With summer travel in full swing (and lots of inspiration to choose from thanks to Instagram), it can be overwhelming deciding where to go next. Think about your ideal vacation. Would you rather be at an all-inclusive resort in Cabo with zero plans to leave the hotel, or experience the local street food of Cartagena after learning traditional Colombian styles of dance? If you’re leaning towards the latter, then you’re going to love this post. If not, keep reading anyway. You might just change your mind!
We all have our different reasons for wanting to travel. You might want to sit on a beach and unwind after a stressful couple of months at work. Maybe you enjoy a challenge and want to see if you can visit every continent at some point in your life time. Perhaps you’re interested in experiencing other cultures and feeling like a local. There’s no right or wrong reason for wanting to travel, but the one thing we have noticed in recent years is the rise in popularity of immersive travel. If you’re one who doesn’t want to feel like a tourist while traveling, then immersive travel is for you.
If anyone knows about immersive travel, it’s Katalina Mayorga – the CEO and founder of El Camino Travel. El Camino puts together small group trips to countries like Colombia, Cuba and Mexico (to name a few) with a fully immersive itinerary where you will absolutely feel like a local. What’s so great about these trips is that just about everything is planned for you (and all of these plans sound awesome). You should check out some of their trips – the itineraries are quite impressive (things you might not think to do on your own but will be so happy that you did). As an added bonus, each trip comes with a photographer so you can really disconnect, put down your phone and live in the moment. We get so caught up trying to capture every second of our vacation that we can’t really be present. So this is the perfect way to really have it all!
If you’re in the process of figuring out where you want to go next, are interested in immersive travel or thinking about traveling solo, take a look at what travel pro Katalina Mayorga has to say….
What inspired you to start El Camino?
Two “aha” moments on a work trip to Guatemala in May of 2014 lead to the idea of El Camino. The first was a boat ride to a village I was staying at on Lake Atitlán. In front of me laid this majestic view of an expansive lake surrounded by three volcanoes. However, all the tourists of the boat (including myself) were viewing this panoramic scene through our phone screens. We were all snapping away with the obsessive commitment of getting that “perfect shot.” This was the moment when I really felt that the experience of travel had drastically changed in the past few years with the rise of mobile technology and social media. As travelers, we have become more concerned with capturing the moment and our capacity to share it immediately with friends, rather than living in the moment.
How is immersive travel different from traditional travel?
Immersive travel means not going to a place just because it looks pretty on Instagram. It means digging deep into the culture of the places you are visiting, to be curious and ask questions, and as a result, have a stronger understanding of the places you are visiting, the people you are meeting, and the mountains you might be climbing.
Has there been a rise in popularity for immersive travel? If so, why do you think that is?
I think there is more of an interest, however, I do feel like what is still dominating travel is trying to get the perfect Instagram shot and visiting places only because you saw it all over Instagram…which is leading to overtourism in many destinations right now and threatening the local infrastructure of places like Venice, Italy. I think immersive travel is still very much a niche market and for a particular type of traveler. Immersive travel may mean you are traveling to places that are not all over the tourist map like Trinidad and Tobago (which means a much more special experience), being pushed out of your comfort zone, trying things you never expected trying, being open, and asking a lot of questions. That is not every traveler. I always say that our type of travel is not for everyone, and that is totally fine, but we want to be super clear about who we are for to make sure we have the right traveler on board who is up for an adventure and okay with the sometimes unpredictable nature of Latin America.
What are the benefits of group travel?
As a solo female travel you get the benefits of independent travel (not having to wait on anyone else’s schedule to book your dream trip), but with the comforts and safety of a pack. You also get access to experiences you just could not get on your own and that may not be as economically feasible with 2-4 people. For example, we rent out a lakeside villa outside of Medellin, Colombia for the day where we do some serious r&r and indulge in a traditional Colombian BBQ. This is a much more feasible experience with a group since we are able to spread out the costs. We always try to leverage this unique economic aspect of group travel that does not exist in independent travel — create once in a lifetime experiences that you could not get on your own.
What would you tell someone who’s hesitant to try group travel?
Our type of travelers are naturally social creatures. Remember, this is not your traditional group travel. This is allowing you to connect with other interesting individuals you might not meet normally in your everyday life, and who allow you to experience the destination through multiple lenses. You get to have an experience you would not be able to get on your own.
Does immersive travel promote sustainability? If so, how?
Not necessarily. Lots of companies say they are doing immersive travel, because it is a big buzz word in the industry. It is similar to green washing, maybe this could be called cultural washing? As a company, we have to be thoughtful about the sustainability piece and it takes lots of time and effort to ensure we are creating experiences that are mutually beneficial and leave a positive impact on the communities we are visiting. This means constantly checking in with our partners, hearing them out when there are concerns and adjusting accordingly, brainstorming on new ideas, etc. This means that we are educating our travelers appropriately before, during, and after the trip.
How does immersive travel / El Camino support local economies?
By working directly with local entrepreneurs and small businesses, we ensure that your tourism dollars go right back to the people who make the El Camino Travel experience what it is. We are proud to be able to contribute to a thriving, sustainable local economy.
How do you come up with the activities for the El Camino trips?
There is not a set formula. Basically, it is how I like to travel, which is a mix of high-low travel. This means going to those hole in the wall places only locals know about to get the best Al Pastor taco of your life, but at the same time learning and experiencing the fascinating projects that are emerging in the creative economies of the places we are visiting, like hunting down the architectural masterpieces of Freddy Mamani on the outskirts of La Paz, Bolivia.
A unique travel experience that’s cost-effective, leaves a positive impact and where you get to meet cool new people? We’re sold.
Be sure to check out El Camino’s trips for 2020 and let us know where you plan on traveling to next!
Images courtesy of El Camino