It’s been almost two years since I travelled to Colombia, but I still think about that trip on a daily basis.
This South American nation stands out as one of the most preconception-defying, mind-expanding places I’ve so far had the privilege of visiting.
They say Colombia is the birthplace of ‘magical realism’, where the real world has an undertone of fantasy and mystique. Magical realism is just a literary genre, but when you’re in Colombia it’s easy to see why it was born here of all places.
In Colombia, there’s something special about the everyday. There’s a certain magic to even the most mundane things. Resilience, reconciliation, transformation and revolution are themes you encounter over and over again. As you travel around and meet people, you start to realise that the social, political and cultural changes unfolding in Colombia – most of them invisible – are nothing short of miraculous.
Responsible tourism has been a driving force for building peace, preserving culture and transforming the fabric of society in Colombia. Two experiences from my time there stand out: My visit to Comuna 13, previously the world’s most dangerous neighbourhood and now a vibrant creative hub, and my city tour of the capital, Bogota.
Bogota is where I met and formed a relationship with responsible tourism company Impulse Travel. Part of their mission is to show tourists like me ‘the real Colombia’ by exposing us to local communities where we can hear their stories of personal and collective transformation first-hand. Impulse’s Social Impact Experiences are a great example of transformative tourism in action.
Two years after our first collaboration, I’m honoured to be partnering with Impulse again, this time to help spread the word about a new initiative to help Colombia continue on the path of social transformation through this challenging time.
Tourism as a tool for peace-building
Before I tell you more about the campaign, I first want to spotlight a couple of the grassroots projects Impulse Travel partners with. Led by local guides, peace leaders and cultural guardians, each of these initiatives harnesses responsible tourism to help build a brighter future for the next generation.
In Bogota, Breaking Borders is led by a group of ex-gang members who turned a new leaf to become tour guides, sharing the virtues of their neighbourhood culture with visitors. Distrito Chocolate is a farmers’ collective that replaced coca crops with cacao to “build peace in their home and create a base for reconciliation through the magic of chocolate.” Local Markets is another great Bogota initiative. Led by chef Luz Dary, it aims to re-establish the value of the marketplace as a social and cultural hub.
The entire city of Medellin is underpinned by a narrative of social transformation through perseverance. Community led projects like Moravia Tours have been instrumental in shifting the way the world sees this neighbourhood – and how locals see themselves.
Run by a group of local women, they’re using recycling and gardening projects to turn a former dump yard into a flourishing community known for its flower gardens. Meanwhile, in another formerly notorious Medellin neighbourhood, Afro Tour teaches visitors about the rich culture and musical heritage of their stomping ground, Comuna 13.
The stories of transformation extend beyond Colombia’s cities. In Caguan, tourism gave a group of former FARC combatants the opportunity to become rafting instructors, earning a stable income and sharing the beauty of their region. In La Boquilla on Colombia’s north coast, fishermen teach tourists artisanal fishing techniques and women from the Zenu indigenous group run weaving workshops, helping ensure these skills are passed down.
These are just a few examples of how tourism is helping fuel social transformation in Colombia on an everyday basis.
Transformation in a time of crisis
Most of the projects Impulse Travel works with are grassroots and rural. These communities have felt the effects of the COVID-19 crisis very sharply. They rely on tourists to keep operations running and people employed, so when travel ground to a halt recently, it put the breaks on their work within their communities as well.
Impulse Travel has stepped in to throw them a lifeline, raising money through a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign (now closed) to solve the immediate problem of cash flow. This will help keep people employed throughout the crisis so they can continue their long-term tourism partnerships into the future.
Impulse also sees this as an opportunity for community run projects to grow, so they’re helping leaders to develop new skills that will deepen their impact and make them more resilient in the future. They’re launching a free e-learning course for 15 of the community initiatives they work with, including all those mentioned above.
How you can support communities in Colombia
If you’re passionate about social transformation in Colombia, now is the time to show your support. One-hundred percent of money raised through Impulse Travel’s crowdfunding campaign will go directly to the 15 communities, helping them stay afloat through the crisis.
If you’re planning to visit Colombia any time in the future, consider booking a Social Impact experience through Impulse Travel. They’re also offering gift vouchers that you can redeem at a future date.
Colombia travel resources
- 25 best places to visit in Colombia, the ultimate bucket list
- 30 best things to do in Medellin, my Medellin city guide
- 2 days in Medellin, ideal itinerary for first-timers
- What to buy in Colombia, authentic and handmade souvenirs
- Markets in Medellin, Colombian fruit, flowers and more
- Visiting Medellin’s Comuna 13, things to know before you go
- Guide to Jerico, Colombia’s loveliest pueblo
- El Despertar Hotel, Jerico’s best accommodation
- Guide to Jardin, Colombia’s most colourful town
- Colombian coffee tour, bean to cup in Concordia
- 7 things to do in Bogota, a day in the capital
- Colombian cooking class, in the kitchen in Bogota