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Ample customs and immigration space, a high-capacity baggage-processing system and upscale shopping have made Bogotá's international airport one of Latin America's most pleasant.

For decades, Bogotá, Colombia's El Dorado International Airport has been one of Latin America's busiest air terminals, ranking first in terms of cargo tonnage processed and third in passenger traffic, which today has increased to well over 20 million annually. However, the aging airport had also earned another, albeit dubious, distinction: It was widely considered one of the most out-of-date, unattractive and non-functional airports in the region. That, however, has changed with an architecturally stunning new international terminal in place that is world class in every regard.


Formerly Old and Crumbling

Before the new terminal, the half century-old international terminal and its auxiliary facilities, perfectly suited to the needs of the late 1950s when it was constructed, had become something of a national embarrassment. Arriving international passengers suffered through long lines in dimly lit surroundings while waiting to go through immigration and customs stations. For first-time visitors to Colombia, the airport experience reinforced unflattering stereotypes about inadequate infrastructure and services.


Sleek New Design

Today, though, El Dorado is golden once again. "As someone who used the old airport many times, the new El Dorado is a magnificent example of the transformation of an aeronautical facility," says Juan Abelardo Carles, editor of Panorama of the Americas, the in-flight magazine of Panamá-based Copa Airlines. "El Dorado has been converted from an airport that was small, cramped, uncomfortable and very out-of-tune for a city of the stature of Bogotá into a large terminal that's modern, friendly and airy. The exterior design of the new terminal is spectacular, and it has a multiplicity of space for customs and immigration services." Adding to the allure, it has an expansive duty-free and traditional retail shopping area adjacent to the international boarding gates. The shopping space has the appearance of an upscale mall filled with specialty boutiques, bars and restaurants.


Handling Baggage, Security

The sleek design of the new terminal, defined by massive walls of glass and stainless-steel columns, incorporates several state-of-the-art features. The extensive use of transparent glass, for instance, takes advantage of natural light and minimizes the need of artificial lighting sources. In rainy Bogotá, a system designed to capture and recycle rainwater was a design priority. To ensure a smooth arrival for visitors from abroad, the terminal's integrated baggage processing system, which the airport claims is the most advanced in Latin America, is capable of handling over 225% more luggage than the previous system. Security, always emphasized in Colombia, is addressed by a three-level system that focuses on the detection of firearms, narcotics and explosives.


More Renovations to Come

The old international terminal, which is now the airport's hub for domestic flights, will itself soon be replaced by a new facility. A third and physically separate terminal, known as the Puente Aéreo (Air Bridge) and used exclusively by Avianca for its domestic routes, remains part of the overall El Dorado scheme. A new cargo terminal will complement the airport's reinvention; it's scheduled for completion in 2014 at a projected cost of $650 million.


When all the airport's renovations are done, the integrated national and international sections of the terminal will include 56 gates, 144 check-in counters and parking spaces for more than 50,000 vehicles. With a strong emphasis on customer service and creature comforts, the facility is guaranteed to impress even the most jaded traveler.


"With the completion of the new El Dorado," observes Carles, "our Tocumen airport in Panamá will have strong competition. But," he adds, "that will be good for the region."


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