By Redacción Panorama de las Américas
Photos: @laseriecreativa, Edson Yaruro – Mario Corredor
Cúcuta would be a fiery place if not for its love of trees. Lignum vitae, cimarron, and rain trees, as well as ceibas, loquats, and mesquites —the most famous of the more than 70 species that shade the city’s boulevards and avenues–– scent and beautify the city.
The fate of the capital of the Norte de Santander department in eastern Colombia has always been linked to its location on the border with Venezuela, which helped make it a commercial center and led to the growth of stores and shopping malls. For decades, Colombian products have sold to Venezuelans and Venezuelan products to Colombians. With the passing of time, however, Cúcuta realized it had to strengthen other areas of its economy, developing new industries that have gradually taken center stage. Leather goods, internationally known footwear, clothing (especially blue jeans), brickworks, and ceramics manufacturers have forged brands now recognized worldwide. Later, professionals such as plastic surgeons and dentists arrived, garnering global attention and creating a new market.
Panorámica de Cúcuta.
The city shows its resilience daily, facing the challenges that fate places in front of it with creativity and courage. Victoria Ramírez Mera, interim director of Cúcuta’s Regional Investment agency (INVEST), notes the city’s inclusion in the Special Economic and Social Zones (ZESE) created by the Colombian government in 2019 to help foreign investors by providing benefits during particularly difficult moments.
These benefits include offering companies 0% income tax exemptions during their first five years in the country and a 50% tax discount for the following five years. The exemption favors commercial, agricultural, industrial, tourism, and health-related activities.
“This will allow us to significantly improve the quality of life of the people of Norte de Santander and it will significantly help us show national and international investors that our region is competitive, rapidly transforming, and ready to welcome them with our characteristic enthusiasm and drive,” states Ramírez, who adds that these companies must generate at least three new jobs per line.
As of September 16, 2021, Cúcuta had welcomed 1,421 new companies, accounting for 77.27% of all those operating in Colombia’s five ZESE territories. Norte de Santander and its forty municipalities also benefit from more than twenty-five additional tax incentives, making it one of the country’s most attractive locations for starting a new business.
Many of these new companies were founded with capital from Venezuela, but some also came from the United States, Portugal, France, Chile, and Canada. These countries look at Cúcuta and see the possibility of resuming business with Venezuela, since the city is a major supplier to the neighboring nation. After the border with Venezuela closed, businesses in Cúcuta realized that they would have to diversify their clients; they began selling to countries such as India, Finland, and Turkey. Difficulties with maritime transport during the pandemic forced other countries, such as the United States, to seek out new suppliers in the region, including merchandise manufactured in Cúcuta.
Although most visitors travel to the city for work, the tourism sector is on a mission to convince tourists that both the city and the region offer attractions worth visiting that provide more than enough reason to extend a business trip. Tania Manzano, Cúcuta’s Secretary of Tourism, highlights the two new “heritage routes,” which are designed to introduce visitors to twenty-two historical and architectural landmarks, as well as a birdwatching tour that is scheduled to open soon along the city’s riverfront “malecón.”
Torre del Reloj.
A guided tour of the city led by Julián Blanco makes it clear that Cúcuta’s history can be divided into two periods: before and after the 1875 earthquake. Almost all remnants of the Spanish colonial period were leveled by the earthquake, which means that the city’s present architecture is, for the most part, Republican. In the end, modernity made possible the restoration and reconstruction of the city’s colonial ruins. Cúcuta’s historic center is now graced by four important national monuments of great architectural value.
The San Juan de Dios Hospital, which was built by the Spanish in the 18th century and is now home to the Julio Pérez Ferrero Public Library; the Departmental Palace of Government (also called the Flat Cupola Palace), built between 1914-1919; the Clock Tower, declared a national monument in 1982; and Quinta Teresa, a home built sometime after 1893 on Avenida Cuarta, where the railroad entered the city. This home is of particular interest because it embodies the lifestyle of the late-19th and early-20th century commercial bourgeoisie, who built their villas very close to the railroad and held expansive commercial territories. Other remarkable villas in the neighborhood include Quinta Cocollo and Quinta Yesmín.
Those interested in churches won’t want to miss the neoclassical San José Cathedral with its characteristic stained glass windows and the gothic Our Lady of Chiquinquirá, with its needle-like bell tower pointing skyward. Also of interest is Cerro Cristo Rey, a special favorite of the people of Cúcuta, who climb the ninety colorful steps to the top to enjoy the breeze. A ramp and elevator also provide access to the summit and several restaurants.
Hikers will appreciate the series of tours organized by the Visit Cúcuta travel agency, which take visitors to places outside the city, including Pozo Azul, an incredibly blue natural pool that sits at the end of a 1.5-hour hike along a nature trail in the San Cayetano area. Fabián Romero told us about these spectacular hikes that introduce visitors to the department’s special orography.
For a taste of the local mute de maíz, hallacas, baby goat, or goat’s milk and “solteritas” sweets, visit any of the La Mazorca restaurants. El Cabrito, at Kilometer 8 in Los Patios outside Cúcuta, is another fine option. If you’re looking to try a regional specialty, order the “pastel de garbanzo” (chickpea pastries) at Juanka, a restaurant that holds a Guinness record for the world’s largest chickpea pastry. Grupo K’s world-class restaurants, all with outstanding chefs, include Anka, Inka, Bianka, Carbón y Sol, and Quinta K. Or you coul dsample the more traditional cuisine of Londero and Rodizzio along the malecón.
Among the city’s best known shopping centers is the Cielo Abierto outdoor mall, located between Avenida Cero and Calle Quinta, which features luxury boutiques and international brands. The mall is also home to restaurants, nightclubs, bars, and entertainment venues. Other shopping malls include Ventura, Unicentro, and the new and very popular Jardín Plaza, which celebrated its grand opening despite the chaos of the pandemic.
The city’s true spirit, however, lies on the banks of the Pamplonita River. Far from the sea, Cúcuta created its own beach, with a boardwalk that extends for approximately 2.5 miles along the river. Although the pandemic dampened nightlife along the riverfront, the boardwalk is always the best place to enjoy the evening cool. Now, fully recovered, the bustle of the malecón has revived the city’s characteristic optimism, which has been its driving force for so many years. And Corpomalecón has taken measures to ensure the area adheres to the highest health and safety standards.
Templo del Congreso, Villa del Rosario.
Another “must see” is Villa del Rosario de Cúcuta, the beautiful colonial town just outside the metropolitan area. This is the birthplace and home of the patriot of independence, Francisco de Paula Santander. It also hosts the home known as La Bagatela, out which the first Gran Colombia administration operated.
Both Santander’s home and La Bagatela are now museums that take visitors back in time. Parque Grancolombiano also evokes the past as the place where Colombia’s first constitution was enacted, sparking the nation’s independence from Spain. Villa del Rosario’s temple is an example of neoclassical architecture and Parque Santander contains a monument to the “Man of Laws.”
In addition to the Secretary of Tourism’s heritage tours, the Secretary of Economic Development also sponsors culinary, industrial, and commercial visits. There is an extensive menu of offerings from which to choose.
Take advantage of Copa Airlines’ new aerial connection between Cúcuta and the Hub of the Americas to escape to this Green City in Colombia.
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For information on tours of the city and surroundings:
WhatsApp +573 147 323 465
Cúcuta Secretary of Tourism