Choosing a Responsible Tour Company in Colombia

At Don’t Forget To Move we’re all about traveling responsibly and giving back along the way, but we understand not everyone has the time to take 6 months off and volunteer in Peru, or quit their job to go and work in an animal sanctuary. Luckily, volunteering abroad isn’t the only way to give back while traveling. Regardless of how much time you have on your travels, you can always create a positive impact on the communities you visit, while also having a really fun time.

One of the best ways to give back while traveling is to choose companies that prioritize supporting the local community, environment and animals over profits. By doing so you not only support local companies making their communities a better place, but also the business model of responsible tourism for all the other businesses out there.

And the options are endless when it comes to choosing where to spend your dollar. It might mean staying in an eco-hotel instead of your average run on the mill hotel. Visiting an animal sanctuary instead of watching a dolphin show. Or shopping at local businesses instead of hitting up 7-11 and Costco. For us, one of our favorite ways to give back while traveling is to find sustainable tour companies that support these responsible tourism principles.

But Aren’t Tours The Worst?

I know what you’re thinking: uhh.. tour company? I thought Don’t Forget To Move was all about ditching the tours and exploring on your own?!

Yep, you’re right! Those tours that cram 100 people in a bus and stop at landmarks to take photos for 5 minutes before carting everyone to the next spot… We avoid those like the plague!

But there’s something to be said for small, socially conscious tour operators. First off, they know their stuff. As dorky as you may feel walking around with a tour guide, you’ll learn way more about the area than exploring on your own. Having a local guide not only means getting tips on those sweet local spots, but also getting a deeper understanding of the history and culture of the area. They also know how you, as a visitor, can reduce your negative impact on the places you’re visiting.

Benefits of Choosing the Right Tour Companies

So while handing out sweets to indigenous children may seem like a good idea, a local guide can give you the insider scoop that this is actually damaging to their health and causes more harm than good. When searching for a sustainable tour operator the ideal situation is finding a company that ensures their tours are low impact, and also supports local social projects. It’s a win-win. You get a fantastic tour with a local guide, while your money goes back to the community.

Unfortunately these types of tour companies aren’t as common as they should be. So when we heard about Context, a small group tour company giving back to local communities, we jumped at the chance to join their tours. We liked it so much we attended 3 of their tours in Cartagena, Colombia alone! Here’s what we loved about our Context experience.

Deep Travel Foundation

Context is all about visiting destinations with small groups, minimizing the negative impacts of travel and maximizing positive impacts on the community. But they don’t just use phrases like social impact travel because it looks good in their brochure. They put their money where their mouth is. In conjunction with their tours, they’ve set up the Deep Travel foundation that works with social projects to give back to the communities they visit.

While in Cartagena we attended one of their tour/social project combinations: the San Francisco Barrio tour, which was lead by tour guide and local badass do-gooder Alex Rocha. He started the Alex Rocha Youth Center several years ago because he saw his community struggling in the midst of violence and poverty. He wanted to create a safe place for the local children and teens to develop new skills, receive homework help and have an alternative to getting involved with drugs and gangs.

Social Projects in Cartagena

A couple years ago Context developed a partnership with the center. Travelers who want to gain a better understanding of real life in Cartagena, beyond the walls of the tourist area, can visit San Francisco barrio and take a tour with Alex. When we visited we were lucky enough to come on a day when local youth were putting on a breakdancing performance for the barrio. Alex told us that breakdancing had been a huge influence on his life when he was younger and saved him from getting into trouble. Now he puts on shows and events around the city, trying to do the same for many troubled youths within the community.

We were completely blown away by the level of talent of the dancers. It was clear the groups were putting their heart and soul into their passion and it was touching to hear several of them speak about how breakdancing gave them a new direction in life. After the performance Alex came back with a piece of paper, with a list of younger boys names in the community that had requested to sign up for breakdancing classes. For us, that said it all. Alex is providing a safe space for kids of all ages that will continue to benefit younger generations.

In the evening, after checking out the barrio, tour guests get a special treat, dinner with the Rocha family. We learned more about Alex’s dreams for the center and met his children who were all incredibly intelligent, ambitious people, sure to follow in their father’s footsteps. Every tour ticket includes a donation to the center that Context matches, so you can leave knowing you’ve made a small, meaningful impact on a very deserving community.

Real Travel Sustainability

But supporting social projects isn’t the only way Context is giving back to the community. They are a sustainable tour company through and through. A lot of companies in the tourism industry tout themselves as sustainable because it’s trendy, but never actually take action to become more eco-friendly. Context not only focuses on lessening their impact on the community, but is actually proactive in mitigating those negative impacts.

As a corporation, they do their part by keeping sustainable practices at their offices and participating in a carbon-offset program. On their tours they keep impact to a minimum by only allowing 6 guests max. That means you’re not walking with a huge group trying to figure out which guide holding an umbrella in the air is yours. Small groups give you the opportunity to really know your guide and ask questions about being a local to the area.

By providing local expert tour guides you have a unique opportunity to get an insider view on the city. You know those amazing, hole-in-the-wall spots that only locals seem to know about? Those are the kind of spots you’ll be visiting and getting recommendations to visit after your tour.

Sustainable Tours in Cartagena

On our Cartagena At Twilight walk, the sunset tour of Cartagena, our guide Kristen took us to The Rum Box to do some rum tasting! It was a perfect compliment to the city’s Caribbean vibe and a completely unique experience that we wouldn’t have chosen for ourselves. Another favorite on our sunset tour was a stop at a local coffee shop, Cafe Del Mural, where the owner stayed open late just to accommodate our small group. We were expecting to order off the menu, but instead the owner concocted custom drinks based on our personal preferences! I ended up with a delicious frozen coconut coffee with almond liqueur and whipped cream and Jules had a citrus flavored coffee over ice with orange slice. Yum!

Because the guides know the city so well they are able to customize your tour on the spot. Depending on what areas you may have already explored on your own they can take you on different routes or spend more time in other areas. Many Context guides are local historians, like our “Welcome to Cartagena” tour guide Luis, a local history PHD student. Luis knew the history of Colombia like the back of his hand. He was ready for all of our questions and told us everything we’d need to know about Cartagena, from the best pirate stories to the most delicious arepa stands.

We left each of our Context Cartagena tours with a greater knowledge and understanding of the history and daily life of the locals. We loved that having a small group tour meant one-on-one time with the guide, which also meant getting all of our questions answered. We can’t wait to check out more Context tours throughout Europe!

Thanks to Context for inviting us onto these trips. Even though Don’t Forget To Move received these tours for free, we fully support and promote Context, not only as a great option for socially conscious tours around the world, but for the work they’re doing to support social projects. 


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Mystical Minca: Chilling Out In The Sierra Nevada

Backpacking Minca Colombia

A flashback article from our time in Northern Colombia, late 2012.

After almost 2 months on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, stuffing our faces full of fresh fish and sweating like pigs, we couldn’t wait to experience the chilled out tranquil reputation of Minca for ourselves. We hopped in the back of a colectivo from Santa Marta and watched the road slip away behind us, slowly ascending above the hectic chaos of the coastal city.

We crept further into the Sierra Nevada until the driver dropped us at the “center” of Minca, if you’d call it that. There’s no real main plaza in Minca, only a few desolate shops and local restaurants that line a small main street by the bridge, which curves around to meet the church and a rusty playground.



After checking out several options for accommodation, we settled on Hostel San Souci. It’s a bit of a walk up the hill, but worth it for their incredible view. They  offer discounts in exchange for coffee picking work during the season. They also have a kitchen for guest use. A few shops in the center carry basic supplies, but have limited options for fresh produce. We made a supply run down to Santa Marta half way through our stay to pick up fruits and veggies. There are a couple tasty restaurants in town, but most carry the typical Colombian fare. Across from the church a small shop sells chupetes, popsicles for 50 cents. They are homemade and ridiculously delicious, in flavors like peanut butter, rum & raisin and natural fruits. Unfortunately we discovered these treats on our second to last day; otherwise we would have been slurping these down at least twice daily.



Unlike the hub of activity that is Santa Marta, the tranquility of Minca is apparent as soon as you enter the Sierra Nevada. Time passes slowly and no one in town seems to be in too much of a rush. There is a tourist information booth near the bridge in town with useful info on activities around Minca. Waterfall hikes through the hills are fairly easy to DIY. For adventurers, water rafting is available if the water level is high enough and there is even an “extreme donkey ride” tour. We chose to forgo the tours (I know, I know, how could we pass up extreme donkeys?) and spent most of our days walking along the wide, curving streets ascending into the hills.



Walking through town we stumbled across several inconspicuous homes selling homemade organic chocolate. This is chocolate in its simplest form, unsweetened, perfect to grate and boil with milk and sugar for hot chocolate. But if you’re looking for the real taste of Minca- it’s coffee. Colombia is famous for it’s coffee and rightly so. The La Victoria coffee plantation, which rests high up into the mountains, offers tours for $5. There’s only one road up and the walk is a decent hour and a half, but it’s not uncommon to hitch a ride with workers driving up. La Victoria manages the entire process from growing the beans to selling the coffee. Every step is completely sustainable and the whole plant operates off hydroelectricity. After the tour, kick back with a cup of complimentary coffee in their lounge area and take advantage of the free Wi-Fi, which is otherwise difficult to find in Minca.



During our two week stay we volunteered with the local organization, Mision Gaia. The organization’s goal is to promote environmental sustainability and support local projects in education and sustainable tourism. Although we were just coming off six months of working for an NGO in Peru and weren’t actively looking for a volunteer opportunity, we were happy to help out with Mision Gaia. We worked with Diana, the founder and director, helping with administrative support. We were also able to visit one of the local classrooms and help out with a tree-planting day at the high school. As is usually the case, volunteering in Minca gave us a deeper insight into the local lifestyle and helped us connect with the community. If you’re interested in volunteering with sustainable development in the breathtaking Sierra Nevada, contact Diana at Mision Gaia



On the last day of our two week stay, Jules and I drank a final cup of coffee at the local café. Backpackers just coming into town stopped in for a bite and locals sat down for a chat. The walls were covered in art and flyers for current workshops and classes. After we finished our coffee, the young waitress came over to take away our cups. A semi-dazed look on her face, she asked if we’d like anything else. We said no and she wandered off to daydream behind the counter. No rush for us to leave, no rush for her to wait the other tables. It was Minca in a nutshell.



-Most hostels have open kitchens but not all. A few shops in the center carry basic supplies but have limited options for fresh produce.

-Minca does not have an ATM so grab cash in Santa Marta before you come

-try to go during off season, it may be a bit rainy in the afternoons but its worth it to skip the crowds

Some of the cuties we volunteered with:





Recipe For The Freshest (And Cheapest) Pina Colada You’ll Ever Taste

Being a backpacker is all about enjoying the little things. And how better to enjoy the moment than soaking up the Caribbean coast of Colombia with a fresh Pina Colada? A fancy pants cocktail can end up costing you up to 10 dollars in an upscale beach bar. Why pay extra just to have someone put a tiny umbrella in your glass? We’ve perfected the ultimate beach budget cocktail recipe. Part creativity, part foraging and big glug of rum. This cocktail is an afternoon of laying in a beach side hammock, in a glass.


Start by gathering all your ingredients, and sometimes I mean quite literally ‘gathering’.

    1. The piña (pineapple) is easy. You can pop down to your local morning market or corner fruit store to get one cheap and fresh. If you can pluck the leaves out of the stem, it usually means it’s sweet and ready.
    2. For the ron (rum) you won’t need to break the budget. Don’t be afraid of the bottom shelf rum in plastic bottles. Mixed with our other ingredients, you won’t be able to taste the difference.
    3. Next comes the hielo (ice). Rather than pay for a massive bag you can usually buy small personal ‘agua en una bolsa’ (water in a bag). Pop them in the freezer and you’ll have the perfect amount.
    4. The funnest part, the coco (the coconut). If you’re feeling lazy you’ll get one at market; if you’re feeling adventurous you’ll find yours at the beach for gratis. Take a cruise down to the shore and start hurling old fallen coconuts at the fresh ones in the trees. Watch out for stray territorial dogs, or the possibility of being on private property and having an old man chase you out.


    1. First you need to get the coconut ready. This requires a local machete wielding amigo, or a bit of resourcefulness. You can try to smash open the top point of the husk on a rock and peel it away, but if it’s fresh this can be tough. Otherwise you can swing the machete yourself, and try not to cut your hand off.
    2. Drain the coconut water by piercing a hole through what looks like tiny bowling ball finger slots. Two holes will help it drain faster. Collect a few coconuts worth of water and then crack one open and carve out the meat.
    3. Put the coconut flesh and water into a blender. As a ratio I use one coconut of flesh to three coconuts of water. Crank it up to high and blend into a frothy milk.
    4. Cut the pineapple into small cubes and remove the tough core.
    5. Smash the bag of ice on the floor to crack it all up. Or crack it up with the back of the machete.
    6. Add the pineapple and ice to your new coconut concoction and blend for a few minutes.
    7. Depending on your preference, you can strain some of the pulp, or keep it original and chewy.
    8. Add rum to taste and blend again for 30 seconds. Pour in a tall glass (or a coconut shell), add some more ice and enjoy!

Believe us, after a few ‘research’ trials we can definitely confirm these are the freshest and cheapest Pina Colada going round!

Backpacking Cartagena: It’s a Pirate’s Life for Me

Cartagena, a city rich in historical past and cultural beauties. It had been over 2 years since I last visited, but immediately I was brought back after seeing the hustle and bustle of downtown, the beautifully restored colonial building and the picturesque wall surrounding the old city that tells so many tales of pirating and pillaging.

My first time backpacking Cartagena was back in early 2010. I crossed from Panama City in a tiny propeller driven plane in the middle of the night. You can also cross by boat from Panama, or there are a lot of ways to travel to Cartagena from within Colombia. At the time I, like many travelers, had slightly bought into the hype of Colombia’s dangerous reputation. I’d heard about the sketchy past and was definitely hesitant at the beginning, but all that quickly dissolved when I was met by some warm Colombian hospitality.



Cartagena Backpacking

On my first day I met a very friendly, and fidgety, guy on the street who introduced himself as Super Mario. He described himself in third person with a boastful tone. From the way he puffed out his chest and had an ever alert eye I could tell he had an air of confidence that matched his street experience. After a brief conversation the topic quickly turned to his local resourcefulness. He assured me there was nothing outside his reach, and I didn’t doubt him for a second. He proved pretty useful when he pointed out a cheap hostel and nice place to eat, but I gratefully declined his recommendation for a local whore house.

While this specific brand of Colombian hospitality is something I would encounter many more times throughout my travels, it is in by no means a reflection of Colombia as a whole. The people are extremely welcoming to change and are working hard to reestablish a positive reputation. Colombia is a country progressively moving away from it’s past and into the future.



And speaking of history, why not a little on Cartagena. Back in colonial times Cartagena was, for the Spanish conquistadors, the most accessible sea port established in South America. They relied heavily on the port for capturing and colonising the continent and also as a vital storage point for all the treasures they were acquiring before shipping them across the Atlantic. The protection of Cartagena was paramount for the Spanish in order to safeguard the masses of gold and jewels they had pillaged from ancient indigenous cultures throughout the continent. From huge Incan civilisations to smaller tribal groups, the Spanish were laying their claim to this literal goldmine for exportation.


Exploring the Cartagena Wall

For this reason the Spanish constructed a massive stone fortress wall that spans across the sea front to protect the inner city from opportunistic pirates. These days la muralla, the wall, is undoubtedly one of the cities main drawing attractions as visitors come from near and far to take a walk through history. You can walk on top of the wall, spanning several meters wide, and take a cruise around the water front. Fresh sea breeze blows over the wall and you get a taste of salt in the air. The uneven stones beneath your feet add not only to your precaution, but also to the wall’s architectural authenticity. Small weeds grow between the cracks before machete wielding men come to maintain the wall in pristine condition. It’s a perfect panoramic view of the old town that waits below the secure stone.

The wall isn’t the only historical link to the city. I didn’t need to go far to witness some of the other cultural insights of past to present. In the north of Colombia the Caribbean influence is strong. Mix that with the assimilation of African workers during the colonization times and it creates a rich diversity of multiculturalism. With these cultural infusions I got to experience an amazing array of new sights, sounds and smells.



For my first couple of days I ventured into the streets and got lost in the twisting and turning cobblestone alleys that make up Old Town. Days would be spent exploring interesting museums, architecture and cafes to pass the time. The sound of African drum beats echoed through the city walls as barefooted dancers performed for onlooking crowds. At night I would find hidden plazas amidst the maze of streets and sit among the crowds to watch people go about their business. Live music saturated the dim lit streets as old men gathered to play chess and chat about the latest football results. Local kids started a lively football match in the middle of the plaza, dodging and weaving the smaller niños eager to join in. The smell of marinated meat wafted through the plaza as street vendors barbecued from the nearest corner.

Whether it’s fine dining at expensive Spanish influenced restaurants, or a quick hotdog on the corner, there is always something delicious to find when backpacking Cartagena on a budget. Before my recent switch to vegetarianism my go to snacks were anticuchos, marinated beef heart skewers, that you could taste from a mile away. Those days might be over, but its still a flavor that is deeply rooted in my taste buds. Even thinking about it now takes me back to those sultry nights, drinking a beer in the plaza, chatting the night away with people from all walks of life and munching on a bit of beef.

Colombian Days, Caribbean Nights

As Jules and I spent our last two months in South America making our way up from the Peruvian Amazon to the northernmost tip of Colombia, we began to collect memory cards full of photos and videos. Most of the photos are still sitting on my computer waiting to be sorted and the videos have began gathering hypothetical dust in IMovie. So I finally decided to do something with them.  This travel video is a highlight reel of our time in Colombia. Enjoy!




Palomino, Colombia: Don’t Judge A Town By It’s Highway

“Pare! Pare!” Jules yelled at the bus driver, immediately shaking me from my daydream staring out the window. The bus lurched to a stop and we wrestled on our backpacks and jump out the door. True to South American form, the driver completely neglected to yell out our stop, even after reassuring us several times he would.

Stepping off the bus, Palomino appeared to be a far cry from the Caribbean beach community I had imagined. A couple of pharmacies, a few restaurants where people idly sho flies away from their menu del día and a hardware store lined the main highway. Big trucks flew by, passing through the entire town in 2 minutes, nearly missing stray dogs that fought over the spillage of an overflowing trash can.

A group of young mototaxists dressed in Hollister knock offs, leaning against their motorcycles, told us that the only hostel we’ve been recommended is closed down. As seasoned travelers we know better than to believe this trick. But as we were in a new town with no sense of direction, we put our faith in humanity and let them give us a ride. We threw our big backpacks on our backs and tried not to fall off as we bumped along the dusty dirt road, whizzing by tin-roofed houses and fields of lush grass.



They dropped us off at the end of the road and directed us to the beach, a wall of thick vegetation blocked the view of the ocean so we only had the sound of the waves crashing to guide us. Emerging from the trees we finally stepped foot onto the hot, tan sand. Miles of beach stretched out on either side of us, sandwiched in between calm dark blue water and disorderly rows of palm trees. Walking to the left we hit the Palomino river which runs peacefully into the ocean. Turning to the right the beach wraps around a small bay revealing undeveloped, unpopulated beach as far as we could see.

Discovering the quiet beach community of Palomino, Colombia is what I imagine would have been like for those that first uncovered the potential and natural beauty of Cancun. Before the high rise hotels and beach vendors hawking cheap sunglasses took over. A line of quiet hostels run along the beach front, but walk 30 feet in either direction and you will have your very own slice of paradise.

The town itself is mostly residential. Don’t expect a charming downtown with artisan shops and cafes. Palomino has remained refreshinglu unaffected by its small influx of tourism. The most central location is the town plaza, with a church on one side and a football pitch on the other. On Sunday we purchased a couple of chupetes, popsicles, from the corner store and sat down on the curb. The plaza was full of what seemed like the entire town. Young boys in Colombian football jerseys picked teams for the next match and argued over positions, girls with hair covered in braids and brightly colored barrettes took turns swinging the ropes for double Dutch, parents and grandparents sat on their porches gossiping and watching the children play. From one house a speaker in the window blared reggaeton and teenagers danced to a song that played on repeat. Eventually, the crowd migrated into the church for evening mass leaving the plaza in an sudden state of silence .

After an arduous day of reading by the beach and kicking it in the plaza with the locals, we had worked up an appetite. Most hostels along the beach have kitchens and serve up a decent, although sometimes pricey, meal. Typical tourist fare like pizza, sandwiches etc, can be found along this strip. But for a more authentic taste we headed back into town to one of the restaurants on the main drag which will always had some sort of fresh fish, beans and rice combo. My strategy for choosing a place to eat in a new town is find a restaurant packed with locals; that’s always a good sign.

Although Palomino is a beach town, we were never approached by the usual brash, fast talking tour promoters pushing their jet ski rentals or boat tours. The most we were bothered on the beach was by someone selling the occasional organic chocolate, which we had to sample, for cultural research purposes, of course. The only downside to this serenity is that there isn’t a whole lot to do in town.



The only “adventure” activity is floating down the Palomino river in an inner tube. Unless you’ve just ditched your retirement home to tour Colombia, this won’t be terribly thrilling. But for the backpacker looking for a break from the hectic life of traveling, this is the perfect afternoon activity.

We rented inner tubes at a hostel in town ($5), hopped on a moto up the river and chose a place to slide down the bank of the river and hop in. We spent the next two hours moseying along, enjoying the scenic view of the jungle on either side and waving at groups or kids splashing around the bank. Sunscreen & a hat is key for this day as we were literally baking in the sun. A couple cold beers from in town didn’t hurt either.

There aren’t any pumping nightclubs in Palomino which only adds to its laidback charm, but on a Friday night we bought a couple beers from the corner store and kicked back on the main strip. I think people watching is a must while traveling, but more so in a small town when you can start to recognize some of the local characters. Kicking back with a cold can of Aguila, , we watched women serve up piping hot arepas to hungry tourists stopping only for a quick snack before continuing on to Santa Marta, kids play tag in front of their parents fruit and vegetable stalls and groups of teenage girls and boys assessing each other from across the road. In a close by restaurant we listened to the preachings of a local “loco” who shouts biblical passages and “hallelujah!” at anyone who will listen. Men played billiards in a dimly lit pool hall across the road and catcalled anything female. Families crowded inside corner stores, watching a soccer game on a fuzzy TV.

We ended up staying for two weeks in this quiet beachside town only to return again on our way back down the coast. This is the kind of place we can’t wait to tell your friends about, but at the same time want to keep our own little secret.

Snapshot From: An Amazon Tri-Border

It’s 2pm and we’ve hit the end of the road in northern Peru. Actually it’s the end of the river, and by this stage it has taken us 4 idle days of slow boats to arrive in the middle of nowhere; a town called Santa Rosa. A grass trodden path leads us to a thin wooden plank bridge that we must cross before getting into town. The wood bends and bows under the weight of our heavy backpacks and we’re cautious of falling into the murky waters. After 10 shaky minutes we step off intact and still dry. In the midst of our celebration we turn back to witness an older lady, who appears to be pushing 80, cross carrying a basket of clothes on her head with ease. We tell ourselves she’s obviously had a lot more practice and shrug off the spectators giggles from afar.

We’re on the Peruvian side of the Amazon River and are looking for the immigration office to stamp out, not an easy task. There are barely any signs to show it’s location and we manage to walk past it a number of times before finally discovering it. From the outside it simply looks like a residential house, with pealing paint on the weatherboard from a blistering sun. There is an instant presence of lethargy in the building and from behind the desk a man raises one eye from a magazine, clearly bothered by us interrupting his “work”.

This tri-border is home to all the dark and dangerous things that you associate with the depths of the Amazon jungle. Sex trafficking, the trade of endangered species, black markets and all the other mysterious activities that come with a city on the edge of the unknown. If you’re on the run or looking for those less conventional market items, you’re come to the right place. It’s no wonder this has a reputation as one of the dodgiest places in South America.

In the morning we leave Peru and take a rickety old boat across the narrow river and enter Colombia territory for the first time at Leticia. Across the main highway we can walk into Brazil at Tabatinga. 3 different currencies circulate the area, making conversions a nightmare. We have 24 hours to officially check in, but nobody seems too rushed in the suffocating heat of a city surrounded by dense jungle.

At the airport we see faded posters warning travellers of the penalties for partaking in any of the illegal activities that make this region infamous. Somehow I feel these warnings aren’t very usefully positioned. It’s hard to imagine a man trying to check a baby tiger into his hand luggage and then being surprised once he spots these preventative posters. However, as a man at the airport tells us, stupider people have been caught.

After a few days we were ready to get a move on. The opportunistic temptations of the dark jungle don’t entice us to stick around and we’re over the heat. We’d already completed a jungle trip, so there really isn’t too much to see except the inner workings of a multicultural city that trades in much more than an assortment of currencies . We board our flight to the north of Colombia and farewell The Amazon from the clouds.

Cabo de la Vela Colombia: Wayuu and Wilderness

Cabo de la Vela, Colombia is not for everyone. In fact at times you’ll struggle to comprehend how it could be for anyone. The sketchy exhaust filled method of transport out there, the scarcity of basic commodities and the shortage of activities would have you doubting why you decided upon the long and draining journey out to one of South America’s most northern points. However rest assured, Cabo de la Vela is one of those true ‘journey not the destination’ type of stories.

For us, the original draw to Cabo de la Vela was the talk of the traditional indigenous land owners, the Wayuu, who are respectfully known throughout Colombia as being fierce battle warriors in the times of Spanish invasion. The Wayuu not only protected themselves, but they managed to save their territory from the faraway settlers. This makes their culture particularly interesting because they have been able to retain a little more originality throughout time.

The trip to Cabo begins by making your way up Colombia. From Santa Marta you’ll continue north past the famous Parque Tyrona, cruise through Palomino and Rioacha and then finally end up in Uribia. From here it’s the end of the highway; in fact it’s more or less the end of the road. In Uribia you’ll kiss goodbye to what you might not have considered a comfortable method of transport for a wobbly old 4X4 that will be your entry into this Wild West setting.

Over the next 4 hours you’ll bump along a half highway, hit the gravel and then finish up in the Caribbean outback. Depending on what time of the year you visit the chances are you’ll be slipping and sliding through the mud. The 4X4 coughs and splutters as it uses every last drop of energy to get out of bog holes and 3 feet of wet slosh. Along the way you’ll pick up and drop off an assortment of people, items and animals, but I’ll save that detail for the ride home.

The first time you arrive in Cabo de la Vela it’s nearing night, you’ve had a relatively brutal trip out there and you look to call it a night before exploring in the morning. If you’re on a budget then accommodation is your best friend in Cabo. Due to the government’s initiative to increase tourism to the region they have relaxed the laws on hospitality. As a result anybody can receive tourists into their home and this creates a plethora of hospedaje options. There are options for travellers not exploring on a shadow of a budget, but for the most part you can string up a hammock for $3.

When you stay with locals you won’t find a kitchen to cook, but the Wayuu will cook you breakfast, lunch and dinner for a slightly higher price than what you’re used to. You save on accommodation, so it balances out and you have a few premier options. Lobster is a delicacy for around $15-25, which is expensive compared to most meals, but an absolute steal in comparison to other places around the world. If lobster isn’t on your pallet, or in your wallet, you can also grab a decent sized fish with salad and rice for $8-10.

Or perhaps you’d like to dine on one of the traditional dishes of the region. Chivo, Spanish for goat, is a local cuisine famous amongs the Wayuu for not only the abundance of goats they have wandering around the outskirts of town, but also for the preparation method. In addition to the tough overcooked meat of the goat you’ll be treated to the stomach and all the greasy fat that comes with it. It’s worth a try, but probably not a dish you’ll come back to.

Once your stomach’s full, of stomach, you can set off on a very limited expedition of Cabo’s neighbouring activities. There’s a lighthouse out at the far point, however don’t get excited. It’s a very plain metal structure, however from this point at sunset you will get to witness some amazing scenery. It’s an ideal contrast of crystal Caribbean on one side, dry dusty desert on the other and a beautiful sunset that splits the two and sends out all kinds of colours. After the lighthouse point there are a couple of beaches in Ojo de Agua and Pillon de Azucar that are handy half day trips, but in comparison to other Caribbean beaches are nothing to write home about.

After a few days you’re ready to head back to civilisation. The novelty of showering in the ocean because you need to pay for water starts to wear off and you want a couple of ‘home’ comforts like a flushable toilet and some fresh fruit. You hail down the same 4X4 you arrived in at 3am. You’ll be packed into the back with the usual suspects; a man holding a chicken, 3 hogged tied goats at your feet and another 12 or so people crammed in. Along the way you’ll make some random stops in the middle of nowhere for new additions. Someone will take out a goat or add another one in, or if you’re like us you’ll get to experience 3 massive desert tortoises getting hoisted onto the roof and packed on top of each other before you continue on your way.

When you finally land in Uribia again the trip will feel like a whirlwind, but in the weeks that follow you’ll definitely look back on it as being a crazy adventure. If you’re in the area, have the time and feel like something different we would definitely recommend heading up to Cabo de la Vela. If anything it’ll be a great story to tell your friends!

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