Thinking more about eating habits not only helps reduce climate change but could connect travellers to fascinating new cultures. We also unearth some essential insider foodie tips from our interview with Kagumu Adventures’ responsible consumption expert Julia Ruiz de Castroviejo Méndez.
By Kagumu Adventures Staff
Posted on: 12/2/2018
Good afternoon Julia, so how do we affect the environment through what we eat?
Good afternoon. So, all of our food consumption actions have an impact on the environment. In fact, it is responsible for about 17% of all the greenhouses gases. How we consume also affects water and is a major cause for the loss of biodiversity. The two main causes of deforestation in South America is unsustainable soya production and cattle rearing in South America.
How can I travel more responsibly by the food choices I make?
When we travel we are looking for something different. We look to experience part of a new culture and the country we are visiting but at the same time we have to be responsible. We should adhere to the no plastic rule for everywhere. Avoid foreign snacks. We should choose local food and reduce the amount of meat you are eating...even in places like Argentina.
You should take advantage of the great quantity of fruit and vegetables available and find out how they are produced by asking. Establish a relationship with the vendors, ask in the supermarket, in the restaurant, in the market. Extend the awareness. This will not only help the environment but also connect you to their culture.
And, are there any good mobile apps for local responsible consumption?
I use Happy Cow which shows you sustainable restaurants and markets. Also, go to the local government websites and search for farmers markets. Here in Medellin, we have Mercados Campesinos that happens all around the city every Sunday. Fooducate is also good for choosing healthy options.
What is your mission while working with Kagumu Adventures?
I want to increase awareness about our consumption habits and show the social, environmental and health impact. I’d like to show alternative ways of consumption and do it in a responsible way.
What would you like to show Kagumu’s guests?
I’d like to show that everyone has a major part to play in the change. Through hands-on activities, games and workshops people can learn and assess their consuming habits. But also give people the opportunity to act in their own way after knowing all the facts.
Julia has lived in Medellin, Colombia, for five years and leads Kagumu Adventures’ interactive and activity-filled organic farming tour in El Carmen de Viboral. She also instructs a yoga class in the verdant forest surroundings of Santa Elena, assists our sustainable cooking challenge and leads our unique reflections session on responsible consumption.
The truth is out; Colombia shines as a truly memorable travel destination and one place that could benefit your business immensely.
By Kagumu Adventures Staff
Posted on: 7/2/2018
A stunning array of wildlife. An eclectic mix of native cultures. Arguably the friendliest people on the planet. And, a chance to make meaningful and sustainable connections with local communities. It’s no surprise that Colombia is turning into Latin America’s newest incentive business destination. We look at five reasons businesses and their employees would benefit from a trip to this megadiverse country.
1.Colombia has the WOW factor you’ve been looking for
Did you know that Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world? the South American beast is blessed with jungle-skirted oceans, unblemished Spanish colonial towns, deserts, innovative cities, fascinating native communities and a plethora of remarkable flora and fauna. Nowhere on the planet will you witness as many bird species as in La Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, feel the desert sand sizzling with lapping salt sea water in La Guajira or discover world-class graffiti in neighbourhoods that were once too dangerous to visit. Then, you meet the locals. Blessed with a friendly nature to make your heart melt, Colombians are regularly labelled as the happiest on earth. Whether it’s their lust for music and dance (like salsa and tango) or their desire to showcase Colombia as the greatest country on earth, it’s difficult not to become eternally enamoured.
2. More bang for your buck
Few places in Latin America offer such good value as Colombia. Even its capital Bogotá and the glitzy Caribbean city of Cartagena rank cheaper than other South American destinations like Rio, Quito and Santiago. The real value for money, however, lies in lesser-known yet no-less-remarkable destinations. Medellín, Colombia’s second biggest city was recently voted as Latin America’s Leading City Break Destination in 2016, offering a burgeoning selection of high-end restaurants, unique day trips and stunning hotels at affordable prices. Places like the UNESCO-rated Zona Cafetera (Coffee Zone) offers world-class trekking for a fraction of the cost of better-known locations in Peru and Ecuador while La Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta allures travellers by its Caribbean charm – just ask Bill Gates, who vacationed here recently.
3. It’s safer than ever before to visit
Former Juan Manuel Santos’ presidency will be remembered for one thing: peace. His government and left-wing rebel group FARC finally signed an agreement in 2016, ending a 50-odd year civil conflict. Even prior to this, Santos, who scooped the Nobel Peace Prize for his work, spearheaded a drive towards better internal security, carrying on the work from his predecessor Alvaro Uribe. The result is huge. Many parts of Colombia are now completely safe to visit; even the usually-stringent US Travel Department lowered the country’s warning status to Level 2 – the same level as Belgium! Picking a trustworthy and knowledgeable Destinations Management Company, with a thorough risk assessment process, is obviously key, but there is no reason why an incentive business trip can happen without incident.
4. Engage your employees with the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals
Studies show that businesses are dedicated to committing to the SDGs and want to engage their employees with the 17 Global Goals. The same studies, however, show that most businesses don’t know how to.
Colombia places the Global Goals high on its agenda and boasts unique social and environmental projects that are making real change. As well as Pacific Coast projects helping protect marine life (Goal 14), some Antioquia farmers are promoting responsible consumption (Goal 12) and various Caribbean foundations are empowering women (Goal 5).
One of the main focus areas in Colombia lies with promoting sustainable peace (goal 16), this article showing how one group in department of Nariño has been promoting a culture of peace and reconciliation through art, theatre and other mechanisms of citizen participation. Whichever Global Goal a business is committed to, there is an active, memorable, and often emotional, project in Colombia for employees to engage with.
5. Colombia’s evolution into a “global powerhouse of the MICE sector”
As tourism figures continue to grow, Colombia’s attraction for international businesses and events is hitting new heights. According to leading travel researchers Skift:
Colombia has evolved into a global powerhouse in the meeting and event sector during the last decade by embracing a long-term sustainable development strategy that benefits both visiting organizations and local communities.
The country has benefitted from political stability, decent economic growth, tax incentives and of course its growing tourism figures to begin to make its mark in the business world.
The International Congress & Convention Association’s (ICCA) rankings point to a remarkable rise in popularity for meetings in Bogotá (45), Medellín (62) and Cartagena (81) with all climbing dramatically since 2007. Indeed, both Bogotá and Medellín have been nominated for South America’s Leading Meetings & Conference Destination 2018 by the World Travel Awards. Couple this with the successful hosting of One Young World Summit in Bogotá in 2017 and the Inter-American Development Bank’s decision to host its annual meetings in Barranquilla and it’s clear that Colombia is finally realizing its potential for business meetings, conferences and trips.
Explore vast coastlines with no foreigners in sight, visit mountainous towns unknown even to locals, and trek to natural wonders missed by most guidebooks. These are seven of the best under-the-radar spots in Colombia.
By Simon Willis
Posted on: 4/23/2018
Never heard of it? Not surprising! Guidebooks often bypass this town, locals from nearby Medellin rarely visit, and a detailed map of the area doesn’t exist. Yet journey to Antioquia’s southeast, past the low-hanging banana leaves, over the potholed roads, and up the orange-scented paths, and you'll discover a town encircled with rural adventure. At a nearby 246-foot waterfall, local tour company Eco Cartama lead climbing and abseiling excursions. Hiking trails wind up through the fast-moving cloud forests to grassy plateaus and stunning views of the Cauca River canyon. Indigenous petroglyphs cover boulders strewn on the mountainside, while pre-Hispanic trails lead to towering cone-shaped peaks.
Sapzurro is not the most talked about Colombian beach paradise, but if you're looking for isolation and chilled Caribbean vibe, this fishing town, located on the Panama border, takes the prize. Along its curving coastline, skinny, beige palm trees stick out from the spongy sand like giant arrows fired down from the sky. About 200 residents live in rainbow-hued wooden houses embedded among mango, avocado, lemon, and lime trees. Head inland, over stacked paving stones reminiscent of an Indiana Jones movie, to discover a forest canopy filled with toucans and black howler monkeys.
3. Parque La Chorrera
When you're in the middle of Colombia’s intoxicating capital, surrounded by its 8 million residents, it’s hard to envisage a refuge of such solitude and beauty as Parque La Chorrera. Just 45 minutes from Bogota; this area of rollercoaster stone hiking trails, towering luxuriant mountains, fields of tree tomato plants, and two stunning waterfalls (one of which is the tallest in Colombia), remains unknown to travellers. While El Chiflón waterfall surges year-round, allowing for rappelling and chilly bathing, La Chorrera only springs to life when the surrounding (highland tundra ecosystems) release built-up rainwater, resulting in a thunderous fall of 1,936 feet. Transport to the park is sparse, so organize a day trip with local experts Bogota&Beyond.
4. El Valle
Imagine two of nature’s most captivating events happening simultaneously. Now imagine you are the only one witnessing them. Thanks to primitive infrastructure and a challenging journey, often involving a pick-up sized charter plane and a teeth-shattering jeep ride, El Valle, located on the Pacific Coast, receives little tourism. Even the lure of migrating humpback whales breaching the water then smashing into the ocean and Olive Ridley sea turtles clambering onto the beach to lay eggs have failed to taint this fishing town with visitors. Those who do come trek into the coastal rain forest, drift in a canoe along vine-tunnelled rivers, or wander the smooth maroon beaches, sidestepping scurrying hermit crabs and washed up coconuts. Check out this 7-day journey including this stunning array of biodiversity.
It's obvious why San Agustin draws the crowds: Its archaeological park contains the largest number of religious and pre-Hispanic sculptures in South America. However, visitors often miss Tierradentro, with its no-less-magnificent relics. Located in the Cauca Province, this small town contains human-form statues and mysterious underground tombs displaying vivid designs of symbols, birds, and other animals. Often difficult to access during inclement weather, Tierradentro allows adventure travelers to explore four main archaeological zones, each containing catacombs plunging to depths of up to 26 feet.
Most guidebooks identify Salento, located in Quindo, as the ideal spot from which to explore Colombia’s famous Coffee Zone. Yet journey 12 miles west to discover the region’s second-oldest town, with stunning views, killer brews, and a vibe seemly unaffected by the 21st century. Filandia, known as the "Illuminated Hill of the Andes," is encircled with endless rows of coffee plantations sewn onto the rolling mountains. In the town’s palm-shaded plaza, elderly couples wander from the blue and white church to open-air coffee shops. Men, chewing toothpicks, lean on their Willys jeeps, waiting to transport anyone to the nearby plantations. And in the surrounding houses, locals hand-weave gorgeous reed baskets.
Vast columns of terra-cotta earth pyramids rising up from an arid landscape might not be the first image of Colombia that springs to mind. Tatacoa’s surprising desert, located in the province of Huila, bursts with extraordinary marble-like tunnels, dusty gray rocks protruding from the ground like solidified punch bags, and plunge pools etched into the earth. And thanks to its equator location, star constellations from the northern and southern hemisphere illuminate the pollution-free sky. In the observatory, local astronomer Javier rolls out his giant telescopes and presents the magnificence of the universe.
Colombia has for the past decade attracted new waves of travellers to its verdant mountains, vibrant cities and animal-teeming coasts. And with international governments relaxing travel warnings to this megadiverse South American country, we discover whether this improved security will pave the way for international school trips.
By Kagumu Adventures Staff
Posted on: 3/26/2018
Let's face it, travelling to Colombia around 15 years ago was deemed highly questionable for tourists. Even daring backpackers arrived in dribbles rather than droves. And for teenage students? Forget it. Barely even a consideration.
Fast forward to 2018 and the second most biodiverse country on the planet is shining brightly as a hub for global travellers. Visitor numbers have soared 300% since 2006. Highly reputable publications like the New York Times and Lonely Planet are lauding Colombia as the place to visit. And president Juan Manuel Santos has added to the country's growing international reputation by winning the Nobel Peace Prize for leading the country's successful peace process.
This is quite a turnaround considering Colombia's often overstated and unfair reputation for violence, narco trafficking and general insecurity. But while tourism has been on the up for years, we wanted to explore why there is there still scepticism about school trips and whether Colombia, a country of undoubted natural beauty and intrigue, is now safe for teenagers to visit?
Governments downgrade travel warnings
In 2016 Colombians received the news they had been waiting for for over 50 years. Peace at last. Consequently this historic deal between the Colombian government and leftist rebel group FARC (The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) convinced the US State Department to lower Colombia's travel warning to Level Two, the same as Brazil, Mexico, Dominican Republic, and even... Belgium!
It seems these new guidelines take into account the security of individual regions rather than whole country (at last). And while it still states caution should be adhered to in certain areas, it's positive in its message:
“Tens of thousands of U.S. citizens safely visit Colombia each year for tourism, business, university studies, and volunteer work. Security in Colombia has improved significantly in recent years, including in tourist and business travel destinations such as Bogotá, Cartagena, Barranquilla, Medellin, and Cali. However, violence linked to narco-trafficking continues to affect some rural and urban areas.”
The British Government takes a similar view. On its website, a map clearly marks which parts of the country are safe to visit including major cities like Bogotá, Medellin, Cali, Cartagena and huge swaths of surrounding rural regions.
Click here to listen to Kagumu Adventures founder Simon Willis interviewed about Colombian school trips
But what about parents and teachers who, somewhat understandably, may still be wary of a country with such a chequered past? Well, drama teacher, Sofía Elizalde Durán, witnessed first-hand the situation in Colombia during an immersive week-long trip to Medellin and Rio Claro with her students from Santiago’s Nido International School.
“We visited Colombia with 23 students in November last year (2017) and what did we see? Colors, music, laughter, flavors, and warmth," Sofia said.
"If you ask me, much can be said about Colombia, yet danger or concern about safety would definitely not even make my top twenty things to mention. Let’s face it, as a traveller you must be cautious, open, respectful, no matter wherever you go.”
Sofia and her students stayed in an eco-hotel on the outskirts of Medellin, witnessed world-class street art in vibrant Medellin neighbourhoods, walked through luxuriant forests and travelled to an Andean jungle in Rio Claro, trying extreme sports and living among endemic birds, creepy crawlies and howling monkeys.
During one day students explored the formerly infamous Comuna 13, a neighbourhood transformed from a no-go area to visitor hotspot. Victor, a 16-year-old student at Nido, admitted apprehension before he visited but was surprised with what he saw.
“At first, I had a different vision of Comuna 13,” he said. “However, when I actually went there it was a lot different to what I expected and a lot better.”
Tamara, a fellow IB student born in Venezuela said: "I had a very special connection with Comuna 13 because I am from Venezuela and to see how they have gone through this massive change reinstalled hope inside of me that change is possible"
Despite the succession of positive news coming out of Colombia those who have never visited will often be drawn to its more publicised, more macabre, past. It’s only natural, right? Sofia take a different slant…
“Much is said about Colombia and its potential danger to visitors,” she says. “They say be careful of theft, assaults, and drugs. But I'm a firm believer that fear should not bring me down and/or paralyze me - much less fear based on mere rumors like these."
Most school trips abroad offer students the chance to explore a foreign land, try bizarre new foods and immerse themselves in a different culture. What really shapes lives, however; what embeds trust, compassion and empathy into a person's makeup is breaking down cultural barriers and quashing stereotypes. Colombia has many. The world knows this. And now that the travelling community has deemed it safe to visit, maybe it's time for students to seize the opportunity.
This megadiverse country has some of the most enthralling landscapes on the planet as well as some of the most welcoming people.
1. It's rather cheap you know
While it's not the cheapest South American destination (I'm looking at you Bolivia), Colombia lures foreigners for its relatively cheap travel opportunities. Medellin is one of the most affordable places despite its growing demand. Eating out ranges from less that $10US in a medium-end international restaurant down to $4US for a hearty local three-course local lunch. Domestic travel is cheap using the buses and flying.
2. Colombia is like 10 countries in one
Colombia is classed as one of the world’s megadiverse countries in terms of its ecology, and its landscape never gets old. Venture into the Coffee Zone in the Central Andes for a hypnotic kaleidoscope of greens, with pine-shaded plantations sewn onto the shimmering emerald-and-sage mountains. On the Pacific Coast, Jurassic Park–like jungle shoots up from murky teal waters, home to calving humpback whales and sea turtles who come ashore at night to lay their eggs.
On the northern coast, ocean meets desert in Guajira’s barely believable landscape, where the waves sizzle as they hit the rolling tangerine sand dunes while hikers head to the white-tipped mountain range of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta to encounter jutting mountains, varied bird species, and a view of the Caribbean Sea.
3. It's hiking heaven
One of the tallest palm tree species in the world. Otherworldly ecosystems found only in the Andes. Animal species ranging from soaring Andean condors to clouds of fluttering hummingbirds. It's no wonder hikers are flocking to the Colombian Andes. As well as the snow-capped volcanic peaks of Los Nevados and the bewitching landscapes in la Sierra Nevada del Cocuy, Colombia boasts stunning high-altitude lagoons like Iguaque and Chingaza.
While various hiking spots are surrounded by beautiful colonial Spanish towns, many other mountainous regions are shrouded in myst and mystique dating back even further. Lake Guatavita, the former home of the Muisca people and the inspiration for the Legend of el Dorado, is easily reachable from Bogota and not to be missed.
4. There's peace at last
On September 23, 2015, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos and the leader of FARC, the country’s largest left-wing rebel group, shook hands in Havana. The significance of this was rather huge. For more than 50 years, Colombia's government and the Marxist fighters had been entangled in an armed conflict—the longest in the country’s history. Despite initially voting against this peace deal, a rectified agreement was agreed in congress, meaning as of November 29, 2016 Colombia was officially no longer at war with FARC.
This has been followed up with a relaxation of the travel warnings from the US government, meaning new trips are emerging all across the country from cycling the car-free mountain roads in the Coffee Zone to trekking Santa Marta’s Lost City, and from sampling experimental food culture in Medellín to exploring the Pacific Coast through fishing, eating, and dancing with indigenous communities.
5. Colombia’s colonial towns are exquisite
While Colombia’s cities are undergoing something of a construction boom, its smaller, colonial towns are keeping a lower profile. A few years ago, the government created the Red Turistica de Pueblos Patrimonio (National Network of Patrimonial Towns) to help preserve the culture of the country’s most valuable towns.
Included in the list of 17 is Santa Cruz de Mompox, which appears in Gabriel García Márquez’s novel The General in His Labyrinth and whose center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This northern colonial town is a good base for bird-watchers seeking out rare species, and enchants religious tourists with its elaborate Easter processions. In Barichara, Santander, whitewashed buildings with terracotta roofs line the pristine streets (I mean just look at this!).
6. You can explore landscapes many locals don’t know about
Ask a local about Chiribiquete and they are likely to shrug and ask: what the heck you are talking about. Indeed, very few people have even heard of Colombia's largest national park, never mind visited her. Earlier in 2018, the government announced this virtually unexplored region would be extended to 4.3 million hectares, the size of Denmark. The only way to even see this the park of tropical forests and savannas, mountains, vertical granitic domes, rivers that boast towering waterfalls and gushing rapids, is to take a helicopter ride with one of these companies.
At first glance, Malpelo Island, lying 310 miles off Colombia’s west coast, seems like a barren rock. However, dive into the surrounding Pacific Ocean to find shimmering coral, hundreds of silky and hammerhead sharks, and even the rare smalltooth sand tiger shark. Over in the eastern grassland of Los Llanos, horses’ hooves pound the land as cowboys chase herds of cattle. The few people that visit can encounter pink dolphins in the Meta River, 19-foot-long anacondas, and, with a dash of fortune, pumas roaming the night.
7. Colombians are beyond friendly
Do an Internet search for the world’s kindest people, and Colombia will be among the first results. However such things are measured—DNA sampling? psychological profiling? measuring high fives per capita?—it’s true that Colombians deserve their friendly reputation. When you arrive, you’ll be welcomed like a long-lost cousin, invited out dancing, and plied with enough shots of aguardiente (a sugarcane liquor) to get your hips snaking in no time. Salud!