CREATIVE HUBS: BOGOTÁ
The Netflix series Narcos might have got the world talking about Colombia, but the show’s portrayal of drug lords and gangsters is a far cry from the truth of the Latin American nation today. In particular, the country’s capital city Bogotá is stepping out of the shadows cast by a decades-long reputation for violence, drugs and crime.
As Colombia has become more secure, young natives who sought refuge oversees during years of instability have returned to their home country, bringing with them new ideas to set up shop along the streets they once fled. Today Bogotá is as developed as Buenos Aires or São Paulo and plays host to boutique hotels, enigmatic nightlife and a thriving culinary scene.
The W Hotel recently flung open its ostentatious doors here, while the Four Seasons Casa Medina acts as a more aristocratic refuge. The arrival of Colombian Masterchef in 2015 ignited interest in experimental cuisine, and a number of the celebrity chefs and judges have founded restaurants in the city. Bogotá also plays host to Colombia’s largest alternative music festival, Estereo Picnic, which has grown exponentially since its inception in 2010.
The capital is arranged in a grid system and each neighbourhood has its own distinct vibe. The city centre, La Candelaria, features classic Spanish Colonial and Baroque architecture, as well as a number of universities, upbeat eateries and graffiti lined walls. Meanwhile the hip northern district of Usaquén is Bogotá’s answer to London’s Shoreditch – think sleek cocktail bars, rustic organic food cafés, street markets and a musician on every corner.
This year saw the return of Bogotá’s official slogan, which was originally coined in 1998 in reference to the city’s high altitude. The motto – “26,000 metros más cerca de las estrellas (Bogotá, 2,600 metres closer to the stars)” – is a reminder of how far the Colombian capital lies from the sea; of how thin the air is up there. But its resurgence might aptly be read as a statement that Bogotá is rising – and reaching for the stars.
WHERE TO STAY
There are two outposts of the Four Seasons in the capital – Four Seasons Hotel Bogotá opened in February of this year and is located in Zona T, while Four Seasons Hotel Casa Medina is located in the bustling Zona Rosa and opened last October. The Casa Medina outlet takes the cherry, housed in a historic building with 62 rooms decorated with stone columns and hand-carved wooden doors.
Part of the Design Hotels portfolio, the sleek stay B.O.G. Hotel is located in the heart of Bogotá’s well-heeled neighbourhood of Cabrera. There’s a sparkling rooftop pool, a spa offering bespoke treatments and an elegant restaurant that draws locals and on-trend tourists alike.
The W is not known for the art of understatement and their W Bogotá branch is no exception. Taking inspiration from Colombia’s wealth of emeralds and gold, here cavernous black tunnels link sparkling spaces in an effort to evoke the quest of Spanish conquistadores to discover Colombia’s hidden treasures.
WHAT TO SEE
Bogotá’s colonial centre is alive with trendy cafés and a hell of a lot of graffiti. Amble from Plaza Bolivar, a square that is home to the cathedral, city hall, supreme court and congress, to the Museo Botero, which pays homage to Colombia’s best-loved visual artists. Wander past student-filled bars on Calle del Embudio and finish with lunch at the charming Dos Gatos y Simone.
Bogotá Graffiti Tour
Graffiti has been decriminalised in Bogotá, with the local government even providing grants to artists as well as commissions on large walls. Take the official Bogotá Graffiti Tour around La Candelaria and you’ll find a diverse array of masterpieces, many of which contain important social or historical messages.
Usaquén is Bogotá’s ultra hip northern district, where Spanish colonial buildings line cobbled streets. On Sundays, the area hosts an upscale flea market selling arts, crafts and jewellery –it’s a good place to come for a taste of the city’s burgeoning creative scene.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
The most vibrant dining experience in the city, this steak house is perched atop El Retiro shopping mall in Bogotá’s nightlife district. Andrés DC towers over four floors, each one decorated to match scenes from Dante’s Divine Comedy (hell, earth, purgatory and heaven). Come here in a loud, rambunctious group – not on a romantic date.
This restaurant is owned by the brother of Colombian singer Carlos Vives. Hosting live performances of traditional music, locals pack in for food and rum cocktails before dancing in the tight spaces around the tables.
When Jorge Rausch and his brothers founded Criterion in Zona G 13 years ago, there were only a handful of restaurants in the area. Today Zona G is known as the gourmet district and despite intense competition, Criterion still wears the crown. This is high dining at its best – expect lots of foam and culinary trickery.