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Bogotá’s Culinary Renaissance

Seen from above, Colombia’s rambling capital looks like an endless city. Some people hike up the steep valley side to Monserrate, though I choose to ride the gondola. Standing there, near the soaring steeple of its little white church, I take in the sweeping views, looking down on more than 8 million people—all of them cradled here, very high in the Andes. The evening is seeping in quickly, drowning out the late-afternoon light, the vivid glow on the lines of taillights and streetlights disappearing to a distant horizon. Knowing that, down there, I’ll find a thousand places to eat—and drink—my stomach rumbles just a bit. Because here in this city in the sky, Bogotá’s culinary culture is definitely on the rise.

Blessed with a unique climate tied to Bogotá’s position more than 8,500 feet above sea level, with stable, springlike temperatures year-round, Bogotanos enjoy a rare variety of and steady access to fresh, local produce. And the city is surrounded by one of the most biodiverse countries on earth. From the fruits of the Amazon to the salty pleasures of the Caribbean Sea, its cuisine is on the fast-track to rival other South American cuisines that have recently become global favorites (think: Peruvian).

The best place to start in this vast city? The market. And a trip to Plaza de Paloquemao, Bogotá’s top spot for groceries since 1972, will take you through a covered labyrinth of lanes lined with stalls that spill out into the surrounding streets. Walking in, I’m immediately faced with a sensory overload. The smell of spices and lunch counters washes over me. Then there’s the sound of sellers yelling out today’s specials, and the Technicolor-bright rainbow of rare and interesting fruits that dazzle the eyes: green granadillas, orange lulos, blood-red mora, for example, the latter picked high in the mountains. I spend a whole afternoon here, lost among the individual sections of the market—meat, fish, herbs, flowers, fruit, vegetables and handicrafts.

Then I head to Chapinero, just north of downtown, which is home to Salvo Patria, a small restaurant where chefs have built solid, personal relationships with producers all over the country so they can deliver an upscale twist on traditional dishes: raw fish with figs, mandarin lemon and avocado and pork cheeks with palm hearts, beans and farina. Nearby, I stroll through Bogotá’s new culinary hot spot, Zona G—that is, G for gourmet. The tight set of streets is packed with some of the city’s best restaurants, from simple, casual, Colombian meals (sirloin stew with Caribbean black sauce or shrimp served with boiled cassava and sweet plantain) by well-known chef Leonor Espinosa at Misia to the rich, 10-course tasting menu at Criterion, the brainchild of a pair of chef/pastry chef brothers that’s been named to a list of Latin America’s top restaurants.

And here, in the center of one of the world’s biggest coffee-producing countries, grabbing a cup is a good idea. At Amor Perfecto (also in Chapinero), I sit in the coffee lab for a “cupping,” where new beans and blends are put to the test, their quality—and value—set by experts with a highly tuned sense of taste. (I’m not one of them.) They also train champion baristas and serve top-drawer espresso to patrons comfortably settled in the plush red banquettes.

I finish my day with a drink in the Zona Rosa—the beating heart of Bogotá’s nightlife. Craft beer was slow to come here, but now it’s everywhere, including at Bogotá Beer Company, a pioneer and now a fixture that serves up half a dozen of its own brews on a big patio. Nearby, Yumi Yumi is a bright, colorful space where lights and paintings reflect a menu of cocktails mixed with juices squeezed from fresh Colombian produce. The night ahead is my own, with the options endless—some live salsa music, a late-night snack and maybe a hike in the morning back up to Monserrate to work off a few of the pounds I’ve accumulated here in the sky.

Where to Stay

Opened just over a year ago, the Grand Hyatt Bogotá offers light-filled spaces and floor-to-ceiling windows with views over the city and out to the Andes. It’s home to fabulous dining and, when you’re ready for a break, one of the largest urban spas in South America, with a water circuit and treatment rooms taking up an entire floor of the hotel. 

Where to Shop

For those who love vintage vinyl and live music, RPM Records, in the heart of Zona Rosa, brings together both. Dig through the well-curated collection while sipping good coffee during the day, then grab a craft beer here and stay for live Latin beats or a DJ set in the evening. 

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