Last month I shared musings in a travelogue of sorts about an amazing three-week journey through South America. The odyssey began in Santiago, Chile, and continued to Lima, Peru. With the ink still wet on my passport, and barely dry on my last blog, I continue with the next stop along the way: Bogota, Colombia. Flying into the mountainous capital city, the skies were a brilliant cobalt blue punctuated with pure white voluminous clouds hanging over the outlying Andes, like images from the palette of Fernando Botero, one of Peru’s favorite sons. After landing at El Dorado International Airport, the sky suddenly darkened. As blue went to gray, a driving hailstorm, not uncommon on a September afternoon, with ice pellets as big as snake-eyed marbles pounded relentlessly on the windshield of the taxi.
Driving through this sprawling city, it became evident that it’s one of the most competitive retail centers in all of Latin America. Colombia is the third most populated country in Latin America, behind Brazil and Mexico. As such, its capital city is a shopper’s paradise, featuring everything from street markets to grand shopping malls. The crown jewel is the Centro Comercial Andino in the upscale neighborhood of the Zona T. What I found most compelling, however, was my meeting with the director of Bogota’s Chamber of Commerce who told me of the city’s robust plans to grow its retail business. With an influx of foreign investment and a rapidly growing middleclass, Bogota is fast becoming the place for international retail megastars to plant their flags.
Medellin was the next stop along the way. What I found there was beyond anything I could have imagined; a beautiful city nestled in a panoramic enclave created by the grandeur of the surrounding mountains. Also the home of many great shopping malls, I was most impressed with Parque Comercial El Tesoro. In addition to its 400 shops, the mall offers magnificent views of Medellin and the Aburra Valley. The store that most grabbed my attention in the mall was Velez, a Colombian leather store that features all things leather, from shoes, handbags, belts and jewelry, to great visual merchandising. Natural wood floors, leather furniture and a customization bar set the tone for a rewarding shopping experience. Another highlight in the mall is Ambiente Living, an upbeat home furnishings store with inspiring room settings and clever visual presentations of furniture and accessories. Not to be missed is this progressive retailer’s Mozzarella Bar complete with Colombian music and great food, tucked neatly into a beautiful home store environment.
After three countries and four cities, Cartagena, Colombia, was the next stop for a weekend in the sun. From bustling street stands to world-class restaurants, the color and culture make this city a must-see on Colombia’s northern coast. The walled city is replete with colorfully preserved colonial architecture, a litany of blooming florals, balconies and balustrades, and textured stone archways. Las Bovedas is a series of vaults originally built as storage space in the late 1700s, carved directly into the wall that protected the city from the pirates of the Caribbean. The structure later served as dungeons and prison cells during the civil wars in the 19th century. Today, the arcades have been transformed into stores and boutiques offering all things Colombian for the swarms of tourists descending on this exotic port city.
After a day in the sun sailing to the Rosario Islands, approximately 100 kilometers off the coast of Cartagena, the last stop was the magnificent city of São Paulo. The megalopolis that has legitimized graffiti with large scale paintings adorning a multitude of urban façades, is also home to many grand shopping malls. Patio Higienopolis, whose target is middle and upperclass consumers, is complete with large open spaces, upscale stores, entertainment, and exceptional restaurants and cafes.
Of great interest in this mall, and others across the city, are the efforts of L’Occitane, the upscale French cosmetics company. In a bold move, the retailer that consistently celebrates its French roots, was quick to recognize an emerging market as they launched L’Occitane Au Bresil, with a new line of cosmetics made entirely in Brazil. Remaining true to their image, they offer a Brazilian interpretation of their brand. This dynamic international retailer is joining so many others in recognizing the potential of the burgeoning South American market.
After three weeks of circumventing the continent it is quite clear that South America, with its growing economies, great retail venues both cutting edge and traditional, combined with a storied history and great natural beauty, make South America a great place to visit and to seek opportunity.