How To Do Colombia Like A Secret Service Agent

I’m heading to Colombia soon to hangout with coffee farmers, so I’ve been searching for a guidebook. Moon, my guidebooks of choice, doesn’t have one for Colombia, and Lonely Planet’s guide was last updated in 2009, which means the info probably came from 2008 at the latest.

I really had to search Amazon before I found Colombia Handbook, 4th (Footprint – Handbooks)
, which I ultimately purchased. In the process I found a couple of guides the Secret Service agents must’ve used or written:

Men’s Guide to Colombia 2010

Men's guide to Colombia

Bang Colombia

Bang Colombia

In the Introduction (it was in the “look inside” section on Amazon; I didn’t buy it!) the author mentions that Colombia is leaving its FARC, hostage, drug problems in the past and is now starting to see an influx of tourists. It argues that this  is exactly why you need to get there soon and start banging Colombian women.

…the last thing you want is to meet a girl who is already experienced with banging and playing gringos. To get the best of Colombia women you want to be one of her first gringos so the relationship will be fresh and novel.

Can you believe this crap exists and that it has 17 review?!? Thanks self-publishing!

On behalf of all traveling Americans, if you buy one of these books, please stay home. And on behalf of all Americans my apologies for the behavior of our Secret Service agents.

If you’re shopping for a guide for an upcoming trip, here’s an old travel column I wrote:

Misguided: The search for a guidebook

By Kelsey Timmerman

“The Kauai International Hostel has a laidback atmosphere, a friendly staff, and a quaint setting.” So says my guidebook.

After a one-night stay, allow me to translate this guidebook-ese bologna. A “laid back” atmosphere means that guests are passed out in the lawn, playing pool in the common area, sipping on 40-ouncers while listening to the Grateful Dead.

The “friendly staff” consists of live-in, 30-something, social outcasts who exit out of a room choking on, and wafting, a haze straight out of a Cheech and Chong movie to greet new arrivals. They are friendly enough, but unable to make change – and by this I mean they have the money, but are unable to count.

College keggers are quainter.

This hostel is the only place in all of my travels where I have had something stolen. It wasn’t money or my camera. It was my socks! What kind of person steals a fella’s socks? What possibly could a bunch of barefoot, drunk, high, hippies want my stained, stretched, newly-washed-but-still-smelly, socks for?

It wasn’t the first time or the last that I would be misguided by a guidebook.

When shopping for a guidebook the first thing you should look at is the copyright date. Make sure that the guidebook was published within the last few years. Keep in mind, even if the book is a brand new edition most of the information is at least a year old already.

Something that I take in consideration with every item that makes its way into my luggage is weight. I have a guidebook that covers the entire continent of Europe. That’s about 40 countries worth of info from where to stay to what to eat. It’s more of a brick than a book. Sure, it provides me with some unique uses (bicep curls), but all things considered it may not be worth its weight in underwear. The book equals about 15 pairs. Which would you rather have, more than three pairs of skivvies or info on the best time of day to visit The Baked Bean Museum of Excellence: The Home of Captain Beany in Wales?

Regardless of how objective and definitive guidebooks present themselves, they are written by overworked authors with likes and dislikes that are probably much different than your own. Check out the author bios at the beginning or end of the book. Does the author have similar interests as you? Personally, if the bio mentions anything about the author’s fondness for clubbing or massages at day spas, I may want to look elsewhere since my sole dance move is the coffee-grinder and I am terribly ticklish. Guidebooks written by people who enjoy the outdoors are a better fit for me.

There are two types of guidebook authors: those with an abundance of local knowledge and those who travel to a location solely for the purpose of researching and writing the book. Let’s say that you are visiting Bosnia and you want to go for a hike. Much of the Bosnian countryside is littered with landmines from the war in the 1990’s. Which type of author do you want to trust?

Me, I’ll go with guidebook authors like Tim Clancy, author of the Bradt Travel Guide to Bosnia. I met Tim in a restaurant in Sarajevo. He came to the Balkans in 1992 to assist with the relief efforts during the war and never left. He operates Greenvisions, an eco-tourism company. He was in the process of writing his guidebook when I met him and he recommended an itinerary for my stay in Bosnia. He drew excellent maps on restaurant napkins of some first-rate local hiking trails. Tim had hiked every trail he recommended and knew for a fact they were safe. I was blown away by the scenery of the trails, not the land mines, thanks to Tim’s local knowledge.

For the most part, guidebook accuracy is not a question of life or death, but they can heavily influence decisions that will make or break your trip. I find it best to supplement guidebooks with first-hand accounts and recommendations from other travelers. On-line you can find up-to-date, destination-specific, open-forums on Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree ( and the BootsnAll Boards Virtual Tourist ( is also worth visiting to read destination guides written by its members, over 650,000 strong.

Don’t forget that in guidebook-ese sometimes “laidback” means pot parties, a bad guidebook may cause you to have your socks stolen or lead to your stepping on a landmine. But most of all, remember that often the most memorable travel experiences are not found in the pages of any guidebook. Of course, an exception to this is The Baked Bean Museum of Excellence: The Home of Captain Beany.


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