By Platao Rocha
If you are going on a business trip, why not do it in style?
And with the recent signing of the Free Trade Agreement between the US and Colombia, chances are Bogota may be on your travel schedule some time in the future.
The country has the third largest economy in Central and South America, and a very educated middle class. The government has also made huge strides in providing safety to its citizens and visitors in the last few years.
It just happens Colombia is now a tariff free zone for over 80% of US products, opening the doors to great business possibilities.
OK, I think I’ve made my case.
Now to the style part: Casa Medina is the place to stay for a taste of the true Colombian “acogida”, or welcome, right at the center of the new financial district in Bogota.
Down the street from Casa Medina at Carrera 7, you can also find two great US hotel brands, the recently opened Hilton, and the more traditional JW Marriott; perfect for those looking for the safety of known services and amenities.
Casa Medina is something else. The brick-and-stone historic building houses home-style living rooms, internal gardens, as well as distinct guest rooms that look more like apartments. Some, like the one I stayed in, come with their own wood fireplace – a bonus in a city that hovers between 65F and 45F year round.
The hotel is part of Relais & Chateaux, but don’t even think about staying in for dinner. The financial district is also one of the hip districts in town, known as Zona G. You can thank the international business travel gods for that. My favorite restaurants are the Arabe Gourmet and Harry’s Bar, two very different places.
El Arabe’s chef, Samya Cure, is originally from Barranquilla, home of the largest Syrian and Lebanese community in Colombia (where Shakira was born). You can sit in the heated patio and order some staples of Lebanese cuisine adapted to Colombian flavor. The “tahini especial” is one of my favorites.
Despite the very Anglo sounding name, Bogota’s Harry’s Bar (named after Colombian chef Harry Sasson) offers a great selection of Spanish tapas. From Jamon Serrano to Gambas al Ajillo, they do everything right, especially if you are coming out of a tough meeting with the lawyers around the corner. The very decent wine list will help you ease your way back to Casa Medina, just a few paces down from the restaurant.
The breakfast at the hotel, featuring some cheese “arepas” – a type of corn dough biscuit – should put you right back in shape for another working day. If you need anything from the staff at Casa Medina, just ask. They will make it happen for you. The hotel also provides car service, a good idea to move around town. The alternative is to have the restaurant of any other place call you a taxi. It’s safer than hailing cabs on the street, particularly if you don’t speak the language.
If you are travelling on a more relaxing schedule, you can try the other hotel owned by Casa Medina’s holding company – The Charleston Hotel at Zona T. That is definitely the “hipper” district, full of restaurants, cool lounges like Marques, Armando Records, and the very unique Andres DC – a mix of restaurant, bar and dance hall spread over 5 stories. Andres brings to Bogota folkloric elements of Colombian culture; Garcia Marquez inspired characters pass though the tables, and from time to time a traditional “vallenato” band stops by.
All these bars and restaurants, as well as sophisticated malls and Colombian designers flagship stores are at walking distance from the Charleston.
The hotel offers the same type of service as Casa Medina, but the rooms are more contemporary looking. None of the hotels have great gyms, but the Charleston offers a partnership with the Spinning Center, around the corner. Remember Bogota sits at 8,600ft, so you might just skip the gym entirely to be safe.
In any case, Bogota is one of the coolest cities in Latin America (yeah, the weather too). I’m sure you’ll find reasons to come back and do some business, with pleasure.
If you go:
Avenida Carrera 7 #69a-22, Bogota
+57 1 217 0288
Calle 69A #6-41, Bogota
+57 1 310 5209
Calle 70 #5-57, Bogota
+57 1 321 3940
Carrera 13 #85-46 Bogota
+57 1 257 1100
Calle 82 #12-21, Bogota
+57 1 863 7880
Platao Rocha is the head of production and original programming for DIRECTV in Latin America. Born in Brazil, where he graduated in Journalism, he has written, produced and directed shows about sports, travel, music and fashion for Brazilian broadcast and cable networks. In the US since 2000, he travels the globe bringing major events like the Olympics and the Soccer World Cup to DIRECTV viewers in Latin America, combining work travel with discovering new places, cultures and experiences.