For those tired of the Lonely Planet tome using up flight weight restrictions and having to carry a handbag big enough to hold the 300-plus pages of the backpacker’s “bible” to Colombia, “Colombia Facil” offers something new.
“Everyone is using their phones and iPads now when they are travelling, but when you are a good backpacker you are also in places where there is no Internet, that’s why my guide is both online and in small hard copy,” explained Inge Swinnen, the Belgian founder of Colombia Facil, a new breed of travel guide which is hitting hostels this week.
Swinnen, who has been living in Colombia for nearly two years, set up the guide as she saw that many backpackers in South America were totally ignoring Colombia because of its dangerous reputation, and she intends to make travelling in the country easier.
“There were so many places with no good information on the Internet, or the websites would be in Spanish so I couldn’t understand them. There would be websites for national parks, but no information on how to get there or costs, it was impossible to find out when a bus would leave,” which eventually prompted Swinnen to ask, “What’s wrong with this country?” And so the idea for Colombia Facil, which translates as “Easy Colombia,” was born.
The guide comes in a handy pocket-size at a mere 3.9 x 5.9 inches. Costing just over $1.50, it is the same price as a bottle of Colombian beer, which Swinnen said the hostels mentioned in her book will give you for free when you buy or show your previously bought Colombia Facil guide.
“It’s divided into departments (Colombian states), with all the practical information: how to get there, where to stay, tours, trekking and general ‘good to know’ pages. The highlights of the department are listed, but the guide is small so I just picked out the best things to see and gave just a short description, so it can still be a surprise for the tourist when they arrive there,” the guide-creator told Colombia Reports.
The Colombia Facil guide can also be downloaded for free online so the savvy backpacker can have it saved on whichever electronic device they are using. The guide and the website are intended to be used in conjunction with each other, the guide having more practical information and the website more detailed information.
“The website has things like banking and currency, lots of cultural information, Colombian food and music, safety tips, accounts of tours and trekking and some stories that will be interesting for tourists and for expats,” said Swinnen.
The guide is also full of useful information such as the fact that men’s shoes from size 44 and women’s shoes from size 41 do not exist in Colombia. Another helpful tip for the traveller who expects to get a great cup of coffee in the country which produces some of the highest grade coffee in the world, is that this is usually very hard to find, and that coffee usually comes sweetened or “that a ‘cafe con leche’ means with a LOT of milk.”
Swinnen spent a year travelling around Colombia researching for the guide and finding hostels and eco-lodges to sell her guide. “Colombia is such an amazing country,” she said. “I tried to go everywhere, but you can’t get everywhere in a year, so I included the bigger tourist areas and some of the not-so touristic areas.”
“The Pacific area is so beautiful, you can just walk around all by yourself and play Robinson Crusoe on the beautiful beaches. The Amazon is so much fun, it’s so different, you pass the indigenous Indians as you explore the jungle. I put in all the interesting places and pictures (on the Colombia Facil Facebook page) so that people can see how beautiful the country is.”
A nice extension of the hard copy and website of Colombia Facil is the Facebook page, where users can interact with Swinnen and with other travellers, some of whom are seeking trekking companions to join shared trips, along with daily updates on events in the country, offers from tour operators, and re-posts from blogs and news websites with Colombia-related content.
The guide comes in English and Spanish, which Swinnen hopes will attract Colombian tourists along with those from Chile and Argentina.
“I’m nervous because it’s the first edition, but I’m already excited thinking of new content and improvements for the second edition next year,” said Swinnen, who hopes that “the guide will make it easier for people to come to Colombia and to see how beautiful it is.”