Knowledgable and Passionate Local Guides Will Transform Your Travel Experience in Colombia
Oct 28 - Nov 5, 2023
I just wrapped up a 10 day Colombia trip on my own (since my wife couldn't break away and also I wanted to practice my Spanish). It was a last minute trip where I selected the places, flights, and accommodations on my own. But then I ran out of time for detailed itinerary. More importantly, I was looking to get very knowledgable local guides, especially speaking with me in Spanish throughout. KimKim came up as one of the very few options that I could opt for (I travel a lot and usually do all of the planning on my own). At first glance, it looked like KimKim might provide what I was looking for, but I wasn't sure.
Margarita, the tour coordinator, reached out to me after seeing my request - it was made at the eleventh hour. The conversation with her and the approach encouraged me give it a try (was still hard to give up control..lol). I asked for one day in Popayan (I was doing Cali already by then), 2 days in Medellin, 2 days in Cartagena, and 2 days in Bogota. Margarita came back with an itinerary very promptly to optimize the time and included all the transfers.
The value I started to see was when I met with the local guides who spent times with me at each place.
David Duque, a grad college student, was my guide at Popayán. He is studying tourism, so this is right up his alley. Beyond his knowledge and professionalism, I liked how David blended in the context and details behind each thing without making it overwhelming. He was a great ambassador for that historic city.
Next up at Medellin, my guide was Daniel (Dani) Aterhortua. If you go to Medellin, just grab him! We toured the whole city in a long but extremely rewarding day. From the viewpoints looking over the city to city center and the parks to great cafes, it was amazing, But what blew me away was the visit to Comuna 13 (including the lunch there that is run by a number of Afro-Colombian ladies with an amazing view). This neighborhood transformed itself from a dangerous no-go zone about 13-14 years ago to a present day arts, music, entrepreneurship, and sustainable local business api-center. The magnetism of this place was off the chart. If you go to Colombia and can do only one thing, go to Comuna 13. It will change you.
Dani's intricate detailed knowledge, general awareness, and his passion and pride for Medellin were incredible throughout. The next day we went to visit the coffee farm (no pesticide, organic, natural, 'agroecologico') outside of Medellin. Alejandro, who is suffering from Parkinson's, spent all the time showing me around. He explained different processes, quizzed me about all coffee related stuff, and passionately demonstrated how the coffee plants go from a few days to months to produce the coffee. His passion and insatiable desire to do good in this world, despite of flailing health conditions, inspired me a lot. I also felt that after this trip Dani and I became friends.
At Cartagena, when I met Aura as my guide, little did I know that she gave up a successful career of being an economist to be travel advisor and guide. And Aura is someone who knows almost everyone at Cartagena - she greets them on the street, has some small talks, and seems to move effortlessly through all things. We did a fantastic walking tour of the city at night after the rain and I think that made it even more interesting. We grabbed some local bites and drinks at different spots while meandering through both popular and up and coming areas, such as in Getsemani.
The next day at La Boquella was probably the most surprising part of the itinerary - in a very good way. We spent the day canoeing through mangroves and extremely serene climate that was awesome to see great wildlives. We used fishing nets to catch fish, including trying (and failing) multiple times. We used 'trampas' or traps with fish bets to catch crabs (huge success). We got wet a little with the rain (which is pretty common in this part almost major part of the year). And we had an awesome seafood-fish lunch on the beach looking at the waves. I even got to catch local boys playing soccer on the beach with the fishermen pulling in big catches at the end of their day. Anyone can take you on a day's agenda with the checklist of items to do and see - but if you want to get shaken up a bit to nudge you out of your comfort zone just a little so that you can appreciate the nature and authenticity at its best, this is a must-do! With Aura's help I got to enjoy some amazing food and even emerald-shopping (Colombia is world's largest producer of emeralds) for my wife (I need to return home, so needed some good bribes). She has been extremely caring, loving, affectionate, and truly professional extraordinaire of her crafts.
Reaching at Bogota the following day, I had a little bit of free time. Apart from a really good dinner, that evening was a little downer given the rain and I wasn't sure where to go (it felt less secured, at least to me, compared with Cartagena and Medellin). But it was only my first night there. Next day, my guide there, Andrea spent the whole day with me touring all the key sights. We started with the local market which is truly colorful and full of life. We jumped on to a funicular to go up Cerro Montserrate to get a gorgeous view of the city. The lunch at cafe Origen is a destination by itself. We stopped by countless cafes (you can't miss Azahar cafe and Casa Galeria) and checked out La Septima and Candeleria area with all of the major spots nearby. We did a quick trip to museum of the gold (world's largest of this kind). Plazoleta del Chorro de Quevedo was one of my favorites for people watching and soaking in local arts and graffiti.
The next day we departed for Zipaquira to see the Catedral del Sal. Inside the old mines, 660 ft under ground, tunnels were built to create this one of a kind and a jewel of Colombian architecture in the form of cathedral that I can promise you won't find anywhere else. It is not to be missed. Afterwards, we went to lunch at Andres de Res - both a destination and Colombia's most famous restaurant. An incredible setup that's unique, weird, entertaining, and deliciousness - all blended in together. This was a perfect end to my trip to Colombia before I was heading to the airport to go to Paraguay.
I would be remiss if I don't mention the drivers of all of the transports who were nothing short of amazing. In many case, they doubled up as additional guide.
Finally, a Big THANK YOU to Margarita for coming up with the itinerary so promptly, for helping me with some of the dinner reservations, for making a few quick changes, for the messages with WhatsApp both checking in at the end of the day and communicating a quick view of the agenda, and for the thoughtfulness overall.
For a country like Colombia, that has culture, nature, art, food, and activities galore to offer - local guides and their knowledge can make all the difference. Come to Colombia to get a doze of the excitement that's exactly the opposite of being predictable.