Some countries don’t have a great reputation for ecotourism, but Colombia is made for it.

Not only is Colombia the second most bio-diverse country in the world – making it perfect for nature seekers – but it’s also relatively untouched. 

Whereas other countries in South America have picked up bad habits, Colombia’s tourism industry is still emerging. And that means everything is just getting started.

As Colombia recovers from its recent history, it has the opportunity to build sustainability into its entire infrastructure.

And, from what I saw, it’s something local businesses and individuals are totally on board with.

Here’s how to enjoy sustainable travel and ecotourism in Colombia.

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Why responsible travel is important in Colombia

Colombia has the potential to be a much more popular travel destination than it already is. That’s an exciting (and well-earned) prospect, especially for a country that’s suffered such an unsavoury past.

But it also comes with its own challenges.

We’ve all seen the kind of devastating effects tourism can have. From litter-covered islands being closed in the Philippines to the cruise ship ban in Venice, tourism doesn’t always have positive effects on a destination.

The good news is, Colombia cares. Not just about the effects of tourism, but about living sustainably in general.

It’s not often you come across a country that seems to care so much.

While most ecotourism initiatives begin in response to near-catastrophic situations, Colombia doesn’t have that need – and yet it still chooses to think about the planet.

Colombia wants to encourage sustainable living among its residents and tourists, and it’s refreshing to see. 

If you’re planning a trip to Colombia, I urge you to help the country in its mission. Think about your impact, do your bit to help and leave nothing but a positive impact when it’s time to say goodbye.


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A flower in Filandia Colombia
Colombia has endless natural beauty to enjoy.

A note on enjoying Colombian nature

Given its natural diversity, there’s no shortage of natural wonders to enjoy in Colombia. 

Colombia has plenty of cities to explore, too, but its nature is perhaps the most vulnerable to tourism. 

I highly encourage you to go out and enjoy the nature in Colombia. 

Without it, you wouldn’t see a true picture of this wonderful country. 

But please do so in a responsible way. In my experience, there’s very little tourism-based destruction and very few bad practices happening right now. But I’m well aware that that could change rapidly. 

When you’re travelling Colombia, speak up if you see anything that isn’t right.

It could change things forever. If we can stop any bad habits developing, Colombia’s nature will continue to remain as it should – and more people can enjoy it.

As tourists, we all have a role to play in protecting the places we visit. Luckily, the locals in Colombia have so far made our job very easy – so please don’t destroy that.

Of course, if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably already aware of this. This post isn’t meant to patronise or point out the obvious, but I do think it’s a reminder we can all use from time to time.

Plus, Colombia is so special in that it’s still largely untouched – it would be a shame to ruin that.


READ NEXT: How to plan a trip to Colombia – everything you need to know.


11 ways to practice ecotourism in Colombia

So, now you know more about the current situation of ecotourism in Colombia, what can you do to help?

Here are eleven easy ideas to make sure your Colombia travels have a positive impact on the places you enjoy.


1 – Use the public transport

Given its young age, Colombia has some of the greenest public transport in the world.

Medellin, in particular, is very easy to travel around in an eco-friendly way. The new electric buses that silently skim the streets are just a few months old, while the metro system is a point of national pride. It’s hard to visit Medellin without hearing about it!

The city’s cable car, which was introduced to connect more people to employment opportunities, is also great way to enjoy the surroundings.

As long as you follow the safety advice, it can make for a great way to see the city from a different point of view.

Medellin isn’t just a city that has transformed socially, but environmentally too – and many of those changes are intertwined. I highly recommend taking a tour like this one to learn more about the transformation while you’re there.

If you’re heading to Bogota, this one will teach you even more (while preparing you for the city).


MEDELLIN, COLOMBIA - OCTOBER 10, 2016: Metrocable public transpo
The Medellin cable car provides both great views and even better opportunities for locals.

2 – Rent an electric car

If you decide to rent a car in Colombia – although you probably don’t need to – make it an electric one. 

Emobi is an all-electric rental app. Simply pay per hour and they deliver the electric vehicle to one of 60 authorised points in Bogota.
 

3 – Eat local

Before I went to Colombia, I didn’t know much about Colombian food. But it turned out to be a fun adventure of its own!

Best of all, each region has its own locally-sourced specialities, which are both fun to try and a great way to travel more sustainably.

Not only is a food a great way to learn about the local culture, but it’s also an awesome way to support it. 

Colombia also has some of the most interesting fruits in the world, and no trip would be complete without sampling some. I recommend guanábana, zapote, and lulo.


Local fruits in Cartagena Colombia
New and exciting local fruits are everywhere in Colombia.

4 – Get out and enjoy Colombia’s nature

You’re never far from nature in Colombia and you’re often completely surrounded by it.

Colombia has so much nature to enjoy that much of it still lies off the beaten tourist path.  That means you’ll often be the only person – whether tourist or local – enjoying a place. And that’s pretty special!

There are plenty of well-known hikes you can try in Colombia, such as the Valle de Cocora (or Cocora Valley). But, if you want to have a truly memorable experience, ask the locals for their recommendations. 

My favourite moments in Colombia were the ones that involved following a local into the forest or jungle, so don’t be shy!


A guide standing next to a sign about respecting nature in the Barbas Bremen Reserve in Colombia
Following a local into the jungle was one of my favourite Colombia memories.

5 – Avoid buying plastic water bottles

Unlike its South American neighbours, Colombia boasts delicious, drinkable tap water in all of its major cities.

I didn’t buy a single plastic bottle during my 10 days in Colombia – and you shouldn’t need to either.

Make sure you pack a reusable water bottle to see you through your trip. My HydroFlask comes everywhere with me and quickly became one of my travel essentials when I started using it two years ago.

6 – Enjoy the wildlife in Colombia

Colombia is the most bio-diverse country in the world for birds, with over 1900 species. Among them are many birds you’ll only be able to spot in Colombia, including the Santa Marta Antpitta

Although it misses the top spot for wildlife, Colombia is still the second most bio-diverse country in the whole worldl.

From the Amazon jungle to the howler monkeys in Quindío and diving on the coast, there’s no shortage of wildlife encounters to enjoy in Colombia.

Please, just make sure everything you do is ethical. You should never be interfering with natural habitats or disturbing the wildlife in any way.

Make sure you avoid the few questionable animal activities available in Colombia, too. When there are so many ways to enjoy wildlife in its natural state, why would you want to partake in them anyway?


READ NEXT: 9 Things to avoid in Colombia.


A caracara bird in the Barbas-Bremen Nature Reserve in Filandia Colombia
You’ll see (and hear!) lots of caracaras in Colombia.

7 – Drink local coffee

Coffee is one of the first things that probably comes to mind when you think of Colombia.

But, even though Colombia makes some of the best coffee in the world, its finest beans used to be reserved for export.

While much of Colombia’s best coffee still ends up overseas, local farmers are starting to find ways to keep it in Colombia. Some of them have started initiatives where they work with local coffee shops and businesses, and now only sell domestically.

This is great news for the farmers, who now have a steadier stream of income. It’s also great for the locals, who can finally enjoy their country’s finest coffee for a fair price.

By visiting coffee shops that support local farmers in this way, you can help Colombians enjoy the best of the coffee they grow.

Ask around and a local is sure to be able to point you in the right direction.


Ripe coffee beans in Colombia
A farmer showed me how to find the ripe coffee beans. His family now only sells to local coffee shops.

8 – Carry reusable cutlery

While this isn’t a tip that only applies in Colombia, it’s worth reiterating.

Some of the best food in Colombia comes from the street stalls and stands, and I recommend eating street at least a little.

Sadly, though, it often comes with plastic cutlery or straws. Carry your own set set of reusable cutlery so you can enjoy the Colombian street food without the need for single use plastics.

I have a set of bamboo cutlery like this one that I take everywhere.


9 – Enjoy the vegan food

South America is often the target of complaints from vegetarian and vegan travellers. I arrived ready for the challenge… but I didn’t have to try hard at all.

In fact, it was only at the end of my trip that it occurred to me that I’d eaten meat (chicken) just once.

I enjoyed plenty of vegetarian friendly food through my entire trip to Colombia and it was really good, too!

Even if you’re not a vegetarian or vegan, sampling Colombia’s meat-free treats is a great way to be kind to both kyour taste buds and the planet.


Vegetarian food at Helena Adentro in Filandia Colombia
Nearly everything I ate in Colombia was vegetarian!

10 – Support local tourism operators

One of the easiest ways to support the local economy and communities while travelling is by using local services. That’s not hard in Colombia because pretty much everything is locally run!

What is hard is finding information about travelling in Colombia online because most of it is organised IRL. 

Many tourism operators on the ground are starting to move their services on to sites like GetYourGuide and Viator, but there are plenty who aren’t.

My advice? Use these sites to get a good deal on a day trip to Guatapé or a tour of the Rosario Islands. But ask your hotel or hostel to put you in touch with local tour providers if you want to try something more off the beaten path (and help business get off the ground while doing so).

You never know what unique activities they might have on offer!

If you’re heading to the coffee region, I highly recommend booking excursions with Filandia Nativa. They offer a range of really unique activities in the Filandia area and all of them have a focus on conservation and protecting the local ecosystems.

Another company I recommend that works throughout Colombia is Impulse Travel. They offer a number of social impact-led tours, but I used them mostly for airport transfer.

They were by far the most professional, most punctual and most affordable transfer service I used, so I can’t recommend them enough.

Here are their transfer services from the most popular airports:


Mural in Cartagena Colombia


11 – Choose activities consciously 

If you know one name when you arrive in Colombia, it’s probably “Pablo Escobar”. There’s a good chance that’s all you know about Colombia – and that’s totally okay. 

What’s not really okay is basing your Colombia travels on a character the country would rather forget. 

There’s no shortage of Escobar-based tourism in Colombia. And, as catchy as that last sentence sounds when I say it out loud, it might not be the smartest thing to fill your Colombia itinerary with.

Of course, it’s hard not to be interested in Colombia’s notorious drug lord, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t be. But, rather than taking an Escobar tour, why not take one that teaches you about the country’s transformations and social projects instead

In my opinion, the transformation of Colombia is far more interesting than its bloody past. Plus, the locals would much rather you see all the amazing initiatives that have been shaping the face of the Colombia in recent years. Wouldn’t you?


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Alajode UK travel blog and vlog by a female digital nomad
Jodie Marie Dewberry

Jodie has been travelling the world full time since 2017, sharing the most unique places in the world along with tips for living as a digital nomad. She is a passionate wildlife photographer and has worked with a number of prominent travel brands, including airlines, tourism boards, hotels and tour operators.

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