Blog (7)

“The gladdest moment in human life, me thinks, is a departure into unknown lands.” – Sir Richard Burton

Cast all of your outdated ideas aside - like drug wars and gangsters - and you'll find that Colombia is a nation brimming

with confidence and rushing headfirst into a more peaceful and prosperous future. In this land of contrasts,

you'll encounter snow-capped Andean peaks, tropical Amazonian jungles, turquoise Caribbean coasts, and two sun-kissed deserts.

You'll also find a host of spectacular attractions at the places in between, from the bustling cities of Bogotá and Medellin

to the quiet colonial villages of Salento and Mompox. Above all else, the famous Colombian hospitality

will undoubtedly find you coming back for more.


1. Medellín 

colombia medellin skyline


Bogotá might be the Colombian capital, but it's the smaller and more manageable city of Medellin

that tends to capture the hearts of visitors. Medellin was dubbed the most dangerous city in the world in the early 1990s,

but a quarter of a century later, it has earned a reputation for something entirely different: innovation.

The city boasts cable cars linking the settlements in its hills to a modern metro system in the valley below,

a greenbelt of lush "eco parks," and striking libraries and community centers in some of the poorest neighborhoods.

A great day of sightseeing might start in the Old Quarter at Botero Plaza, where you'll find a collection of 23 portly sculptures

donated by the beloved Colombian artist Fernando Botero. Adjacent to the plaza is the must-visit Museum of Antioquia

and the striking Rafael Uribe Uribe Palace of Culture. Then, head into the hills above town by riding the sleek escalator

system through Comuna 13 to explore this neighborhood's colorful homes and elaborate street murals.

Finish your day in Medellin's trendiest commune, El Poblado, where you'll find buzzing eateries,

boutique shops, and the vast majority of the city's hotels.


2. Eje Cafetero 

colombia salento cocora valley eje cafetero

The world's third-largest producer of coffee beans, Colombia is a fantastic country for tastings and tours.

The vast majority of production takes place in the subtropical Andean hills west of Bogota between the small cities of Armenia,

Pereira, and Manizales. This region, known as the Eje Cafetero (or Coffee Axis), is home to a growing number of coffee plantations

that have opened up their operations to the public in recent years for tours, tastings, and lavish farm stays.

These small (and often organic) plantations are the kind of places where the farmer-owner

might take an hour out of his day to explain the process of how a humble "cherry" turns into a coffee bean

that will one day be roasted and ground into a latte back home.

The small resort town of Salento is easily the most attractive place to base yourself,

with numerous farm tours nearby and plenty of things to do. You'll also have easy access to attractions like 

Cocora Valley, home to the tallest palm trees in the world. You can rent bicycles from Salento to explore the region

under your own steam or ride on one of the old-fashioned Willy jeeps that serve as the town's de facto taxis.

3. Cartagena

colombia cartagena overview 

Cartagena is the crown jewel of Colombia's Caribbean coast and one of the best-preserved colonial destinations in the Americas.

Take a stroll through Old Town and you may feel as if you've stepped back in time to a different era.

Maybe it's the 13 kilometers of centuries-old walls or the colorful colonial architecture.

Perhaps it's the bougainvillea-covered balconies along the labyrinthine streets or the soaring Catholic

churches that tower above every plaza. Whatever it is, visitors can't help but fall for this Caribbean charmer.

Note that beyond the World Heritage-listed historic quarter lies a newer,

trendier part of town along the Bocagrande peninsula, where upscale condos, open-air cafés,

and top restaurants all fight for prime seafront real estate.


4. Leticia

colombia amazon leticia squirrel monkeys

Picture the Amazon, and Colombia may not be the first country to come to mind - which is odd,

because about a third of the nation is blanketed in its thick (and often impenetrable) jungles.

The capital of the vast Amazon Basin is the small frontier town of Leticia, which sits along the banks of the mighty Amazon River,

right where Colombia bumps up against Brazil and Peru. Leticia makes a great base for eco-tourism,

wildlife safaris, or hikes into the Amazon to learn about the indigenous tribes that call this area home.

The only way to arrive here is by plane from Bogotá, and you can continue onward

by boat either downriver to Manaus, Brazil, or upriver to Iquitos, Peru.


5. Tayrona National Park

colombia tayrona national park cabo san juan

You'll find some of the best beaches in Colombia within the protected Tayrona National Natural Park,

which is known for its palm-shaded coves and crystal-clear coastal lagoons. Most beaches are set against the dramatic

mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, whose rainforested hills make for a great side trip on any beach vacation.

Tayrona is also a fantastic place for snorkeling at protected areas near La Piscina beach and Cabo San Juan.

Though remote, these secluded beaches aren't exactly a secret, so it's best to visit in low season (February to November)

to avoid the massive crowds. Also, unless you're paying for the lavish Ecohabs Tayrona, be prepared

to sleep in a tent (or hammock) at one of the many beachside campgrounds.


6. Bogotá

colombia bogota la candelaria

 Most visitors to Colombia will inevitably begin their trip in the nation's largest city - and beating heart - Bogotá.

It's a city that often divides opinion, with some complaining of its gridlocked streets and dreary weather,

and others falling head over heals for its unique combination of colonial charm and urban sophistication. Either way,

this city of eight million tends to grow on people who give it enough time. Begin your sightseeing in

the historic center of La Candelaria, where you'll find the impressive buildings lining Plaza de Bolívar 

and can't-miss cultural attractions like the blindingly bright Museum of Gold. Then,

head over to the wealthier neighborhoods of North Bogotá for some of the nation's

best boutique shops and chef-driven restaurants.


7. The Lost City 

colombia santa marta ciudad perdida

Colombia's most popular hike is undoubtedly the four-day, 44-kilometer trek to Ciudad Perdida,

a lost city hidden deep in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains that was only rediscovered in the 1970s.

Built and occupied by Tayrona Indians between the 8th and 14th centuries, this ancient city is said

to be one of the largest pre-Columbian settlements discovered in the Americas.

Much of the site remains buried beneath a thick jungle quilt - the modern indigenous inhabitants

of the area have banned excavations - but you'll find that the stone terraces and stairways are in outstanding shape.

It's not possible to visit this site alone, so you'll need to book a tour from Santa Marta in advance.


8. Providencia Island

colombia caribbean providencia island lovers bridge

This quirky Caribbean Island leaves many first-time visitors perplexed. For starters, it's far closer to Nicaragua than Colombia.

Then there's the fact that its residents don't speak Spanish but rather an English Creole.

Of course, none of that really matters when you find yourself sunning on the most stunning beaches under the Colombian flag.

Little more than a dollop of golden sands and perky palms, this isolated island is the jewel

of the UNESCO-protected Seaflower Biosphere Reserve with some of the world's greates

t marine biodiversity just waiting to be explored. You'll need to first stop on the more popular San Andrés Island 

and catch a short hopper plane or three-hour catamaran ride to reach Providencia.

Once there, you'll find the largest collection of cottages and hotels in the small hamlet

of Aguadulce on the stunning west coast of the island.


9. Mompox

colombia mompox city scene 1

 Lovers of magic realism and the writings of Gabriel García Márquez will fall for the sleepy charms of Mompox.

It features prominently in the Nobel laureate's book The General in His Labyrinth and is thought to be the inspiration

for the fictional town of Macondo in his most famous novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Mompox was once a prosperous cog in the trading route between the Caribbean coast and the Andes,

famed as the spot where "El Libertador" Simón Bolívar recruited his armyto gain independence for neighboring Venezuela.

Now, this colonial relic along the muddy shores of the Magdalena River is truly a town that time forgot.

Though it lacks a wealth of things to do, many visitors find themselves spending

far longer than planned strolling through the cobbled streets; soaking in the ambiance

of the colonial architecture; or taking boat trips through the Pijiño Swamp, a popular attraction for birders.


10. La Guajira

colombia la guajira desert cabo de la vela

It's the most northerly point in South America, so perhaps it's only fitting that La Guajira is unlike anywhere else on the continent.

This remote and little-visited peninsula is a quiet oasis of sweeping sand dunes, bird-covered mangrove swamps,

and vast stretches of empty land where the orange-brown La Guajira Desert meets the turquoise Caribbean Sea.

Indigenous beliefs are the law of the land here as the peninsula is home to the proud Wayuu people,

who were never subjugated under Spanish rule and maintain a vibrant culture to this day.

Keep in mind that tourism is still new in La Guajira, and the ride in from the regional

capital of Riohacha requires both patience and a sense of adventure. The windsurfing Mecca of Cabo de la Vela 

has the most tourism infrastructure and will likely be your best entry point into the region.

Miércoles, 08 Febrero 2017 18:52

Four top tips on what to do before moving to Colombia

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I have made a short list of some things that will make your transition to life in Colombia a lot smoother

1.  An obvious point but unless you’re well versed in the language before you arrive, it is a great investment of your time to study as much as you can before you arrive. Even 2 hours a day will make your first few weeks here a lot easier. I have attached a link below to some free online lessons that I feel are very good at allowing you to grasp the basics…in my opinion much better than duolingo…although as far as I know they don’t have an app you can download on your phone so it’s only available through desktop/laptop. Definitely worth checking out beforehand if you have enough time to use it. You can access all the lessons from the link on the left of the page…..

2. If you’re a European citizen, it’s worth signing up for a Revolut card before you arrive in Colombia. Once you’ve topped up your Revolut account you can use your Revolut MasterCard at millions of locations worldwide using the real exchange rate. The card automatically converts into the local currency at the real exchange rate so you never lose money by transferring between currencies.

3. Buy all the clothes and electrical products you require before travelling to Colombia. Electronics are generally more expensive in Colombia than in your home country.The same goes for clothes in Colombia (especially with international brand names such as Merrell and Levi).

4. When finding somewhere to live in Colombia after moving out of the provided accommodation, a very useful website to search for spare-rooms or whole apartments with other people is “fincaraiz”. I personally found my room through fincaraiz. It’s free and it has a fantastic feature where the available rooms/apartments are displayed on a map of the city which makes it very easy to search within a desired area.


Author: Rick Diskin

Program: ETF Colombia

El galardón es entregado a jóvenes que lideran acciones concretas de cambio.

En el marco de la XVI Cumbre Mundial de Premios Nobel de Paz fueron elegidas y premiadas

aquellas ideas que influyen decididamente en la transformación social. Luego de evaluar 282

iniciativas provenientes de diferentes países del mundo, los laureados reconocieron El Avispero

como una acción concreta que promueve la paz y el desarrollo sostenible.


 Esta comunidad integrada por más de 24.000 ciudadanos, tiene como propósito articular e

impulsar acciones concretas para hacer realidad un liderazgo ciudadano capaz de resolver

problemas; que influya en la toma de decisiones; en la cultura ciudadana; en política y en las

narrativas de Colombia. Algunos de los temas en los que han adelantado acciones son:

construcción de paz, anticorrupción, y liderazgo femenino.


 “Durante la Cumbre hemos escuchado a grandes personalidades decir que los jóvenes tenemos

que participar, presentar nuestras ideas, hacer escuchar nuestras voces. A través de El Avispero

brindamos las herramientas para que esto sea posible, nos unimos para hacer realidad el país que

imaginamos”, señaló Ángela Serrano, ganadora del premio.


 El Avispero es una iniciativa de Movilizatorio, un laboratorio de participación y movilización

ciudadana para Colombia. Y cuenta con el apoyo de Purpose, Heart for Change, Fundación

Corona, y APC.


 Otras tres propuestas, dos internacionales y una colombiana, fueron galardonadas. El Secretariado

Permanente de la Cumbre les entregará un premio total de USD 10.000 como apoyo a sus

esfuerzos por realizar un cambio positivo a escala local y/o global.

Lunes, 11 Julio 2016 18:28

My first week of school in Manizales

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Author: Stephen Perkins                  

Excerpt: English Teaching Fellow, Stephen Perkins, on arriving to his school in Manizales and how he “hit the jackpot” in Colombia’s Coffee Region.

“You’ve hit the jackpot.” That’s what I was repeatedly told regarding my school placement by other teachers on my program who have been in Manizales since January. After a week of observing classes and interacting with the students and other teachers, it’s clear they weren’t lying! The students are awesome (I say that now), the other teachers couldn’t be nicer, and the school location is in a great neighborhood right next to the main athletic fields.


It’s a Kindergarten through 11th grade school with 2,300 students. However, the two other fellows and I will be only be working with the 6th through 11th graders. I will be teaching two 6th grade classes, two 9th grade classes, three 10th grade classes, and one 11th grade class.


It will be interesting to see my different experiences with the various grade levels. I know there will be challenges but it should also be a lot of fun. The class sizes vary between 30 and 40 students and there is a very wide range of English levels among the students. Some kids can’t say much more than “hello” while others can have a full on conversation. The problem is compounded when the lower level students don’t even make an effort to speak English they just look to the more advanced students to translate everything for them.


All the schools that are part of the Ministry of Education Program are public schools mostly from poorer neighborhoods. My school isn’t as disadvantaged as many of the other schools on the program. However, I don’t think I have even one student who has left Colombia in their life. The large majority has never interacted with foreigners before (besides the previous fellows at the school). As a result, the two other fellows at the school and I are practically celebrities on campus, especially among the younger kids. They all want to say hello to us in the hallways, and I will have kids circle around me and ask questions.


I have already been able to hop into a few sports games during recess which has been a blast. I played full court basketball with some 9th graders last week and also ran the ping pong table for all of recess. Despite, all the 4th graders hovering around the table and letting their curiosity physically interfere with the game, I was able to retire undefeated for the day. I was even challenged to a game of chess by a 9th grade girl and I took her down in a barn burner.


As a part of our program, we are supposed to do one hour of cultural work per week and I am thinking of starting an after school basketball club. We will see. I officially start teaching tomorrow and it is bound to be a memorable experience one way or another.

Author: Jane Packer         

Excerpt: English Teaching Fellow, Jane Packer, goes through her top five tips for survival on the MEN Program.

1. Be Patient
When living and working in Colombia patience is an important quality to have. I am not the most patient person, but my time in Colombia has forced me to become more patient with others, certain situations , and even myself. My patience is most frequently tested in the classroom. When my students are being loud, I must wait patiently until they are quiet, although my first reaction would normally be to raise my voice and become frustrated. In order to be successful in Colombia, you must remember to take a few breaths and be patient with the situation at hand.


2. Get out and explore the area On a weekend trip in Barichara
Try and get to know your city and the surrounding areas. I had a lot of time to explore on the various three day weekends throughout the semester. I got to visit lots of waterfalls, go on some great hikes, and eat yummy empanadas in colonial pueblos. I also got to camp in some beautiful places in Santander. If you budget for it, travelling can be pretty cheap, and it’s really nice to get out of your placement city and relax after a long week of classes. Inviting other fellows to travel is a good way to get to know them!


3. Eat almuerzos
Almuerzos ejecutivos are set lunches that cost about 7,000-10,000 pesos (2-3$). It comes with a soup, juice, meat, salad, and rice and beans. I eat one almost every day because I’m cheap and it is way better than what I could cook. I love almuerzos!


4. Include various activities in lessons My cultural event was about music in the United States
I found that my students like it when I vary types of activities within a lesson. For example, I try to include videos or music related to the lesson at least once a week. It is good to find out what your students like, and to include their interests in lessons. My students love to sing, so I try to bring in simple songs for them to sing. I find them singing them to each other, and they always ask if we can sing during class. They may think singing is silly at first, but if you get into it, they will too ( eventually). The Beatles are really good for teaching English in class, and students may be familiar with some of the songs!


5. Keep an open mind
Things will probably be different than what you are used to at home – schools, pace of life, social interactions etc. At first, it will take some time to adjust, and there may even be some things you can not adjust to ( that’s OK too, as long as you’re respectful!) Keep an open mind and try new things. This is a unique opportunity to reflect on and analyze values or beliefs you may not know you had. In short, make the most of your time here as you learn and grow!

Miércoles, 08 Junio 2016 19:05

Celebrating the birth of a school in Bucaramanga

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Author: Amanda Guerrero      

Excerpt: English Teaching Fellow, Amanda Guerrero, accounts her experience of the seventh anniversary of the IE Bicentenario de la Independencia school in Bucaramanga.


To start my post I would like to explain that I come from a pretty similar culture but Colombian schools still have different things compare to my high school years and I have to admit I like a lot of what I’ve seen.

The IE Bicentenario de la Independencia was founded seven years ago, in March. In spite its short life it is one of the best Public Schools in Bucaramanga. On March, 4th 2016, with no previous notice, at least on my side, they had a celebration for the school’s anniversary. I really love these types of events in school because the students have to wear their gala uniform. They hate it but I fell for it the first time I saw it because in my country we don’t have gala uniforms, only the regular one.

That day there was a mass. Around 9:00am the students were ask to gather in the central area of the school. I thought the mass was going to be held in the court but to my surprise the students were asked to, slowly and as organized as possible, leave the school to go to a church, two blocks away from the school. It was amazing to see how all the students went to the church, filling up the street from side to side. I couldn’t help to ask them “How come none of you runs away during this kind of activities?” to which they answered that the school has cameras and they are being checked. I asked again because the cameras can only see one block, “what happens when you are out of the camera range?” This answer made me laugh for a while. They told me that the neighbors of the area would tell the school personnel if they ran away. Basically the neighbors are gossipers.

During the mass, some kids read petitions about classes and teachers. They sang pretty animated songs and they all clapped. Another interesting thing was seeing all this white and burgundy sea, kneel down at the same time. Again I have the same religion as most Colombians do, but in my school we were never this obedient or religious.

After the mass and still inside the church, there was a protocol act with flags and anthems, four of each to be exact: Colombia, Santander, Bucaramanga and the School. The kids holding these flags didn’t know where to place themselves for the anthems and after, it was pretty funny to see them fold the flags again. Also in this part of the event the Principal talked and the students from the “Cuadro de Honor” were awarded due to their grades. Interesting note, 7 of the 10 students are in my classes and they are really, really good.

Remember when I said the school is one of the best in Bucaramanga, well it is actually the 4th school nationwide in terms of the students grades and for this, the 10th grade students were selected to participate in the YMCA immersion program held at the Coffee Region.

Miércoles, 08 Junio 2016 18:45

The day I realised the importance of this program

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Author: Alex McKenzie       


Excerpt: English Teaching Fellow, Alex McKenzie, looks back at his time in Colombia and the moment where he realised the importance of the MEN program.


As my time in Colombia draws to an end, it seems like a good time to reflect on some big experiences. I would like to use this opportunity however to talk about just one moment. A short conversation that I had with a student.

Upon returning to the school from the winter break, I began to start working with grade eleven. Faces I knew, but students that I didn’t. I had been teaching eleventh grade in the previous semester, but the vast majority of these students had now left and I had to start anew. On the first day I met a student named Juan Pablo. He seemed like a good student, with a good attitude and a very promising level of English.

This wasn’t always the case though. He referred to the previous fellow who taught in his class last year and who had now moved on from the program. He said that had it not been for her, he did not think he would be here right now. Instead he would be repeating grade ten. It was then that I realised the benefits that both I and the program could bring to the students.

In classes of forty students or more it is virtually impossible for one teacher to make an impact on every single student. But the presence of this fellow allowed the students a level of attention that they had not before received. Juan Pablo talked about the extra help he got, the questions he could ask, both about English and another culture and he wholeheartedly declared that this spurred on his desire, not just in English but in all school subjects.

It was definitely on this day that I truly realised the importance of the roles that we are performing and I hope that I was able to recreate this same level of enthusiasm in my students.