Complete Spanish immersion, a burgeoning reputation for safety, and incredibly low travel expenses are just three reasons why Colombia is the perfect country for a student Spanish study trip.
BY KAGUMU STAFF
STUDENT TRAVEL | 4-MINUTE READ
1. Ultra friendly locals - Who doesn’t find it easier chatting with someone who has a huge smile on their face? Whose welcome includes a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek! Muah. Well, don’t just take our word for it; search the internet and you’ll come across testimonials of Colombian’s super friendly nature, their eagerness to welcome visitors to their country, and their open house policy (mi casa es su casa!). Not only will you find practicing your Spanish fun, you could also make friends for life.
2. The clearest accents in South America - Clear, natural, and easy to understand. Three ways Spanish learners often describe Colombian Spanish, especially in the Andean regions and major cities. Learning a new language is always tricky so help yourself improve quickly by learning with people who speak wonderfully clearly. No need to crane your neck, squint your eyes, trying to work out what someone is saying. Of course Colombia boasts a plethora of different accents too, so when looking for a linguistic challenge you can always head away from the big cities to discover rural dialects.
3. Cheaper than its Latin American counterparts - Colombia is ranked as the cheapest major nation in Latin America to visit. Travelers to Chile shell out a whopping $93 on average each day while Peru ($43.7) and Argentina ($37.2) push the purse stings too. Colombia, however, gives you much more bang for your buck with an average daily spend of just $25.39! This provides yet another major plus for students looking to keep their expenses down when booking their trip and when traveling around Colombia.
4. Spanish immersion - Give yourself the best opportunity to improve your language skills by immersing yourself completely into the Spanish language. This means, no English. In many countries, locals find it hard to resist correcting your Spanish with their own English. I mean, they want to practice too and who can blame them. However, study in Colombia and you’ll find the vast majority of locals speaking only Spanish. In fact, Colombia has the third lowest proficiency of English in Latin America making it ideal for total immersion.
5. Safer than ever before - It’s taken a long time but finally Colombia is being recognized as a safe country to visit. Indeed, in 2018 the US downgraded Colombia to a risk level of 2. This is the same as Belgium! While usual precautions should be taken, much like any country you would visit, visitors should have no fear when visiting Colombia, especially when using a reputable tour operator that knows the lay of the land. There is more good news too. For years foreigners avoided Colombia as they thought it was too risky. Great for students. Thanks to this, they will find a country still unspoilt from tourism. A country that maintains its fresh, adventurous vibe that takes students out of their comfort zone and offers them something new.
6. Growing international connections - Growing international connections - Over the past decade, Colombia has seen a boom in direct flight connections. In terms of the US, you can now find daily direct flights from Miami, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, New York (JFK & Newark), Washington – Dulles, Houston, Atlanta and Toronto. Avianca, Colombia’s main airline, has daily direct flights from London, UK and Spain is linked with non stop flights from Madrid and Barcelona. You can fly from Germany, France and the Netherlands too with Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam enjoying direct links.
7. Language immersion tours growing - With the increasing visitor numbers, Colombia has kicked on in terms of language immersion tours and experiences. In the capital Bogotá, you can discover world-class street art through the eyes of a local - a great way to practice Spanish comprehension. In the country’s second biggest city, Medellin, you can come face to face with local flower makers, coffee cultivators and organic farmers, taking part in unique hands-on activities that will extend your vocabulary. A heady mix of cultures, Colombia boasts 87 different indigenous communities, allows you to experience vastly different ways of life and explore extraordinary archeological sites like the spellbinding Ciudad Perdida - the Lost City.
Students want to know exactly what to pack for an educational trip abroad. Here, we highlight the most ethical and responsible brands you can support while compiling your packing list.
By Kagumu Adventures Staff
STUDENT TRIP | 7-MINUTE READ
Before we look at some ethical brands, the first thing you need to ask yourself is, do I actually need to buy anything?
Remember the sustainable clothing consumption mantra: reduce, reuse, and recycle. And keep in mind that the most sustainable garment is the one you don’t buy, Here are a few tips to consider before you head to the shops.
1. Can I reuse any of my clothes? Before you quickly answer “no”, consider that using your old(ish) clothes will prevent the environmental strain of throwing it away or even recycling it. Also, you won’t have to buy anything new so you will be saving yourself money and saving the environment needless carbon emissions from producing and shipping the garment.
2. Can I mend any of my old clothes? What a great life skill. If you have a torn t-shirt or a pair of glasses with a scratch on the lens, look online for easy-to-follow repair videos. Here are a few to start with:
Click here to see how to repairing jeans and shirts by hand.
Click here to see how to removing scratches from sunglasses.
3. Can I reuse someone else’s clothes? Why not scour your sibling’s wardrobe or ask friends for a helping hand? Maybe your college or university has a recycled clothing scheme? If not, why not set one up? A trend that is really growing is the clothes swap.
Get a group of friends to bring clothes they don’t wear anymore and have an evening of fun while exchanging each other's clothes. Check out this website to know how to start a clothes swap.
If, after swapping, borrowing, repairing and reusing old clothes, you still need to hit the shops; we have compiled a list of great ethical and eco-friendly brands to look out for.
Summer student trips
Reformation (International) - this San Francisco-based company bills itself as sustainable from the outset. They choose fibers with the lowest environmental impact and highest positive social impact. When producing swimwear, they carefully measure: water input, energy input, land use, eco-toxicity, greenhouse gas emissions, human toxicity, availability and price. Website: thereformation.com.
Ruby Moon (UK & Europe) - Ruby Moon started in Brighton and now has HQs around Europe. This female-owned company focuses on women empowerment, giving their profits to female entrepreneurs in developing countries. They also use plastic found in the ocean to make many of their products. Website: rubymoon.org.uk.
Ama Saturday (US) - This black female owned company sells swim gear for all body colors, shapes and sizes. They also have a new range of face masks for the current pandemic. Website: amasaturday.com.
Sunski (International) - Another brand from California, Sunski focuses on a low-environmental impact brand with its commitment to carbon neutrality, recycled frames and zero-plastic packaging. They are also part of the 1% for the planet scheme - committing to donating 1% of their sales to environmental non-profits. Website: sunski.com.
Pala eyewear (UK & Europe) - Very much in the Toms mould, Pala eyewear donates to eye-care programs in Africa, working to help solve the lack of prescription glasses in including Burkina Faso, Zambia, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Ethiopia. They also utilize recycled plastic to make their sunglasses, use eco-friendly recyclable packaging and offset their carbon emissions from shipping. Website: palaeyewear.com.
Bohten Eyewear (International) - using reclaimed materials, Bohten Eyewear bills itself as sustainable with their unique designed glasses inspired by the landscapes found in Ghana. After appearing on Canada’s Dragon’s Den, owner Nana Boateng Osei made it his mission to create jobs in Ghana through local production. Website: bohten.com.
Ninety Percent (UK and some other countries) - This womenswear label takes sustainability seriously. It only manufactures its clothes in high-class factories in Bangladesh and Turkey and also uses organic or recycled materials in line with the Global Organic Textile Standard. Spoiler alert! Their name represents their commitment to giving 90 per cent of their profits to charitable causes. Website: ninetypercent.com.
Alternative Apparel (International) - While larger outlets have been found to be incredibly unethical and environmentally damaging in the way they operate, Alternative Apparel is different. This world-wide brand has developed a more eco-friendly production method by using recycled cotton, organic cotton, hemp-blend and has committed to using 100% recycled polyester by 2021. Website: alternativeapparel.com.
Summer footwear and sandals:
Toms (international) - We love this classic. For years Toms have been driven by their ethical company policies that include a donation of $1 for every $3 they make. As well as funding charities focused on equal opportunities and mental health, Toms have done their bit in the fight against Covid-19 by donating one third of their net profits to workers on the frontline. Website: toms.com.
Gumbies (International) - Born in the UK but inspired by Australia, Gumbies is dedicated to making eco-friendly flip-flops (or thongs) using a variety of materials like cork - a type of bark that is stripped from a tree that grows back over time. They also use recycled rubber, textile and plastic as well as natural algae foam and castor beans. Website: gumbies.com.
Wondering what to do with an old pair of flip flops? - Check out this YouTube video to see how you can easily repair them.
Winter student trips
Winter jackets and clothes
Patagonia (International) - Like Toms, Patagonia has expanded around the world while promoting a strong commitment to environmental sustainability. Patagonia donates 1% of its net profit to environmental non profits and offers funding for grassroots environmental conservation projects. It has also supported groups fighting against oil drilling to those suing the president of the United States. Website: patagonia.com/home.
Cotopaxi (International) - One telltale sign of a company's dedication to social and environmental sustainability is the B Corporation certificate. Cotopaxi gained this in 2015 thanks to its financial support of community development programs around the world. They also launched a skills-based volunteering initiative that leverages the time and talent of employees and responds to a clear need in the community. Website: cotopaxi.com.
Nae vegan shoes (International) - born in Portugal, this footwear brand is dedicated to using materials that are natural and sustainable in production. These range from recycled plastic bottles to organic cotton and from cork to pineapple leaf fibres. They also promise to donate $5 for every boot sold to animal conservation projects. Website: Nae.
Vivo barefoot (International) - This company has a range of outdoor footwear products for students that are mainly made with eco-friendly materials. Their transparency is to be admired as you can see from their website. Some highlights of their sustainable practices are: 141k pairs of footwear made with recycled PET, 100% of employees engaged in their sustainable practices and 242k pairs of shoes made with animal-free products. Website: Vivo barefoot.
Ethical brands: Apps and Websites
Good on you - The Good on you website and app rates international brands in line with their social and environmental sustainability. If you have a favorite brand or want to know about a new one, simply search in Good on you for a reliable rating.
The Good Trade - The Good Trade is a leading online resource for sustainability. Check out their website for more information on ethical clothing brands among many other themes. Website: thegoodtrade.com.
Thredup - Thredup has outlined the top eco and ethical brands for 2020 many of whom are well-known high-street retailers that have specific eco-friendly lines. It is also the world's largest online second-hand destination.
PETA - Many clothing brands have committed to a production method excluding any animal interference whatsoever. PETA gives a great list of vegan-friendly clothing brands that have been researched and given the green thumbs up.
Colombia will become the world’s first country to implement a biosecurity safety stamp for tourism in line with the World Tourism Organization (WTO). We look at what this means for the travel industry in Colombia.
By Simon Willis
BIOSECURITY | 5-MINUTE READ
While some parts of the world are tentatively opening up borders to salvage the tourism industry hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, Colombia is pioneering a new biosecurity stamp, aimed at giving local companies the knowledge and skills to implement protocols to create a safe environment for travel. The project also aims to give people the confidence to travel Colombia, knowing that their visit has been put through strict biosecurity protocols.
On Wednesday, 10th June, Colombia’s Ministry of Tourism ran an online training webinar, describing how this Latin American country planned to implement these measures.
Here's what you need to know:
Colombia has identified two avenues for companies to follow so that people can once again travel to and around the country in a safe and secure manner.
Let’s start with the implementation of biosecurity protocols.
This is obligatory for companies and personnel working in tourism in Colombia. You are required to implement into your company, organization or personal in tourism two sets of safety protocols:
These protocols cover general biosecurity measures that many people will be familiar with and are currently using - face masks, social distancing, working from home when you can etc. However, article 666 details the exact measures companies need to implement to operate in travel. Here is a brief overview of what you will find in the document:
Specific protocols for different sectors within the industry
If you work in tourism you are also required to adhere to the specific protocols that relate to your sector. There sectors are divied as follows:
More specific sectors that could in the future include security measure of their own are:
You can view all the specific protocols for different sectors by clicking on this website - http://colombiasigueadelante.mincit.gov.co/.
Every company or person working in the tourism industry is obliged to implement these measures until the emergency sanitation period ends. Currently this is scheduled for August 31, however, an extension is possible depending on how well Colombia is slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
Companies don't have to pay anything to implement these practices, however, it may be worth seeking expert consultancy on this subject. Kagumu Adventures is currently working with an expert consultant who will ensure all biosecurity safety protocols are in place.
Biosecurity safety stamp
The second part of the reactivation process is the biosecurity "check in stamp." Companies wishing to get a seal of approval have to comply with all the necessary safety requirements stated in article 666.
It is important to note that this is not obligatory and companies can still run their tourism operation without the stamp.
Read here how Colombia will be the world’s first country to offer this stamp through the World Tourism Organization (WTO)
Colombia's Ministry of Tourism believes that companies who get the stamp will increase awareness of the issue, earn the confidence of travelers and gain a competitive advantage.
Anyone legally registered to work in tourism in Colombia can apply for this stamp. The process will rely on the general and sector-specific protocols that you have followed from article 666.
Once all the protocols are in place, you have to send off your application via the mini portal - and it will be assessed by ONAC - the National Accreditation Organization.
Important points to consider are:
Extra notes for travel agencies in Colombia
While safety protocols apply to you and your staff and any buildings or transport you may have, it is important to ensure all the providers you work with have complied with the biosecurity measures. You should also assess each part of your trip for potential bio risks and mitigate these risks where necessary.
For information on accrediting your company with the stamp, visit Organismo Nacional de Acreditación de Colombia.
For more information and videos about how you can implement biosecurity measures, click on this Facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/sdeconomicoarmenia
Click here to visit Colombia's Ministry of Tourism webpage.
Click here to download the coronavirus app in Colombia
Limiting environmental damage on a study trip can be a major challenge for faculty members; here are some tips on how to ensure your students travel in an eco-friendly manner.
By Kagumu Adventures Staff
STUDY TRIPS | 6-minute read
Choose a responsible local operator
The easiest way to ensure a trip limits environmental damage is to choose a responsible travel operator. Many operators offer carbon neutral trips, not only taking into account the CO2 emissions from your flight, but also emissions from your overall trip. While aviation environmental impact usually bears the brunt of criticism, it's other lesser-known carbon emitters that can have a huge negative impact - starting with how you consume and the services you use.
All the products you buy or eat, or the services you use during your trip, just like when you are at home, will have an environmental footprint. It's often difficult to know the most eco-friendly services - restaurants, hotels, means of transport - when visiting a new country, so working with a conscious and experienced local operator is a must. Tip: request information on the internal operations of a local operator to assess their commitment to environmental sustainability.
One of the easiest ways to offset a flight's environmental damage is to calculate the tonnes of CO2 emitted then donate the equivalent amount to a certified reforestation or clean energy project. For example, if you have a return flight in economy class from London to Medellin with a stopover in Bogota, simply enter your details in South Pole's calculator. You will see that for one person the amount of carbon emitted is 3.159 tonnes. You can then go to Stand For Trees and choose a project to donate 3.159 tonnes of carbon credit. This will pay for the organization to remove the same amount of carbon from the atmosphere through one of its projects.
These conservation and protection projects are certified by Stand for Trees and can include protecting habitats for birds in Guatemala and reforestation projects in the Brazilian Amazon. You will then receive a certificate, showing how much you have donated. Of course, a responsible travel operator should include this in your package but we recommend supplementing this to ensure that you overcompensate for CO2 emissions. Tip: encourage students to donate to these projects themselves, involving them in the process from the beginning.
Choosing a destination close to home
One of the easiest ways to reduce the impact on the environment is to choose a destination to a neighboring country. Of course, choosing a destination within your own country, negating the need to fly, would further reduce carbon emissions. This then opens up the eternal travel conundrum - do the benefits of travel outweigh the inevitable environmental damage? The only way to truly know this is to outline and measure, to the best of your ability, the positive impacts of the trip vs the negative environmental impacts. Study abroad programs create life-changing moments for students, and our experts at Kagumu Adventures would be happy to discuss the potential impacts of a trip with you by contacting us today.
Choosing a carbon-friendly airline
The way airlines operate can severely affect their performance in terms of carbon emissions. But how do you know which ones are environmentally conscious? Alternative Airlines, a search engine for international flights, gives you essential information on airlines that work in a more eco-friendly way. You'll discover that Delta is investing heavily in their carbon offsetting and has committed to removing all plastic from their planes. And, in 2019 Etihad Airways powered a commercial flight using a mix of jet and biofuel - material used from the Salicornia plant.
Also, look out for those airlines that have signed up for the CORSIA (Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation) agreement. This obliges airlines to report their carbon emissions and offset any increase in their carbon emissions from 2020. Tip: try to get a non-stop flight as this will lower the carbon emissions produced from landing, taxing around another airport and then taking off again.
Eco-friendly internet searching
Did you know you can help with the global reforestation effort by just choosing the way you search for things on the internet? Ecosia uses the profits generated by you using its search engine to plant trees across the world. In fact, they claim that for approximately every 45 searches you make, they plant 1 tree. Their internal carbon footprint is incredibly low too as they run on 100 percent renewable energy. Check out their excellent blog on international environmental issues and tips. Tip: encourage your university to add Ecosia to its network, in turn joining others from around the world as seen here on their on Campus Campaign.
One of the easiest ways to lower carbon emissions is to eat and buy from responsible local suppliers and look after your food waste. This UN Food and Agriculture Organization report says that if food waste were a country it would be the third highest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. Keeping this to a minimum will not only lower your carbon footprint during the trip but also set a great example to your students. Tip: enquire about your hotel’s food waste management process or ask your local operator for information on this subject. Check out Kagumu's blog post from a expert responsible consumption officer on how to lower your carbon footprint through food choices.
Choose eco-friendly accommodation
Again, this is something a great local operator should help you with. But if you are booking accommodation yourself, the best way to ensure eco-friendly stays is to look for international certifications. These will prove your host has gone through rigorous assessments to certify its environmental and social commitments. Look out for: Rainforest Alliance, B Corporation, Green Globe and Green Key. Alternatively, you could contact the tourism board of the country you are visiting and inquire about the most eco-conscious hotels. Top tip: book a hotel with Trip Zero and they will automatically offset your carbon emissions of your trip for FREE.
Reduce water waste
We have known that plastic is bad for the environment. In fact, glass, tins and any container that have to be made and then destroyed or recycled has a big impact on the environment. To solve this, insist that students bring their own refillable water bottle to either fill up from a clean water supply. An environmentally-conscious operator should supply drinking water throughout the trip in order to drastically reduce carbon emissions from unnecessary drink purchases. Tip: to really minimize the environmental damage, choose a responsibly made bottle like the US-based brand - Nalgene or Liberty Bottles - both of whom are BPA free and use ethically-sourced materials to make their bottles.
Our final piece of advice is use the expertise of the tour operator you choose to travel with. A great operator will take care of the safety, the logistics and the environmental impact of the trip (and provide you with details of the above) leaving you to focus on the academic goals and of course enjoying the adventure.
Over 300 families, sustaining one of Colombia’s most iconic visitor sites, teeter on the edge of a humanitarian crisis, resulting in a call from an international NGO for immediate donations.
By Kagumu Adventures Staff
LOST CITY | 4-MINUTE READ
Three months ago the novel coronavirus pandemic caused the indefinite closure of Ciudad Perdida (the Lost City), leaving indigenous and farming communities without income revenues and in critical need of food and medical care.
Thanks to a collective effort, spearheaded by the Global Heritage Fund (GHF), essential supplies and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) will be delivered in June and the NGO will use further funds to ramp up its program of bringing economic sustainability to the area.
Colombia’s iconic archaeological site (click here for virtual Lost City trip)
Ciudad Perdida has for the past decade or so been labelled the “new Machu Picchu” with adventure travellers trekking the La Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range, eventually reaching a jungle-shrouded archaeological site that dates back to 700 CE.
Those tackling the 4-day hike encounter towering sage-green mountains peaks, rivers flowing past their waist as they cross, and gushing waterfalls - perfect for a cool down after an 8-hour day of walking.
In February 2020, the trail welcomed hundreds of travellers each day and was once again on course to reach annual visitors numbers of 25,000. Although the stats pale in comparison to those of Peru’s famous archaeological site, the income was enough to offer a living to hundreds of indigenous and farming families.
Each day, farmers sold slices of watermelons and freshly squeezed orange juice to sweat-soaked travelers. Native guides led groups along the trail, teaching visitors about their remarkable traditions and beliefs. And local families would earn money from those who stayed overnight in their jungle camps.
Now, this region, which lies a 3hr car journey from the nearest city Santa Marta, is deserted. The main road has been closed since the Covid-19 pandemic took hold in mid-March. And, government help has been almost nonexistent. In all, the situation is drastic, causing farmers once again to turn to environmentally destructive practices to survive.
“Tourism provided an alternate form of income that did not rely on clearing more agricultural land or pasture for grazing cattle,” said Santiago Giraldo Peláez, a prominent archaeologist in the area and director of ProSierra Foundation.
“As such, indigenous and campesino (farming) farmers must now clear and prepare additional land to eke out a living for their families. Hunting has also increased as people seek to put food on the table.”
Giraldo has been involved with the Global Heritage Fund since 2008, investigating and putting into action ways to preserve the archeological site, known as Teyuna, while also engaging local indigenous communities in the site's protection program.
Giraldo supervised the delivery of food and health equipment to over 300 vulnerable families in the area and will continue to play a major part in an ongoing effort between GHF, ProSierra, and Environomica (a nature conservation NGO) to bring long term sustainability to the area.
"We have designed, and continue designing, medium and long term projects aimed at economic diversification, including agroforestry and organic cotton in the area," Girlado said.
"All participating organizations continue to be invested in improving livelihoods for farmers and indigenous families living in the northern and western slopes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta,"
Funding for the two-phase project, however, is still needed, leading GHF to send out an appeal to the general public.
The aim is to raise $100,000 by June 17 with the most immediate needs for food and health kits addressed through initial funding. The impact of donations has been detailed below:
$70 — Feed a family for 1 month
$250 — Supply a PPE kit to 15 families
$560 — Feed 4 families for 2 months
$1,000 — Supply a PPE kit to 57 families
Through continuing work, the Global Heritage Fund and its partners recognizes the importance of Colombia’s Lost City as an irreplaceable archaeological site and one that must be preserved.
And while donations will help solve the immediate food and health care equipment shortages, their structured plan will play an essential part in sustaining this sacred region and its communities well into the future.
Check out 9 essential tips for keeping costs down when organizing your next educational trip for your students.
By Kagumu Staff
STUDENT TRAVEL | 4-MINUTE READ
Choose your destination carefully
This may seem obvious but the cost of a trip will depend heavily on the destination you want to visit. Look for upcoming destinations that fall away from the main tourist track. These destinations will not only give your students a less touristy experience but you will doubtless get more bang for your buck. You have all heard of the term: tourist prices haven’t you? Well, this can double or even treble your overall costs.
Decide on the best time of year
if possible choose to travel outside of peak vacation times. In South America, for example, try to avoid Easter (semana santa) and the main vacation period from mid-December to mid-January. Prices will inflate during these peak weeks, adding to your costs or increasing travel operator prices. If in doubt, ask a local operator what time of year is best to travel
Book your flights wisely
If you are booking your own flights, check these tips out before you do:
If you are using a travel agent, make sure you book in advance and ask them for quotes for different days. You will be surprised how much the cost of a flight changes from one day to the next. Don’t be afraid of negotiating too. Even airlines are able to offer discounts!
Use a reliable local operator
it may sound counterintuitive to pay an operator to organize your trip. I mean, you can book everything yourself, right? Well, local operators are experts in their area. They will save you time and money and you’ll end up with a cheaper trip than if you organized it yourself. Here’s why:
The more students you can gather for the trip, the better. Local operators should offer group discounts as their costs will be reduced when more students join a trip. Kagumu offers discounts for groups of 10, 15, 20 plus students
Plan in advance
This may seem obvious but planning in advance will save you a lot of money. Firstly, local operators will be glad to organize a trip months, maybe even a year in advance as this gives them time to arrange discounts and book early and thus avoiding any inflated prices. Arranging a trip in advance will also give you the chance to find a good deal on flights.
Many colleges and universities already incorporate fundraising into their travel programs. This gives students a great opportunity of feeling the worth of their trip by contributing to the costs. It will also give them good fundraising skills that may be useful in the future. Encourage your students to have fun and creative with this. In the past we have seen students run around their town centre in a bear outfit, host a dance marathon and get family members to do facebook karaoke.
Be cheeky and ask for discounts
Don’t hesitate to ask your local operator for discounts and money-saving offers. In the past Kagumu Adventures has given early-bird discounts for colleges and universities that have booked well in advance. We have also offered discounts for large groups as stated above and we offer discounts for colleges and universities that return the following year. Kagumu also offers free faculty member places for groups of 10 and above. Remember, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
The world’s second most biodiverse country is just waiting to utilize its spellbinding nature and varied landscapes to satisfy an expected new travel demand when restrictions are lifted.
By Simon Willis
The message remains clear: Tourism in Colombia is paused until further notice. This, however, has not stopped optimism growing inside the country about a positive rebound from the industry.
Like any proactive country, Colombia is setting out a detailed plan of action to reignite the tourism industry while identifying Colombia’s megadiversity as key to getting this vital sector back to where it was in early 2020.
Indeed, it was in February 2020 that Colombia president Ivan Duque proudly stood in front of a room full of the continent's most influential players in the industry, praising a tourism boom in the country. The Colombian Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (ANATO) conference attendees listen on as Duque declared a record 4.5 million foreign arrivals to Colombia in 2019 and hopes of a growth to 6 million for 2020.
Since Duque’s speech, the country has closed all its international borders, isolated its regions, and locked down its cities as it continues to quell the spread of Covid-19. The 3.8 percent of the GDP that was to come from tourism practically vanished overnight.
Collective action during the Covid crisis
The impact has been felt all over with hotels, restaurants, cafes, shops, private transport, airlines, all closed for business. Guides have been left without income, except those viable for the government’s three-month payment scheme, and informal workers, like those selling street food and souvenirs, out of work.
Looking forward is the country’s innovative tourism board. With a new series of free webinars and online videos for travel companies and an ongoing roadmap for the future, ProColombia is adopting a collective response to turning the tourism tide.
In an interview with Kagumu Adventures, Stephany Romero Sanchez, ProColombia’s Senior Advisor from Innovation, says they are carefully optimistic about the future though measures need to be put in place before tourism, domestic or international, can start again.
“Enhanced security and biosecurity is needed to protect the virus from spreading,” she said.
“We are obviously not health experts so we are working with the government and the ministry of health to build up some safety protocols for the future. Our plan is to get back to normality, but this will be gradual.”
ProColombia is working on a plan de acción (an action plan) to reactivate tourism in Colombia.
Flavia Santoro, president of ProColombia, told local press: “We are drawing up a roadmap to focus our efforts with the following priorities: adapting to change, facilitating air connectivity and recovering the confidence of the international traveler towards our destinations.”
Despite not being able to put a firm date on when tourism will reopen in Colombia, Sanchez pointed to a phase-by-phase reopening process, looking something like this:
As well as the advice and guidance for local travel companies on how to adapt to the changing tourism landscape, ProColombia is encouraging agencies and operators to promote a type of travel to help people recover from the months of isolation, house quarantines and social distancing.
Prepare, therefore, for a wellness travel boom.
“People have been inside for a long time and will look to feel fresh air and nature. We believe that wellness trips will be in high demand by travelers as well as a need for human to human contact, which is really lacking at the minute,” she said.
Wellness travel - a type of travel aimed at improving a person's wellbeing - was already on the rise, even before the coronavirus spread around the world.
From 2015 to 2017 this market sector grew from $563bn to $639bn, or 6.5% annually – more than twice as fast as the growth of tourism overall.
Read BBC's article on the wellness travel trend
Now, with much of the world emerging from months of quarantine in some form or another, Sanchez believes the demand will be a huge plus for Colombia.
As the world’s second most biodiverse country on earth, Colombia boasts a huge variety of landscapes from Caribbean beaches and Pacific coasts to deserts, grassland plains and jungles. It’s tropical climate is also a huge draw as is an abundance of wildlife, including an incredible array of bird species.
Did you know that Colombia has the most amount of hummingbird species in the world?
“Another major draw for travelers will be the strong image we have built from how we have handled the pandemic,” Sanchez added.
As of May 18, Colombia had officially declared 574 deaths caused from the novel coronavirus virus. A much smaller number compared to South American counterparts Brazil (16,370), Peru (2,648), Ecuador (2,736).
The relatively low numbers have been the result of strict lockdown measures that have been in place since mid March. ProColombia is eager to emphasize the point of a gradual opening of the industry with wholesale safety measures in place before this can happen.
“Companies will need to have robust biosecurity measures to make sure that everyone is safe.”
“They will need to take into account every moment of where social distancing is needed. You have to show that you can protect your team and protect the travellers that come.”
For now, as Sanchez was keen to emphasize, “the country is on a pause.” However, travelers, travel companies, Colombians and anyone involved in this sector can take huge belief and optimism that Colombia is planning a bright future for this irreplaceable industry.
Contact the Kagumu team today to discover a wide range of wellness activities in Colombia.
Are you thinking about trekking to the Lost City - Colombia’s most famous archaeological site, embedded into the Caribbean jungle? Before you go; here are some tips from a guide that has been walking the trail for the past six years.
By Marco Pollone
LOST CITY | 4-MINUTE READ
Few people know the Lost City trek better than Marco Pollone. Having walked the trail over 200 times, leading travelers from all over the world, Kagumu’s main tour leader gives you his top tips for making the most of your journey to the Lost City.
How to get to the Lost City
Daily treks begin every morning (expect for September, when the site is closed) from the centre of Santa Marta. You can drop into one local tour operators’ offices in the centre of the city to join a trip. If you would like to be more prepared, you can choose from one of these pre-planned Lost City trips.
The ride from the city to the start of the trek is about 2.5 hours in a 4x4 truck. You travel along a coastal road that connects Santa Marta with Venezuela and then swerve up a bumpy off-road track to reach the first village called Machete Pelao.
After lunch and a quick briefing, you start the trek.
A lot of people ask me what the trek looks like. Just imagine: a mix of ups and downs, humid forests with low-hanging vines, baking sun, downpours, rivers (that you cross) waterfalls (that you shower under), and natural pools (that you swim in).
Packing is never easy. It’s even more difficult when you know you will be carrying the weight on your shoulders for 4 days! That’s why it is essential to follow this Lost City trek packing list.
Believe me, having patience and packing as light as possible are the keys for success on the Lost City trek.
Length of the trek
Hiking between four and eight hours every day is not always easy. However, you just have to stop and admire the beautiful, wild place and realise how rewarding it is. I mean I have been over 200 times and can’t wait to go back again.
Oh and, don’t be fooled by the distance from a map – 46.6 km there and back as the crow flies is really about 50 km overall.
Climate and Elevation
Weather on the Lost City trek is unpredictable. Rainy season usually starts around June and ends at the beginning of December.
Temperature depends on elevation; the higher you go, the colder it gets. During the day, the air will get to around 30 degrees Celsius, dropping to 15 at the highest point at night. Thermal excursion may make you feel chilly – this is where the long trousers and a long-sleeved shirt come in handy!
In terms of elevation, the trek starts at 150 meters above sea level and reaches 1200 meters. The highest point is actually Ciudad Perdida, the Lost City itself.
Best time of year to visit the Lost City
The trek is open all year long, with the only exception of September. The trail is closed during this month for members of native tribes – Kogui, Wiwa, Arhuaco and Kankwamo – to take part in spiritual cleaning rituals in the ancient site.
Rainy season lasts from June through the beginning of December while August is the peak time for European travelers. Easter, December, and January are popular dates for South American travelers.
February or April/May is much dryer with fewer travelers.
Type of accommodation on the trek
After a day trekking, you spend the evening in campsites. These have a kitchen, showers (no hot water), toilets and you will sleep in a bed or a hammock – don’t worry; I will show you how to sleep well in a hammock.
You will arrive at the camps in time for dinner and, usually in time for a swim in the rivers and/or under waterfalls. This is a real highlight for many travelers.
There will be a small shop to buy snacks and a beer or two and we will eat each dinner in the camp.
Each bed or hammock will have a mosquito net and a blanket and you will be able to recharge batteries for your camera or cellphone too.
Even though there’s no signal, all campsites are connected by radios and Wi-Fi, which is used in case of emergency.
After dinner, our native guide from the Wiwa community will tell us about their culture that has barely changed for centuries and a few weird stories too.
Lost City trek operators
All Lost City trek operators are local companies based in Santa Marta. International operators like Kagumu Adventures works with the most socially and environmentally responsible company.
When you look at reviews all over the internet, on TripAdvisor or Colombian reddit, you may find posts like: “I went to the Lost City with G Adventures” or “I did the Lost City trek with Intrepid”. It’s not completely false… but it’s not true either: companies usually hire a local operator and send one of their local leaders too.
Kagumu Adventures operates in a similar way, except the tour leader is me. I live in Santa Marta and have spent the last six years guiding groups on the Lost City trail. I’d like to think I know a lot about the route, the history, the stories and the culture and I share this with you along with our and supporting a local native guide from the Wiwa community.
Lost City trek price
Prices for the Lost City trek increase slightly every year as agreed upon by local guides, cooks, operators, and local communities.
Due to the generous exchange rate, the price is around $300US for the 4-day experience. Every trek includes guides, accommodation, food, transport to and from Machete Pelao - the village where the trek starts and ends. Health insurance and entrance tickets to the archeological site of the Lost City is also included. The money you pay includes a contribution to local farming and native communities too.
Many of the Kagumu packages found here include: airport transfer, indigenous weaving workshop with the Arhuaco community, at least one night in a jungle-embedded eco lodge after the trek, extra meals and a tubing journey down a winding and to a deserted beach.
Each group travels with a cook and food is transported to each camp by local mules. Your breakfast, lunch and dinner will be prepared for you and your group.
Typically, traditional meals are plentiful, with a lot of rice and grains, vegetables, fish, and chicken. Delicious fruits add to the wholesome breakfast and you can enjoy sliced watermelon, freshly squeezed orange juice and bananas at certain points on the trail.
Special food requirements
Guests are often surprised at the options we can give for people with specific food requirements and allergies. I personally buy the food from the local market in Santa Marta the day before the trek. If you are vegetarian, vegan, celiac or anything else, don't worry; we will make sure you have a wide variety of foods to eat.
So, as you may have read on reddit or in the Lonely Planet; the trek is challenging and the climate is often the biggest hurdle to overcome.
If you are an expert hiker but you are not accustomed to high temperatures, mosquitoes and humidity, then you might find it challenging. But that is half the fun, right?
On the other hand, rainy weather makes the experience more adventurous. Trudging through mud can be quite the experience.
My tip is pack light and be patient. Basically, it means controlling things you can, and letting go of the things you can’t control like the weather. Enjoy every second of it, because it’s going to be worth every drop of sweat.
Here are some questions I often get asked
Do I have to carry my backpack all the way up and down?
Yes. But I have a few tips to make life easier.
You can leave your big rucksack in the hotel to pick up afterwards. In terms of your backpack for the journey, you can store things you don’t need at the campsites on the way to the Lost City. You will return along the same trail so you can leave them and pick them up.
How money should I take?