As Colombia recovers more and more from its previous days of political turmoil, tourism to the country has been surging. With this influx comes a resurgence of responsible travel organizations providing visitors authentic local experiences while also having a positive and sustainable impact on the communities they visit.
While stepping between farmers wielding machetes to chop coconuts and fishers filleting freshly caught fish, travelers are quickly immersed in the atmosphere and culture of Mercado de Bazurto. The group is escorted by a local guide, who leads them into the market’s chaotic labyrinth just 30 minutes outside of Cartagena’s city center. It’s an immediate assault on the senses. Enveloped in the rhythmic percussion of champeta music, the group weaves through colorful produce stands, touching exotic and prickly green guanabanas and pausing to quench their thirst with sweet lulo fruit and juicy pineapples. While learning about the city’s Afro-Indigenous culture, the group has the chance to meet local vendors and listen to their stories of everyday Cartagena life.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
This experience is part of Discover Cartagena, a travel program created by María Isabel Alvarez Ortega in the summer of 2017. Her excursions guide travelers outside of the historic walled center of Cartagena and into the residential neighborhoods, like the one she grew up in. “The old city is magical and fantastic, but it isn’t anything like the local life here,” she says.
Discover Cartagena aims to bring a touch of humanity to travel. “The trend in tourism is experience,” says Ortega. “People who travel want to learn about local cultures.” And they also want to help the local people in return. She explains that 60 percent of the fees from the tour go directly to the communities they visit. On this particular tour, proceeds are used to purchase food directly from the resident sellers, which is later used by her family to prepare lunch for the group.
The day ends with a quintessential Colombian lunch in Ortega’s childhood home. At the table, while sharing a meal, both groups exchange anecdotes of their lives and cultures. After this half-day tour, many of the travelers remark how human connection truly adds to their experience.
“There’s a whole mixture of ethnic groups that make Cartagena unique,” explains Alex Rocha, founder of the tour company Experience Real Cartagena. “It’s shown in the music, food and way of living of the people. But you can’t see that if you stay in the walled city. You have to go outside.”
Having worked for other travel organizations in the city, Rocha led tours limited to the “bubble” of the historic center. However, he yearned to take visitors outside the city walls to visit the vibrant neighborhoods in which he grew up. He created his tour company in 2012 to show visitors exactly that.
On Rocha’s tours, while walking through the barrio San Francisco, it’s not uncommon to join a game of dominoes or play pickup soccer with residents on the street and even dance to champeta music in a neighborhood bar.
According to Rocha, part of responsible travel is understanding the history and challenges of a city. “It’s very important when visitors come to ask about the situation of the people and how they can help contribute to improving their lives,” he says.
Money from Experience Real Cartagena’s tours helps fund The Alex Rocha Youth Center, Rocha’s social impact program that supports disadvantaged children in the community by teaching them everything from English lessons to computer skills. The school believes that with stronger English-language skills, the children will have more opportunities later in life.
Rocha proudly takes his tours to the school to meet the children, visit the classrooms and join in a game of soccer.
Insider Tours, a tour company operated by Cartagena non-profit Fundación por la Educación Multidimensional (FEM), also recognizes the importance of its tours in the growing movement of responsible tourism. FEM focuses on helping indigenous communities overcome inequality, and responsible travel is a crucial part of its mission.
“Social and economic inclusion is important to us,” explains Andrea Atehortúa, a director at FEM and Insider Tours. “We designed the tours so they give income to the communities but also protect their culture.”
Insider Tours operates its experiences under two defining principles of responsible travel: “Acción sin daño, which translates to ‘do no harm,’ and participatory design,” explains Atehortúa. The tours must financially and ethically support the communities in a positive way while also including community participants in designing and operating the experiences. “It is important for us to foster unity within the communities, so we want to make sure that these new sources of income do not create division. We look for ways to make sure that everyone is included,” says Atehortúa.
During its exclusive Zenú Weaving Workshop, tourists travel to 20 de Julio, a local neighborhood just 20 minutes from the historic downtown center. The workshop is run by a group of six indigenous Zenú women who teach the group how to weave the caña flecha fibers to make the famous Colombian sombrero vueltiao.
Atehortúa explains that this community, once a powerful ancient civilization known for its textiles, has almost completely lost its culture and traditions. In recent decades of urban migration and having to work other jobs to make ends meet, the women have slowly abandoned their ancient craft. Finances from the tour help the women promote and protect their artisanal work.
“Responsible tourism has to go both ways,” says Atehortúa. “It has to benefit both parties at all levels.”
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.