It may be hard to forget about Colombia’s sordid past when even the JFK Airport’s security bins are lined with ads for the Netflix hit Narcos. But put down the remote and board a plane bound for Bogota, and you’ll find a different mind-altering substance is on the rise.
Ironically, one of the world’s largest producers of high-quality coffee beans used to export most of its bounty, and Colombians were left with the equivalent of canned grounds that turned into tinto (roughly translated as “inky water”). But in recent years, a sense of national pride has been brewing, and mom-and-pop shops have nestled into the capital’s cobblestoned side streets. To navigate them and get an overview of this sprawling city of 8 million, book a Flavors of Bogota tour, either in a group or privately for just $50. Along the way, guides will share historical highlights and insights on contemporary happenings, such as the recently defeated peace deal that earned President Juan Manuel Santos the Nobel Prize.
To get caffeinated for a day filled with adventures—and get a lesson on brewing methods—start at Arte Y Pasión Café, where a member of the staff will bring over a glass contraption sure to bring you back to your high school beaker and burner days. Depending on your palate, you may or may not pick up on the subtle differences between this siphon method and a pour-over; either way, you’ll get a fascinating tutorial on how different regions’ volcanic soil and shaded, high-altitude plants make these beans one of the most prized crops in the world. Another shop worth a visit is Contraste Coffee Lab, where owner Manuel Torres shows a passion for his work that’s as strong as the brews—as evidenced by his tattoos of an espresso handle and a caffeine molecule, along with his stories of taking hours-long bus rides deep onto unpaved roads to work with farmers and bring back what he considers the cream of his country’s crops.
You can arrange day tours to such coffee plantations, but visitors looking to stay in the city have plenty to explore. Want to do some partying or shopping? Check into the new Four Seasons Hotel Bogota in bustling Zona T (also known as Zona Rosa), where you’ll find charming shaded boulevards to stroll and upscale bakeries, antique shops and boutiques like Casa Précis, filled with works from local artisans like contemporary metal jewelry and woven leather crop tops just right for a night out. Pregame at Azahar Café, a coffee shop in a shipping container, and enjoy your single-origin brew at one of the outdoor picnic tables. You’ll need the energy for Andrés Carne de Res, a thumping club whose staff has enough pep to helm a Disney kids show. Each floor holds about 1,000 people ready to enjoy everything from birthdays to bachelorette parties to a night out with Grandma (who may just shake her rump, too).
In the mood for something a little more chill? Four Seasons Casa Medina in sleepier Zona G has been open for only a year, but its stone columns and hand-carved wooden doors—pieces of repurposed Colonial convents—lend it old soul. Some rooms offer a view of the surrounding Andes peaks, and downstairs at Castanyoles coffee shop and restaurant, a glass roof and vertical garden bring the outside in. But you’ll want to venture beyond the hotel for eats, as locals joke that the “G” in this zone stands for “gastronomía.” For a special night out, check out Leo Cocina y Cava, where Leonor Espinosa and daughter Laura Hernandez-Espinosa lead Bogota’s high-end “farm-to-table” movement—more a rainforest-to-table movement with colorful, succulent fruits and sweet vegetables plucked from the Amazon. Also not to be missed is lunch at Tábula, which offers generous portions of classic Colombian dishes like chicken, potato and corn stew, as well as whole-roasted fish from the country’s Caribbean coastline.
You can also feast on some serious food for thought at any of Bogota’s free and low-cost museums, like the exhibit space at the Gabriel García Márquez Cultural Center or Museo Botero. Although many signs in the city are in English, those who don’t speak Spanish may benefit from a guide like Jurgen Stechauner of Hansa Tours, a former music professor who can school you on the pre-Hispanic gold artifacts at Museo del Oro, then take you over to the Candelaria neighborhood for a walking tour of vibrant sanctioned graffiti, including a stunning indigenous Wayuu woman by muralist Carlos Trilleras. This hip neighborhood helps play host to Ciclovia, a weekly happening that shuts down more than 100 kilometers of streets for cycling and strolling. It’s a can’t-miss event if you’re lucky enough to spend a Sunday here—rent a bike and spin down to Usaquen flea market to pick up a souvenir from an unforgettable trip.
-Avianca offers a five-hour direct flight from New York’s JFK Airport. A bonus? Jet lag is unlikely since you’re just one time zone away.
-Nestled in the mountains, Bogota’s temperature hovers between 50 and 70 degrees year-round.
-Bogota has no train system and buses that may be confusing for non-Spanish speakers. But cabs are affordable; $8-$10 is the rate locals are charged to get from one end of the city to the other.
Andrés Carne de Res, andrescarnederes.com; Arte Y Pasión Café, arteypasioncafe.com; Azahar Café, azaharcoffee.com; Casa Précis, facebook.com/casaprecis; Centro Cultural Gabriel García Márquez, fce.com.co/ccggm; Contraste Coffee Lab, facebook.com/contrastelab; Flavors of Bogota, flavorsofbogota.com; Four Seasons Hotels, fourseasons.com; Hansa Tours, hansatours.com; Leo Cocina y Cava, restauranteleo.com; Museo Botero, banrepcultural.org/museo-botero; Museo del Oro, banrepcultural.org/museo-del-oro; Tábula, elorigendelacomida.co/tabula-restaurantes-bogota