Travel articles rave about the importance of getting “off-the-beaten path”. It is funny, though, how some writers tell you how you should go away from touristic places mentioning exactly those “alternative” places you should instead go to. They list the “unusual” things you should do once you get there and how to avoid everything that sounds commercial, tourist oriented or that a local wouldn’t do.
I don’t fully agree with this approach. There are things a local person won’t do but that are well worth it for visitors. Wouldn’t you want to visit a family home in the floating islands of Lake Titicaca and understand how they make a living in the middle of nowhere? Wouldn’t you want to grind your own spices and learn how to make your own Cambodian curry paste with locals? Probably yes…
Still, when it comes to popular destinations, it is indeed important to get a little off the touristic centers. This is the best way to get to know the local people, how they go about their daily lives, what they do and what they think, when taken out of a touristic context.
The town of Salento in the famous Coffee Triangle in Colombia is really tiny. Still, you’ll rarely see a foreign looking person off the main town square or streets adjacent to it. But once you wonder off a little, you’ll get to see a different way of life. You’ll come across the houses where people live (not the ones they work at). With their clothes drying in the line, swinging back and forward with the wind. You’ll be able to observe how neighbors exchange small chit chat and how teenage lovers make out in random street corners.
It is nothing spectacular, true, but compared with all the restaurants and souvenir shops in the town center, it is indeed refreshing. It is the real deal!