Tara Davis

Native Traveler's COLOMBIA show!


This week, Colombia's dramatic grassroots renaissance and language as a window to culture. Listen in...

(1.13 - Feature//Jodi Cash;  15:00 - kimkim//Tara Davis//Expedition Colombia;  34:00 - Puran Parsani//Babbel)


Puran Parsani // Babbel

Puran Parsani tells us about the world's first and best language-learning app.  Founded in 2007 and with more than a million active subscribers, Babbel is ranked the world’s #1 innovative company in education. Their courses are designed to deliver language skills you can use right away. Almost three quarters of users say they’d be able to have a short, simple conversation in their new language within five hours of using Babbel. We tried it—absolutely true.


The premise is simple: four polyglots, armed with a handful of starter sentences and impressive backgrounds in linguistic achievement, try to learn Romanian in an hour. The results are pretty mind-boggling. Take a look!


Making mistakes is part of the language learning process, but some mistakes are decidedly more embarrassing than others! Read on to learn how to avoid these seven common (and blush-worthy) errors the next time you try to impress someone with your Spanish skills.


Not only can traveling in a country without speaking the language be ocassionally lonely and difficult, but you might be missing out on actual prizes by doing so! Watch the video attached to this article to see what we're talking about.


Jodi Cash

Our feature contributor is writer, editor, and photojournalist Jodi Cash. Jodi has worked for Tales of the Cocktail, Flagpole, Mother Nature Network, and Kinfolk. When she's not writing, she relishes life in Atlanta, Georgia and traveling elsewhere with her husband, Oak House frontman and guitarist Gresham Cash.


Tara Davis // Expedition Colombia

Expedition Colombia owners Tara Davis and her husband Jule Domine share a passion for rivers and wild places. Prior to teaching ESL in Medellín, Tara (a British Columbia native) had gone to university in Colorado and studied political science and environmental issues before going on to work for The Wilderness Society. Her focus was on strengthening the wild and scenic designation of Colorado’s rivers. Her connection to Colombia reaches back to stories told by her father who worked there with the National Geographic Society.

Prior to starting Expedition Colombia, Jules studied hydrology and has traveled to over 15 countries as a hydrologist and professional athlete in the sport of whitewater kayaking.
Throughout his travels, he realized he couldn’t go from one pristine river to the next before it was polluted or dammed. He decided to stay in Colombia and work to protect its rivers. Here remain some of the world’s last wild clean rivers and ecosystems, but more importantly, a community of resilient, resourceful, and warm people brave enough to stand up to protect them. As fate would have it, Jules and Tara fell in love with Colombia and each other.

Together, they now run Expedition Colombia, which they describe as "adventure with a purpose." More than a tourism company, they are a network of entrepreneurs and conservationists who know, care, celebrate, and protect Colombia’s ecosystems and cultures. In partnership with local communities, sustained by these natural environments, they welcome curious and conscious travelers to play an active role in Colombia’s positive and peaceful transformation.



Huge thanks to kimkim for connecting us to Tara, Jules, and Expedition Colombia.

The founders of kimkim built some of the world's leading travel apps, including TripAdvisor, EveryTrail, and TrekkingPartners. They came together to use all this travel know-how to find a better way to plan and book travel using the help of a local expert.

I agree with them, travel planning is sometimes a painful experience—copious hours researching, too many choices. I love the notion of connecting directly to a local travel expert, someone who knows the destination well and offers curated travel advice according to my interests. And then, how delightfully old and new school, to have the entire trip put together and booked in one place?

The kimkim experts call this the future of travel—bringing the local expert back into trip planning. Apparently, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lonely Planet (and now Native Traveler) see some truth in this.

Colombia’s Lost City

What is the lost city? 

The Lost City (Spanish: Ciudad Perdida) is an ancient city and sacred site of the Tayrona Civilization, which once carpeted the Caribbean coastal plain of Colombia and extended to the highest coastal mountain range on earth, the Sierra Nevadas of Santa Marta. Today, the Lost City remains one of the largest pre-Colombian towns discovered in all of the Americas.


Where is it?

Some 100 kilometres away from Santa Marta, Colombia—about a 3-hour drive or a 4-day trek from Santa Marta, the second oldest city in South America and the capital city of the department of Magdalena. To reach the lost city, you need to commit to a minimum 4-day trek on ancient trails that are carved into the mountain and jungles, crossing over rivers and waterfalls.


Who populated the ancient city?

The city dates back to 14th century, when it was populated by some 2,000 to 4,000 native Tayrona people and served as their biggest urban and commercial hub, spread over an area of 2 square kilometres.

The conquest of Colombia in the 16th century was delayed, but when it broke out it was particularly violent, and the indigenous Kogi (descendants of the Tayrona) fled up to the lush jungle of the Sierra Nevada mountains. They were miraculously left out of sight, out of mind, so they continued to follow their ritual practices. (Other indigenous peoples in the same general area include the Arhuaco and Wiwa people, but it is not thought that they lived in the Lost City.)

In 1970, a local man stumbled upon the city during his grave-robbing expedition. For about a decade, the Lost City, which at the time was referred to as Infierno Verde ("Green Hell"), was a site of fighting between the grave-robbers (Spanish: quaqueros) until the government finally allocated resources to protect and excavate the site.


Did indigenous traditions and values vanish with the disappearance of the Tayrona civilization and the Lost City?

No. Descendants of the Tayrona, Arhuaco, and Kogi people are still ruled by ritual priesthood. They believe the ecological well-being of the planet is in their hands and that their prayers maintain the cosmic balance of the universe.

Arhuaco and Kogis consider themselves to be the elder brothers—they have a moral and ethical responsibility to educate us, “the younger brother,” and they want to do so. They speak fluently in Spanish and in their own languages to articulate with elegance how the rest of the world needs to get our act together and care for the planet.

In Colombia, they’ve emerged as a symbol of continuity and hope. The last five Colombian presidents have visited the Arhuaco communities via helicopter to get their blessing. The point is not going to the Lost City—it is to connect to its surrounding indigenous cultures.

In 1974, my father did research alongside indigenous people in these communities, so our home was often the unofficial embassy in D.C. for the Arhuacos. Working with indigenous groups is delicate because their villages aren’t a theme park or zoo—you want to make sure the people driving and controlling tourism into these communities are the communities themselves, and that decisions are being made by leaders in these communities.

Now we are in the process of working closely with such communities—we have been in key consultations with leaders and we are developing these relationships within the context of tourism.

Based on my father’s long-term relationships with these communities and his book One River, an autobiographical botanical exploration of Colombia, Expedition Colombia is uniquely positioned and uniquely sensitive to the needs of indigenous communities.

We also have had the honor of befriending a very wonderful family who started the aquarium in Santa Marta and have close ties with Arhuaco communities there. My band had the chance to sing songs for an Arhuaco community on the coast, so they nicknamed me Agua Dulce ("sweet water").


How do you actually get to the Lost City?

The trail to and from the Lost City runs along the same path, weaving through the thick jungle of the Sierra Nevada mountains and covering a total distance of just over 45 kilometres as the crow flies, or over 75 kilometres if you account for all of the ups and downs. The distance is usually covered in four days, but there are officially three options for the trek.

The 4-Day Trek option includes two and a half days of trekking to get to the Lost City and one and a half days to get back. There is also a 5-Day Trek option, which breaks up the return journey by splitting up the fourth day of hiking into two shorter days. There is also a 6-Day Trek option, which breaks up the second day (the longest and most exhausting) into two days.


When is the best time to visit?

The dry season runs from December through to early March and the rainy season from March to November. Treks to the Lost City are offered year round, but if you have a chance to choose when to trek, go in the dry season.