Colombia is a country on the rise as far as tourism is concerned. Industry watchers note that tourism has grown by 300% since 2006, with 6.5 million visitors arriving in 2017.
About twice the size of Texas, Colombia is packed with a huge variety of climates and landscapes, which means there are plenty of places to visit no matter what you’re looking for.
There is the steamy Caribbean colonial city of Cartagena. The eternal spring and rolling green hills blanketed with coffee plantations of the Eje Cafetero (Coffee Triangle), the vast Amazon wetlands and rain forest, and bustling metropolises like the capital, Bogotá, and expat favorite, Medellín.
Daniel Buitrón Jaramillo and his wife, Eliesha Lovell, recognized the potential of the Colombian tourism industry, moving from their home in Portland, Oregon to Villamaría, a traditional small town just outside the major coffee-region city of Manizales, eight years ago.
They first opened a three-room B&B but found the “on call” nature of the business to be too much.
That’s when they decided to focus 100% on their tour company, Colombia Eco Travel.
“We started to get really busy about a year and a half ago,” says Daniel. “Our tours are booked every day. When we came to Colombia, we saw tourism as the future…and we were right.”
The tours cater mostly to families, couples, and some groups. Colombia Eco Travel has a network of guides around the country, as well as handpicked transportation providers and hotels.
“Everything we do is tailor-made and includes all their transportation, activities, hotels—we pick them up at the airport too,” says Daniel. “We can make the tour for one week or one month, whatever the traveler has time for.”
A typical tour might cover Bogotá, Cartagena, Medellín, and then the coffee region, which grows some of the best beans in the world. Each stop lasts three to four days.
If guests have more time, they’ll make the trek to the Amazon or hike in the foothills of the Andes. For birders, the area outside the coffee region city of Manizales, capital of the Caldas province, is a must-stop. There are 800 species of birds in the hilly forest and farmland, out of the 1,933 in the entire country.
There are guides in every city that meet the guests. Larger groups will get a tour leader that accompanies them everywhere. They also offer day trips, self-guided tours, yoga retreats, cycling tours, photography tours, and more. It’s all depends on what the client is looking for. Some want to focus on being outdoors, others want more cultural experiences like fairs and festivals.
The business has a comprehensive website that allows guests to review potential tour itineraries and locations. It’s been live since 2010, so it ranks highly in the search engines. That helps customers find them. They do no active online marketing.
They also do well with referrals and word-of-mouth from previous visitors, thanks to the quality experiences they provide.
“We’re very picky about the hotels, drivers, and other providers we use,” says Daniel. “We have a 95% excellent rating on TripAdvisor.”
In the early days, Daniel and Eliesha, who’s also a yoga teacher, were very hands-on in the day-to-day running of the business. But now that things are humming along, they have employees selling tours to guests and running the actual excursions. That leaves them in more of a management role. Eliesha now has more time to teach yoga classes, and lead yoga retreats in Colombia and beyond.
That freedom has allowed them to recently spend two months traveling in France and then a month in the U.S. visiting friends and family.
“We can run the business from anywhere with an internet connection. That’s a major reason we started this business—the flexibility,” says Daniel. “Thanks to technology I can receive calls on my cellphone from anywhere.”