Guides of Keteka offers an inside look into the lives of the tour guides who work with Keteka to lead travelers on authentic, exciting, and meaningful adventures in Latin America.

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Steve Dillon, a Scotland native, started off his career far from the tourism industry and the sprawling beaches, lush jungles, and colorful cities of Colombia. He worked in IT and project management for more than a decade in London, where he met his wife Marcela, who had moved to the U.K. from Colombia to study English.

While spending time with Marcela, Steve heard others make all sorts of negative comments, jokes, and assumptions about Colombia. But when he visited the country for the first time, the negative stereotypes didn’t match his experience there.

“I loved Colombia from the first second I ever went there; it’s an amazing place, I fell in love with it.”

Steve and Marcela founded their tourism operation, Other Way Round, in 2017 to offer tourists a taste of the real Colombia. Steve wanted to share with travelers the authentic and beautiful Colombia with which he had become familiar through travels with Marcela and their friends and family in the South American country.

Other Way Round

 

An Insider Experience in Colombia

Steve said he hasn’t crossed paths with many tourists during his travels in Colombia over the past eight years. “I generally get the feeling with the places I go and the places I visit with my family, it’s kind of like I’m the only foreigner there,” he said. “The whole concept of the business to is to provide that same experience.”

So far, Steve has led one tour in Colombia, and he’ll lead his next fully-booked trip in October. Other Way Round focuses its tours in and around four places: Medellin, Bogota, Cartagena, and Parque Tayrona. These are places Steve and Marcela would visit themselves on a two-week trip around the country.

Steve Dillon

Steve said he takes travelers to the top tourist sites, but those aren’t the highlights of the trip. “We’re also going to take you to the smaller kind of towns that most people wouldn’t typically go to — the kind of towns that I would go to on the weekend with my family and friends, the towns that you wouldn’t find in a guidebook, that you’ve never heard of.”

Steve said the philosophy of the business extends beyond providing an authentic and unforgettable trip to travelers; Other Way Round also seeks to employ positive, sustainable tourism to benefit local communities.

 

Giving Back to the Community

Last year, when Steve volunteered at Fundación Poder Joven, a nonprofit organization that serves disadvantaged children in Medellin, he felt doubts about the benefit of his service. With a professional background in project management and IT, Steve said he felt he could have better served the organization by building a website or using his organizational skills.

“I felt kind of useless to be honest,” he said. “I had good fun playing soccer with the kids and things like that, but I came away from the whole experience thinking, I don’t know if I actually helped anyone there.” “The overwhelming feeling I came away with is that they have very capable people there working,” he said. “They know the political climate in their country; they know the problems these people face, and they’re much better equipped to deal with things than me.”

“The overwhelming feeling I came away with is that they have very capable people there working,”

After this realization, Steve researched the best ways to contribute and give back to the communities, and he discovered the best way was to just give money to charities. Other Way Round has now partnered with Poder Joven and donates a portion of their trip costs to the organization. Steve said he hopes to partner with more charities, such as environmental organizations, in other Colombian cities in the future.

Poder Joven

 

Impact of Growing Tourism

Despite a growing tourism interest over the past several years, Steve said Colombia still retains a sense of authenticity that sets it apart from anywhere else he’s ever traveled. “For me, it does feel very different still,” he said. “I’ve traveled quite a lot now, and everywhere kind of just becomes the same. With globalization, you go somewhere, and it’s all kind of merging into one.”

Steve said visiting some areas of Colombia is like “stepping back in time,” but he expects the country to change in 10-20 years as more people visit. He noticed some consequences of bad tourists but said the best way to combat it is through positive, ethical tourism, which is helping to bring jobs and improve the economy. This type of tourism also helps combat negative stereotypes of the country and its people.

“[Colombians] really want tourists to come because they have these negative stereotypes against them, and they want to show the world it’s not this scary place,”

Parque Tayrona

Steve’s Travel Tips

Steve’s top tip for traveling to Colombia is to be sensible, not scared. He said he’s seen a lot of travel companies “overselling” Colombia as an extremely safe destination, and while it’s not as dangerous as it once was, it’s best to be careful.

“It’s not this perfect oasis that some people are selling it as, but it’s not this dangerous, scary place as well,” Steve said.

He also recommends getting out of big cities and avoiding major tourist spots in favor of smaller towns. Steve said there are more than 50 interesting and unique towns travelers can visit within a one or two-hour drive of Medellin.

One of Steve’s favorite destinations in Colombia is Parque Nacional Tayrona, a natural oasis in the very north of the country near Cartagena. The secluded beaches with turquoise waters are only reachable by a rainforest trek.

“There’s the Colombian rainforest, the meadow, and then it’s got these beautiful beaches on the other side of the rainforest,” Steve said. “You have to hike the jungle to get to the beach. There’s still an indigenous tribe living in the meadow of the park, so actually you can hike through their village. It just feels like you’re in the middle of nowhere in this deserted spot. That’s my favorite place.”

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