Insider’s Guide: Bogotá, Colombia

Colombia native Claudia Helander tells what you need to know before traveling to Bogotá.

Garden designer Claudia Helander was born in Bogotá, Colombia, to an architect father who instilled an early appreciation for the balance between the city’s cosmopolitan center and coffee-growing Andes surrounding. Her tropical upbringing is partially to thank for the beauty of local vignettes like Café Boulud’s living wall, landscaping at the Esplanade, and the flourishing foliage of many private estates. Helander’s family has a home in downtown Bogotá, where she and her husband, artist Bruce Helander, visit regularly. Nicknamed “the Athens of South America” for its many universities and libraries, Bogotá is rich in culture, history, and exotic foods and crafts. At home in Lake Worth and downtown West Palm Beach, where she assists with Bruce’s art in their two-story studio at The Whitney, Helander likes to start her day before sunrise—with the help of a strong cup of Colombian coffee.

WHEN TO GO December through March, when the weather is driest.

SIGNATURE DRINK Aguardiente is the national drink, and the best brand (among many) is Real Sin Azucar. A word of caution: Moderation is strongly recommended with this notorious liquid.

A SOLO ADVENTURE If you feel like exploring, there’s La Ciclovía, a Spanish term that means “cycleway,” where large sections of the city are closed off to automobiles for unrestricted bike riding and walking on Sunday mornings.

AN ARTSY EXCURSION The Museo Botero has the largest collection of works by Fernando Botero, a celebrated artist and native Colombian.

A CULTURAL EXPERIENCE The Museum of Gold has a remarkable display of items made exclusively from gold—the largest in the world, with more than 30,000 pieces of gold artifacts—and is one of the most visited highlights in the city. It features an extraordinary selection of pre-Colombian objects.

AN ALFRESCO OUTING A visit to the Jardín Botánico de Bogotá José Celestino Mutis is memorable for its remarkable species of native plants in a beautiful, natural atmosphere.

HOMETOWN GOOD TO STOCKPILE Fresh, locally grown and roasted coffee beans are among the best money can buy, and at a very reasonable price.

SCENIC LOOKOUT Monserrate is a hill that towers 3,000 meters above sea level and features a historic cathedral coupled with a breathtaking view of the city and beyond.

MUST-TRY bite A local dish called bandeja paisa, which is a kind of bouillabaisse concoction of sausage with rice, avocado, and other exotic ingredients and topped with a fried egg.

WHERE TO EAT 80 Sillas is famous for grilled local fish and exotic native dishes. Criterion presents traditional fusion food in an authentic atmosphere. Doña Elvira serves Colombian fare and is known for its Bogotá soup.

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