Anyone else’s just chomping at the bit to get out there and travel? We’ve been reflecting on past trips and branching out and doing some fun staycations, but we are so wanting to break out that passport and yell “I’M FREE” from some far off rooftop bar, from a secluded beach, from underneath a foreign disco ball, or from atop big ol’ mountain somewhere we never heard of or have been before. Putting all those options together, one such place comes to mind. Colombia, South America.
We had a chance to start planning our escape and re-entrance into traveling when we met/Zoom-ed with the CEO of Out in Colombia – Sam Castañeda Holdren. Not only are we looking to travel, nations like Colombia are preparing for our arrival and Out in Colombia is a great option to look into.
Sam had been involved in LGBTQ advocacy and social work before deciding to leave Boston and learn Spanish in Colombia. He had not worked in tourism before, but had decided to write a blog in English about LGBT tourism in Colombia. Through his blog, he was invited by the Colombian government and the Gay Chamber of Commerce to join a forum on LGBT tourism, which included government leaders and even the American Embassy was represented. The commitment to the LGBT community, travel, and welcoming them into the country was evident, Sam said.
This was a great experience for Sam as he had grown up in a conservative rural part of California, but did work for LGBT Equality while living in Arizona and Boston. But this was a new world, but one that was very welcoming. Sam elaborated that there are many ex-pats in Colombia as it is a safe and welcoming environment, that keeps becoming more safe and welcoming as the years pass. But there was that void of a focus on LGBT Tourism.
In 2016, Sam started the travel company to provide those resources that were missing for not only the international LGBT traveler, but also the Colombians traveling within their own country.
Of course with the global pandemic, travel is a little different right now, if at all. On September 1st, Colombia lifted its nationwide quarantine and allowed international flights to resume. We asked Sam if tourism has picked up since, and he said, yes, the interest in travel has picked up with people wanting to know when it is safe to travel again. Some will think Colombia is not as advanced as other nations, but you don’t have to be advanced to be safe. Sam said that the bio-security protocols are in place all over the nation “ I traveled by myself, lots of taking of temperatures, registered IDs, hotels being sanitized, the standard and basic things we all should be doing,” Sam said. And he makes sure that all Out in Colombia suppliers of goods and services and lodging are doing the same thing. He has not had international tourists book through Out in Colombia yet since September’s reopening of the nation, but he does see some foreigners visiting, yes, popping up on Scruff and Grindr.
I think, no, I know that was great to hear during our conversation, no, not the Scruff and Grindr thing, well, that too was helpful information, … but that Out in Colombia has standards for their places, tours, restaurants, etc that they use or recommend for their travelers. They go to and experience the locations and activities. I tried to look up to see where one of the resorts they used was and it could not be found on any of their information. To that, Sam said we do change things up. And it also depends on what the client desires. We have some fixed packages, but when we first started out and to this day, we plan unique vacations for people to meet their needs and desires.
I’ve personally never been to South America, but have wanted to get to that continent for some time. I asked Sam, when the travel flood gates open and Americans start to look to travel, why Colombia for Americans, and why specifically Colombia for LGBT Americans?
Paraphrasing his answer, Sam said, “The destination is diverse, there is something for everybody, the Caribbean coast and its crystal waters to the Andean Mountains. There’s also great nightlife, with it rumored that the largest LGBT nightclub in the world is in Bogota, called the Theatron which can be occupied by 5,000+ patrons. Colombia is a great place for LGBT equality. Do I dare say there are more rights here than in Arizona, a place where I fought for it. Here, adoption, human rights on sexuality, courts respect those things. It’s very progressive. Wellness, luxury, adventure, … everything is an hour flight of each other and they’re inexpensive flights.”
Out in Colombia’s LGBT tourism is most involved with the North American tourists as it makes complete geographic sense, but there are also a great number of LGT tourists coming from fellow South American nations, Peru, Equador.
Searching the Out in Colombia page, knowing that Sam and his colleagues have been on these adventures themselves, stayed at these resorts, and did the quality checks us gays need to have done to feel save as well as to get our money’s worth, the packages mentioned all sounded very enjoyable. Ranging from a weekend journey to multi-city options, the packages are drool-worthy, but Sam highlighted again, these are packages, options, and definitely some great ones, but Out in Colombia also can create a personalized vacation to meet the needs and desires of any traveler. Sam and fellow staff of Out in Colombia spent the COVID down time creating the packages that can be seen on the company’s website for before, the offerings were mainly curated/created when a client called. Now they have the ability to entice with the packages as well as to be creative and build-a-vacation.
Reading deeper into the not so fine print, as everything is out in the open, Out in Colombia also includes in most if not all cases a Colombian Medical Assist Card/Insurance. Sam mentioned that they do offer with certain packages Colombian Travel insurance for each client that comprehensively covers health throughout the country, expatriation, and some luggage issues. He recalls having to use it once as a doctor fell and fractured his elbow. The process was seamless, he was taken to clinic, and there was no cost to the client. He added that the healthcare is pretty amazing for people that live there and with that card, it is true for his clients, too. How many times during your past trips was there an issue that could have used free health care, Canary Islands 2006, am I right?
And to reassure me that Out in Colombia was someone I would contact to plan my excursions, I hinted at Sam that I would be interested in all of their trips, but if I had to start off with a smaller one, I would look at the Cartagena Weekend 4 Days / 3 Nights. I also told him I was playing “find it on Google Maps as I was looking for the resort they may have chosen. There were multiple resorts on the Rosario Islands so I asked for a hint. Sam mentioned, they look at 4 factors when picking a resort: the quality of service, sustainability, adaptation to international travel standards, and the acceptance and safety of LGBT guests. If they find more than one place that excels at those factors, that is a win for their clients. Sam mentioned that one place was even doing blood tests to make sure guests were free from the ills of the pandemic, which added another layer of feeling safe during these times.
So if you are looking for a curated experience for either yourself or 10 of your friends with beach, mountain, city, coffee, nightlife, and so much more, consider Out in Colombia.
Ps: I did ask about shots. Sam said shots are not necessary, unless going to very remote areas closer to the Amazon, but he does always recommend a yellow fever shot. Definitely check with your doctor. As for COVID, Colombia PCR test, a COVID test is required at this time within 96-hours before travel.
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