The Secret Lives Of… A Tour Guide In Cartagena

On the Caribbean coast of Colombia, a man named Duran Duran shares his love of Cartagena with visitors from near and far.

Some want to see the main sights, others come to explore backstreets of the colonial walled city on foot, but all leave with the benefit of this experienced guide’s knowledge of history and awareness of small details with big meaning. When Duran Duran leads the way, curious travelers learn more about the story of Cartagena than they might discover on their own.

After exploring Cartagena one morning with Duran Duran, he stopped to take a phone call away from the group. From what I could gather, he was confirming plans to meet friends for lunch and play pool for the afternoon. I got to thinking about how he lives a normal day, what he learns from people on his tours, and about how his work has influenced the way he chooses to travel.

Have you changed the way you travel since you became a tour guide?

My work has taught me that a place is not only buildings, but a lot more. Now when I travel, I get in touch with a tour guide. This gives an instant connection with local culture and the best guides customize tours in any way you want.You meet a variety of people through your work – what have you learned from these encounters?

I meet all kinds of people on my tours, and I’ve learned that everybody is just trying to be happy. Traveling and learning makes a lot of them very happy, and I’m glad to be a part of that. Visitors are also very curious about the Colombian people and have many questions on our customs and culture.

Tell me about a typical day for you – what do you do for fun? How do you spend time with your family?

I start each day with a reminder of how grateful I am for each new day in my life. I work six days a week, and go cycling three times a week. I love reading history and work on improving my command of the English language. My favorite days are spent at the beach with my wife and our kids.

In your work as a tour guide, have you learned anything unusual about Cartagena’s history?

Many local people don’t know that their names are connected to important events in the history of Cartagena and Colombia. By reading about history, I discovered that many common names have deep significance.

Do you have any advice for people visiting Cartagena for the first time?

Do not change money in the streets – under any circumstances. This is a common scam. They not only will shortchange you on the exchange, but they will take your money and give fake bills that you will not be able to spend. And if you take a photo of our palenqueras, the colorfully dressed women that carry large bowls of fruit on their heads, it is customary to leave a small tip in exchange for the beautiful photo.

If travelers want to interact with locals in Cartagena, where should they begin?

Travelers should venture to a regular neighborhood like Getsemani, to wander the streets and eat the traditional food of Cartagena. They must also join in and dance cumbia and salsa.

Duran Duran works as a tour guide with Singular Luxury Travel.

Jessica Colley is a freelance writer living in New York City.