as an industrial and intellectual hub on a more international scale.

All of this is not to say that the guerillas have vanished and that Colombia is totally safe anytime and anywhere. However, the average tourist who uses common sense and exercises caution when needed should be all right in his discovery of a beautiful country that boasts several national parks in its wonderfully diverse regions. In the Colombian Caribbean, there’s the San Andres and Providencia archipelago that offers Polynesian-like lagoons with crystal clear waters; in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the highest tropical mountain at 5,770 meters, you can discover El Parque Nacional Tayrona; in the coffee zone, you’ll find El Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados; and in the jungle of Amazonia, you can enjoy El Parque Nacional Natural Amacaya.

“Liberty and Order” is the motto of the Colombian Republic; let’s be optimistic and hope it will be a real reflection of the country one day. Many good people are looking forward to it and living their lives accordingly.


Going to Colombia? Check our Guide.

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(Updated: 01/15/10 CT)

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