Trip Preparation with Culture Smart Guidebooks // Colombia

Trip Preparation with Culture Smart Guidebooks // Colombia

Homeschooling allows us to continue traveling with the littles. Each trip opens up a study of art, cuisine and culture. The prep work and lesson planning was easy to do in Europe, where I had a strong knowledge of the culture and history of places we traveled. As we plan for our next big adventure to parts of South America I find myself less prepared. When I found out Culture Smart was launching a new book to one of our stops — Colombia — I had to check it out.

Culture Smart guides go beyond the typical ‘one chapter on culture’ and provide a whole book to make your experience in country more meaningful. On our upcoming trip we will be stopping in Cartagena, Colombia as part of a Panama Canal route with Cunard.

I pored over the Culture Smart Colombia guide to see what I might learn and how we could integrate it into our trip and also into our lesson planning.

The first thing I learned was that our one stop was not going to be enough (it never is) to really understand this beautiful country, that I largely mistook as a country filled with lawless illegal activity. Culture Smart’s history section lays out Colombia’s violent past and “bad boy reputation.” The country seemingly still struggles with implementation of the peace agreements, but thanks to foreign investment has a thriving tourism industry despite its unstable future.


We’ve learned that the most important thing to know before you travel is how to greet someone. This first action will set the tone for the rest of your interaction. We’ve never gone wrong preparing the Littles (and ourselves) to say a few things in the local language – even if we botch it.

Greetings and small talk are very important in Colombian society. They are never rushed or left out. Always spend time on the initial chitchat before moving into the second phase of conversation, because if you don’t you will be perceived as rude.

Culture Smart Colombia, p. 83

Luckily, Culture Smart guides you through exactly what to do in Colombia including who to air kiss and when to arm clutch.


The Culture Smart book was incredibly useful in helping me plan out topics to address before our trip. Exposing the Littles to ideas and topics before we travel helps them engage more. Culture Smart makes focusing in on topics super easy.

A chapter on Traditional Culture and Dance highlighted Vallenato (the local folk music), Cumbia, (the soundtrack of Carnival), Salsa and Mariachi. Each has its own paragraph that tells of its cultural importance and what to prepare for. (They recommend you take a few Salsa lessons before your trip if you want to join the locals on the dance floor.)

Since we are not that serious about dancing and I just wanted to give the kids a little flavor we turned to YouTube for some lessons in our home.

We also turned to Alexa and Amazon Music for samples of each type of music.

Culture Smart and Trip Planning

You might be worried that a cultural guide isn’t much help in trip planning. On the contrary, the guide provides so much important information that is necessary for planning your trip.

Our Colombia trip takes place in February so I was interested to figure out what should go on my packing list.

Since Colombia is near the equator, temperatures and daylight remain nearly the same all year long. With minimal variation, the sun rises at 6:00 a.m. and sets at 6:00 p.m. every day of the year. It has typical tropical wet and dry seasons running in three-month cycles. December through February are dry, then March through May are rainy, and so on.

Culture Smart Colombia, p.14

This advice hopefully means I’ll stay dry and warm on our trip.

The Chapter on Values and Attitude speaks of Colombia’s love of children.

Babies are welcome in fine dining restaurants, where waiters will go out of their way to make sure your baby is happy.

Culture Smart Colombia, p.52

Having traveled through other countries like Morocco and Italy that place a huge emphasis on children, I know this means our visit will be enhanced by having our kids with us. In these cultures people go out of their way for the kids, often opening doors to experiences that would otherwise be left locked.

It is also helpful to know that I’ll need to prepare my Middle Little for the type of extra attention he sometimes gets because of his white hair, light skin and bright blue eyes. “If a baby has a fair complexion, you will hear “Qué mono,” the highest compliment, referring to the baby’s “whiteness”—light skin, blond hair, or blue eyes—all attributes that are highly valued in Colombian society.

Don’t be alarmed if someone calls a fair-skinned baby “mono.” They are not calling your baby a monkey! It means “lovely” in Spanish, and in Colombia it also means “white” or “fair.”

Culture Smart Colombia, p.52

We love to ask locals where to go when we travel. Since we have the kids with us locals often know the places that are good fits for families and that typically are not listed in guide books. Culture Smart suggests that if we make the first move, we may well end up with a list of appropriate, local, recommendations.

Ask about local foods and markets, restaurants, and “must-go” places: you will get a long list in return. Colombians believe their country is the most beautiful place on earth, so they will be happy to share their knowledge with you.

Culture Smart Colombia, p.82

My Favorite Section of Culture Smart

Although Culture Smart Colombia is packed with information, my favorite chapter was Folklore and Superstititions.

Here, I learned all about the rituals born from the merging cultures – Spanish Catholicism meets Caribbean African Traditions. My time in Ghana was full of these sort of funny cultural melding experiences and I love learning about where these come into play.

They might be Catholic and pray to their favorite saint, but they might also employ non-Christian remedies for their physical and spiritual needs. Both urban and rural plazas del mercados (market squares) have stalls selling medicinal plants and herbal remedies.

Culture Smart Colombia, p.72

These are just some of the reasons we felt Culture Smart guides are worth adding to your trip planning collection. When you know a little bit about the country you are able to get so much more out of your trip.

You can find all the Culture Smart guidebooks and more here.

I received an advanced copy of the Culture Smart Colombia guidebook in exchange for this review. As always all opinions are my own.

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