Five ways sustainable travel is accelerating through Colombia

The secret has long been out: Colombia is booming as a travel destination, and a visit will now reveal many more gringo visits than could be seen just weeks before the global pandemic shut down everything. . But now travelers are back and popular hotels, guesthouses and inns are booking up fast. With an influx of visitors comes social and environmental risks, but there are ways to visit this incredible country while mitigating your impact, starting with a few examples below.

No, you don’t have to kill anything now if you want a taco craving (Leon Kaye)

Vegan restaurants are easy to find and widely available

Colombian food is often brilliant in its simplicity: a protein with sides of starches like rice, plantains, yucca, and potatoes (usually fried) along with a salad or vegetables. But for visitors who prefer to avoid all animal products, vegan restaurants are increasingly becoming an option – and although happy cow is always a reliable source for locating these places, walking around any neighborhood to find a vegan spot should be a matter of minutes, not hours.

Take Medellín, for example. As in many Colombian cities, Mexican cuisine has long since become a thing. Strolling through El Poblado, a neighborhood long loved by visitors for its forest landscape, range of accommodation and nightlife, it’s easy to find vegetarian and vegan options: and asking for a dish to be vegan is often accommodated. . El Pablado itself has at least a few places offering vegan tacos: Other popular restaurants, such as Criminal Taqueriawill modify their menu items if requested.

Even smaller towns, like the lakeside resort town of Guatapé, have vibrant vegan options — and chances are you’ll see the locals dining in the restaurants, too.

A vegan cazuela (stew), in Guatape
A vegan cazuela (stew), in Guatapé (Leon Kaye)

More responsible transportation options

Public transit is always the best option for getting around, especially in Colombia, as getting around downtown Medellín, Bogotá, and Cali will prompt you to wear a mask, even if COVID isn’t your concern. Diesel emissions from old vehicles, coupled with the fact that many major Colombian cities are wedged between mountains, mean questionable emission levels.

Uber says it is doing its part to meet this challenge. You won’t be able to book an electric car in Colombia yet, but the company is offering drivers in major cities a “Planet UberA 2% fee increase that Uber says will fund Anaconda Carbon, a nonprofit partner that issues carbon bonds. These bonds will fund programs that will support local climate action projects, strengthen biodiversity protection and reduce the environmental impact of illegal activities such as informal gold mining.

If you use Uber, keep in mind the strained relationship between the company and the Colombian government. For a while, Uber was banned altogether, but now the service is currently available. But depending on who you talk to, Uber is “illegal”. Drivers often keep their phones on their leg or near the shifter to avoid police attention. They will also often ask you to sit in the front, so as not to attract the attention of police or taxi drivers. who do not appreciate the service.

Other options for Uber include DiDi and Cabify, which let you book through a smartphone app but give you the option to pay the driver in cash.

Medellín’s metro is a gem – fast, efficient and clean and around 3,000 pesos ($0.75) each way, and they include transfers to most cable cars (gondola lines), which allow you to have a breathtaking view of the city.

Attractions such as the Jardín Botánico Joaquín Antonio Uribe in Medellín can be reached by the city's metro (Leon Kaye)
Attractions such as the Jardín Botánico Joaquín Antonio Uribe in Medellín can be reached by the city’s metro (Leon Kaye)

Cycling offers a great way to learn more about Colombia

While we’re on the subject of transportation, no trip to Colombia is complete without discovering its cities and lands on two wheels.

Part of cycling’s popularity comes from the fact that Colombians were beside themselves when one of their own, Egan Bernalwon the 2019 Tour de France. In a race dominated for decades by Belgians, Spaniards, Italians and yes, the French, Bernal was the first Latin American to win the 2,200-mile (3,500 kilometers).

The skyrocketing popularity of cycling is seen in cities such as Bogotá, which opened up new avenues to help citizens move around the city more freely. Bogotá, which years ago launched its ciclovia program on Sundays to encourage residents to walk or cycle on roads that would normally be congested with cars and trucks, expanded the program to now occur daily. According to the day of the week, the length of streets closed to cars and open to cyclists has increased fivefold. This is in addition to the more than 300 miles (500 km) of permanent cycle paths that criss-cross the Colombian capital.

Medellín and Cali are among other Colombian cities that have closed main roads on Sundays for years, partly to fight stubborn air pollution in these urban areas. The success of these car-free days, or cicloviahave ruled cities around the world like Los Angeles to launch their own version of open days.

Bike tours in Colombian cities are easy to book
Bike tours in Colombian cities are easy to book (Leon Kaye)

Public libraries for all

Colombia still has deep social divisions, as evidenced by the recent elections that launched the country’s politically leftist president. The country of more than 52 million people has one of the largest income gaps between rich and poor in the world. Nevertheless, some local governments are to be commended for tackling the problem. The municipal government of Medellín is one of them.

Among its various programs, that of Medellín library parks (parks-libraries) are among the most innovative tactics for extending social well-being. Over the past ten to fifteen years, many of these libraries have been built in the poorest neighborhoods where social services were often non-existent or difficult to access. Most of them are architectural gems, worth a visit. Residents apparently agree, and the fact that these libraries have a full calendar of education and kids-focused events certainly helps boost their popularity.

Parque Biblioteca Leon De Greiff La Ladera, Medellin
Parque Biblioteca Leon De Greiff La Ladera, Medellin (via Facebook)

Visit national parks, with limits

Colombia’s lush biodiversity is one of the reasons travelers are increasingly coming to the country, whether they’re looking to climb one of the few glaciers in a tropical zone, to visit the lush coast of Pacific or exploring the country’s mountainous Zona Cafetera.

But this tidal wave of interest is associated with the risk of further ecological damage. To this end, the local authorities have established boundaries on how many people can visit these natural wonders, including Los Nevados and Tayrona.

Visitors to a rare tropical glacier in Los Nevados (Leon Kaye)

Image credits: Léon Kaye

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