By: Juan Abelardo Carles R.
Photos: Javier Pinzón
Starting December 11, Copa Airlines will offer regular service between Denver, the capital of the U.S. state of Colorado, and the Hub of the Americas in Panama City. This connection will facilitate travel for Latin American tourists who have been visiting the winter ski resorts in Vail (Lionshead) and Aspen (Snowmass) for years. But Colorado has more than enough to attract vacationers all year round. Come with Panorama of the Americas with summer in full swing and discover why!
The surprises begin at Denver International Airport. About twenty-three miles from downtown, in a country famous for preferring private over public transportation, the Denver airport is linked to the city center by the urban train network’s “A” line. For the average Latin American –like this author– this route evokes the conquest of the Wild West. You almost expect a wagon train or a group of Comanche horsemen to appear over the next hill, but instead it’s the suburbs of Denver, with the buildings of downtown in the distance.
The train pulls into Denver Union Station and the historical illusion fades as we immerse ourselves in the reality of one of the most dynamic cities in the Southwest and the entire country. The train station, completed in 1914 and reopened in 2014 after years of neglect, is now a unique mix of a boutique hotel, restaurants, and public spaces. It has been such a success that the station is now referred to as “Denver’s living room.” The central atrium of the old station is ringed with trendy cafes and restaurants, and people are welcome to sit and pass the time on reproductions of the wooden benches where passengers once waited to board wagons.
In fact, Denver has been a busy railroad center since the late 19th century, and remained so through much of the 20th. Spread out around Denver Union Station is Lower Downtown (LoDo). Some of the façades recall the city’s past, with doors three feet off the ground, from the days when the railway lines crossed the city streets and merchandise from the hundreds of convoys that arrived in the city daily was transferred to the buildings.
After a period of decline during the last quarter of the last century, LoDo resurfaced as one of the city’s most attractive areas. Be sure to include a stop at Rockmount Ranch Wear on your tour, where Jack Weil sold the first Western snap-buttoned shirts in 1946, which went on to become a signature element of cowboy fashion. The shop, run by the third generation of Weils, is a testament to the cowboy culture and lifestyle.
The area near Larimer Square has also risen again. Our guides explain that much of this rebirth is due to the efforts of local socialite and philanthropist Dana Crawford, who has rescued large parts of the city’s architectural and historical heritage. Like so many settlements that grew up during the conquest and colonization of America’s West, wooden buildings abounded in Denver. Fires were therefore frequent, and one in particular, in 1863, destroyed much of the city. Larimer Square, one of the few blocks that was saved from the flames, features the only group of buildings built in the sober style of the Western settlements during the conquest, and is now home to chef restaurants such as TAG and bars like Green Russell, decorated to resemble a 1930s speakeasy.
The 16th Street Mall, a pedestrian walkway since 1982, is a mile-long stretch of cafes, avant-garde shops, boutiques, and gardens. Free shuttle buses stop at each intersection to quickly connect much of the city center. Walking down 16th Street towards the state capitol, you’ll discover Denver Pavilions, an open-air mall with a number of shops, including the “I Heart Denver” store. The store’s heart logo means “I love Denver,” but more importantly, it showcases the work of Denver’s creative community. More than 135 artisans, micro-entrepreneurs, and artists take advantage of this social project to present their work.
Heading north, we come to the River North Art District (RiNo, to locals). Once an industrial area, a creative community of artists transformed its warehouses into studios. Although the incredible murals on many of the walls signal the presence of artists still living in the neighborhood, the area has diversified through ventures like the Denver Central Market, with a variety of restaurants, delicatessen stores, and gourmet grocery stores. The neighborhood is also home to a number of artisanal breweries that are part of the Denver Beer Trail, including Blue Moon, which initially operated out of nearby Coors Field, the home of the Colorado Rockies baseball team (also worth a visit), but now offers guided tours of its new facilities.
It’s not all rumba in downtown Denver, however. South of the state capitol is Denver’s Golden Triangle neighborhood, featuring the cultural and civic institutions that have made the capital of Colorado a kind of City of Light. Denver Art Museum shines with an impressive collection of American Indian art, as well as pre-Columbian, European, American, Asian, and African art, which together total some 70,000 pieces.
History Colorado Center, also inside the Golden Triangle, has put together an exhibit that highlights the state’s development, starting with the original inhabitants and continuing through the colonization and expansion that led to the city we know today. The Golden Triangle also includes other institutions, such as the Denver Public Library, the Clyfford Still Museum, the Denver Firefighters Museum, and the U.S. Mint (where coins are produced). A short walk away is the Colorado Convention Center, outside of which stands an enormous modern sculpture of the Blue Bear, which has become the city’s trademark.
Just outside downtown Denver are peaceful neighborhoods interspersed with low-rise buildings and lots of greenery. The Cherry Creek North shopping district is one of the most exclusive. It is worth walking the district’s sixteen blocks to soak up the sophisticated yet relaxed atmosphere. Here, adventures await the luxury shopper, the art lover, or the gourmet. At Cherry Creek Shopping Center, another landmark, you’ll find famous brand names and classic stores, all seasoned with the best coffee and food.
But don’t limit your visit to Denver; there are thousands of attractions to discover in Colorado. Just outside the city, Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre combines nature trails that carry you back millions of years with one of the most impressive amphitheaters in the world, the perfect natural acoustics of which have attracted the most amazing national and foreign artists imaginable. Close to Red Rocks is The Fort, a Treasury Foundation project that has recreated the old fortified trading post, Bent’s Fort. The adobe structure houses an exhibition of objects and characters linked to the history of the trading post, a restaurant with a menu that includes traditional dishes from the era, and activities hosted by the local arts community.
Outside the city limits you’re sure to find communities of friendly people, healthy lifestyles, and spectacular landscapes. Estes Park is one of these areas. Nestled inside the boundaries of Estes Park, it is a well-known family retreat offering mountain hikes, fishing, and other outdoor activities. The Stanley Hotel adds a unique touch to the town: the continuous reports of paranormal activity on the premises inspired writer Stephen King’s novel The Shining, which was made into a movie.
Estes Park is promoted as a base camp for excursions into Rocky Mountain National Park and, in fact, our expedition crossed through the wonderful pine and poplar forests and snowy peaks of this park, one of the country’s most famous, on the way to the winter resorts of Snowmass and Vail. We saw plenty of wildlife on the trip, including reindeer, coyotes, and short-tailed squirrels, as well as meadow flowers in full bloom and beautiful blue skies.
Readers familiar with Snowmass and Vail may be wondering why we mention them here, in an article promoting Colorado as a summer destination. The answer is simple: Snowmass (near Aspen) and Vail (near Lionshead) have plenty to offer all year round. At Snowmass, for example, we attended a non-profit rodeo aimed at preserving the cowboy lifestyle that prevailed in this region, in addition to a weekly concert, all part of the town’s lively cultural life. And Vail boasts the Epic Discovery Park, which blends recreational facilities and green spaces to push your nature experience to the next level.
But the natural heritage and people of Colorado deserve an article of their own –a second chapter– given all the fun that this American state has to offer visitors, not only in winter, but all year long. And Denver is the gateway to it all.
Where to Stay
There are a huge variety of accommodations on offer. Panorama of the Americas had a chance to try out the following:
The Magnolia Hotel: Located in the former American National Bank building, the hotel was opened in 1995 and has all the amenities of a boutique hotel and much more, in an atmosphere that mixes vintage and contemporary. 818 17th Street, Denver. magnoliahotels.com/denver/
Hotel Monaco: This group of historic buildings dating back to 1917 was renovated to give the hotel a more chic and contemporary feel. 1717 Champa Street. www.monaco-denver.com/
Halcyon Hotel: Located in the newest and most exclusive part of Cherry Creek North. Newly opened, it’s home to two fine dining restaurants and a rooftop pool and bar. 245 Columbine Street.
More general and tourist information about Denver and its surroundings available at VISITDENVER.com
From North, South, and Central America and the Caribbean, starting at December, the 11th, Copa Airlines will fly four times weekly (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday) from the Hub of the Americas, leaving Panama City at 11:50 a.m. and arriving in Denver at 4:12 p.m. Return flight CM 477 departs the same days from Denver at 10:30 p.m. and arrives in Panama City at 6:05 a.m. the next day.