Indigenous travel agency to discover the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta

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We’re continuing our series of posts devoted to Colombian responsible tourism agencies that we feel are worth highlighting. Today we’re off to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta to tell you about an indigenous travel agency created by our Arhuacos friends, who have decided to take their destiny into their own hands.

Adrian is the leader of a very interesting community tourism initiative with whom, during our 2018 trip, we went to meet his family of indigenous Arhuacos from the Sierra Nevada.

We invite you to discover this agency, its raison d’être and the great work that has been undertaken since its creation.

Disclaimer: we apologize in advance for any grammatical or syntactic errors, as our native language is not English (we're a Colombian-French couple), so we hope you'll forgive us and still enjoy the information we share with you! Please note that all the information on our blog is based on our own experience, and is checked and updated regularly.

Why set up an indigenous travel agency in the Sierra Nevada?

Indigenous travel agency to discover the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta

The agency was spurred in 2017 by an indigenous Arhuaca family from Cuenca de Palomino in Santa Marta’s Sierra Nevada, headed by Adrian, a man full of courage and motivation.

Exploitation of the natives

For many years, the natives were exploited by certain guides who brought large groups to mountain villages without any real compensation: a bag of rice here, a packet of coffee there, while they charged the tourist a pittance.

Cultural appropriation

The other problem was cultural appropriation: the guides who took tourists to “see the natives” took the liberty of talking about their culture, history and traditions, while passing on false information about the indigenous peoples.

Voyeuristic tourism

A final phenomenon posed a problem: backpackers looking for a thrill also came to the indigenous villages to do so-called volunteer work. But often put off by the difficulty of the physical work to be done in these remote villages, they left as quickly as they had arrived without having forgotten what they had come for: to take photos or videos with the natives of course… so they could say “I was there”.

Taking back the reins

The agency wants to show that the natives themselves can take their destiny back into their own hands, develop a quality professional project and offer a different kind of tourism, one that comes from the community itself and is not imposed from outside.

The idea is to take the gamble that travelers are ready to understand and accept to discover indigenous culture in a respectful way.

Responsible tourism

What we like about Adrian’s project is, of course, the idea of offering tourism services based on ecotourism and ethnotourism, but with the assertive aim of enabling indigenous people to regain territorial and cultural control.

For us, this type of approach is totally in line with responsible tourism. This kind of tourism has a positive impact on both visitors and their hosts, who remain masters of their own destiny and the development they wish (or not) to implement.

Contact Adrian to discover Sierra NEvada de Santa Marta

What does the indigenous travel agency offer in the Sierra Nevada?

Indigenous travel agency to discover the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta

In 2018, we met Adrian and had the chance to follow him to meet his family in Seydukwa.

The central idea is to encourage visitors to learn and understand the ancestral Arhuaca culture, but also to discover the Sierra Nevada, which has a very special place for the community.

Cultural immersion with an indigenous Kogui family (2 days)

Two days of immersion with a Kogui family in the heart of Santa Marta’s Sierra Nevada to share in their daily lives and discover their culture and traditions: walks, workshops, swimming, viewpoints, know-how..

Trek to Bunkuani (3 days)

If you’re looking for a less physical, more economical and less crowded alternative to the trek to Ciudad Perdida, we recommend this 3-day trek to Bunkuani, in the Sierra Nevada near Calabazo. The program includes encounters with local farming communities, discovery of the archaeological remains of the Bunkuani terraces, petroglyph observation, river bathing and a cultural exchange with an indigenous Kogui family.

Trek to Ciudad Perdida (4 or 5 days)

The mythical trek to the Lost City that needs no introduction! To find out more, read our post on Ciudad Perdida. You’ll spend 4 or 5 days discovering an ancient Tayrona indigenous city built in the 7th century.

Excursion to Minca (1 day)

A day to discover Minca, a walk to a coffee finca to learn about the production process and taste organic coffee from the Sierra, a swim in one of Minca’s most beautiful waterfalls, a walk in the forest, a cultural discovery of the use of bamboo in traditional construction in the Sierra and a tasting of locally-produced cocoa. Lunch included.

Tubing in Palomino (4h)

Descend the Palomino River on a buoy, from the heights of Sierra NEvada to the mouth of the rio, which flows into the Caribbean Sea.

Trek to Tayrona Park (1 day)

Trek inside Tayrona Park with a local guide.

Contact Adrian to discover the Sierra NEvada de Santa Marta

Responsible tourism in the Sierra Nevada

Indigenous travel agency to discover the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta

You’re going to tell us that it’s all very pretty on paper, but what does the agency actually do ? Who’s to say it doesn’t go straight into the pocket of the person in charge, and basta!

As discussed in our post on responsible tourism, it’s a way of traveling that involves two players: the traveler and the host.

Empowering the traveler

Here, by deciding to go through an Arhuaca agency to discover the culture, as a traveler you’re taking a step in the right direction. It means you’ve realized that you can’t just visit an indigenous community without thinking about the impact of your visit.

On the other hand, the agency must be able to propose concrete actions that show it is having a positive impact on its territory and local populations.

Controlling the impact of tourism

In consultation with the Mamo and all the family members, it was decided to authorize only 8 people per week to visit the Seydukwa hamlet. The idea was to maintain control over the project’s tourism development and its impact on the family’s daily life.

Improving quality of life

The financial contribution helps to maintain the hamlet, renovate or build new houses, maintain mountain trails, etc.

Employment

The agency’s activities enable us to train and employ members of the community, particularly women and young people, to help the project run smoothly: training guides, taking part in clean-up, construction and path maintenance activities, cooking meals for visitors, helping to run the agency, etc.

Handicrafts at the right price

The agency supports the Arhuacas women in their creation of traditional handicrafts, promoting their know-how and offering the objects for sale at a fair price and without intermediaries.

School supplies

The agency collects school supplies for Arhuacos children in schools in Cuenca de Palomino. By appealing for donations, organizing the collection and distributing the materials themselves to the indigenous schools, we support the education of the youngest children and help them to develop.

Mamo’s work

A portion of the agency’s profits is used to finance the travel expenses of the community’s spiritual leader when he needs to visit other areas of the Sierra Nevada.

Contact the Adrian indigenous agency in Sierra Nevada

Sierraventur (#34)

To directly contact Adrian, our local partner in Santa Marta, you can use the form below. You won’t pay more, but it will let him know you’re coming from us.

IMPORTANT: If you don’t hear from our partner within 72 hours, please check your SPAMS first before contacting us.

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Authors

Angélica & Samuel

We are Angélica and Samuel, a French-Colombian couple, professional photographers and web editors specializing in travel to Colombia. We created this blog to change the image of the country, help you prepare your trip and inspire you to discover Colombia in a different way!

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