Local Spotlight: Interview with our local experts in Colombia
By Kati Taylor
Sprawling, vibrant and alive with personality, Colombia is quickly finding its way onto many people’s travel bucket lists. Whether they’re drawn by the warm and welcoming nature of its people or by its stunning landscapes, there’s something to suit every kind of traveller. Our local experts have been creating eco-friendly tours to Colombia since 2011, showcasing the highlights of this relatively unexplored country to curious visitors. From trekking in the UNESCO-listed Chicamocha Canyon to experiencing agricultural life with local families, variety truly is at the heart of the Colombian travel experience!
We caught up with Laura, the founder of our partner company, to talk about her favourite memories, unmissable food experiences and what day to day life is like in Colombia…
1) What is life like in Colombia? What is your fondest memory?
Life in Colombia is all about colour and contrast. The food, the music, the people, the landscape… it is one of the most diverse and wonderful places in the world. As well as being easygoing and fun loving, Colombian people are very welcoming and love to share their country with visitors. In terms of my fondest memories, I went on a load of road trips with my family when I was a kid and we explored some of the country’s more rural landscapes. We would hike to waterfalls, bathe in rivers and just enjoy the world around us - it was a truly magical time.
2) What is your favourite place in Colombia? Why?
It’s hard for me to choose just one but I would have to say Barichara. It’s full of colourful colonial architecture and a walk through the streets makes you feel like you’ve gone back in time. The local artisans are also friendly - keen to tell stories about the past and show you their craftsmanship while living a wonderfully relaxed pace of life.
3) What three words most represent Colombia for you? And why?
Diverse - biologically and culturally! Colombia has 42 national parks and 102 indigenous ethnic groups so there’s no shortage of variation. I think it’s this variety that keeps people's interest and brings them back to Colombia again and again.
Friendly - Colombian people love a conversation and are always keen to learn about other cultures. They’re also very forthcoming and happy to share their traditions and customs with visitors.
A great place to live - I love my life in Colombia and think it’s a truly beautiful country, that’s part of the reason why I enjoy showing it off to travellers so much!
4) How would you describe Colombian culture?
Colombia is split into six geographic regions and each has its own dialect, food, music and customs. This means that the national culture is hugely varied and hard to sum up (which is part of the reason why Colombia is such a remarkable country to explore!) However, in general Colombian people are kind, friendly and enthusiastic. Music and creativity are an integral part of everyday life here, as well as openness - locals are always keen to interact with visitors.
5) What is your favourite Colombian food?
I would say ajiaco santafereño - a potato-based soup which is commonly served in Bogota and its surrounding Cundinamarca region. I also love Arepa, a kind of maize-flour patty which can be grilled, baked, fried or steamed. It’s a real staple in Colombian cuisine and can be served sweet or savoury. My favourite fillings are egg (arepa de huevo), soft cheese (arepa choclo) or the classic ‘arepa santanderana’ which is stuffed with crispy pork belly and cassava.
6) Do you know any cool facts about Colombia that most people wouldn’t know?
Colombia is home to 10 per cent of the world’s biodiversity and 19 per cent of global bird species can be found here. The country is also a cultural melting pot: 102 indigenous ethnic groups, 730 annual festivals and 64 linguistic variations. Furthermore, although it’s not often celebrated for it, Colombia has some incredible beaches. We have 2900 miles of beautiful coastline and a huge variety of marine wildlife.
7) What are the experiences those travelling to Colombia definitely shouldn’t miss?
When in Colombia, you have to throw yourself into the spirit of things and don’t let time frames stand in your way! I would definitely recommend taking part in a salsa workshop and having a cooking lesson, as dance and food are real cornerstones of Colombian culture. I would also encourage a visit to the coffee regions where you can take part in a ‘bean to brew’ tour and then sample the finished product. For authenticity and cultural immersion, visit local markets and chat to the store vendors. They’ll be happy to talk to you, just make sure you’re ready to bargain!
8) Do you have any top tips for any TravelLocal customers thinking of visiting Colombia?
My top tip would be to try and learn some basic Spanish phrases. A lot of Colombians, especially in rural areas, do not speak English and a little bit of effort goes a long way. Being able to communicate with the locals is also a great way to feel more immersed in your travelling experience. In terms of when to visit, I would advise heading to Colombia between January and mid April (avoiding Easter week) or between August and November. Although these don’t fall within the high season, the weather is pretty agreeable and the country’s iconic sites will be far less crowded.
9) What is the story behind your company? What inspired you to start the business?
I am actually an Industrial Engineer but while I was at university I got chatting to a Marketing teacher about the potential for tourism in Colombia. I realised that certain regions remained relatively unexplored and that tourism was a great way to showcase the country and promote local development at the same time. I was keen to approach the business in a ‘green’ way and to make sure that we were benefitting rural and urban areas alike.
10) What’s next for you guys?
Because of our commitment to sustainable development and eco-tourism, we are currently working to produce carbon neutral itineraries. We already invest 1 per cent of our profits in reforestation projects and have planted 3507 trees so far!
11) And we’ve got ask - do you have a dream holiday destination that you want to visit?
Within Colombia itself there are still so many places I haven’t been to! I would love to visit Malpelo island and learn to dive as well as take part in a whale watching expedition off the Pacific Coast. Internationally, the beaches of Thailand really appeal to me!
To get in touch with Laura and start planning your dream trip to Colombia, click here and send her an enquiry. Alternatively, you can contact TravelLocal in office on 0117 325 7898 and we can talk you through the planning process.