EARTH & US: Visiting Colombian Ecovillages

Cathy Holt
8 min readJan 23, 2024
“Xandalu” — my charming cabaña at Aldea Feliz!

How lucky I am that I can visit ecovillages and learn from some highly conscious, communitarian people!

How is a Colombian ecovillage different from one in the U.S.?

In many ways…

1. It’s easier to build where the climate is moderate, just a wet and a dry season, no freezing. Temperatures vary mainly by altitude.

2. A surprising number of ecovillages are very family-based, hence not open to outsiders. Examples: Ama-Gi, where I took a permaculture class in November, also Atlantida. The latter emphasizes permaculture, natural building, holistic health, ceremonial sweatlodges, rainwater catchment, water ceremonies, water turbines for electricity, and solar parabolas for cooking.

3. The terrain will be steep, and the larger the ecovillage, the more you’ll be hiking steep hills. The roads in the countryside are always in horrible shape.

4. A dominant sustainable building material in many regions is guadua, a relative of bamboo which grows to a large diameter, is strong enough to hold up a cottage, and has a great number of uses, while looking great. It grows faster than a tree and requires no milling.

5. The oldest ecovillages in Colombia started around 2006, more recently than many in the US.

6. Every year there is a gathering called “Llamada de la Montaña” (Call of the Mountain) for members of all Colombian ecovillages, which sounds like a lot of fun, with plenty of music, singing, dancing, even a circus!

Aldea Feliz

After a bit of research online and some asking around, I decided to visit Aldea Feliz, founded in 2006 and considered a leader in natural building, workshop hosting, and social processes such as sociocracy and nonviolent communication. My Barichara friend Mar Luz (in her 60’s) was a co-founder, and urged me to visit here; she introduced me to her friend Gladys, a part-time member who will arrive this weekend. It’s a multi-generational place, with the oldest member approaching 80 and the baby about a year old. A mere 2 hours from Bogota, the nearest town is San Francisco, in the state of Cundinamarca — a small alternative-feeling pueblo with vertical streets, decent markets, and tempting bakeries. For about $4, one can catch a taxi from the town’s bus stop to the Aldea. The temperature is very comfortable, ranging from about 60 to 80 degrees F. It rains a lot more here than in Barichara (tropical dry forest), but this is the dry season.

Some 24 people including children live here fulltime, while others divide their time between here and Bogota. There’s a manmade lake with ducks and fish, over which I can dream or do yoga from my balcony, and at the bottom of the property is a clean, cold, strong river with small waterfalls! It has been very peaceful and quiet. There are both composting toilets and flush toilets going to vermicomposting systems. The principal product of the land is organic coffee, which is roasted and ground here; cacao is also grown, along with a few fruit trees and a handful of annual vegetables.

Their water comes from a sort of spring, and is abundant year-round. First the water is placed in large glass jars, many with a label such as “gratitude” or “kindness” or “peace” (as Masaru Emoto used to do) and then in a rack receiving sun, for the UV light; then it is filtered for good measure.

UV light purifies water

The central hub (Kiosk) is a circular building with a communal kitchen and large multipurpose dining/activity area displaying banners with the symbols of all the world religions; an adjoining building has 2 toilets and 2 showers (one hot). Most homes have their own kitchens and bathrooms. A great number are built on “stilts” made of guadua — a design of the resident architect, Carlos Rojas. A father of two young children, he designed nearly every one of the buildings, and each is a work of art.

Building on guadua stilts

I’m staying in a charming guest cabaña called “Xandalu,” which I keep confusing with Xanadu (“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan/ A stately pleasure dome decree”). It features a small shaded deck overlooking the lake and doors painted bright yellow. A large spacious bed with deluxe comforter rests atop two deep drawers for clothing; the roof is curved like the bottom of a boat. There are shelves, a desk and chair, a sink, art works, and fairy lights…no bathroom, but lo, a potty-chair on the deck for the middle of the night, which I appreciate greatly!

There’s a part-time school for the children here; one day there was a tour for families and their children from the nearby town. The kids were excited when they saw the river! Many families are interested, because this nature-based school has a good reputation.

Teams, events, meals

Each member serves on a committee or service group: Earth Care, Guardians of Animals, Seed Group, Economy, Education, Communication, Health & Wellbeing. Considered as a model for other ecovillages, they have created a “Manual of Convivencia” and an Ecovillage Incubator. Aldea Feliz hosts yearly events such as Zegg Forum, Healing Days, Behappy Fest, and Vive la Danza, with as many as 100 attending…generating up to 1,000 visitors a year. Once a month they hold Dances of Universal Peace.

On my first full day here, José gave a tour of the property, and in the evening all visitors were invited to a fire circle led by this same wonderful fellow, clearly a dedicated communitarian. He introduced a simple way to get to know each other: one person asks another a question, that person answers and then asks any other person in the circle a question, anything at all.

Right away I was invited to join a small group of travelers who had just attended the recent “Call of the Mountain” national gathering of ecovillagers, for a breakfast and a lunch. I’m now signed up to be part of the rotation of folks making group lunches, the main meal of the day in Colombia. Two people cook for up to 25; wish me luck!

Mi Tribu

This same group of travelers, consisting of Beatriz and Silvio (a couple), Argenis and Lina, invited me to come with them to visit another ecovillage not too far away for an overnight, and I thought, “Why not?” That ecovillage, known as Mi Tribu, founded in 2021, is on a larger piece of land at higher altitude and much less organized than Aldea Feliz. The roads were so steep that we all had to leave the car and walk for the last half-mile. Some six adults, three children and two dogs greeted us; they have ambitious plans for 30 families to live there. We were housed in a yurt. It was COLD at night! The next morning, I enjoyed toasting up arepas with cheese for part of a hearty breakfast. We then played a word game including the children, in which each person in the circle had to call out the name of an animal; then a vegetable, a make of car, a sea creature, a dessert, and so on. The kids loved it, and that was a good game for me to learn some more Spanish!

Unfortunately, Silvio had a cough and I ended up feeling rather sick that day; although I undertook a waterfall hike with the others, it was so long and steep, and high altitude, that I had to quit partway. Argenis, who took the trouble to speak Spanish slowly enough so I could understand, compassionately kept me company, and we talked politics. I was glad to return via the steep roads to San Francisco and Aldea Feliz, at last.

Music of the Plants

Perhaps 17 years ago, I visited Damanhur in northern Italy. Founded by a visionary who called himself Falco, this ecovillage network began with an unlikely sounding project: the 25-year-old Falco and some of his friends decided to dig illegally into a mountain using hand tools in the stealth of night to create a secret temple. From the first temple, a hidden switch opens a concealed door in the mosaic floor, to a stairway leading into a second temple, then a third, for what became a total of six “temples to humanity,” each with a different theme: the temple of water, the temple of gongs, the temple of mirrors…The walls are elaborately painted, and filled with exquisite sculptures, mosaics, and even stained glass lit from behind. In the 1970s someone turned them in for this violation of the law, but since it was such a wondrous work of art embracing all religions, no one went to jail. Falco was a brilliant and unique artist, leader, and wise man who wrote several books and established ecovillages throughout the Val Chiusella. He was known as a time traveler, with great knowledge of ancient Egypt.

One of his initiatives was a group of people who chose to live in treehouses to learn from trees. Another group studied plants; experimenting with electrodermal sensors, they discovered that plant leaves gave electrical signals that could be converted into sound. Result: “the music of the plants.” This music has demonstrated healing effects, and is helpful for women giving birth.

Two women from Damanhur came to Aldea Feliz to offer a talk on plant music, and I was lucky enough to be here! We learned that plants can sense human presence up to 100 meters away. Plants possess the ability to learn; placed in pots on robots, they can use electricity to locomote! “The indigenous know, but most Europeans have forgotten, the intelligence of plants,” said Esperanza. She believes that plants can teach us empathy and compassion, and that we must ask plants’ permission to use their healing power, never dominate them.

One sensor to root, one to flower petal = music!

She then approached a nearby flowering plant, placed one sensor into the ground near the roots, moistened a leaf with water and clipped on an electrode. Connected to a small computer the size of a cell phone, the plant proceeded to make music. Another variety of plant given the same treatment, harmonized with the first. Soon we were all lying on the ground to absorb the soothing, healing sounds. Afterwards we shared a delicious lunch, featuring falafel and baba ganoush.

Talented Residents

Later, I connected with Anamaria Aristizabal, an amazing young resident here who has lived in the US and speaks fluent English. She is an Integral Coach, consultant and facilitator, trained in Theory U, mindfulness, and the Art of Hosting. Anamaria is the author of Life Re-Vision: A Journey to Rediscover Your Core, Reinvent Yourself and Renew Your Future Vision. Co-founder of Leading Change Institute, she has trained leaders at the Byron Fellowship and George Washington University in the U.S., and has also worked with the Ashoka Foundation and Colombia’s Ministry of the Environment. She is a founding member of the Foundation for Reconciliation, and a member of the global Great Transition Initiative.

Anamaria has the most impressive credentials, but everyone I have met has been fascinating: an acupuncturist, an architect, a biologist specializing in solid waste treatment and zero waste, two transpersonal psychologists, several teachers including a Waldorf teacher, a musician and sweatlodge leader, a sociocracy facilitator…

Would I like to live at Aldea Feliz? You bet! They have two openings for new members…



Cathy Holt

Cathy has been living in Colombia for 2 years. She’s passionate about regenerating landscapes with water retention, agro-forestry, and biogas digestors.