International Travel

Want an Authentic Colombian Experience? You’ve Got to Play Tejo

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When I travel, I always try to look for some sort of local thing to experience. Whether that’s attending a flamenco festival in Seville, spending a day with the Longhorn Miao in Guizhou, or in Colombia, playing tejo with a local.

If you’re headed to Colombia and want an authentic Colombian experience away from all the touristy spots, you’ve got to try the national sport of tejo. I promise, it’s an explosive experience! ;)

What is tejo?

Tejo is a horseshoe-like game where you throw little metal pucks at a clay mound and try to hit the gunpowder packets to cause an explosion, all while drinking beer! Has that sold you yet on tejo? Because that certainly caught my attention when I first learned about it.

tejo beer
It was a mostly empty bottle, mom and dad. I promise!

Okay, here’s a slightly longer description of what actually happens.

It’s sort of like bocce ball where everyone stands on one side of the court and you toss the 1.5-pound metal puck toward the other side. On the clay mounds on either side, there’s a circle of mechas, or triangular packets of gunpowder.

First-timers like us tend to play with a full ring of mechas and half the court while the pros play with only 4 mechas and the full length of the court.

The mechas have been placed on top of a metal ring that’s embedded in the clay. When your metal puck hits the gunpower packet, that metal pipe underneath is what’s aiding in igniting the explosion.

Heads-up: there is the very distinctive smell of gunpowder at the tejo court. And I won’t lie, the explosions from the other courts made me jump a little every single time — and I’m no stranger to guns. So be prepared.

How do you play tejos?

Your ultimate goal is to have your tejo land in the center of the circle and cause an explosion at the same time. Every time you explode something, you get to scream “mecha!” to celebrate your explosion.

playing tejo

Here’s the points breakdown, with the first person to get to 21 winning the set:

  • 1 point if your metal puck hits and stays anywhere on the clay mound
  • 3 points if you get an explosion
  • 5 points if your metal pucks get inside the circle/bullseye and stays
  • 8 points if it sticks to the bullseye and causes an explosion

These are just the rules shared with us by our host. There are more formal rules, tejo competitions, and professional tejo teams.

If that’s surprising because you’ve never heard of tejo before, you’re not alone. The sport is hugely popular in Colombia, but unlike soccer, another favorite pastime, it rarely gets any media coverage.

Tejo is, however, a sport with hundreds of years of history in Colombia. Its origins date back to pre-Colombian times with a sport called turmeque, which the natives played with pucks made of solid gold.

Beer is also a more recent change to the game, having swapped out the more traditional chica (a maize-based alcoholic drink popular in the Andes).

Where can I experience tejo?

There are so many tejo courts in Colombia. You can always ask a local and then bring some friends to a court or see if you can join others there for a game.

tejo colombia
A lot of menfolk at the courts…

But if you’re a non-Spanish speaking gringo like me, you’re unlikely to find one on your own or figure out how to really navigate the tejo court. (Or you may end up at a high-end tejo court geared toward foreigners and the wealthy, but what fun would that be?)

Instead, go with a local. We found Carlos’ Airbnb Experience and had an amazing time at a tejo court in the La Candelaria neighborhood of Bogota.

Born and raised in Bogota, Carlos had a lot of knowledge about both tejo and the city. His tour included transportation, all-you-can-drink beers, Colombian snacks, and some solid play time at the tejo court. We saw one other group of tourists come in and out in 20 minutes. In comparison, we had a good 90 or so minutes to relax and enjoy.

By the end, our bellies were full of meat, potatoes, and beer, and our arms were starting to sore from repeatedly throwing those metal pucks. The excitement of exploding mechas never diminished though.

The time we spent with Carlos at the tejos court was probably our favorite in Bogota. The Colombian capital is an intensely large city, and without this tejo experience, it would have felt very distant and hard to truly experience.

Are you ready to experience and play tejo? Pin it to share it!

Tejos: the explosive Colombian national sport you have to try

6 thoughts on “Want an Authentic Colombian Experience? You’ve Got to Play Tejo

  1. Tejo sounds wild, Rowena. I had never heard of it before your post so thanks for sharing the details. Gunpowder, without a licence, is illegal in my own country so using it for sport under the influence of alcohol is beyond comprehension! At the same time, I completely agree with you when it comes to experiencing traditional local activities so I can see the attraction of Tejo.

    1. Try it out some time if you make it to Colombia! Really sometimes forget that there is even gunpowder involved. I’m told they now have digital ones too where no gunpowder is involved.

    1. Hi Amber,

      Sorry about that! It looks like Airbnb must have updated the link on their end. Thanks for the flag. I’ve found the new link and updated it so you should be able to get to it now!

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