After two years of not travelling, it is time. I'm hopping on a plane and getting out of dodge! There's still a pandemic. Life and travel are not in any way, shape or form back to normal. But I've stifled my wanderlust enough and as you all know the tourism industry worldwide has been hit hard. Other than my innate love of travel, I feel compelled to get back out in the world and give back through travel.
Here’s how I've planned my itinerary through responsible and sustainable choices
October 19 - 24
The first part of my adventure is a travel advisor familiarization trip. This means that reputable companies have crafted itineraries for travel advisors to showcase the amazing destinations and experiences in the country. Advisors get to meet the suppliers, travel with them and experience the destination firsthand. It is a whole lot of fun, but it is also work; albeit ‘fun’ work.
I've specifically chosen a trip where many of the activities are outdoors, and crowds will be rare. I'm spending very little time in big cities and taking in as much of the beautiful countryside as I can.
The first week of my travels includes ½ days spent mountain biking in the great outdoors through the coffee region in and around Manizales. The other ½ of each day includes birdwatching, hiking, outdoor thermal spas, a city tour of Manizales, a chocolate workshop and coffee tours and tastings. Human-powered site seeing by bike and foot and then lots of organic, locally grown meals!
We’ll be staying at different locally owned and operated hotels, one of which is a local coffee farm. Staying at a local farm helps support the community and protect their cultural heritage.
18 destinations in the Coffee Region have been recognized by Unesco as the Coffee Cultural Landscape. The way their coffee is grown, harvested and processed is important to the culture. Through the coffee tours we’ll participate in, not only will we get to know and appreciate this piece of their culture and history, but they get to pass it along to future generations through tourism as well. The money we spend as tourists helps to support these tours and ensure that the history and culture are shared.
Oct 24 - 27
Once I say goodbye to my new travel advisor friends, I will be continuing on in the coffee region, still sticking with outdoor activities and wide-open spaces. I'll be heading to stay at a sustainable lodge built with the utmost care to fit into the local surroundings, protect and encourage the biodiversity of the area.
It is here that I’ll (hopefully) see the Andean Condor soaring over the canyon. They are the largest flying land bird in South America. Quite a sight to behold! The lodge is built near one of only three condor nests that are known in all of Colombia! The lodge works with solar energy, rainwater-based toilets, eco-friendly cleaning products and was built with cultivated wood.
I hope to see foxes, guaguas and armadillos. And maybe take a night walk (if I’m feeling brave) to do some stargazing. Sounds like a pretty good way to celebrate my 43rd birthday, right?
The next day I’ll be off to two little towns, Filandia and Salento, to explore their colourful architecture, culture and food. Lunch will be at a sustainable restaurant called Helena Adentro and then after more town exploring in the afternoon, I’ll tuck into my eco-friendly hotel in Salento. They’ve sourced their materials, designs and artworks from the best artisans in the region.
Next up, I’ll be hopping in a Jeep Willy for a full-day tour through the stunning mountains to see the tallest palm trees in the world in the Cocora Valley and La Carbonera. There’ll be some hiking, birdwatching, storytelling and lots of photography along the way.
Jeep Willy’s are also part of the local heritage. They were introduced in 1946 for military purposes but have been used as ‘work horses’ in the region since then. They have been an integral part of transporting goods and materials, as well as a mode of transportation for many in rural communities with poor infrastructure. It’s normal to see people holding on to the outside of the jeep as they bump along the roads. I think I’ll stick to the inside though!
After a long road trip day, I'll check in to another off-the-beaten-track, eco and wellness lodge just outside of Armenia. If there's still light, I'll explore the native forests, the bio trail and end the day with a meal at their slow food restaurant where all meals are prepared by hand and cooked on a slow fire. It's all local, natural, fresh and seasonal, supporting local farmers in the region.
Throughout this part of the trip, I have arranged private transfers booked between towns with reputable companies rather than taking public transportation. It's a little harder on the environment than public transport, but another travel advisor is sharing the transfers with me. During these times, I feel it's important to stay away from crowds whenever possible, so no public buses for me! And we are avoiding flights in this region by taking the transfers, so it's still one of the more responsible transportation choices.
Oct 27 - 30
I plan to spend the morning watching the sunrise, eating a slow food breakfast and taking a birdwatching hike on the trails at the eco-lodge before settling in for a long transfer from Armenia to Cali.
My next stop is yet another beautiful lodge with a special family story. In the 1950’s the family purchased 30 acres of land in the Western Andes and built a small ‘finca’ as an escape from busy city life. The kids and grandkids spent holidays here exploring nature while the parents and grandparents tended to the rose and orchid gardens and enjoyed being ‘off grid’.
Over the past few years, the ‘finca’ has grown into an eco-lodge. The rose and orchid gardens are now five hectares of organic gardens that grow the food for the property without the use of pesticides. The architecture and agricultural practices are careful to protect the environment and make the area a haven for birdlife. And they’ve now protected another eight hectares of land, solely for conservation.
Other than exploring the gardens and learning about their organic practices, I’m looking forward to river tubing, birding, hiking and eating delicious organic food grown on-site. I’m sure I’ll be sad to leave this place!
Oct 30 - Nov 3
Deciding on this part of my itinerary was difficult. I was torn between several options, most requiring multiple extra flights. I finally convinced myself that after an active 10 days of touring and two years of pandemic stress, I'd settle into an island hotel and rest.
On the 30th I'll depart the coffee region with a flight to Cartagena on the Caribbean Coast. My mom and I visited here in 2018. It’s a beautiful, historic city with incredible beaches and lively culture.
I’ll be staying a couple of nights in the city and three nights in the beautiful, protected marine area of the Rosario Islands.
Locals have warned me that I’ll be bored staying at the little island resort. I’ve assured them I’m perfectly happy to be bored in an island paradise for four days. I plan to take a boat tour to learn about the importance of mangroves and the delicate ecosystem of the Rosario Islands. I hope to do a bioluminescence tour, go stand up paddleboarding and snorkelling. Does that sound boring to you? It sounds like heaven to me!
Nov 3 - 4
I'll return to the city of Cartagena late in the afternoon on a shared shuttle boat, check into my hotel and go for my PCR testing. The next day I plan to walk a beautiful long beach, probably early in the morning to avoid the heat and then do a tour to reacquaint myself with one of the prettiest cities I've ever visited
Nov 5 - 6
I'm heading back to Bogota to spend my last night in the big city before heading back home. I hope to do a ½ day tour of the historic centre of Bogota and maybe stop by the opulent gold museum before tucking myself in for a breathless night's sleep at 8600 ft above sea level. Hopefully, I'll get some rest, but if not, I have to be up at 4 am to head to the airport anyway! I'll sleep on the plane.
Throughout my planning, I made conscious choices to ensure my travels are having the smallest impact possible on the environment and a positive impact on the areas I visit.
When it comes to sustainability, it is important to try your hardest to choose the best options. You won’t always get it right, nor do I. Don’t beat yourself up over it, just make sure you are taking steps to mitigate the negative effects of travel whenever you can and that you are choosing positive impact more often than not.
My hope is that through supporting all of the eco-lodges, small tours, organic farming practices and restaurants over these 20 days in Colombia that my positive impact on the communities will be strong. I have no doubt their positive impact on me will be big!
Tourism is a force for good. It promotes education, protects cultural heritage, provides jobs and brings hope to so many people around the world. I can’t wait to get back out in the world and meet all of the amazing people who are so proud of their lands and cultures.
Tell me what you learned from reading, or what you are most interested in hearing more about. Leave me a comment. I'd love to share more about my adventures in Colombia with you!