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Bogotá offers abundant contrasts: modern malls and open-air markets, high-rise apartments and makeshift shanties, futuristic glass towers and colonial churches. Simultaneous displays of ostentatious wealth and shocking poverty have been a feature of life here for centuries. In the neighborhood of La Candelaria a rich assemblage of colonial mansions grandly conceived by the Spanish were built by native peoples and financed by plundered gold.

Bogotá, a city of more than 7 million people, has grown twentyfold in the past 50 years. It suffers the growing pains typical of any major metropolis on the continent (insufficient public transportation, chronic air pollution, petty crime) and a few of its own (a scurrilous drug trade and occasional acts of political violence). However, recent mayors have made some progress in cleaning up parks, resurfacing roads, and implementing a new transportation system. In fact, a recent survey indicates that while a majority of Bogotanos feel that the political situation is worsening in Colombia, conditions are improving in Bogotá.

Bogotá Sights

As you tour the city, take a taxi whenever possible—don’t be carefree about strolling around, even during the day, or about lingering in places at night—it’s simply not safe to do so. Keep in mind that carreras (roads) run north-south and calles (streets) run east-west. You’ll probably spend much of your time in the charming neighborhood of La Candelaria. To the north of La Candelaria is the downtown area, which is slightly forlorn-looking but holds a handful of bars and restaurants, mostly in La Macarena. Farther uptown and marked by towering office buildings is the Centro Internacional, the city’s financial center. To the north is the leafy Zona Rosa, a popular shopping district anchored by an upscale shopping mall called Centro Andino. Farther north along the Carrera 7, at Calle 116, is Hacienda Santa Barbara, another high-end shopping mall built as an extension of an old mansion. A few blocks north of Hacienda Santa Barbara is the plaza of Usaquén, an Andean village that became a neighborhood as Bogotá grew but still maintains its small-town manner.

Bogotá Reviews

Bogotá’s phone book lists more than 1,000 restaurants, and the best offer first-class service and outstanding Colombian cuisine. The most traditional recipes aim to fill the belly and ward off the cold. Soups, such as ajiaco and puchero (with chicken, pork, beef, potato, yucca, cabbage, corn, and plantain and accompanied by rice and avocado) are common on local menus. Bogotanos like to start the day off with santafereño, a steaming cup of chocolate accompanied by a slab of cheese—you melt the cheese in the chocolate. Lunch is generally served between noon and 2. Restaurants open for dinner around 7, and the more upscale ones stay open until after midnight.

Bogotá Hotel Reviews

Many of Bogotá’s better hotels are in the wealthy northern districts—the most alluring parts of the city, and also the safest (with security guards on nearly every corner). If you want to soak up the color of the colonial buildings, or are on a tight budget, book a room in La Candelaria. No matter where you stay, avoid wandering the streets at night.

Bogotá Nightlife

Bogotá can easily overwhelm the visitor with its engaging arts and entertainment opportunities. Just check the local listings in the GO Guia del Ocio (www.goguiadelocio.com.co) for an idea of what is going on. On any given day you might find yourself listening to Celtic music in a dark left-bank café in the Candelaria or watching a tango recital in the north; Bogotá delivers on every front.

Bogotá’s reputation for street crime hasn’t put a damper on its ebullient nightlife. The two main partying areas are the Zona Rosa, between Calles 81 and 84 and Carreras 11 and 15, and the nearby Parque 93. There are also a handful of popular salsa bars in La Candelaria. The Zona Rosa and Parque 93 are safer than downtown, but travel there by taxi.

Bogotá Shopping

Bogotá’s shops and markets stock all types of leather and wool goods designed for life on the high plains. Handwoven ruanas (ponchos) are popular; the natural oils in the wool make them almost impervious to rain. Colombian artisans also have a way with straw: toquilla, a tough native fiber, is used to make hats, shoes, handbags, and even umbrellas.

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