The Top Post-Covid-19 Destinations for Conservation Lovers in Colombia

Colombia bets on four new post-Covid-19 nature tourism routes! MinComercio, Colombia Productiva, and the Natural Wealth Program of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), with the support of the UNWTO, EAN University, and Ruta N, created the Colombia Riqueza Natural Prize, an award for the transformation in nature tourism.  

In order for us to continue being one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, the government of Colombia will continue to focus on identifying initiatives that promote the natural wealth of the country. The main goals are:

  1. Highlighting Colombia’s biodiversity.
  2. Reactivate the nature tourism sector.
  3. Helping local communities in different regions of Colombia.

This is key to boosting nature tourism in the phase of economic recovery that followed the Covid-19 crisis. And, also, to keep showing and promoting the best of Colombia. 

The prize was looking for the transformation of Nature Tourism in the face of the contingency of the COVID-19. The idea was to encourage the reactivation of the nature tourism sector and support environmental conservation and local communities economies.

“This award will not only serve to strengthen our plans to revitalize nature tourism, but it also highlights the importance of being one of the most megadiverse countries on the planet and the second most biodiverse”

– said the Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism, José Manuel Restrepo.
San Andrés & Providencia
San Andrés & Providencia

A Prize for a Post-Covid-19 Economic Recovery

According to Martha Aponte, USAID’s deputy director in Colombia, nature tourism can contribute to the conservation of natural resources and biodiversity as well as to economic development.

For this to happen, it is indispensable to discourage tourism that threatens the health of our ecosystems. Nature tourism should be seen as a tool to improve the well-being of local communities, conserve resources, and educate visitors.

The post-Covid-19 economic recovery phase will support the identification of initiatives that protect natural resources and, at the same time, promote nature tourism in Colombia under the current situation.

In this regard, Camilo Fernández de Soto, President of Colombia Productiva, explained that in Colombia nature tourism needs to:

  • Implement more efficient processes,
  • Improve the quality of its offer,
  • Accelerate the digital transformation,
  • Implement digital marketing strategies, and
  • Adopt sustainability as the fundamental part of the experiences.

The award seeks to support the work of nature tourism into overcome its main issues in order to continue attracting more local and international travelers, especially in the context of post-Covid-19 economic recovery. 

The winners will receive up to USD 50,000 to make their projects a reality in different regions of the country.

The Applications

During one month 1,185 projects applied to this prize. All of them coming from the 32 departments of the country.

54% were submitted by legal entities, while 46% were submitted by individuals. Most of the initiatives were submitted by micro and small businesses, foundations, and NGOs.

Proposals were also received from indigenous organizations, collective territories, peasant associations, community councils, and even large companies. Additionally, 84% of the proposals had not received any pre-award funding.

The Judges

The jury was composed of Brigitte Baptiste, rector of EAN University; Camilo Fernández de Soto, president of Colombia Productiva; Gilberto Salcedo, vice-president of Tourism for ProColombia; Natalia Bayona, director of Innovation and Transformation for the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO); Ricardo Sánchez, director of USAID’s Natural Wealth Program; Ximena García, advisor to USAID’s environmental office; and Agostinho João de Almeida, director of the Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The Finalists

From the total number of projects, 15 finalists were selected and evaluated by the high-level jury.

In addition to the resources funded by USAID’s Natural Wealth Program, the winning initiatives will receive specialized accompaniment from EAN University and Ruta N to execute their projects.

Also, the 15 finalists will receive scholarships from the World Tourism Organization and EAN University in tourism management.

The Top 4 Winning Initiatives

Among the 15 finalists, only four projects won the prize. All these projects are aimed at the conservation and sustainability of Colombian ecosystems. All of them highlight the country’s biodiversity, and focus on addressing the economic impact of Covid-19 on the nature tourism sector, which has been one of the most affected by the pandemic.

The winning projects highlight Colombia’s unique biodiversity:

  • Caribbean Region: ‘Seaflower Meaningful Diving’ (in San Andres Island).
  • Andean – Chocó Forest Region: ‘Establishing the first birding route for visually impaired people in South America’ (in Valle del Cauca).
  • Orinoquia Region: ‘Ensuring a future for jaguars in the only jaguar watching destination (in Casanare).
  • Orinoquia – Amazon Region: ‘Reactivation of nature and cultural immersion tourism in the Matavén jungle’ (in Vichada).

All projects have one year for their development and implementation.

San Andres & Providencia Coral Reef Diving Destination

An experience that will use augmented reality and learning for you to enjoy diving the coral reefs of San Andres Island, and helping its conservation.

Seaflower Meaningful Diving, Diving With a Purpose

This is a project focused on promoting collaboration between islanders, fishermen, and tourists to finance education, conservation, restoration, and management projects of coral reefs in the San Andrés Archipelago.

This project proposes the implementation of e-courses, complemented with gamification and augmented reality, allowing people to start their diving experience and preparation from home. Also, experiencing from home how is the activity of nursing corals.

At the destination, travelers will be able to obtain three rewards:

  • The Green Fins certificate, as responsible and environmentally friendly diving operators
  • The Reef Check Trainers, for participation in coral monitoring, and/or
  • The Reef Repair Trainers, for participation in coral reef restoration.
Coral gardening, Coral reef restoration, Reef Giving, Responsible consumerism. Picture by coralesdepaz.org

Inclusive Bird Watching Destination

A captivating experience that will allow visually impaired people to enjoy the wonders of the San Antonio Cloud Forest and its hundreds of bird species, in one of the most biodiverse areas of South America: the Valle del Cauca.

First Birding Route for People with Visual Disabilities in South America

This is a project carried out in order to find a new way of approaching, recognizing, and linking with nature for the population with visual disabilities.

This contributes to the enjoyment and identification of the species of most representative birds of the Andean region of Colombia, in the AICA/IBA San Antonio Fog Forest – Km. 18, in Cali. Know more about San Antonio Forest in our entry Know the Winged Jewels Held by San Antonio Cloud Forest – Km 18.

The initiative transforms birdwatching tourism in Colombia into an inclusive activity and fosters new market niches. In addition, it takes into account the creation of a special sound guide for the visually impaired population and the training of tourist guides in the region.

Oiga Mire Lea Festival – Birding activity with visually impaired people at San Antonio Cloud Forest with Juan Pablo Culasso and CVC ©Sonidos Invisibles

Jaguar Sighting in Colombia

An experience that allows you to walk the jaguar route and get to Hato La Aurora to visit the first destination for safe jaguar watching in colombia. 

First Jaguar Sighting Route in Colombia Post-Covid-19 Destination

Ensuring a future for jaguars in the only jaguar sighting destination in Colombia: Hato La Aurora, in Casanare. This project’s aim is to strengthen this jaguar sighting destination as a strategy for the conservation of big cats and flooded savannas, and coexistence with sustainable productive activities.

The project includes the creation of a guide to good practices for cat watching, the training of guides from the region, and the creation of trails and a portfolio of services associated with nature tourism.

Jaguar ©skeeze at Pixabay 

Nature and Immersion Tourism in Vichada

Connect with the indigenous traditions of the Piaroa people in one of the most beautiful jungle areas of Colombia!

Matavén Forest and Piaroa Indigenous People

This project seeks to strengthen nature and immersion tourism products with indigenous communities, as the Piaroa indigenous communities from La Urbana and Pueblo Nuevo, of the Great Matavén Reserve, in Vichada. Its aim is to motivate an economic reactivation and conservation of the region’s biodiversity.

Piapoco Culture at Matavén ©Mauricio Romero Mendoza at Flickr

We are all very happy for the winners. We hope to have wonderful products by 2022 that offer you the best nature destinations in Colombia. Destinations that support our biodiversity, that are inclusive, that use innovative technological tools, and of course, that help the economic reactivation of nature tourism in Colombia.

Stay tuned!


References


About the author

Sara Colmenares

Current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism – environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.

The Most Awesome Nature Destinations to Visit in Cartagena

Cartagena de Indias has more than 5 island complexes around it which provide more than 20 beaches to visit and enjoy. But let me tell you that Cartagena is not only about beaches and the Walled City.

Besides this, the most extensive, diverse, and developed coral reef in the entire Colombian Caribbean continental coastline is placed near to Cartagena, in the Corales del Rosario y de San Bernardo National Natural Park.

Coral Reef at Islas del Rosario

Only 30 minutes from Cartagena you will discover the islands full of natural charms, where the calm and warm turquoise waters and white sand beaches make this island area a paradise on earth, and a refugee for marine life.

On the other hand, towards the north side of the city, you will find the Ciénaga de la Virgen, a special place for birdwatching and where you can walk through the mangroves of the fishing village of La Boquilla.

Totumo Volcano. Ph. ©fabulousfabs – Flickr

A few kilometers further on is the Totumo Volcano, which instead of lava is composed of mud, and is considered a natural spa. The mud is attributed with healing, exfoliating and moisturizing properties for the skin. It is also a fun place for young and old, where taking a mud bath will undoubtedly become an unforgettable memory.

Additionally, approximately one hour from the city is the Botanical Garden of Cartagena “Guillermo Piñeres”, a place where visitors can learn about the Colombian Caribbean flora and fauna.

Let’s continue with this nature trip around Cartagena!

Ecotourism destinations in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia

Rosario, Barú and San Bernardo Islands

The Rosario Islands (or Corales del Rosario or Islas del Rosario) is a small archipelago of about 28 islands, which is part of the insular area of Cartagena de Indias, with a land area of 20 hectares (0.20 km²). The main and best beaches in the Cartagena area are located in there.

The islands consist of a small platform composed of successive coral formations at different depths. There are also beautiful white-sand beaches, mangrove coastal forests, and extensive seagrass prairies around the islands.

Coral Reef formation at Rosario Islands Archipelago

Islas del Rosario is the perfect place to snorkel and dive. Its marine biodiversity will leave you amazed. Diving or snorkeling is the way to know at its depth one of the most visited national natural parks of Colombia. Here you will see multicolored fish and all the flora and fauna of the Caribbean Sea.

Corales del Rosario y de San Bernardo Natural National Park

The Natural National Park Corales del Rosario y de San Bernardo was created in the Rosario Islands archipelago to protect the coral reefs, which are the most important on the Colombian Caribbean coast. The park has an extension of 120,000 hectares.

Coral Reef Fishes at natural national park Corales del Rosario y de San Bernardo. Ph. ©Parques Nacionales

The identity and importance of this protected area at the local, regional, national, and global levels are based on its ecosystem functions and essential ecological processes.

The coral reef buffers natural disturbances and functions as a barrier that mitigates the impact of coastal erosion. It is also the habitat of commercially valuable fish and invertebrates, and has beautiful and attractive landscapes.

Unhealthy reefs cannot protect the shore from erosion or extreme weather. Ph. ©The Nature Conservancy
Ecotourism as a Sustainable Activity

Ecotourism allows for the socio-cultural development of the communities settled in the area of influence of the park. It also enables environmental education and awareness, and provides the opportunity for research in marine sciences.

In the park, you can do bird watching, since it has more than 60 species of birds, 31 of which are sea birds including cormorants, gulls, frigates and pelicans. There are also colonies of herons and ibis.

It also is a perfect place to observe marine fauna and flora. There, 53 species of reef-building corals have been identified, which constitute 83% of the coral barriers in the Colombian Caribbean.

There is also a great wealth of invertebrates and 167 species of fish, of which 18 are threatened.

Marine invertebrates. Ph. ©Parques Nacionales

Finally, the marine vegetation is of great importance too, and many species find in this ecosystem breeding and protection.

If you are not very fond of going underwater, other activities you can do are: take a canoe ride through the mangroves, or walk or bike in the tropical dry forest. You can also visit the Oceanarium of San Martin de Pajarales Island, a sanctuary for marine life.

Isla Grande

Isla Grande is part of the Rosario Islands, and it is the largest in the Colombian archipelago of Corales del Rosario. You can get to Isla Grande by public boat, or you can rent a boat just for you and your family or friends.

Isla Grande, Rosario Islands, Cartagena. Ph. ©Emmanuel Rivera – Google Maps

The main activity at Isla Grande is to relax, but you can also go snorkeling and meet with the beautiful reef fishes.

Another attraction at Isla Grande is to visit the Enchanted Lagoon. This place is recommended to visit at night, and preferably with no moon. Why? Because there is a spectacular activity of bioluminescence produced by the plankton and phytoplankton in its waters. You will feel like swimming inside a melted starry sky. It is an absolutely mesmerizing experience!

Spectacular activity of bioluminescence. Ph. ©Islas del Rosario

Cholón, a beach of Barú, is another place where you can also see the natural spectacle of marine bioluminescence.

Diving tours

It is possible to practice diving and snorkeling in Isla Grande and in Isla Tintipán.

Diving tours in the Rosario Islands, Cartagena ©https://divingplanet.org/

For divers who already have their certificate, there is the possibility of doing recreational dives in the natural reserve of corals. On the contrary, if you are not a diver, you can do mini-courses as well, and then take a one-day or multi-day dive tour.

Barú Peninsula (known as Barú Island)

Barú is a peninsula bounded by the Bay of Cartagena, the Canal del Dique and the Caribbean Sea.

This wonderful place is located south of Cartagena, 2 hours by land or 2 and a half hours if you decide to go by boat.

You can rent boats of different capacity, depending on the size of your group of travelers. So, with total freedom, you will be able to choose the places to visit.

A day without laughter is a loss!

Nearby, there are mangrove swamps, water mirrors, and underwater gardens that you can visit. You can also go and meet the Canal del Dique, a work made by the Spanish in the 16th century to facilitate navigation between the Magdalena River and the city of Cartagena de Indias.

At the Canal del Dique you will find an estuarine environment worthy of admiration since the encounter of the river with the sea creates a strange and difficult-to-imagine landscape.

Mangrove ecosystems in Barú

Barú also has several beaches, but the most outstanding are Playa Blanca, Cholón, Agua Azul, and Agua Tranquila.

Playa Blanca

Playa Blanca is a beautiful white-sand beach that contrasts with its crystalline waters, a beautiful place to rest, relax and connect with nature.

Typical meals in the popular Playa Blanca in Barú

Playa Blanca is located on the island of Barú, 45 minutes from Cartagena de Indias. According to El Universal, Cartagena’s main newspaper, this place offers dreamy postcards, with its crystalline blue and green waters.

This place is internationally compared with paradisiacal places like Koh Samui in Thailand, Negril in Jamaica, or Boulders in South Africa.

National Aviary of Colombia

Colombia’s national aviary is on the way to Playa Blanca, one hour from Cartagena, in Barú.

The aviary is a foundation that seeks to conserve and promote knowledge about the richness of birds in Colombia and the Caribbean.

Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja) Symbol of the Colombian Air Force. Ph ©Colin Hepburn – Flickr

The aviary is a very special place because it has birds in open and spacious habitats, and the visitor can observe them very closely and safely for both. There you can easily see emblematic species of the Caribbean coast like the endemic and critically endangered Blue-billed Curassow (Crax alberti).

If you are a soft birder or a birder traveling with family, this is a very good place to visit.

Ciénaga de la Virgen and La Boquilla

The Ciénaga de La Virgen is a wetland at risk of extinction. It is a coastal lagoon, approximately 7 km long, which connects to the Caribbean Sea. This marsh is estuarine in nature, as it owes its balance to the mixture of salt and fresh water.

Ciénaga de La Virgen and southern sector of Cartagena seen from Salto del Cabrón. Creative Commons Licence.

Despite the strong environmental pressure, its resilience has allowed fishes, crabs, chipichipis (Donax denticulatus) and shrimps to still sustain some families in the surrounding communities. Also its mangroves are a refuge for several species of resident and migratory birds.

Ecotourism appears as a strategy for the conservation of the Ciénaga de La Virgen, and for the sustenance of the local communities. Its potential as an ecotourism destination is being increasingly exploited by community businesses in the region that are betting on initiatives like this one that contribute to the preservation of mangrove ecosystems.

La Boquilla

In 2019 a viaduct was inaugurated over the Ciénaga de la Virgen. The elevated highway above the body of water shortens the route between Cartagena and Barranquilla. This has affected tourism in La Boquilla, a fishing village famous for its beautiful beaches and traditions.

Fishermen Museum at La Boquilla. Ph. ©El Tiempo

However, you can still visit the town to meet the Afro community that lives there, learn the secrets of traditional fishing: how to catch fish and crabs and how to use the nets in the sea.

The experience is even more interesting when you go into the kitchen to learn how to cook fish and crab with coconut rice.

Fishermen Museum at La Boquilla. Ph. ©El Tiempo

You can also visit the Casa Museo de Pescadores Ancestrales del Corregimiento de la Boquilla. This is an initiative to recover the traditions and customs that identify the population, especially those associated with the work of fishing.

Botanical Garden of Cartagena “Guillermo Piñeres”

The Botanical Garden has 9 hectares, and is divided into 5 hectares of plant collections and 4 hectares of natural forest. You can walk along paths, which are rather steep, so be sure to wear good, comfortable shoes on your visit. It is a wonderful place to get into close contact with the Caribbean Dry Forest.

Macondo (Cavanillesia platanifolia) Ph. ©Botanical Garden of Cartagena

The Botanical Garden has several collections, among the most developed are:

  • Arboretum: with more than 100 native and exotic tree species.
  • Orchard: with unusual fruiting trees of the Caribbean and beyond.
  • Palmetum: with a collection of Caribbean and exotic palm trees.
  • Drug and Fragrance Garden: a collection of perfumed, medicinal and psychoactive plants.
  • Xerophytic Garden: with a collection of cacti and succulents from the Americas, Africa, Asia and Madagascar.

Totumo Volcano

The Totumo Volcano is a volcanic cone full of mud, which is located in the rural area of the municipality of Santa Catalina (Bolívar). The formation presents a scarce elevation of twenty meters. To enter and exit the crater it is necessary to ascend by a rustic wooden staircase, and then descend by another one.

Once at the bottom of the crater, you can take a mud bath! The mud is composed of water, silica, aluminum, magnesium, sodium chloride, calcium, sulfur, iron, and phosphate. It is supposed to have healing properties due to its composition.

Mud Bath at the Totumo Volcano. Ph. ©Adrian Rodney-Edwards – Flickr

This destination is not supported by the public administration, so its physical infrastructure is not the most adequate, and it is managed by the local community.

It is an interesting place to visit, if you do not mind sharing a small pool with strangers. You can also get a massage while you are there.

The Pink Sea of Galerazamba

The pink beach of Galerazamba is a must-see in Colombia. The sea takes on a beautiful pink coloration thanks to the concentration of salt in its waters and the action of an algae found in them.

The Pink Sea of Galerazamba. Ph. ©Carlos Bustamante R. – Flickr

The best time to visit Galerazamba is from December to April. After that, the pink color begins to decrease until it becomes crystalline.

In addition to this impressive landscape, you can learn about the process of salt production, as well as its history, crystallization process, use, and commercialization.

Where to Stay

There are several accommodation options. For a nature experience we recommend you to stay at Hotel Las Islas, in Barú. For more information read our Complete Guide to the Best Eco lodges in Colombia.

Las Islas Hotel – Barú, Cartagena

But if you prefer to enjoy a little bit of the city we recommend you to stay at sustainable Hotel Boutiques as the Condé Nast Traveller Readers’ Choice Awards 2020 winner Sofitel Legend Santa Clara; the widely acclaimed and recognized Casa San Agustín Hotel; and, the charming hotel of the world by the Paris Magazine Hotel & Lodge and Prize FIABCI of Architecture to the best restoration Casa Pestagua Hotel Boutique.

Recommendations

  • Please use coral-friendly sunscreen. If you need help on this subject I recommend you read the article Reef-Safe Sunscreen: What You Need to Know by Chasing Coral.
  • Be vaccinated against yellow fever 10 days before the planned date of your trip and carry your immunization records.
  • Today, it is no longer necessary to stop in Bogotá to get to Cartagena. If you come from abroad, you can take a cruise or a plane.
  • Airlines such as American Airlines, JetBlue, Interjet, KLM, Delta, and Copa fly directly to the Rafael Nuñez International Airport in Cartagena.
  • The best time or season to travel to Cartagena varies little throughout the year.
  • Being a coastal city, its climate is tropical humid and dry with a relative humidity of 84%.
  • The temperature in Cartagena is warm almost all year round and generally ranges between 23 and 30º C.
  • However, the best time to visit the beautiful beaches and landscapes of Cartagena is between the end of November and the end of April, when the climate is drier.
  • The distances between the tourist areas are not very long. However, private transportation is somewhat expensive compared to public transportation and cabs. We recommend that you check the prices in advance.

With these simple recommendations, you will be able to dedicate yourself to enjoying your ecotrip in Cartagena “La Heróica” to the fullest. It’s an experience not to be missed! In case of any doubt, do not hesitate to contact us!


References


About the author

Sara Colmenares

Current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism – environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.