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It’s morning, but the normal horn honking is missing from the city sounds. Half of carrera septima in Bogota is closed for the day. The street is lined with vendors and filled in with leisurely bike riders and casual walkers, enjoying the weather and opportunity to own the streets.

To encourage green and “get healthy” initiatives, Bogota’s municipality shuts down parts of main avenues every Sunday for its community members to enjoy. Colombianos greet you as they pass with smiles, head nods, and buenos dias.

An energetic hum fills the air as locals enjoy fresh fruit juice, sandwiches, churros, arepas, and more from family-owned carts.

This is the Colombia that KJ fell in love with.

“The country has changed drastically. This isn’t your Colombia of the 1990s, nor what you see on the show Narcos,” KJ, who founded Trips Travel Agency in 2012, explains to me.

We are discussing her favorite things about the country, as well as my plans for an upcoming trip to Colombia, over Google Hangout.

“It’s absolutely different from what is portrayed in the mainstream media. It is a country constantly evolving and making changes for the better. It is aware of its past and now trying to move forward in better directions, stronger and to the benefit of all Colombians.”

Like most of us, food and travel are inseparable for KJ.

She recalls often visiting the cooking section of the Codman Square Library in her hometown of Boston as a kid. She remembers how the childrens’ “Around the World” books were featured near the entrance, and tells me how she eagerly pulled recipe books off the shelf to prepare dishes from all over the world at home. Her family was her taste testers.

KJ founded Trips Travel Agency in 2012.

“There were a few recipes that weren’t the best,” she admits, laughing.

Throughout her life, KJ hungered to experience different cultures, customs, and languages.

She traveled to Spain, France, and Argentina, where she made it a priority to learn about the countries through their cuisine. She took cooking classes, where she prepared dishes alongside locals to get a different taste of the country she was visiting.

Later on, KJ began working at Sur La Table, where she had the chance to participate in cooking classes, hosted by chefs from world-renowned restaurants. She seized every opportunity she could to absorb their knowledge, fascinated by not just unique ingredients, seasonings, and preparation techniques, but also with the story behind each dish.

“I’ve always loved cooking and exploring food through other cultures. Working at Sur La Table was a natural progression in my learning.”

KJ took her first trip to Colombia over three years ago. She fell in love.

“I had always wanted to go, but didn’t want to explore it on my own, and wanted to find like minded people to go with me.”

So, she founded a travel agency that provides concierge services and foodie tours (Trips Travel Agency), and designed a six-day cultural experience through Bogota and Cartagena complete with local flavors (the Colombia Foodie Tour) to do just that.

Now, as a part-time resident, she’s an expert on the local spots.

Colombia is a bit off the beaten tourist path (as KJ says), so she’s become a pro at getting insider recommendations. She strives to ensure that those who travel with her take full advantage of their time abroad and avoid default “out of the box” tourist experiences.

Instead of wandering aimlessly into the priciest tourist joint off the boulevard (only to be disappointed), KJ knows the best.

“I wanted to make sure people got a sense of how food is done [in Colombia] and what it truly tastes like,” said KJ.

AKI Barranquilla, for instance, is a hidden gem with a reputation for insanely good arepas. Proving the benefit of living locally, KJ accidentally stumbled into this restaurant one evening while looking for an authentic and affordable place to eat that was open after a long day at work.

Instead of the more typical flat cheese arepa, she discovered that AKI Barranquilla serves arepas that are fried once, stuffed with egg and different meat, and then fried once more. Que rico.

“They are to die for,” KJ says. “You can’t get me away from that place!”

The best part? You can join her on her culinary adventures.

KJ’s Colombian Foodie Tour is for the adventurous, the curious, and the non-picky eaters who want an intimate experience in a beautiful country curated by a local expat who knows her stuff. It’s perfect for solo travelers, small groups (15 people max!), and anyone looking to learn Spanish.

Learn about Colombian culture and history through the cuisine, national museums, and even a visit to a nearby coffee plantation. Taste the country’s national dishes like bandeja paisa and ajiaco, as well as rich coffee and pandebono in local cafes. There’s even an opportunity to enjoy a cold beer with a visit to the Bogota Beer Company craft brewery.

Join the upcoming Colombia Foodie Tour this March and explore the gorgeousness of Colombia through the delicious tastes and smells of street vendors, restaurants, cafes, farms, and cooking classes. Buen viaje!

Trips Travel Agency and KJ are offering a 15% discount off your next tour. Simply sign up for the Trips Travel Agency newsletter and use code “Wanderful” at registration.

If you’re interested in the Colombia Foodie Tour March 1-6, 2017, sign-up by Monday, February 27th. Valued at $2,300 USD, the Colombian Foodie Tour will include a tour of Palequemao market and local restaurants in Bogota, a visit to a coffee plantation outside the city, as well as a trip to Cartagena where you will prepare your own authentic dishes. Ground transportation, accommodations, and certain meals are included. All information about the tour can be found on Trips Travel Agency’s website.

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Hungry for a Different Travel Experience- Meet the Part-Time Expat Changing Tourism for Colombia | The Colombia you see today is not the same as the troubled country you've heard about in recent history. Tourism is on the rise due to the vibrant culture and the FOOD. Here's a different type of travel experience you can have when visiting Colombia! | Wanderful

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Tory Paez

Author Tory Paez

Tory is a feminist, writer, traveler, craft beer drinker, french fry enthusiast. Previously a digital technology consultant in Chicago turned U.S. Peace Corps community economic development volunteer, she is currently living in Isla de Chira, Costa Rica with her partner. Growing up all over the country, she has far reaching roots, which is perhaps what inspired her to live in a different place every few years and travel whenever she possibly can. She also has a passion for human-centered design as a tool to solve the world's greatest, systematic, and complex problems.

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