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A visit to Nemocon and its Salt Mine

Nemocon is a charming town about an hour north (94 km) of Bogota. Although less known than its neighbor Zipaquira, this salt mine and the town are definitely worth visiting. Many believe that the mine ...

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at Nemocon is nicer to visit and truer to what a mine should be than the one in Zipaquira.

The region of Nemocon was inhabited by the Chibchas, so the name of the town is in the native language and means “the cry of the warrior”

The drive from Bogota is easy as the highway is well marked. While driving north in the Savannah you can see beautiful scenery, small towns and get a feel for the country.

The mine recently opened to tourism. It focuses on showcasing a “real” salt mine. Visits to the mine are guided and last about 1.5 hours. The visit begins with a succinct introduction to the region and its geologic history. You begin descending 80 meters into the mountain. While in the mine you can see waterfalls, saturation tanks, stalactites and stalagmites

Before or after your visit to the mine, take time to stroll through the streets and discover the friendly people of Nemocon. Stop at any of the "tiendas" and enjoy a nice cup of coffee with panela, and some fresh baked pan de yucca or almojabanas. Or stay for lunch an enjoy ajiaco colonial, sobrebarriga sudada, or gallina al carbon.

When planning a trip outside of Bogota, Nemocon should be in your plans.

Top 10 things to do in Bogota to enjoy the city as a local

This is a list of activities you can do in Bogota, and enjoy the city as a local.

1. Watch a soccer game at El Campin Stadium. Colombian’s are passionate about soccer or “futbol” as we call it
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. Enjoy a game at our stadium and cheer for one of our local teams Santa Fe or Millonarios.

2. Shop in Paloquemao Market. If you want to get a feel for a real market and enjoy discovering new fruits and vegetables of different shapes and sizes, try a visit to this indoor produce market. Try to learn the names and recognize yuca, arracacha, mamey, papa criolla, borojó, mamoncillo, uchuva, chontaduro, and curuba.

3. Visit Bogota with the Ciclovia. Every Sunday and during Holidays Bogota’s main streets are turned into bicycle ways. This is a great opportunity to enjoy the city as a local, visit sites and try local food.

4. Play Tejo (teh-ho). This is a traditional sport that is enjoyed by many Colombians The game consists of throwing the "tejo" (a metal puck) across an alley at a distance of approximately twenty meters, to a one meter by one meter board covered with clay and set at a forty-five degree angle. A chief characteristic of the sport is its use of small exploding targets that contain gunpowder, commonly known as "mechas".

5. Visit the Usaquen Flea Market on Sundays. This flea market offers more than a typical flea market, from original hand crafted goods, jewelry, fresh food. The market is divided into an upper and lower area. You can plan to easily spend a minimum of 2 hours. It’s an experience not to be missed!

6. “Onces”– our version of Tea Time. Warm up with a delicious Chocolate Santafereño accompanied by Envueltos de Maiz, cheese, Pan de Yuca, Almojabana and Tamales.

7. Visit one of our museums for free. Bogota is a city of culture. There are over 100 museums and galleries in our city. Some of them participate in a program where the last Sunday of the month you can visit the museum for free. Among them you can visit the Gold Museum, Art Museum of the Banco de la República, Botero Museum The Botanical Gardens, Arqueological Museum, Emerald Museum, Casa Antonio Nariño, Bogota Museum, and many more.

8. Dance the night away at Andres Carne de Res. This restaurant has become an icon, a must for people visiting Bogota and its surroundings. Although the original restaurant is in Chia (30 min from Bogota) the restaurant has opened a toned down version in the city. The food is amazing with plenty of typical dishes to try, and you can dance the night away in this unique and quirky space.

9. Drinks anyone? You can always try our Aguardiente. But if you want to be a little more adventurous why not try a Canelazo or a Chicha (a variety of fermented and non-fermented beverages derived from maiz.)

10. Looking for typical Colombian dishes? Don’t leave the city without having tried at least 2 of these: Ajiaco, Cuchuco, Tamal, Fritanga, Sobrebarriga, Sancocho, Lechona, and Changua.

COLOMBIAN EMERALDS

Colombia is known for its coffee, flowers, soccer and of course our emeralds. If you are looking for an exclusive souvenir of your visit to our country Emeralds are your best choice.

We have intervie
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wed Algis Morales to better guide you in choosing an emerald. Algis and his family have been in the emerald industry for over 40 years in the mining, cutting and polishing, and jewelry industry. They have helped countless friends and loyal customers find that special Colombian emerald for their loved ones, or helped them find beautiful emerald specimens for their rock collections. Since 2001 they have an online presence www.emeraldbury.com.

What sets Colombian emeralds apart?
Colombian emeralds are considered to be the yardstick by which all other emeralds are measured up against. Colombian emeralds have always been considered to have the most desired green color. What differentiates Colombian emeralds from emeralds from other locations around the world like Brazil, Pakistan, Zambia, etc, is that Colombian emeralds are formed in sedimentary rock formations whereas emeralds from other parts in the world are formed in metamorphic formations over the course of hundreds of thousands of years. What this basically means is that during the thousands of years of geological formation, different conditions of extreme temperatures and pressure had to take place for these emeralds to come about. The deep green color that Colombian emeralds are known for is due to traces of chromium in their molecular crystal structure. That is why Colombian emeralds seem to have a "green on top of green" or "green on top of yellow or blue" color. Emeralds from other localities have a different green color because their coloration is due to traces of iron and vanadium, so their green seems to be a "green on top of gray" or "green on top of brown". Even within Colombia you can also find emeralds that are seemingly different in tone. Some emeralds can also have a slightly bluish undertone which is also desirable, but in being able to see a wide assortment of stones you can appreciate the unique beauty of our Colombian emeralds.

Where are the emeralds mined?
Colombia has several main areas where emeralds are mined. The main areas are comprised of Muzo, Quipama, Coscuez, Penas Blancas, Cunas, and Chivor, roughly about 100 miles away from Bogota.

What’s the process of mining?
The process of emerald mining is highly labor intensive. For many years these mines were quarried using the open pit method which literally sliced mountains layer by layer like an onion, with bulldozers and other heavy machinery. However, this caused much environmental damage and quite a great number of productive emerald veins were buried and lost by the erosion caused by this system. Today the mining is done strictly by drilling vertical shafts several hundred feet down into the ground, and then drilling horizontally branching tunnels in search of emerald bearing veins and pockets. The process is quite expensive but it is much safer and environmentally friendly than the way emeralds were mined in the past.

Where would you recommend people buy emeralds?
If you are looking to buy emeralds the best thing to do is ask someone you know if they can refer you to a reputable emerald dealer or jeweler. If not, take some time to learn about emeralds, (it's pretty fun and not that difficult as you can see), and make a trip to downtown Bogota to check out the emerald market for yourself. The emerald district in Bogota is on Avenida Jimenez and Carrera 7, in the heart of downtown Bogota. Ask several dealers and jewelers there to show you goods they have. You can always compare prices, compare the quality of stones they sell, and at the same time you'll make a few new good friends. The emerald market in Bogota shouldn't intimidate you at all if you're cautious and use common sense. Just like every other business the emerald market is a market built on people, relationships, and trust. I promise you that you'll love it, and you'll see how much you enjoy the experience!

How about on-line?
Buying emeralds online is an option of last resort unless you know and trust the person that is selling you the stone and if he or she has sold you emeralds in the past. When it comes to emeralds the best thing is to be able to see the emeralds in person because no matter how well photographed the emeralds are they can always be photo-shopped or altered. It is very difficult to capture an emerald's color, sparkle, and liveliness if you're not looking at it in person. Choosing a stone is a very objective and personal experience.

How can you tell real stones from fake?
Just like with diamonds, it is best to have someone who is reputable to guide you in the ins and outs of gemstones. To the untrained eye it can be very easy to be misled by the authenticity of an emerald, but someone who has seen thousands upon thousands of stones it is easy to tell the difference between a real emerald and a fake/simulant stone. Usually you can tell that a stone is not the real thing by the color of the emerald, the absence of inclusions, and the "feel" of it. This "feel" comes from experience and many years of looking at stones and setting them in jewelry.

What are the characteristics buyers should look for when purchasing an emerald?
Many people have heard about the 4 C's when it comes to looking for a diamond. The 4 C's are: Color, Clarity, Cut, and Carat weight. According to these characteristics in a diamond, the diamond industry goes by fixed prices that you can find in what is called the Rapaport Sheet (or Rap Sheet), which is basically the international benchmark by which diamond dealers establish their prices. However, when it comes to Colombian emeralds, and pretty much all other colored stones, they do not have this same stone grading system as diamonds because there are so many other characteristics in emeralds that simply cannot be established by the 4 C's, namely because when it comes to emeralds you have more than 600 tones of green with different levels of saturation and hues, and simply by this characteristic it's difficult to gauge an emerald's value. Because of this there really aren't any fixed prices when it comes to emerald. But don't let this confuse you nor let your interest fade. Emeralds are some of the most beautiful and fine gemstones, and with just a little education and eye training you can become quite good at telling the difference between average stones, commercial quality stones, and the really fine quality emeralds that Colombia is so well known for. Looking at emeralds is fun!

Color: When it comes to emeralds, the first and most important factor you want to look for is a deep grassy green color. The darker and deeper the color, the higher price the stone will command.

Clarity: Along with a deep green color, you also want the stone to have good clarity. In other words, the quality of the crystal should be as flawless as possible, or what we call "eye clean" (by simply looking at the emerald with the naked eye). Emeralds during their formation through hundreds of thousands of years develop growth features that some people call "flaws", but are known by gemologists as "inclusions". These inclusions are trapped gas bubbles in the crystal lattices of the emerald, other crystals that have been caught in the lattices during the formation of the emerald, or tiny stress fractures that have occurred through the growth and formation of the emerald through it's geological history.

10 Places to visit around Bogota

1. Guatavita: The center of “El Dorado” Legend. This is a sacred lagoon for the ancient Muisca people. Here they would hold rituals where gold was the predominant element. This lagoon is situated ...

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about 1 hour north of Bogota, here you will be able to enjoy beautiful landscapes.
You can also visit “New Guatavita”, a town built after the old town of Guatavita was flooded during the construction of the Tomine Dam. The new town was built respecting colonial architecture.

2. Zipaquira: this is a town north-west of Bogota with salt mines, one of which features a magnificent Salt Cathedral 180 meters below the surface. This construction will leave you breathless because of its beauty and magnitude. It is considered an architectural and engineering masterpiece.

3. Nemocon: A very picturesque colonial town in the Savannah. This town also features some interesting salt mines that are a treasure to be explored, showing saline formations of more than 500 years, like a salt crystal in the form of a heart called the “heart of Colombia”.

4. Towns around the Savannah: Close to Bogota there are a myriad of small picturesque timeless towns. These laid-back towns are a great place to explore local gastronomy and local crafts, as well as to get to know the kind people of the area. Among these towns you may want to visit Chia, Cajica, Tabio, La Calera, Sopo, Tenjo and Guasca

5. La Chorrera: is an example of the many hikes to be done around Bogota. If you visit La Chorrera you will see Colombia’s tallest waterfall. The hike lasts about 1 hour and you will walk through cloud forests. Once you reach the waterfalls you can explore the back of them, or if you don’t mind cold water you can swim.

6. Suesca: If you enjoy rock climbing and trekking, this is the place to go. This town is located about 45 minutes from Bogota. The first Colombia to climb mount Everest set shop here taking advantage of the rocky mountains surrounding the town.

7. Villa de Leyva: Somewhat farther away from Bogota is this town considered as of 1954 a national monument. Completely built in a colonial style (where by law even new dwellings have to look like colonial buildings) and with cobble stoned streets lies this gem. The drive to Villa de Leyva is about 4 hours, but is filled with breathtaking vistas and landscapes. Villa de Leyva was founded in 1572 under the name of Villa Santa Maria de Leyva. Today the town offers not only its beauty but many activities. It is arguably the best kept colonial town in Colombia.

8. Raquira: in the Chibcha language this town’s name means “city of pots.” This beautiful and colorful town is known for its pottery and hand-woven goods. Traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation since pre-Columbian times. There are quite a few good restaurants to try local food. Half an hour drive from this town is the Candelaria Desert with magnificent Spanish Monasteries.

9. Villavicencio: is the main city in the Llanos Orientales (Oriental Plains) region of Colombia, and the capital of the Meta Department (State). This is the gateway to our Cowboy land. A place for you to fall in love with our flora and fauna. At Los Ocaros Bio-park you can encounter indigenous fauna and flora. At Las Malokas park discover the legends and myths of this region. While visiting this area do not forget to taste “carne a la llanera”.

10. Tierra Caliente: refers to Girardot, Melgar and other towns at lower altitude than Bogota, which mean they are warmer. Bogotano’s love to go to these towns for the week-end to enjoy the nice weather, sunbathing and swimming. These towns have charming central squares and lovely views of the Andes Mountains.

BOGOTA’S TOP 10 FESTIVALS & FAIRS

Bogota is an exciting city with a highly diversified cultural life. Whenever you come to town you are bound to find a theater festival, a jazz concert, a major international pop group playing.

1. F
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eria Internacional del Libro: This international book-fair takes place during the first half of every year. It is one of the largest book-fairs in the America’s, welcoming writers, publishers and buyers from all over the workd. Each year a different country is invited as the main guest. In 2007 Bogota was named World Book Capital because of this Fair. (http://www.feriadellibro.com/)

2. Bogota Fashion Week: This yearly event takes place in Mid-February at Corferias and showcases the best of Colombian designers, as well as foreigners. If fashion is your passion this is a great place to see new trends. This event brings together clothes designers, footwear designers, jewelers and leather goods manufacturers. Over 750 international buyers come Bogota’s Fashion week.

3. International Theater Festival: During the two weeks prior to Easter Sunday in even years (2014, 2016, 2018, etc), Bogota hosts perhaps the biggest theater festival anywhere. Hundreds of companies from around the world perform in dozens of theaters. There are also free performances in plazas and parks, as well as street parades. (http://festivaldeteatro.com.co/)

4. Rock al Parque: This is the largest rock festival in all of South America, and takes place every year in early July. Most of the concerts are given at the Simon Bolivar Park, and entrance is free. You can listen to local bands as well as international stars. (www.rackalparque.gov.co)

5. Feria de las Colonias: This is a wonderful fair that allows you to travel throughout Colombia in one day. Corferias is transforms each of its pavilions into a different region of the country. Each pavilion features culture, gastronomy, tourism, handcrafts as well as a vast range of products, services and projects that gather the most representative of each region. Each year a different region is showcased presenting its main attractions business, craft, cultural, musical and art projects. If you are in Bogota during July, make sure to visit this colorful and vibrant fair. It will be a memorable day. (http://www.feriadelascolonias.com/index.cfm)

6. Festival de Verano: The summer festival held every August includes sporting, recreational and cultural outdoor activities. It is held yearly to celebrate the founding of the city. Most of the events take place at Simon Bolivar Park.

7. Food & Wine: Colombia Humanitaria and the First Lady of the nation crated this festival in 2011 to benefit local farmers that had been affected by a devastating winter. The event includes more than 18 events from elegant dinners hosted by international chefs, cooking and to mixology demonstrations, to wine tastings. Events are held in restaurants, clubs and hotels throughout the city. (www.bogotawineandfood.com)

8. International Film Festival: Since 1986 this festival is held during the months of September and October. IT brings filmmakers from all over the world, and includes screenings, conferences, work and special exhibitions. (http://www.bogocine.com/)

9. Ópera al Parque: Started in 1996, this festival brings this art form from the Opera House in the Candelaria to several venues throughout the city, so that the general public can enjoy this art-form. Each November prestigious Opera singers, musicians, orchestras and conductors, as well as new talent come to participate in this festival.

10. Expoartesanias: For 20 years now, every December Artesanias de Colombia organizes this fair at Corferias. It features international exhibitions of traditional and contemporary crafts. (http://www.expoartesanias.com/ )

Contact our concierge for up-to-date information servicioalcliente@lancasterhouse.com.co.

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