Colombia Startup Overview

I can’t believe we’ve already arrived in the last country of my Startup Nomad journey for 2013! It’s insane how quickly the year blew by. I’m now thinking about where to go for 2014, so please leave your suggestions below!

Colombia is an amazing country and the entrepreneurial spirit has certainly permeated. Colombia is actually the only country along my Latin American tour where I conducted a solid number of interviews in more than one city and spent considerable time outside of the capital. The federal government of Colombia has created initiatives to encourage entrepreneurship, as have a number of local governments, and the decline in violent crime and overall improvement in safety and the economy has created quite the boom in the country. I spent time in both Medellín and Bogotá and absolutely fell in love with both.

My time in Colombia was chocked full of interviews and events and I’m going to leave it to the locals to explain what’s going on in Colombia through the interviews you’ll see over the next few weeks. Nothing I can say would do it justice, so I won’t try, though you can check out a couple of graphs below that I pulled from the GEM data visualization tool to get an idea of how the entrepreneurial activity there compares with the U.S.

Total Early-Stage Entrepreneurial Activity (TEA) Colombia vs USA
Percentage of 18-64 population who are either a nascent entrepreneur or owner-manager of a new business
New Business Ownership Rate Colombia vs USA
Percentage of 18-64 population who are currently a owner-manager of a new business, i.e., owning and managing a running business that has paid salaries, wages, or any other payments to the owners for more than three months, but not more than 42 months

See you next week as we jump into interviews in Colombia!

Sailing from Colombia to Panama

While I am an avid traveler and am pretty relaxed about most of traveling’s annoyances, sometimes I hit the wall and cannot deal with another airport. That’s how I felt when it was time to leave Colombia to head back to Panama so, instead of a quick flight, I opted for a 5 day sailing aboard a 52′ catamaran and stopping in the San Blas Islands.

The first time I was in Panama I heard quite a bit about San Blas but never made it out there and, as a former cruise ship worker, I love being out on the open ocean so I thought the sailing would be a great way to see the islands while giving me a welcome break from the airport.

I booked through aboard the Santana and then headed off to Cartagena to meet the ship. Now, I am not a backpacker but this was a backpackers’ sailing so it was quite a bit more rugged than I am used to but I had an amazing time. While I was sailing solo, I especially recommend it for couples as the open ocean and sunrises and sunsets are gorgeous and romantic. The living quarters are cramped and there is nothing to do but enjoy the view, swim, tan, and snorkel so be sure to bring a good book, but if you like the water you will have a fabulous time relaxing on this trip because you are completed disconnected.

You start in Cartagena and meet the boat’s captain and the other passengers the day before you set sail. Then your journey begins with 2 days of sailing before you arrive in the San Blas islands and get to swim, snorkel, and explore a number of different islands in the area as well as a ship-wreck. The last morning you’re up early and dropped off in Puerto Lindo where you can catch a bus to Panama City.

Check out the video below to get a quick taste of the ship and the sailing:


Cartagena, Colombia

After many months of travel and visits to Medellin and Bogota in Colombia, I was completely sick of airports and wanted a different option for heading back to Panama  so I opted for a sailing between Cartagena, Colombia and Puerto Lindo, Panama on a catamaran. I’ll talk more about the sailing next week but in order to join the ship I had to go to Cartagena, Colombia. This week’s video is a quick look at the coastal city.

Cartagena is on the Caribbean coast of Colombia and, like many Caribbean and pseudo-Caribbean former Spanish colonies (like San Juan Puerto Rico or Panama City, Panama) it’s broken down into the historic district full of old Spanish architecture and defensive fort remnants and the rest of the city, which is more modern. I found the people in Cartagena to be welcoming and friendly, however, it seemed like a tourist trap to me. At risk of offending the people from Cartagena, I didn’t see what it had to offer that was much different than any other Caribbean port city and, having traveled in the Caribbean extensively because I used to work on cruise ships, I think there are nicer places to visit. I met plenty of travelers that were enamored with the city, however, so you’ll have to see it for yourself to decide. To get a quick preview, check out the video below for a look at the historic area.

Monserrate in Bogota, Colombia

Bogota is a city nestled within the mountains, like so many cities in South America, and one of its most famous landmarks is Monserrate, a small church at the top of one of the mountains on the outskirts of the city. If you make it to Bogota, this is one of the must visit attractions as it will give you a lovely view of the city below.

You have three options for reaching the fully operational church on the mountaintop: hike all the way up, take a cable car, or take a vertical trolley. Having had a lovely experience on the cable cars in Medellin, I opted not to hike and rode the cable car up and the trolley down, just to mix it up and experience both.

As Monserrate is a working church and a very popular attraction in the city, you may have to wait a bit for your turn in the cable car or trolley and you’ll be crammed in like sardines, but I think it’s worth it for the experience and the view. Once you arrive at the top there will be numerous opportunities for you to get some great panoramic shots of Bogota as well as the church itself, an artisans’ food and crafts market, and a popular wishing well.

Take a look at the short video below to get an idea for the view from the top:

Metro Cable in Medellin, Colombia

As I mentioned last week, one of the coolest things about Medellin is its metro and aerial cable car system connecting the main city in the valley and its outskirts in the mountains. The metro and metro cable were part of the transformation and revitalization of the city and I have never seen a more spotless public transportation system in my life. Plus, because it’s part of the normal public transportation system, the metro cable is one of the most affordable tourist activities you will ever enjoy.

For my “tour” of the metro cable I decided to ride it all the way up to Parque Arvi. You will likely have to take the regular metro from wherever you’re staying in Medellin and then switch at the Acevedo station to the metro cable. You’ll ride this all the way up to the top at Santo Domingo where the publid transportation metro cable ends. This ride alone gives you some awesome views and a sense of the metro cable, but I recommend you switch to the metro cable that will take you all the way up to Parque Arvi, even though you’ll have to pay more. There’s actually not much to see at the top but there are local vendors with some delicious Colombian food, fresh fruits, and artisan crafts. Despite being a tourist destination, everything is very reasonably priced. I enjoyed a lovely lunch (including fresh strawberries for desert) for less than $3 USD.

The metro cable is definitely something not to be missed if you visit Medellin so take a look at the video below (sped up a bit) to get an idea for what you’ll experience.

Medellin, Colombia

I absolutely fell in love with Medellin. I have to start this post by saying that because the city is lovely. The weather is perfection, the people are warm and welcoming, the public transportation system is spotless, and it’s practically impossible to believe how recently this city was one of the most dangerous places on the planet. I truly can’t say enough nice things about this city. Even the drive into Medellin from the airport was a lovely experience.

This week’s video will give you an idea of some of spots to see in the city itself. Next week, I’ll talk about the cable car and my visit up into the mountains. Enjoy 🙂