At Don’t Forget To Move we’re all about traveling responsibly and giving back along the way, but we understand not everyone has the time to take 6 months off and volunteer in Peru, or quit their job to go and work in an animal sanctuary. Luckily, volunteering abroad isn’t the only way to give back while traveling. Regardless of how much time you have on your travels, you can always create a positive impact on the communities you visit, while also having a really fun time.
One of the best ways to give back while traveling is to choose companies that prioritize supporting the local community, environment and animals over profits. By doing so you not only support local companies making their communities a better place, but also the business model of responsible tourism for all the other businesses out there.
And the options are endless when it comes to choosing where to spend your dollar. It might mean staying in an eco-hotel instead of your average run on the mill hotel. Visiting an animal sanctuary instead of watching a dolphin show. Or shopping at local businesses instead of hitting up 7-11 and Costco. For us, one of our favorite ways to give back while traveling is to find sustainable tour companies that support these responsible tourism principles.
But Aren’t Tours The Worst?
I know what you’re thinking: uhh.. tour company? I thought Don’t Forget To Move was all about ditching the tours and exploring on your own?!
Yep, you’re right! Those tours that cram 100 people in a bus and stop at landmarks to take photos for 5 minutes before carting everyone to the next spot… We avoid those like the plague!
But there’s something to be said for small, socially conscious tour operators. First off, they know their stuff. As dorky as you may feel walking around with a tour guide, you’ll learn way more about the area than exploring on your own. Having a local guide not only means getting tips on those sweet local spots, but also getting a deeper understanding of the history and culture of the area. They also know how you, as a visitor, can reduce your negative impact on the places you’re visiting.
Benefits of Choosing the Right Tour Companies
So while handing out sweets to indigenous children may seem like a good idea, a local guide can give you the insider scoop that this is actually damaging to their health and causes more harm than good. When searching for a sustainable tour operator the ideal situation is finding a company that ensures their tours are low impact, and also supports local social projects. It’s a win-win. You get a fantastic tour with a local guide, while your money goes back to the community.
Unfortunately these types of tour companies aren’t as common as they should be. So when we heard about Context, a small group tour company giving back to local communities, we jumped at the chance to join their tours. We liked it so much we attended 3 of their tours in Cartagena, Colombia alone! Here’s what we loved about our Context experience.
Deep Travel Foundation
Context is all about visiting destinations with small groups, minimizing the negative impacts of travel and maximizing positive impacts on the community. But they don’t just use phrases like social impact travel because it looks good in their brochure. They put their money where their mouth is. In conjunction with their tours, they’ve set up the Deep Travel foundation that works with social projects to give back to the communities they visit.
While in Cartagena we attended one of their tour/social project combinations: the San Francisco Barrio tour, which was lead by tour guide and local badass do-gooder Alex Rocha. He started the Alex Rocha Youth Center several years ago because he saw his community struggling in the midst of violence and poverty. He wanted to create a safe place for the local children and teens to develop new skills, receive homework help and have an alternative to getting involved with drugs and gangs.
Social Projects in Cartagena
A couple years ago Context developed a partnership with the center. Travelers who want to gain a better understanding of real life in Cartagena, beyond the walls of the tourist area, can visit San Francisco barrio and take a tour with Alex. When we visited we were lucky enough to come on a day when local youth were putting on a breakdancing performance for the barrio. Alex told us that breakdancing had been a huge influence on his life when he was younger and saved him from getting into trouble. Now he puts on shows and events around the city, trying to do the same for many troubled youths within the community.
We were completely blown away by the level of talent of the dancers. It was clear the groups were putting their heart and soul into their passion and it was touching to hear several of them speak about how breakdancing gave them a new direction in life. After the performance Alex came back with a piece of paper, with a list of younger boys names in the community that had requested to sign up for breakdancing classes. For us, that said it all. Alex is providing a safe space for kids of all ages that will continue to benefit younger generations.
In the evening, after checking out the barrio, tour guests get a special treat, dinner with the Rocha family. We learned more about Alex’s dreams for the center and met his children who were all incredibly intelligent, ambitious people, sure to follow in their father’s footsteps. Every tour ticket includes a donation to the center that Context matches, so you can leave knowing you’ve made a small, meaningful impact on a very deserving community.
Real Travel Sustainability
But supporting social projects isn’t the only way Context is giving back to the community. They are a sustainable tour company through and through. A lot of companies in the tourism industry tout themselves as sustainable because it’s trendy, but never actually take action to become more eco-friendly. Context not only focuses on lessening their impact on the community, but is actually proactive in mitigating those negative impacts.
As a corporation, they do their part by keeping sustainable practices at their offices and participating in a carbon-offset program. On their tours they keep impact to a minimum by only allowing 6 guests max. That means you’re not walking with a huge group trying to figure out which guide holding an umbrella in the air is yours. Small groups give you the opportunity to really know your guide and ask questions about being a local to the area.
By providing local expert tour guides you have a unique opportunity to get an insider view on the city. You know those amazing, hole-in-the-wall spots that only locals seem to know about? Those are the kind of spots you’ll be visiting and getting recommendations to visit after your tour.
Sustainable Tours in Cartagena
On our Cartagena At Twilight walk, the sunset tour of Cartagena, our guide Kristen took us to The Rum Box to do some rum tasting! It was a perfect compliment to the city’s Caribbean vibe and a completely unique experience that we wouldn’t have chosen for ourselves. Another favorite on our sunset tour was a stop at a local coffee shop, Cafe Del Mural, where the owner stayed open late just to accommodate our small group. We were expecting to order off the menu, but instead the owner concocted custom drinks based on our personal preferences! I ended up with a delicious frozen coconut coffee with almond liqueur and whipped cream and Jules had a citrus flavored coffee over ice with orange slice. Yum!
Because the guides know the city so well they are able to customize your tour on the spot. Depending on what areas you may have already explored on your own they can take you on different routes or spend more time in other areas. Many Context guides are local historians, like our “Welcome to Cartagena” tour guide Luis, a local history PHD student. Luis knew the history of Colombia like the back of his hand. He was ready for all of our questions and told us everything we’d need to know about Cartagena, from the best pirate stories to the most delicious arepa stands.
We left each of our Context Cartagena tours with a greater knowledge and understanding of the history and daily life of the locals. We loved that having a small group tour meant one-on-one time with the guide, which also meant getting all of our questions answered. We can’t wait to check out more Context tours throughout Europe!
Thanks to Context for inviting us onto these trips. Even though Don’t Forget To Move received these tours for free, we fully support and promote Context, not only as a great option for socially conscious tours around the world, but for the work they’re doing to support social projects.
2 thoughts on “Choosing a Responsible Tour Company in Colombia”
Great information about how to travel responsibly in Colombia. There are many groups out there that emphasize supporting the local community – it’s just a matter of finding them. Hopefully, more travelers will follow your lead.
We hope so too! Thanks for the comment 🙂