Building Relationships and Creating Opportunities for and by Local Communities in Northern Colombia
Every time I remember the way I got to know La Guajira, the Colombian desert, I think that my heart clicked since I got off the plane and since that day I have not been able to banish myself.
I arrived as head of social studies at Colegio Albania, in Albania, a mining area in Colombia, and shortly after I quit my job and created History Travelers, a tour operator that offers community-based experiences to just over 60 tourists daily.
To this day, it is very gratifying to see our operation and the income we generate, highlighting our way of operating, these incomes remain in the local regions of Guajira, Atlántico, Bolívar, Magdalena and Cesar, directly benefiting the local communities, Indigenous peoples and ethnic groups of Wayuu, Arhuaco, Kogui, mestizo, and Raizales.
In these regions, History Travelers has trained and helped create 17 enterprises that today offer tourist experiences with local communities. We’ve hired 27 drivers and benefited over 200 people, who have been empowered to transition from mineral extraction to sustainable and community tourism.
It is a source of pride to walk down the street or visit communities and destinations where we carry out tourism activities and be greeted by people with effusiveness, affectionately calling me 'Pau'. This is all the more special, when I am a 41-year-old Bogota native from the center of the country “outside to this land”. Despite this, I feel that somehow I conquered the hearts of the "Guajiros".
I am a historian and anthropologist from the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, with a specialization in contemporary studies and a master's degree in multicultural studies and science from the University of Buffalo in New York. But in a place like this, studies are worth little and personal relationships and tribal pacts matter much more.
I arrived as a teacher in Albania (municipality of La Guajira). However, one Easter vacation when my parents came to visit me changed my life. We rented a truck to visit the most emblematic sites. As the vehicle got stuck, we paid for a service to repair the car, but we were left without food or lodging. Seeing this, the Wayúu people gave us snails and shrimps, and sheltered us in the best possible way.
It was something very exciting. I highly valued this human warmth that contrasts with the well-known needs of La Guajira and the natural wealth of this region. I saw great potential in this and with my head full of ideas, I bet on May 21, 2014 to create History Travelers with a different economic model.
In my business model, I don't own anything. We have a base of 27 drivers, 17 tourist experience ventures, and all the hotels in the community from Cabo de la Vela to Punta Gallina. We own the ad, but we don't own any of the “assets” because those are owned by the local communities, as they should be.
We pride ourselves in offering activities and experiences different from conventional tourism packages. Our destinations offer you the most diverse nature and authentic cultural experiences with the Indigenous and local communities of northern Colombia. Our experiences are about the land, sky and people.
Whether you are joining a desert excursion or a bird-watching hike, whether you’re visiting the Coral Islands of Rosario (Islas del Rosario) on the Caribbean coast, or the Historic Center of Cartagena, you are always attended by locals.
We took the first big step with a great tour requested by Hernán Acevedo, a community tourism and nature tourism leader in Colombia, who was then the president of Acotur (Colombian Association of Responsible Tourism) with which History Travelers is associated. In this tour we brought 200 leaders and businessmen from some of Colombia’s largest economic groups to Cabo de La Vela.
That day, in just two hours, products from the communities were sold out, such as backpacks woven by the community. We left profits on lunches at Cabo de La Vela and the community hotels obtained sales. And this experience created the impetus to prepare our local providers to target “high-value” visitor markets.
We were then connected with international travelers from countries such as France and Switzerland, as well as NGOs from these countries that decided to support the communities in their new ventures. The momentum was such that, during the pandemic, we were able to survive the closure due to quarantines.
In August 2020, few tourists began to arrive again, this time nationals who longed for more natural destinations.
Today, we serve a large number of visitors on tours throughout Guajira and the Caribbean region in a responsible and supportive manner, respecting the value chain, from our headquarters in Riohacha, Santa Marta and Cartagena.
We now also have 10 employees on our payroll, and they benefit from the ZESE (Special Economic and Social Zone) program, a special regime in tax matters created by the national government, due to the fact that most of the territory of La Guajira is desert or semi-desert, where access is not easy and job opportunities are very scarce.
It has been very important to have the seal of green company and tourism, which has opened doors not only with clients but also with NGOs and other partners that help us overcome challenges in the training and professional skills development for local community members. These are critical, as we work in places where business activities are typically conducted informally, which reflects both the strength of these communities that are built on shared values and personal relationships, and at the same time challenges when working in the context of national and international tourism value chains.
In 2023 we will be focusing on developing, with funding support from Swiss partners, new opportunities along the Macondo natural route, and building new local ventures in Cartagena with the Raizales.
After 8 years, we are happy to continue growing, to have more and more allies who believe in our way of doing tourism, to continue helping entire families to generate their own source of income, but, above all, we are very happy to continue receiving the love of this land and the support of its people.
Paola is an historian with an emphasis on contemporary history of Europe and Latin America, skills in the development of other areas such as Social Sciences and Humanities, Bilingualism and Education. With a high commitment to the development of sustainable projects with indigenous communities of La Guajira, such as: Wayuu, Wiwas, Arhuacos, Koguis and Kankuamos del Cesár.
Currently project consultant for local economic development in the Colombian Caribbean with national foundations and international, thanks to that, there are more than 17 enterprises created with the support and supervision of History Travelers, who have become our allies, thus achieving a better economic situation, while allowing us to expand our portfolio of services.