BEST PLACES YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF
Scouting Report: Playa Koralia, Colombia
Eleven people lucky enough to travel for a living reveal their favorite recent discoveries—places they happened upon and still can't stop thinking about. Here are their stories.
THE TRAVELER Marcella Echavarría, founder of SURevolution. The New York–based company connects indigenous artisan communities to fashion houses such as Donna Karan, Tory Burch, and Ralph Lauren. In the past six months, Echavarría has traveled to Cambodia, China, Botswana, Peru, Ecuador, and her native Colombia.
THE PLACE Echavarría doesn't bother to make distinctions between work and pleasure, or business and personal—she weaves them all together. "It's like a tapestry," she explains—one that threads from one corner of the globe to the other and ties together people who knit while tending goat herds and fashion designers whose items retail at high-end department stores. The work keeps Echavarría on the road 60 percent of the time, visiting local communities and writing for South American travel and U.S. magazines. "An article can lead to a new product and the other way around," she says.
For at least 10 days every year, when she needs a break, Echavarría retreats to Playa Koralia, a laid-back resort named after the beach on which it's set on Colombia's Caribbean coast. There's nothing in the world she's seen like it. "Playa Koralia is the only place where you can walk on a tropical beach and see snow-peaked mountains so close," says Echavarría.
Scattered between palm trees, the 19 thatched bungalows encourage a no-Internet, no-newspapers, unplugged approach. You'll quickly come to appreciate other distractions—namely sea views from porch side hammocks, howler monkeys, iguanas, white eagles, natural whirlpools in the nearby rivers, and a full-service spa. (You might also spot a Colombian celebrity; singer Shakira has been known to check in from time to time.) The white-sand beaches and hiking trails of Tayrona National Park are only a 15-minute drive away.
But even here, Echavarría can't resist giving her travels a greater purpose. She uses the resort as a base for visiting with the Wayúu, a matriarchal, nomadic indigenous society of weavers who live a couple hours' drive away in the Guajira Peninsula, where desert sand dunes melt into turquoise waters. "You could stay overnight, but you'd have to have the soul of an anthropologist," says Echavarría. (Visitors sleep in hammocks in a Wayúu host's maloca, a palm-thatched one-room home without running water.) The intense contrasts of the Wayúu people's surroundings—blindingly white beaches against a shockingly blue ocean—influence the bright color schemes of their mochilas, woven circular bags. "I remember thinking to myself, How is it that people spend thousands and thousands of dollars on a Louis Vuitton bag but don't recognize the value and beauty of these woven textiles?" Thanks to Echavarría, now they do.
THE DETAILS Playa Koralia, koralia.com, from $95 per person, including meals. The resort offers private transportation for $45 each way between Santa Marta (where there's a national airport) and Playa Koralia (about an hour's drive).
Your turn! Have you discovered a place like these while traveling? Share your stories by posting a comment at the bottom of page 1: Binn, Switzerland.