If you’ve always wanted to travel but weren’t sure how to make it work with children in tow, this interview will be your inspiration! I recently had a chance to ask Sonya Robbins Hoffmann, a Senior Consultant for Artful Education, some questions about her experience traveling throughout Colombia with children. Not only has Sonja traveled with her children, but she also makes it a point to journey off the beaten path.
Sonja is a former theater director turned consultant who helps nonprofits change their practices. Even though she’s traveled in Europe, she loves Latin America so much more. Her older sons both spent time in Panama; one did environmental research, and the other did a service trip focused on a community project in a remote area.
Last summer she traveled to Colombia with her 8-year-old daughter, who was adopted from Cartagena, Colombia. She really wanted her daughter to have a sense of what the country – and its different regions – was really like. The goal of the trip was to have a truly Colombian experience rich in culture and place specific. These desires – as well as the convenience – led her to Colombia Eco Travel.
Why would you recommend arranging a trip to Colombia through Colombia Eco Travel?
Although my daughter speaks fluent Spanish, I speak a limited “gutter” Spanish – enough to make myself understood in restaurants but not enough to share my life story. In the Colombia countryside, I knew it was going to be difficult to communicate in an authentic way, so Colombia Eco Travel set me up with two Spanish and English speaking guides, and one guide who spoke only Spanish. The guides were amazing; they were gracious and open about their political beliefs. I was very interested in having real conversations with Colombians.
The guides also helped me do things I would not have been comfortable doing alone. For example, when we went to the Andes we did a lot of hiking in deserted areas, which is wonderful, especially since we went with someone who knew the mountains like the back of his hand, was environmentally conscious, and was thoughtful enough to share his knowledge. Some of the National Parks in Colombia don’t have clear trails and maps, so I’m so thankful that wasn’t a barrier.
The owner of Colombia Eco Travel, Daniel, repatriated there and just loves the country. He met us, and it’s just so evident how much he cares about the environment. Every Colombian has a deep pride in their country, but what makes Daniel unique is that he lived in the U.S. so long he also has a sense of what is special to non-Colombians. He was also very flexible in removing things from our itinerary that didn’t sound like us, but he was also willing to push us and say, “What about this?”
Are there any specific destinations you would recommend for families traveling with children?
Medellin is a fantastic city…the Botanical Gardens are amazing for children, and they’re not widely used so it didn’t feel touristy. The wildlife and plantlife is so plentiful. In the middle of Medellin is the Aquarium too. The comfortable climate and public transportation makes it easy to move and walk throughout the city. There are also a lot of great day trips right outside Medellin.
We visited an artist’s city, Villa de Leyva. There were easy hikes from the village up to the hills that were easy to find on our own. We visited an ostrich farm that we would definitely recommend. Villa de Leyva was so unique because in the big town square, the kids run around and play with each other. It felt very authentic because Villa de Leyva is a Colombian destination, not a typical tourist destination.
We also explored the Eje Cafetero, including Pereira and a Cafe Finca. The drives throughout the coffee region were as interesting as the destinations. It was really interested to see burned out estates from the Narco era and learn about how that history has impacted Colombian culture.
I’m so torn about Cartagena. I feel like it’s a play land, but then you go outside of it and it’s so impoverished, and you see what the real Cartagena is like. It’s very touristy obviously.
What advice would you give to families traveling to Colombia with kids?
It’s important to be flexible in Colombia. I say that with great love, but part of the adventure is understanding that being on time is not a culturally important value and understanding that there is a joy in the unexpected and when you’re not so focused on time.
The other thing I would say is to try everything and encourage your kids to do the same. Colombia is not known for its food, but be willing to not be too fussy, especially when you’re outside of the major cities.
It’s also a good idea to prepare your children for some differences in culture surrounding children. In Colombia, there is a very specific enthusiasm and kindness for children. They just love children! Adults will come up to them and pinch them on the cheek, and this is the way adults show love and affection towards children.
I haven’t talked to anyone who has been there who hasn’t fallen in love with Colombia. If you are adventurous at all, Colombia is for you. If you’re just a little bit, Colombia is perfect for you. There is a spirit of adventure and discovery, a sense of participation, and a reawakening that is so exciting. It is definitely a country finding its pride in itself and in a true way. It’s a wonderful place.
Thank you Sonja for taking the time to give us a glimpse into you and your daughter’s Colombian adventures. If you’re interested in arranging a kid-friendly trip to Colombia, contact Colombia Eco Travel.
In the words of Dr. Seuss, “You’re off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way!”