An executive guide to Colombian capital Bogota.
BY JOHN OTIS
Latin Trade Magazine
BOGOTA – Colombia’s capital, Bogota, is seeing record numbers of business travelers as a result of its fast-growing economy and growing interest among foreign investors.
The most convenient areas for hotels and restaurants are the uptown Bogota areas including the banking district, the Zona Rosa, La Cabrera and Chico. These neighborhoods are located roughly between Carreras 7 and 15 and Calles 72 and 100. Bogota addresses are reasonably logical, with carreras, or avenues, running north-south routes. Streets, or calles, run east to west.
Options in the uptown neighborhoods include boutique hotels like the Casa Medina and the Charleston Hotel as well as international chains such as Sofitel, Marriott and Radisson. Travelers who will spend time at government ministries should consider staying closer to the old downtown at the Crowne Plaza Hotel Tequendama or the boutique Hotel de la Opera, located across the street from the Foreign Ministry and a few blocks from Congress and the national palace. Both Marriott and Radisson have opened new hotels on El Dorado Avenue near the CAN — Centro Administrativo Nacional — which is home to many government ministries.
Most hotel room fees include breakfast. Colombian coffee can be surprisingly bad due to poor preparation. But good espresso and cappuccino can be found at the many Juan Valdez and Oma coffee shops around the city.
Many restaurants offer decent international cuisine though it’s rarely outstanding. For typical Colombian cuisine, such as lomo al trapo — beef tenderloin packed in salt, wrapped in a wet rag, then cooked in charcoal — try La Bonga del Sinú or Andrés Carne de Res. The latter’s Chía location, north of Bogota, is also a lively party spot. For a taste of Colombian Caribbean cuisine, try Gaira, owned by vallenato music star Carlos Vives, or La Fragata.
At fine restaurants, always call ahead for reservations. A 10 percent service charge is included in restaurant bills, and no further tips are expected. Some Bogota restaurants that are open for lunch close in the evenings, but bars stay open into the wee hours.
Bogota has become much safer over the past decade, but travelers can be easy marks. Stick to withdrawing cash at ATMs with security guards. In the evening hours, strolling in many uptown neighborhoods is relatively secure, although there’s always more safety in numbers.
Many hotels have their own fleets of taxis, which are more expensive than street cabs. Avoid hailing taxis on the street since passengers are sometimes robbed by cab drivers. If there’s no alternative, it’s generally safer to hail a moving cab rather than taking taxis that are parked and waiting outside fine restaurants and hotels frequented by foreigners.
If you don’t have a driver waiting for you upon arrival, proceed to the official airport taxi office, located to the right of the terminal exit doors, which will provide tickets with set fees to be paid to the cab driver upon arrival. The fee to most Bogota hotels is about 20,000 pesos, or roughly $11.
Renting a car is not recommended for business travelers because the “pico y placa” license plate system bars private vehicles, including rental cars, from the streets two days per week.
Taxi services abound, but a request for a cab should be phoned in from a hotel or office 15 minutes in advance. All taxis are metered, and tips are voluntary.
Due to frequent rains, potholes and street repairs, traffic jams are getting worse, especially during rush hour. As a result, it’s easier and faster to schedule meetings between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Allow at least 30 minutes to get to meetings. It may be faster to walk to meetings at nearby addresses.
Keep in mind that weekend traffic is also heavy because the license plate restrictions are not in effect and many residents run errands they didn’t get to during the week.
Meetings and Negotiations: Meetings should be set up as far in advance as possible for the highest-ranking executives and with a minimum of two weeks’ notice for others. Email or telephone confirmation a few days before the meeting date is highly recommended. Meetings are sometimes organized around lunch dates at private clubs where a cocktail or a glass of wine is appropriate. Many members of the business class own second homes near Bogota where they often host weekend lunches and cookouts at which the dress code is casual. Follow up with thank-you notes within a week.
Dress Code: The dress code for Bogota business meetings is formal, meaning business suits and ties. The weather can be chilly and rainy (mornings are usually sunnier than afternoons), so it’s a good idea to pack an umbrella and a sweater.
Greetings: Business contacts should be addressed in Spanish as “doctor,” “ingeniero” or “licenciado” depending on the individual’s specialty and field of study.
Business cards: Acceptable in either English or Spanish.
Language: Though most members of the Bogota business class have studied English and traveled to the United States, their spoken English ranges from very rough to fluent. It is imperative for English-only travelers to find out in advance whether the meeting will be conducted in Spanish and, if so, to arrange for a translator. Some Bogotanos speak Portuguese or French, though it’s not common.
Punctuality: Business executives are, in general, far more punctual than government officials.
This article originally appeared in the May/June issue of Latin Trade magazine.
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