A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: MarColombi

San Agustin Archaelogical Park ...

featured in today's Bing front page!

San Agustin Archaelogical Park featured in today's Bing frontpage!

Hi All! This is a short last minute post... I was reviewing my Colombia Travel Blog's traffic charts and I realized that the most sought after keyword today is "San Agustin Archaeological Park" and the Top Hidden Colombia Destinations entry the most popular one, which is strange, because what I usually get is tons of hits on the topics of "safety in Colombia", Cartagena, Medellin, "Travel to Colombia", etc...

Intrigued by that fact, I researched a little more and discovered that today's Microsoft's search engine ( Bing) frontpage featured a beautiful picture of one of San Agustin Archaeological Park's statues! This is so amazing! One of the most well keeped secrets of Colombia in an extremely high traffic page!!!! , as I have said before the San Agustin Archaeological park is an amazing collection of hundreds of impressive precolumbian head stones in a huge natural area of southern Colombia , bigger than - for instance - the Machu Picchu national park in Peru.

So I thought I'd take the opportunitty to give you some more details on San Agustin archaeological park:

How to get to San Agustin Archaeological Park

The closest mayor town is Neiva south of Colombia. From Bogota you can fly with Aires for about US$40 and get there in about 1 hour or, take a bus from Bogota’s bus terminal and enjoy the 326 ks and 6 hours of beautiful scenery. Once there, you need to take another bus, but this time going to Pitalito (212 ks) and once there take a local bus (US$0,5) or a taxi (US$3) to San Agustin. The bus from Bogota to Neiva costs about US$15 and from Pitalito to San Agustin another US$10.
Entrance fees are: free for kids under, from 7 to 17 years old is COL$5.000 (US$3) and COL$10.000 (US$6) for adults.

What to bring

It takes about 3 hours to complete the park circuit, so I recommend to take with you:

- A day pack
- Plenty of water
- Sun screen and a hat
- Walking shoes and light clothes, the average temperature there is 18 centigrades.

What’s there

Apart from the main park – San Agustin – there are two more archaeological sites closed by called Alto Lavapatas y el Bosque de las Estatuas which you can also visit paying a little bit extra; and a second one called Tierradentro located very closed to a town called La Plata 126 ks from Neiva.

But that's not all… from Neiva you can also visit the amazing Tatacoa desert too!

Abrazos,

Marcela - Colombia Travel Blog

Posted by MarColombi 17:42 Archived in Colombia Tagged park culture travel san archaeological colombia archaeology blog agustin precolumbia Comments (0)

Camilo Gomez:

A story of entrepreneurship and love for Colombia

As I commented in my last Colombia Travel Blog entry, besides Colombia’s Pro Export and its very successful “The only risk is wanting to stay” campaign, there’s a lot of people out there working to improve Colombia’s image and helping turning it into the new touristic destination in Latin America. Last week I had the chance to have a chat with Camilo Gomez, Mantaraya Travel’s CEO and I want to share his very interesting points of view with you. Camilo is one of the pioneers in the online Colombia travel business and his story is one of entrepreneurship, faith in our country and determination.
Camilo’s family comes from San Gil, north to Bogota and close to Bucaramanga and there was where his relation with tourism began: his father Javier was one of the founder of “Rios y Canoas”, one of the first Rafting and Adventure Travel Companies in Colombia. As the other business partners were Costa Ricans, it just felt natural to start selling their services in that country as at that point in time, it was probably even more difficult to convince Colombians to travel to that area than to do so with foreigners, and that’s how, against all odds the business started. Imagine the merit! Remember this was back when huge parts of the country were controlled by narcs and terrorists. See my post on
Safety in Colombia to see how tough it was.

During that time, Camilo trained in Costa Rica and the Colorado canyon to be a professional Rafter, unfortunately due to the still unsecure situation his business had to end operations. He persisted and a new company was opened in Tobia - closer to Bogota – this time focused almost entirely in the local market, but it had to be closed in 2003 for the same reasons.
But as every visionary does, Camilo didn’t give up. Perhaps foreseeing that times were starting to change in Colombia, he decided to start saving money in order to wait for the right moment and strategy. Having a Business Degree, he started working for Citi Bank while slowly but steadily building what now we know as Mantaraya Travel. In 2005 he applied and won a founding by SENA (a government body that promotes education and entrepreneurship projects), and in 2008, at age 25 years he finally quit his “traditional job” and started dedicating 100% of his time to Mantaraya. In only 2 years of “official“ operations, Mantaraya has grown even faster than the already impressive foreign incoming Tourism yearly rate in Colombia, and has had a lot of support from Pro export which lead to Camilo traveling to many of the International travel fairs. Even more, later this year they’ll be feature in two international cable channels.

Mantaraya has loads of information available. You can plan your trip, research about destinations and make a reservation, the concept is that people visiting the website have enough information about Colombia in order to have a glimpse of what to do in the country either if they just have a rough idea of what they want or to redefine and confirm were they want to go if they’re in a more advanced stage of their trip plans. Visitors have the option, in virtually every section of the site, to send Mantaraya’s native English speakers sales staff a detailed form describing what their needs are. With this information and the expertise of their Colombia travel experts who fine tune the itineraries until they fit what the passenger wants, Mantaraya is able to put together all kind of tailor made tours. This philosophy, based in the idea that every passenger has unique needs, is the key factor of what makes the company so successful.

At least half of their passengers come from the U.S and Canada while the other half is a mix of Latin American and European, in most cases seasoned travelers who are costumed to travel abroad with the assistance of travel companies and therefore expect an international standard service and to be able to be one phone call away from their travel advisor both to feel that they’re properly being looked after and to change anything if the case merits it. Reaching such required quality service in a country like Colombia, which is just starting to open its eyes to the opportunities that international incoming tourism offers, has been a tough job that involves constant training to their providers into understanding that concepts like punctuality and efficiency are vital for their operations.

Unsurprisingly the best selling destinations are the typical ones and therefore the “safer” ones: The Caribbean, Cartagena and Bogota, but Camilo says that the Amazon and the Coffee Triangle are the next raising stars, specially for visitors from North America while Europeans prefer the Pacific Coast destinations.

When I ask his opinion on the current image that Colombia has and how safe is it perceived to be, I realize that Camilo’s position is very similar to mine: he points out that Colombia was immersed in an internal war for 50 years and the situation has been gradually changing only since around eight years ago, when the first tourists began to come sporadically, and although the country is much safer now, there are things and situations that –as in any other country – one should avoid, Mantaraya promotes the development of alternative destinations, but only sells tours in places that are 100% considered safe for travelers.

In the years they’ve been operating, Mantaraya has had no incident involving safety matters at all; on the contrary in some of the most “exotic” destinations, people are starting to realize the positive impact of having foreigner tourists visiting them and are becoming very interested in learning about hospitality. Some of the very local and picturesque restaurants in Tayrona, for instance, have organized themselves to improve security in their area.
Camilo is also aware of the fact that, if not done responsibly, the tourism industry could alter not only the eco system but also the ancient costumes of many of the inhabitants of Colombia’s most ancient cultures. For instance when the Koguis (the local tribe from La Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta) are in their yearly time of pray, Mantarraya does not sell the 5 day trek to Tayrona’s Lost city.

Colombia is a complex country to visit, you can go to the Andes, the Caribbean beaches and the Amazon Jungle to name a few and it’s as well giving its baby steps into being and international travel destination, that’s why it’s so important to have a local company that knows the country complemented by foreign English speaking travel advisors living in Colombia.
Camilo sees the Colombia Travel industry with optimism; we are already seeing how very big hotel chains are making huge investments in the country, a clear signal that shows a market about to blossom. As pioneers, Mantaraya has now another responsibility: to develop new products, especially in the area of adventure and nature themed tours in order to keep the pole position they have now towards competitors. “Colombia is going to be a leader in nature destinations in Latin America”, Camilo says, “Just behind Brazil and Mexico” …. and I truly believe that’s absolutely true.

For the full story with pics and all visit Colombia Travel Blog

You can visit Mantaraya’s website at: www.mantarayacom

Posted by MarColombi 11:49 Archived in Colombia Tagged travel trips to colombia blog Comments (0)

I’m a Colombia Travel Expert in Trip Advisor!

… Or being a traveler in the XXI century and many other good things that blogging brought this year.

Hello all,

Wow! It’s been already nine month since I started this Colombia Travel Blog and I think is a good time to look back and tell you about the wonderful things that have happened in my world thanks to blogging.

If you’re following my blog since the very beginning, you’ll know that at first I was very hesitant to the idea of actually showing the whole world my very limited writing abilities, fortunately that was overcame by my intense desire to show Colombia as a wonderful travel destination …. And I’m so glad I did!

Except for being a “regular” Facebook user, until a year ago I was almost a total illiterate about everything regarding social media, podcasts, viral videos or blogging. To me this was an unexplored territory that I had heard of but never experienced myself , my social travel experience was “limited” to actually physically going to each destination meet people there and then , in some cases, occasionally keeping in touch via e-mail with fellow travelers… but adding the online facet to the “traditional” travel experience enhances the fact of being a traveler so much! If it weren’t for these tools, what would the chances be of you reading something I had to say? I never thought that this would be such a way to abridge distances, to share experiences and to meet wonderful people around the world that have the same passion for Colombia as I do! There’s no place, travelers club or association that compares to this experience.

I have also confirmed something that I already suspected and that was the original reason to start blogging: there is a HUGE interest from people all around the world about travelling to Colombia, I receive about 10 weekly e-mails asking for advice and tips about activities, cities, transportation and all sort of things about coming to visit Colombia. There are, as well, many Colombians that left the country many years ago, or Colombian descendants living abroad that wonder if this buzz about Colombia turning into a “new” improved country is real that they write asking about it… I have evolved from a passionate supporter of the tourism in my country with a lot of things to say but with no audience, to a source of information that, I hope, is helping people get more and more enthusiastic on taking the decision of visiting us, and I just love that!

Another group of people that I have got in contact with are those that I call “pioneers”, foreigners that are already living in Colombia, investing in real estate, tourism and other areas. I have seen this phenomena happen in other underdeveloped countries in Latin America before and I can assure you that these visionaries that fell in love with Colombia and that are investing in it - now that we’re about to blossom as a prime travel destination – are playing and will play a vital role in the taking off of Colombia’s breakthrough in the global travel industry. People like the founders of www.bogotabrilliance.com , a couple of manhattanites that after living in France decided to settle down in Colombia, represent the kind of faith that many foreigners have in our country and that sometimes, we Colombians lack of. Through these people I have also found professional related contacts that are helping me in my upcoming travel related project ( more on that in a few months ).

During these months I have also been introduced to networking tools like digg, stumbleupon or reddit and travel blog communities like travelpod , travelblog, travellerspoint and of course, to tripadvisor, which I find to be one of the most wonderful things ever invented! I signed up to Trip Advisor earlier this year, and after a couple of months of avidly answering every question about Colombia I found, I was offered to be one of their Destination Experts, so now I can give advice on Colombia to even a bigger base of people! You can find me there under “colombiatravelmarce”

Also, I have managed to position my blog second in Google if you look for “Colombia travel blog” which I now know is quite an accomplishment …… what I’m trying to say is that I’m so grateful that I decided to forget about my “writing stage fright” to be in contact with all of you , thank you all for this wonderful first 9 months of blogging , here’s to many more years of meeting outstanding people, keep learning and discovering fascinating ways of promote my country!

Abrazos

Marcela - Colombia Travel Blog

Posted by MarColombi 08:49 Archived in Colombia Tagged tripadvisor tripadvisor_colombia colombia_travel colombia_travel_blog colombia_tours trip_advisor_destination_expert colombia_destination_expert Comments (0)

Is it Safe to Travel to Colombia?

my thoughts about safety in Colombia

Earlier today I was looking for upcoming gigs of my favorite Colombian band, Bomba Estereo, to see if I could catch one before the year ends, and ended up - as I usually do - opening a lot of unrelated links and windows in my never ending desire to read EVERYTHING. One of those pages touched the “Safety in Colombia” topic, but what really caught my attention was the outspoken tittle “Why you should ignore everything you’ve heard and go to Colombia”.

OK, this may be a sign of fate, I was avoiding the topic but here it is, in my face....the dreaded question every Colombian is asked about..... “Is it safe to travel to Colombia?”, “Is Colombia Safe?”. Well, a lot of people know now that security in Colombia has improved immensely during the past years, that’s the reason why Colombia has appeared again in travel guides and is slowly but steadily becoming the new and trendy South American travel destination..... which, basically takes us back to the foundations of my travel blog and summarises my main objective: trying to show you Colombia and making you want to come so that you can answer the questions “Is Colombia safe? and “Is it safe to travel to Colombia?” for yourself.

Again, this is a subject I have been somehow delaying to write about, the answer to those questions, my friends, is not a simple one and as almost everything in this world, is relative . In the months I‘ve been writing my Colombia Travel Blog I have received equally praise and criticism for the introduction text in the header that reads “Colombia is now a safe land, unknown to foreign tourists and waiting to blossom as a major touristic destination in Latin America.” People who agree with that statement are mostly foreigners that have actually travelled to Colombia - many of them actually stayed in Colombia - and middle aged Colombians living in Colombia who have an optimistic perspective of whats been going on in the last few years in our country, while the ones who disagree are either people who have personally suffered some sort of violent situation in the past (usually many years ago) or those that honestly believe the - most times exaggerated - warnings and advices given by official government's travel bureaus.

Perception plays a major role here, it all depends on what “safety” means for you. Is Colombia “Reykjavik safe“ or “Brussels safe” ? NO. But in the other hand, is Colombia more dangerous to travel to than to any other South American Country? Categorically: NO, those times have passed.

One would think that I would be biased; but being a Colombian expat for more than 12 years and having experienced travelling from both sides - as a guide and as a normal independent traveller - gives me, I believe, a privileged vision. Unlike many Colombians I met in London, I didn’t leave Colombia because I had to, due to the violence and guerrillas situation; I left because I wanted to study English but I did live in Colombia during some of the worst years of violence. After a few years abroad, having settled in England I, like the whole world suffered from what I call the “Colombia media massacre”.

Although the violence in Colombia was awful indeed, the media did a great job in making things look much worse. There was one time in which I anguishing called my mum from England, almost crying, and asking her what were they going to do, where was my family moving to? (I had just seen on TV that Colombia was being evacuated because it seemed that the guerrilla had taken over the country.. I honestly thought my whole family was going to die! ) “What?” she replied, “Marce, we’re just going out for lunch!”, that's how bad Colombians and Colombia were depicted in the international media.... and don't even get me started with the stereotypical Hollywood depiction of Colombia (I wrote briefly about it in my “Noche de las Velitas” post)

Facts: When I was a kid in Colombia my parents and most of the people I knew would be reluctant to go out of city to their country houses or just to spend the weekend away, because we all were afraid of being stopped by Guerrillas or Paramilitares which implied a high risk of being kidnapped, robbed or even killed. It was also frequent to wake up in the middle of the night by the sound of bombs exploding anywhere in the city. Internal tourism nearly died, and foreign tourism was unheard of.

In Medellin (where most of my family lives), people were killed almost daily by drug cartels, so a phone call to make sure all of them were OK was in order at least once a week. The situation in Cali, were drug lords owned entire towns, was almost the same. Drug cartels were in a bloody and constant war, and it didnt matter who was caught in the middle, anyone could be a victim of violence. During the early 90s some of the main drug barons were either caught, killed or deported, leaving the guerillas a new business to get into and finance their own war against the state of Colombia. In the following years Colombia went from fighting mainly the drug barons to go back fighting the guerrillas and paramilitaries that, amongst other things, were now dealing with drugs and weapons themselves and had taken possession of a huge portion of the country.

And then, in 2002 Alvaro Uribe was elected President. I’m not a political person, on the contrary, politics bore me and I try to stay away from it as much as I can. And Uribe, as all politicians, has supporters and detractors. But there is one thing in which almost all Colombians agree on: with his government we have recovered our country in many aspects. The guerrillas and drug cartels have been mostly cornered to remote areas of the country and for the first time in decades there is a sense of freedom, relieve and prosperity that you can almost breathe when you travel to Colombia.

Starting in 2004, Uribe’s government organised what was the first attempt to massively and pacifically overpower the guerrilla: a convoy of thousand of civilian cars escorted by army vehicles departed from Bogota to Cartagena at the beginning of the summer holidays as an act of symbolic recuperation of the roads. Following that first one, several more convoys where organised regularly in the areas that were perceived most risky to travel to, providing security to travelers while showing the people that things were truly starting to change. This strategy meant the renaissance of local tourism that was followed in the years after with more actions to let the world now that Colombia was changing for good, it also meant, partially thanks to a extensive media campaign supported by deep structural changes, that Colombians now trusted their army and police forces. Currently the presence of army and police patrols on the roads is synonym of safety as opposed other latin countries were seeing them around is a sign of trouble that you should rather avoid.

Later on, with the growing certainty that internal security was improving, a genius campaign with an amazingly spot-on slogan was created capitalizing the fact that Colombia used to be perceived as risky but was now almost virgin territory to be discovered: Colombia, the only risk is wanting to stay. Plain genius, because that campaign not only invites travelers to get curious about Colombia, but also empowers Colombians, makes us proud of what we have to show to the world while realizing how privileged we are.

At the end of the day, is all a matter of getting rid of the negative stereotype that Colombia has earned in the past decades. I read this phrase at Bootsnall that expresses exactly the perception we strive to change: “When you spend your entire life hearing horrible things about a group of people, or a country, or a culture, it’s hard not to form an opinion – regardless of whether you’ve met those people, visited that country, or know anything about the culture in question”.

So, after all this ranting ... Is it safe to Travel to Colombia? Well, either if you are a seasoned traveler or a casual one ... heck .. even if you haven't even got out of your home country ever, there’s is one thing that will keep you away from dangerous situations always, everywhere. That thing is called common sense. Unless you’re into a very specific and alternative kind of tourism, you wouldn't advise anyone to visit the unreputable or threatening areas of your city and one should stick to that rule when traveling abroad.

There’s one thing I can say though, having been a tour leader all over South America and traveled this Continent independently for many years now, I can assure you that Colombia is at least equally safe to visit than any other South American country you could travel to. There you have ...I’m not going to say that Colombia is 100% safe, I don’t believe there’s any 100% safe country in the whole world, but I will stress however that it is a much safer country than ever before and that Colombia is now a safe place to travel to if you use your common sense as you would in any other destination.

Here are just a few things that I would like my readers to know/learn/understand about Colombia

Security

  • As opposed to other countries in the third world, when you see the army and police on the streets doesn’t mean trouble, it means safety.
  • You should be ineligible for kidnapping unless you’re worth at least a couple of million dollars but we’ve had a visit from Billy Gates and he quite liked it! In all seriousness, you won’t get kidnapped just for being a “gringo” or for ideological reasons.
  • You can travel by bus or drive all over Colombia. As an advice, stick to driving during the day, is not only safer but would also give you the chance to actually see the beautiful and colourful landscapes.

Drugs

  • Although there are drugs in Colombia, most Colombians do not consume them. More than 90% of whats produced here gets exported.
  • If getting drugs is part of your holiday, be aware of the fact that most Colombians get really upset and sometimes offended if they're asked to get them or if you get them involved in any drug related situation. It is a very touchy subject because that's another stereotype we want to get rid of.

Guerrilla and Paramilitary forces

They are secluded to deserted areas some which don’t even have roads. Every day there are more guerrilleros that are leaving the jungle and joining the government re-socializing programs. Obviously, you should avoid those areas.

Happiness

No matter all of the above, we Colombians are happy and will always be happy to help visitors in any way we can... Colombia the second happiest country in the world!

And just to make sure you have the best time of your life in Colombia, here are some of my tips:

1. DO only listen to the people that have actually been to Colombia.... join as many forums as you can like tripadvisor, askville, etc etc....

2. This is the perfect time to travel. Colombia is ALL an off the beaten path destination. In a few years, I’m afraid, that sense of being a “pioneer” traveler will disappear.

3. Use your common sense, as you do when you travel to any other foreign country. Try to blend in and take care of your personal belongings.

4. It goes for all Latin countries...Learn a bit of Spanish as a sign of respect to the locals and to help you enhance your experience.

5. Relax and enjoy.

And finally here are some links from reliable sources about safety in Colombia and other cool things:

Colombia's Capital Finds New Sense of Optimism
Why we travel?
Above the Clouds in Secret Colombia
For Foodies, Cartagena Is Now on the Map
Villa de Leyva, a Graceful Window on Colonial Colombia
Frothing Over a Starbucks in Little Colombia
Is Colombia safe?
Sleeping beauty
A Cultural Heart Beats Anew
A seasoned Dutch Traveler Discovers Colombia

As always, if you are planning to travel to Colombia just send me a message and I’ll gladly forward all the info I can.

Abrazos

Marcela - Colombia Travel Blog

Posted by MarColombi 12:35 Archived in Colombia Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (0)

Guest Entry:

Medellin and La Feria de las Flores

I was about to publish my fourth post about Travelling to Colombia in a month, and realized that one of the most beautiful festivals in Colombia is coming up next August. Last time I was in Medellin at the Feria de las Flores was in 2008 and my attention was inmedatly grabbed by one specific character: el silletero.

Adam, from the fantastic Eyes on Colombia Blog was kind enough to share a post he did with Colombia Travel blog by Marcela's readers, explaining with great detail what a silletero is. So, if you are considering to visit Medellin or to take a Medellin Tour, you might want to save a week to enjoy the beauty of the Feria de las flores that has many things to offer over its 10 days.

So here it is, enjoy Adam's post and remember to take a look at his blog.

Thanks Adam!

Abrazos - http://colombia-travel-marcela.blogspot.com/

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The annual Medellín Feria de las Flores (Flower Fair) is almost upon us and so I thought I'd share the story behind an integral part of the fair, the silletero.
The Old Silletero

The silleteros, or seat carriers (a.k.a. cargueros, or carriers) were, around the turn of the 19th century, the only way to be transported or to have something transported over the Colombian mountains.

Once the road conditions improved, though, mules began to be used and thus put an end to the need for silleteros.
A famous foreign scientist traveled throughout the region at the time and recounted his experience.
"Since there are those who regularly walk on foot at this altitude and on such difficult paths for 19 or 20 days at a time, they started to carry seats on their backs and charge for the comfort to sit on them, because the mountains of Quindío don't allow for the use of mules. They say in this country "andar en carguero" like one would say "ir a caballo" and those that dedicate themselves to this are not indians, but rather mestizos and sometimes whites...the passage from Quindío isn't the only way one can travel like this here; in the province of Antioquia, surrounded by terrible mountains, there isn't any other way except to go on foot, when permited, otherwise the silletero is needed.

"
The Modern Silletero

"Silleteros is the term used for the farmers who make beautiful flower arrangements on a silleta (a chair-like contraption for carrying flowers on a person’s back). The silletas are made from wood and have a back plate and two handles for hanging the silleta on a person’s back.The most emblematic figure of this tradition is the legendary María La Larga, a silletera who carried children on her back.

María and her novel way of transportation convinced many of the region’s farmers that silletas were the easiest, fastest way for carrying flowers from the farm to the city.
The use of the word silleta became generalized and since the beginning of the twentieth century, the term silletero began to be applied to the people who sold flowers on Medellín’s cobble-stoned streets.

-- Adam Lee I Editor
http://eyesonbrazil.com/
http://eyesoncolombia.com/
http://eyesonportuguese.blogspot.com/

Posted by MarColombi 11:53 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

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