As Colombia’s tourism star continues to rise, tripling its number of foreign tourists from 2006 to 2018, so too does the risk of overtourism in its most popular destinations. True Colombia Travel (TCT), a locally owned tour operator offering custom cultural, culinary and environmental tours aims to help travelers lessen the strain by discovering the hidden treasures within this still-emerging destination.
“Second city travel”—the trend of traveling to lesser-known cities—is skyrocketing. As Booking.com reports, more than half of global travelers want to help reduce overtourism and would choose a lesser-known, similar alternative to more popular options if it reduced their environmental impact.
Here are True Colombia Travel’s top picks for Colombia’s 2020 lesser-known spots to see:
Swap Caribbean Vibes for Pacific Wildlife
If you think everyone’s visiting Cartagena, you’re right: This preserved colonial city receives over a million visitors a year; noise complaints from the city’s plethora of night clubs are common; and nearby coral reefs have been devastated by beach developments and litter.
For an adventurous beach vacation, look to the country’s other coast—the Pacific—which remains among Colombia’s most undeveloped areas. On True Colombia Travel’s four-day experience, stay at the environmentally passionate El Almejal Lodge for a crash course in sustainable tourism. Hike through abundant rainforests, learning about the region’s unique flora while keeping your eyes peeled for jaguars, black-headed spider monkeys and brown-throated sloths. Watch for olive ridley sea turtles while snorkeling in Utría National Park and spot breaching humpbacks off the coast, who arrive from Antarctica between July and November to mate and give birth to their young.
Skip the Strained Caño Cristales for a Cacao-Fueled Jungle Trek
The Caño Cristales, a river known as the “melted rainbow” for its vibrant, multicolored hue, became such a popular, Instagrammable tourist site after the 2016 Peace Accord that just a year later, access to the area was restricted from visitor traffic to give the overloaded ecosystem a break.
Instead of adding your name to its waitlist, seek out another recently opened natural experience: The jungles around Puerto Berrio in Antioquia (near Medellín), one of Colombia’s most diverse wildlife regions. On this three-day adventure in previously off-limit lands, hike through the lush jungles to spot manatees in fresh-water rivers while watching for jaguars, cougars and a host of endemic bird species. Later, visit a local cacao farm to see how the bean is cultivated and turned into chocolate.
Avoid the Bogota Crowds to Party with Pasto’s Locals
Bogota may seem effortlessly cool with its bike tours, chic cafés and mountainous climate, but the influx of international visitors in recent years has landed it on a list of “dawning developers” —cities with a tourism sector growing faster than the infrastructure to hold it up.
In 2020, lessen the strain by visiting a place typically unknown to outsiders: Pasto, one of Colombia’s oldest cities, famous to Colombians for its Carnaval de Blancos y Negros. The largest annual festival in southern Colombia, this celebration is a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage event. On this custom-designed adventure, learn about the artistic process and construction of the giant carrozas (festival floats) firsthand from parade participants; visit Las Lajas Sanctuary, a basilica church built into the canyon of the Guáitara River; experience artisanal works at neighborhood galleries; and enjoy local favorites such as empanadas and cuy (guinea pig).