Bogotá charms with boutiques and eats

Instagram catnip of the charming port city of Cartagena has lured tourists to Colombia for years.

But the country has far more destinations on offer than the Caribbean coastline, perhaps none more exciting than Bogotá — the newly reenergized capital, which is suddenly the sexiest destination south of the border.

Last year’s long-in-the-works agreement with the country’s infamous FARC rebels has brought not just peace, but also dazzling growth. Bogotá, a thriving city of more than 8 million people set on a plateau high in the Andes, was once equated with crime and urban blight.

Today, entrepreneurs are reinvigorating centuries-old houses in colonial neighborhoods, the art community is thriving, and unexpected clusters of chic stores and innovative restaurants dot the sprawling city.

Getting to Bogotá is easy: Avianca offers non-stop 5½-hour flights to Bogotá from JFK (from about $525 round-trip). Just remember to pack an umbrella: Bogotá is famous for cycling through weather patterns on any given day.

Hot Hotels
The new Four Seasons Bogotá (from $219) — the luxe brand’s second hotel in the city opened last April — puts you minutes away from the designer boutiques, bars and restaurants that line two high-octane pedestrian streets in the buzzy Zona Rosa district.

It’s an uncommonly intimate Four Seasons thanks to the three towers that house no more than seven rooms on each floor.

The hotel is the chic and modern sister to the charming colonial-style F our Seasons Casa Medina in the capital’s laid-back, exclusive residential ’hood, Zona G, which has its share of great restaurants, bakeries and coffee bars on leafy backstreets.

Another great option is the extremely hip W Bogotá (from $250), which opened two years ago in the upscale Santa Barbara business area of embassies, eateries and boutiques.

(And it borders Usaquén, which has a colonial center that feels like a village and Bogotá’s best Sunday flea market.)

The hotel’s gilt-edged and graphic décor is like the local legend of El Dorado come to life with a disco vibe.

Book one of the 30 or so suites if you want to experience the ultimate indulgence: a two-person shower with floor-to-ceiling gold tiles.

Sweet eats
The city is also undergoing a gastronomic boom. Innovative chefs are experimenting with traditional dishes and creating new ones with ingredients sourced from remote parts of this biodiverse nation. It would take several trips to try all these eats, but we’d be remiss to not give you our favorites.

The sophisticated farm-to-table restaurant Leo Cocina y Cava — the collaboration of chef Leonor Espinosa and her sommelier daughter, Laura Hernández Espinosa — turns local sourcing into a fine art. The lunch-only Prudencia also serves creative farm-to-table dishes (expect licorice-smoked pork belly) and has its own herb and vegetable garden out back. Maryland-born dancer-turned-restaurateur Meghan Flanigan runs it with her chef-husband Mario Rosero.

Over at El Ciervo y El Oso, chef Marcela Arango is reviving indigenous Colombian ingredients and recipes at her high-end restaurant, serving dishes like exotic potato-like tubers and crispy chicken gizzards with a maize-based chicha sauce. For a quick lunch, try Abasto a café with a similar mission, but lower prices and simpler fare. Wash down shrimp in coconut milk and achiote with a Colombian-style juice, like the tangy Cape gooseberry or lulo, which recalls a limey rhubarb.

The brand new Mesa Franca is a true destination spot: Chef Ivan Cadena, who had worked with Michelin-endorsed Virgilio Martinez, has converted a derelict house into this cozy restaurant. Try his steak tartare studded with granadilla seeds, or morsel-sized braised pork empanadas. Meanwhile, for classic, home-style Colombian dishes ideal for sharing, try Tábula.

Bogotá also has its share of truly innovative tables — where the presentation is as serious as the preparation. At El Cielo you’ll get a magical tasting menu based on Colombian roots and molecular gastronomy — and a kitchen that owner/chef Juan Manuel Barrientos staffed with both demobilized FARC guerrillas and former government soldiers.

For an extravagant, funky supper, book ahead for one of the dozen or so seats at the communal table of Tres Bastardos, a hipster restaurant owned and run by three young chefs.

And for the city’s best Japanese cuisine, dine in at Kuru in the Four Seasons Bogotá, where thousands of tiny lights cast a glow over an open kitchen, robata grill and sushi counter. Chef Diego Soriano, an Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto protégé most recently at Morimoto Mexico City, has exclusive relationships with importers of Japanese seafood and ingredients.

Last but not least, coffee: The espresso at the city’s top roaster, Catacion Publica, cannot be beat.

Much of the best Colombian coffee is earmarked for export, but this store buys directly from small estates across the country before roasting on-site.

Top shops
A low-slung corner of El Retiro neighborhood has become a proving ground for independent local labels. Press the buzzer and head upstairs to Victor del Peral, a dapper, affordably priced menswear label with a preppy edge kind of like a Colombian J. Crew; enjoy a snifter of Chivas while you shop. Nearby is Ricardo Ballen’s accessories store — he came back home after a stint in Milan, and his leather purses have a Fendi-like elegance. The homewares at Izy Magu bring a pop-art edge to traditional decorative motifs. Meanwhile, several closet-sized stores fill shipping containers jigsawed together a block away; look for the Hello Kitty-inspired RadioCorchito and sneakers from Green Bear. Detour south for the enormous showroom of Artesianas Colombianas, a government-sponsored store that curates crafts from across the country. Ignore the street hawkers who swear their mochila bags are authentic and buy one here instead. You’ll also find fine handmade goods, like softly burnished black pottery cookware and dishes.

For more upscale browsing, head to Julieta Suarez, who stocks her own label as well as a clutch of other girly local designers like Aldea and Cabrales, while Casa Santa Maria is a former private home repurposed as a series of showrooms for indie labels — the stylish dresses at Velasquez owe a debt to Carolina Herrera.
Also, we love Casa Précis, the new atelier of several young Colombian fashion designers.

Living history

In the downtown cobblestone-street district of La Candelaria, check out impressive colonial buildings such as the Casa de Nariño, otherwise known as the Presidential Palace. At Museo de Oro you’ll find pre-Hispanic gold artifacts; and at Museo Botero look for more than 200 works donated by famed Colombian painter and sculptor Fernando Botero, which make for one of Latin America’s most important collections.

On Sunday, book the traffic-free bike tour of Bogota known as La Ciclovía, when miles of major streets are closed from morning through early afternoon for cycling, running and walking.

And to look down on all you’ve seen and done in the second-highest capital in the world, take a cable car or walk to the top of 10,000-foot Mount Montserrat. The enormity and beauty of the city will astound you.

The New York Post | Gail Harrington and Mark Ellwood

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