Colombia Doesn’t Deserve Its Negative Reputation

I never officially planned to travel to Colombia. After my study program in Buenos Aires, I had a 6 week window before my flight home from Santiago, Chile. My initial plan was to travel down the length of Argentina and up Chilean Patagonia. On a whim, I instead bought a one way ticket to Bogotá. Despite its negative reputation, something about Colombia has always appealed to my imagination and sense of adventure.

Most Australians only know about Colombia because of what they’ve seen on Narcos. Consequently, it has a negative reputation of a country still run by cartels, with cocaine as a major industry, and ravaged by violence all over the country.

When I tell people that I’ve travelled to Colombia, they get a certain expression on their face. It’s either amazement that I’ve gone somewhere so dangerous and different, or concern that I put myself in the situation in the first place. “Was it dangerous?” is a question that often comes up.

Colombia is the most beautiful country that I have ever visited, and it doesn’t deserve its negative reputation for so many reasons.

Colombia is not stuck in the violence of the 1980’s.

A lot of people are unaware that Colombia is no longer heavily involved in cartel activity for the trafficking of cocaine. Even though cocaine can still be easily found in the country, major cartels now operate out of Mexico. Colombia may be a major producer country of cocaine, but it’s worth remembering that the majority is shipped to the US for consumption. The industry wouldn’t thrive without the high demand from Western countries.

This means that a lot of the cocaine-related violence has reduced in major cities like Medellín. Although it would be unwise to travel to some regions, including the deep south of the country, all the major tourist destinations are perfectly safe to travel to if you use common sense.

I heard of other travellers having issues with violence in Cali, but other than that, the widespread consensus was that you shouldn’t walk alone on the streets in big cities late at night. This is common sense advice for big cities all over the world, and I regularly walked alone during the day and early evening with no issues.

People are friendly and helpful, particularly in rural towns.

The Spanish spoken in Colombia is advertised as the easiest to understand in the continent, and so it’s incredibly easy to converse with locals. A lot of Colombians are not used to seeing tourists, and so you will be met with curiosity and sometimes questions. Particularly in rural villages, I often had farmers stopping me to ask me where I was going and where I had come from.

A lot of the older people in particular will approach and ask lots of questions. I also had older men offering me free rides to town when I was staying in a remote eco-sanctuary in Salento. Old women in major cities would often come up and tell me to put my phone away because I was drawing too much attention to myself! Older Colombians are very well-meaning and will try to look out for travellers.

I also met up with a few guys from Couchsurfing in Bogotá and they were more than happy to hang out and chat in a mixture of Spanish and English. A lot of locals are very happy that you have decided to visit their country, in spite of its negative reputation.

Colombia’s negative reputation overshadows its amazing cities and natural wonders.

These were my highlights of my travels through Colombia.

Street art in Bogotá.

Bogotá can be difficult to travel around, because of the high altitude, but the winding mountain streets are definitely picturesque. There are a lot of attractions in the city, but my favourite activity was wandering the streets of La Candelaria and stumbling upon street art.

Street art in Bogota.

Hiking through coffee country in Salento.

Salento is a tiny laid back town in the middle of coffee farms and rolling hills. From here you can take a bus to the famous Valle de Cocora to see the giant palm trees, but the hikes around the town are just as beautiful. One of my highlights was visiting a coffee farm and learning about the process of making coffee.

Farmhouse in Salento

Learning Colombian history in Medellín.

Medellín is an incredibly modern city with a violent history. One of my highlights was taking walking tours to see sites of former violence, and a tour that explained the history of Pablo Escobar and his cartel. It is a huge city and so you could easily spend a week here without getting bored.

Blue street art of two young boys, two birds, and a large pink flower.

Colonial architecture in Cartagena.

Cartagena is on the Caribbean coast and so the heat and humidity are sometimes stifling. If you can avoid the midday heat, the old walled city is full of gorgeous colonial architecture, and vendors selling a variety of tropical fruits. There are also easy day trips to beautiful beaches.

red and yellow colonial buildings in Cartagena

Paragliding in San Gil.

San Gil is not an exciting city in its own right, but it is a hub for adventure activities like paragliding, white water rafting, and bungee jumping. I opted to visit the Chicamocha Canyon for paragliding, and it was a beautiful and surreal experience to float so high above the ground.

Chicamocha canyon

Rural villages off the beaten path in Sogamoso.

Sogamoso and its surrounding villages were the highlight of my travels in Colombia. You can take buses between tiny villages with incredible colonial architecture, hike along a giant lake, and chat to friendly locals. Sogamoso is off the general tourist radar and so you will have it largely to yourself.

Red brick house in Mongui

 

I would love to return to Colombia, as there are so many things left to see. I would like to learn salsa in Cali, hike to the lost city near Santa Marta, visit various national parks, and improve on my Spanish. I had only a taste of Colombia on this trip, and it was addictive.

 

Have you ever travelled to Colombia? What was your experience?

 

 

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By | 2017-11-02T21:20:31+00:00 October 19th, 2017|travel inspiration|13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Marcelle Simone Heller November 19, 2017 at 12:32 am - Reply

    The violence in Colombia is not comparable to the eighties but still there were some places which were considered as dangerous, when we visited Colombia in 2014. We would have liked to take the bus from Ecuador to Colombia for example, but Colombian friends said that the region around the boarder wasn’t safe. Also we’d liked to visit the west coast which we didn’t because of the same warnings. Do you know if it would be safer now?

    • Her Travel Therapy November 19, 2017 at 7:50 pm - Reply

      I agree, there are still parts of Colombia that are not considered safe because of occupation by FARC or paramilitaries. Particularly border regions are considered unsafe. I think the south on the way to Ecuador is a lot safer than it used to be, but that’s just hearsay. As with a lot of developing countries, you need to have a high level of street smarts.

  2. TravelTheGlobe4Less November 19, 2017 at 12:34 am - Reply

    Thanks for allaying my fears about Colombia. It is definitely somewhere I would like to visit and it looks fabulous. Love the colours of Cartagena

  3. Kavita Favelle November 19, 2017 at 6:48 pm - Reply

    I remember visiting Colombia in the 1980s, and the reputation wasn’t at all good then, but it was beautiful nonetheless and I figured I’d be back one day — we spent only a short time there during a multi-country south american tour. I’ve not made it yet but I’ve seen some great posts like yours that really make me want to book the trip. The architecture, history and landscape are so beautiful. As you say, it would be a shame for an old and inaccurate reputation to overshadow what this country has to offer!

    • Her Travel Therapy November 19, 2017 at 7:45 pm - Reply

      I definitely recommend going back! It’s such an incredible country and there’s still so many parts that I didn’t have time to visit.

  4. Debra Schroeder November 20, 2017 at 5:18 am - Reply

    I’ve never been to Columbia. Columbia does have a bad rap. But you’re right, so many big cities are unsafe regardless of the country. Good for you for visiting. Nice tip about the older women being helpful.

  5. Danik November 20, 2017 at 7:09 pm - Reply

    YOu wrote some good points here on Columbia. I never visited the country (yet) but when I do, I tend to go with an open mind and forget what other people say (especially the media)

  6. Anita Hendrieka November 20, 2017 at 11:26 pm - Reply

    I haven’t visited South America yet but it’s high on the list. Colombia has always fascinated me and the issue of safety has definitely crossed my mind. There is a lot of places in the world that still have a horrible reputation in terms of safety. I am currently living in Albania and it’s often misunderstood as an unsafe country when it really isn’t. Great article!

    • Her Travel Therapy November 21, 2017 at 1:21 pm - Reply

      Yeah I think a lot of people have preconceived ideas about certain areas of the world that we struggle to look past. I definitely have my own biases, and I used to think that Colombia was too dangerous as well! Now I know that many countries are often not like their reputation.

  7. Sam Sparrow November 21, 2017 at 8:19 pm - Reply

    I never really realised Colombia had such a bad reputation, but its good to hear it is unfounded nonetheless – it’s sad how places can be tarnished. I’d love to visit, and your photos of the street art in Bogotá look amazing, as street art is something I’m a fan of!

  8. Niels Thomas November 22, 2017 at 2:24 am - Reply

    As far as I know there are still areas in Columbia which are just very dangerous. So yes, I agree with most of your post but it is also important to know that you can’t just wonder of by yourself haha. It looks beautiful though! Nature and the ladies, so I have heard! 🙂

    • Her Travel Therapy November 27, 2017 at 7:30 pm - Reply

      As with a lot of places in the world, you need to have a decent level of street smarts to travel safely in Colombia.

  9. Nisha November 22, 2017 at 12:20 pm - Reply

    It is high time I visit South America. What better than Columbia to start with. It is quite comforting to know that it is safe to travel to Columbia. Living so far I would probably club with a few more countries. BTW I love those pictures of street art 🙂

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