Hugo Slimbrouck, our director of Strategic Partnerships recently took part in a famtrip to Colombia. He is sharing his exotic experience, taking us to the trendy and bustling capital Bogota, to the colonial old town of Cartagena and the tropical Rosario Islands. We can’t wait to discover all Colombia’s secrets!
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day she said, and took me out to her favourite place in the Santa Barbara neighbourhood just opposite from the majestic W Bogota. I like site inspections that show authenticity and this one already promised to be a great one. “You must have seen too many breakfast buffets in your life so I thought of showing you the real thing, how we have breakfast in Colombia.” Viviana Calderon said.
The next thing that was happening was pure story telling as I could imagine the area we walked through at 08:00 in the morning as how I would find it back in the evening: full of restaurants, bars, shops, street vendors, sounds and smells. Locals mingling with business visitors. A cocktail of Latin American culture exhibiting itself to a first time arrival from the old continent. This was my first experience of the Colombian way of life.
The night before, our new Ovation partners Jorge and Daniel had picked me up from the airport and we had enjoyed a very late dinner in the hotel. The architects of the W Bogota have created a contemporary hotel that breaths the cities golden history. Here you do not feel like at any other chain hotel in the world. Every part of the contemporary hotel breathes the local culture with gold as its central theme. Not surprising that this is DIFE’s preferred business and meetings hotel in town.
If one was asked to define Colombia with just one word it would be ‘variety’. Colombia lies at the h eart of Latin America, a region of the Americas that breathes with the lungs of our planet – the Amazon Rainforest. Almost half of Colombia is covered with tropical forests, which are home to some of the world’s most vibrant species and vistas. North of the forested South lies a region rich in enigmatic places of interest such as the archaeological sites of San Agustin, Tierradentro and the Lost City (Ciudad Perdida) an ancient metropolis in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada. The colonial cities and towns, such as Cartagena, offer a unique fusion of cultures and traditions for the curious incentive groups. As do the many indigenous villages dotted around the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Crowned by the Caribbean Sea, Colombia is located a stone’s throw from unspoilt Caribbean beaches and islands. Extraordinary people with unique stories to tell are always eager to showcase their charming, forever-green destination – they are Colombia’s real destination experts.
Day one and two of my visit were dedicated to a better understanding of destination Bogota and discovering the possibilities this vibrant city offers to corporate and association events as well as incentive travel groups. The colonial downtown, known as La Candelaria has a wealth of culture and arts on offer. Taking a ride with the cable care to get a city overview, my personal guides were able to explain what lay ahead for me. We started with a visit of the historic, now Bohemian centre before going downtown to the area around the Cathedral and the Presidential Palace. One story that made me wonder in advance was the legend of El Dorado, something I much better understood after visiting the unique gold museum. But another museum caught even more of my interest. Colombia’s famous son Botero was also a vivid collector of art and allowed the world to discover his private collection downtown in a small hacienda turned museum. No need to go to Paris to discover the impressionists, you will find a whole collection here
We finished our busy day with a dinner at one of DIFE Travel’s favourite restaurants for groups Andres DC. You must look up their menu, one of the craziest documents I have ever seen in a restaurant! It’s like a 60 page glossy magazine. The restaurant is on multi levels and areas, themed differently in which a group will always find a ‘semi-private’ space whilst sharing the fun of the rest of the venue. Here I also discovered Colombia’s favourite sport: Salsa Dancing. Something for anyone visiting Colombia to discover – particularly in Cali or Vallenato where it originated. For us incentive planners it is one team building option amongst many.
The second leg of my Colombian discovery tour was Cartagena de los Indias. This world heritage walled city on the Caribbean coast must have been the scene of many ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ experiences in a time long gone by. The impressive fortress and natural harbor protected the city from which the Spanish organized their gold trade. In absence of computer games, the Spanish invented some sort of ‘Grand Theft’ avant la lettre if you like. And as they were ‘exporting’ their loot from Cartagena, obviously other sea faring nations got interested in the goods and tried to get their unfair share.
The romantic and medieval city center reminded me of my home town Bruges, with lots of cafés, al fresco dining and boutique hotels. Cartagena and Bruges are both UNESCO world heritage cities. Bruges had its hay days in the 15th century whilst the golden age for Cartagena was the 16th century. Big difference is the weather though… I stayed at the great Intercontinental Hotel but the destination has a wide range of global brands, mixed with and intimate collection of boutique hotels in the historic center.
If one wants to escape the city for some R&R, I would recommend the Rosario Islands just off the coast, a short boat ride away, for some real Caribbean indulgence and much needed sun and Vitamin D for a pale European. We ended up for a half day of beach relax on an island that was once the hide-away of a famous Colombian drug lord, depicted in one of the Botero pictures I discovered at the museum in Bogota. Probably a reason why these islands have white sand powder beaches 😉
Colombia is also the birth country of one of the greatest storytellers in the 21st century: Gabriel García Márquez, emerald forests and coffee plantations. An exquisite destination for wonderful experiences where corporations can create their own stories to the benefit of their incentive group audiences.
What I did not discover yet on this trip were the colonial cities and haciendas, set in the amazing Tayrona landscapes near Barranquilla (home of Shakira Shakira) and the coffee triangle that offers integrating coffee farm experiences and adventure tours. By the way, one of Shakira’s famous quotes is “It doesn’t matter if you are a musician, a business leader, a president or a student. We all have a responsibility to give back.”.
Herself a benefactor for many community events, she is also an inspiration for the sustainability projects which DIFE Travel can build into your next event! And now I got that song stuck in my head for the rest of the day… “Hips don’t lie!”
Text and Photography by BBT Online
First published on www.bbtonline.eu