International hospitality from Iceland to Bosnia
Little known to those outside South America, Colombia is the continent’s second most populous country after Brazil. And unlike other countries around the world that have been gripped by the recession and seen slow or no growth, Colombia’s gross domestic product grew nearly 6% from 2010 to 2011, with much of the increase coming from its booming oil and gas industry.
Tourism has also increased dramatically in the last decade due to improvements in public safety, rapidly modernising hotel stock, new low-fare nonstop flights from the US and an aggressive publicity campaign. Previous concerns about kidnappings and narco-traffickers, which beleaguered the country throughout the 1990s, have largely disappeared.
With a government focused on boosting foreign investment and bolstering Colombia’s economic ties to the world, business travellers are now pouring into its capital, Bogota, a city of eight million located on a high plateau in the geographic centre of the country. As a result, airport authorities are busy constructing a new terminal building to replace the outdated and overcrowded one at El Dorado International, which should open in 2014. In addition, several large scale hotel projects are underway, such as a recently announced 297-room Grand Hyatt, (opening in 2015) which will be part of Ciudad Empresarial, a massive new mixed use development located between the city centre and the airport.
The modern 264-room JW Marriott Bogota Hotel, which opened in 2010, is a favourite of business travellers due to its central location near major corporate offices and the fashionable Zona T district near the 93rd Street Park. Those who would rather stay in for dinner can enjoy local steak and grilled fish at the hotel’s popular La Mina restaurant. Perhaps the classiest hotel address in town is the elegant Art Deco-style Sofitel Bogota Victoria Regia, located in the upscale and exclusive Zona Rosa. While the hotel’s design and location are big draws, business travellers will also appreciate the hotel’s free wi-fi. At the historic 58-room Hotel Charleston Casa Medina in the northern barrio (neighbourhood) of Chapinero, guests enjoy classic architectural and design touches such as rich hardwood floors, hand carved doors, fireplaces and exposed stone.
The recently renovated 64-room Hotel Charleston Bogota, also located in Zona T, offers large, minimalist-modern rooms with clean lines, marble bathrooms and large desk areas. Nearby is the brand new Cite Hotel where each modern room has a large, square window looking out onto leafy Virrey Park. In addition to the perk of free wi-fi, there is a pool on the building’s roof. The stark Grand House hotel looks like a beige box from the outside, but on the inside, the hotel comes alive, with 64 loft-style suites, decked out with marble bathrooms, Jacuzzis, big picture windows and some have kitchenettes and/or outdoor terraces.
Luckily for visitors, Bogota is rapidly emerging as one of the gastronomic capitals of South America, with multiple options for business travellers seeking to impress clients or celebrate big deals. Since the dining scene changes frequently, it is usually best to ask your colleagues or hotel concierge for suggestions.
Harry Sasson is Colombia’s most famous “celebrity chef”, and his eponymous restaurant, serving Asian-influenced dishes prepared with fresh ingredients (such as a colourful carpaccio of local seafood), is housed in a recently restored mansion in the northern barrio of El Nogal. Its dramatic glassed-in dining room, reminiscent of the “Bird’s Nest” Olympic stadium in Beijing, is the place to see and be seen. Another classy haunt for business travellers is the Peruvian restaurant Rafael in Chapinero, where European-trained chef Rafael Osterling turns out artful dishes such as duck stew, ceviche or roast suckling pig in sleek surroundings. For a fun, somewhat rambunctious night out in the suburb of Chia, consider Andres Carne de Res, a large, beef-centric restaurant, bar and club all rolled into one. For a taste of traditional, rustic Colombian cuisine such as empanadas, grilled meats or local soups and stews, check out Fulanitos in Candelaria, the city’s historical centre.
Off the clock
To feel like a Bogotano, get out and soak up the city’s wide range of cultural offerings. Visitors will discover a surprisingly cosmopolitan, deeply intellectual city full of writers and thinkers brooding in cafes and artsy locals perusing the city’s many museums — most of which are free on the last Sunday of every month.