Colombia Claims Fame With Culture And Travel

COLOMBIA can claim pop fame with singer Shakira and actress Sophia Vergara, both from Barranquilla, and actor/comedian John Leguizamo of Bogota. Barranquilla’s annual Carnaval is the world’s biggest after Rio de Janeiro and even rivals New Orleans.

The sprawling capital, Bogota, teems with 10 million people. You should definitely add this vibrant high-altitude destination on your bucket list.

Sofia Vergara
John Leguizamo

You’ll spend time checking out LaCalendaria, the historical and cultural heart of the city. This downtown neighborhood has become home to artists, foreign writers and intellectuals who filled the universities, museums, theaters and libraries. Watch your step, don’t trip on any pot holes, and don’t walk alone after dark. (You could have said the same for Times Square BB—Before Bloomberg.)

Among the fascinating places you’ll visit is the world renowned Museo del Oro. This Gold Museum, biggest in the world, displays an extraordinary selection of pre-Hispanic gold work. You’ll marvel at the vast displays of 34,000 pieces of gold and 24,000 objects of bone, stone, ceramics, textiles and religious relics pertaining to ancient cultures of the area. Friar Pedro Simon in 1623 was intrigued to learn that “no woman was without jewels, earrings, rings.” (My Nina wants to see that custom revived.) The local shaman used gold symbols in his sacred rituals. The native chief covered himself with gold. In the pre-Colombian era, gold brought you closer to the divine. (Avoid coming here on Sunday when the place is extremely overcrowded as it’s a free admission day.)

Hotel Avia where we stayed

Nearby the Gold Museum is the Palacio de la Esmeraldo (283 35 78). The country is famous for its emeralds, producing 50 percent of the world’s supply of this precious green stone (compared to Brazil’s 15 percent). See the emerald street market at Av. Jimenez and Carrera 7.

Our group of American journalists made a pit stop at the atmospheric Chibchombia to taste the richness of Colombia cuisine. This native and rustic eatery is located in the Macarena neighborhood (Zona M), a bohemian barrio noted for its attractive galleries and cozy cafes. Chibchombia is embellished with pre-Colombian ornaments, masks and pottery.

Lunch at Chibchombia
Coffee on the street
Beer tasting at BBC
Coffee tasting at E&D
Guards at Casa de Narino

Be sure to take an escorted tour of neoclassical Casa de Narino, the presidential palace since 1886. And have your picture taken with the photogenic presidential guards. This site was the birth place of Antonio Narino, an early hero of independence from the Spaniards. His house was rebuilt in 1906 as the first presidential palace.

Drop into one of the Bogota Beer Company (BBC) pubs (Carrera 4 No. 66-46) for a brewskie pickup and to learn all about the different varieties. This is a hearty beer tasting experience.

For a non-alcoholic kick, try the coffee tasting at E&D Café, where owner Jaime Duque gave us a lecture on the world’s variety of coffees. Lonely Planet calls Colombia the world’s third largest coffee exporter (after Brazil and Vietnam) and we named its high quality arabica the best coffee bean on the planet. Much of the good coffee is exported. Lonely Planet is dismayed by the average everyday swill called tinto. Their advice: Stick to espresso where you can find it.

La Candelaria houses

For dinner our group found its way to Zona Rosa, the Northern Bogota neighborhood where nightlife thrives. At the Andres DC restaurant (Calle 82 No. 12-21, Tel. 863 78 80) the musicians and performers move between the tables to entertain diners face to face. They’ll get you up for a spin around the floor, making you part of their show. Everyone seems to enjoy. Angela, our waitress, had rings not only dangling from her ears but also piercing her lower lip and left eyebrow. She brought drinks in a jar. You pour your drink into a bowl with ice and bring it up to you mouth with both hands.