Many enterprising groups in cities offer free walking tours. The concept is a great one with guides leading groups around their cities in exchange for a tip depending on what you believe is a fair price or what you can afford. You can find details of these tours on the internet or by word of mouth on the street and I would certainly recommend them as an excellent way to get to find out about a city
I have taken free (for tips) tours in the following cities and I have never yet had anything less than an informative, fun experience.
- La Paz
The tours have all been very different but with the same blend of enthusiasm, humour and jam packed with information. I mooched around the Witch’s Market in La Paz and I learnt why anybody would want to buy a dried llama feotus, and I walked around the alternative, illegal community that has been built into the mountainside in Granada.
In Cartagena I happened across Monica and her colleagues. They had only been operating for a month as Free Tour Cartagena although Monica has been leading tour groups around her home city for over fifteen years. Speaking English or Spanish Monica will walk you around the old town, pointing out all the things of interest and telling you all the history of the place.
As they are a new enterprise at the moment they will often depart as and when they are requested although to be sure you should check out the website www.freetourcartagena.com.co or give them a ring. You can often find Monica or her colleagues chilling in the Parque Plaza de Santa Teresa next to the Naval Museum between tours.
I walked around the city for two hours with Monica. We went up onto the old walls which overlook the sea and down through a tunnel. We poked around the picturesque streets with their colonial style buildings and with flowers tumbling down over balconies. Peeping into courtyards and open windows Monica was greeted by everyone that we passed, pointing out churches, convents and statues. and giving me the lowdown on the history, geography and people of Cartagena
In Medellin, Hernan from Real City Walking Tours theatrically spent an epic four hours giving us the nitty gritty on the reality of living in what was in the 1990s the most dangerous city on the planet. Explaining about the history and politics and showing us the grimmer side of life in Latin America Hernan explained in easy terms about its legacy of the drug barons and the political infighting. Hernan also explained why the people of Medellin live such happy lives and why they are always smiling. They have lived through some unimaginably tough times but they have never lost hope or a belief in themselves. They very much live in the present because who knows what will happen in the future. The past was dreadful but today is always a good day.
A Colombian friend gave me an alternative theory – that to show fear will invite trouble – so you should always present a smile and a happy face to keep the troubles at bay
Most cities also offer paid tours – and again there are some innovative ideas out there. In Medellin you can pay for a tour of the city’s fruit market and sample something like fifteen different types of exotic fruits, and in London you can sign up to a Jack the Ripper tour and explore the darker of London and find out what happened in days gone by
So next time you arrive in a city find out if there is a free walking tour and give it a go. Don’t be afraid to go along if you are travelling solo – I met some girls in Edinburgh on my tour and subsequently had a wild night out with them and the companies will often also offer social events which you can go along to in the evenings – for example in Madrid you can go out for a flamenco evening and in Edinburgh I did a ghost walk around the cemetaries.