I’ve talked before about Colombia being a far cry from its dark past. Even if narco tourism is growing, Medellin is actually full of peaceful and positive transformation, rebuilding itself through things like art, coffee, and tourism instead of drugs. As Paisa people continue to rebuild it’s important to be conscious of how far they’ve come and help leave a positive social impact when we visit.
Here are four alternative tours you can take in Medellin that support responsible and community tourism, and help locals in their rebuild process.
La Sierra, Comuna 8
La Sierra is what Comuna 13 in San Javier was just a few years ago. Known as Comuna 8, this is another of Medellin’s poorest barrios trying to rebuild itself. The area hasn’t experienced the same level of transformation you find in Comuna 13 and they are not used to seeing foreigners yet, but it’s slowly opening up for tourism. Visiting Comuna 8 is a great alternative to the already-popularized Comuna 13 which sees 25,000 visitors each month. Taking a La Sierra tour means you would be helping to spread tourism to other low socio-economic neighbourhoods that could use it.
Barrio Transformation Tour
The Barrio Transformation Tour is a walking tour by Real City Tours of the most densely-populated neighbourhood that, sadly, was also used as a garbage dump. The landfill was turned into a community garden in Medellin and the area is now seeing it’s own transformation. The guides limit the capacity to 8 people per group in order to be responsible and respectful to the locals, and in an effort to avoid a sudden hype or saturation of tourism. Their free walking tour is also a great starting point to the city.
White Water Rafting on Rio Samana
One of the biggest threats to the country’s ecosystem is dam construction. In Central Colombia, many of the waterways have been impacted by dams which alter ecosystems, destroy natural habitats, and disrupt local communities. The Rio Samana may be one of the last, clean, free-flowing rivers that has not been impacted by development yet, and one company is using eco and adventure tourism, like white water rafting tours to protect Colombia’s rivers. Their rafting tours are led by local community members and conservationists who believe tourism can prevent development.
Coffee Farm Tour
Many Colombian farmers were forced to give up their land to drug cartels in favour of producing cocaine. Today, farmers are slowly returning back to their original land and one of the best things they are producing is damn good coffee. They are using their land to produce high quality Colombian coffee beans which they can sell at a fair and sustainable price to local cafés or export to other markets. Most of the specialty cafés in Medellin have close relationships with farmers and sometimes offer a finca tour to learn about where coffee comes from like this one from Toucan (it’s an amazing experience at a real cooperative).