What comes into your mind when you think of Colombia?
Well guess what? It’s all a big fat preconception. In fact you’re more likely to be eaten by a shark in Australia than you are to be kidnapped in Colombia’s capital city of Bogota.
However, out of date rumours have yet to be cleared up in the First World Countries whose residents, that have never visited, seem convinced if you go to Colombia you may never return.
They got that bit right… but not the way they think.
I want to help spread the word and shake off the ‘danger’ tag associated with Colombia and replace it with the love that I have experienced first hand.
So firstly let’s be frank and honest: why was Colombia once the world’s most violent country?
Mainly because of drugs.
Drug trafficking and production. Everything else steamed from there, including the kidnapping, murders and corruption. The demand for drugs became so high that Colombia got caught up in conflict between other countries and ‘Guerilla’ gangs internally, which attracted the US, that they started the ‘War on Drugs’ in Colombia which continues to this day.
Within the last 10 years however Colombian drug production has decreased by 60% and Peru now produces more drugs than Colombia. The murder rate is lower than in some US cities and there were 250 kidnappings reported last year compared to1583 in Mexico.
I don’t want to get too wrapped up in facts, so hit up Wikipedia to find out more, I’m here to tell you why its all turned itself round.
So here’s my story, no ‘facts’ just real experiences
I originally planned to skip Colombia, or maybe just stay for a few days. I had been travelling South America for 6 months and really wanted to start my next leg to Central America. Having done the whole journey from Argentina to Ecuador on a bus, I figured I should step foot in one last country before potentially having to fly to Panama.
That was about 28 days ago, and guess what? I’m still in Colombia.
I arrived in Cali, the second largest city in Colombia, and could finally leave my sweater in my backpack! The sun was well and truly shining. Cali was great, the people were friendly, well presented and sincerely helpful.
The one thing I knew about Colombia before I came was the coffee. I drank it every day while daydreaming about South American adventures in my cold, wet hometown of England.
I had to find the Colombian gold and Solento was the place.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the breathtaking beauty. Even the bus ride was a pleasure, which is a sentence I never thought I would say in South America. The landscape was so unexpected, I didn’t imagine Colombia to have this much beauty. Without sounding cliché there lay fresh mountain waterfalls and cascading luminous green hills at every turn, it was breathtaking, but the unexpected kind, the kind you weren’t programmed to feel.
The coffee was out of this world, made by the gods (café farmers) of Colombia. Maybe that’s where I was sold, maybe that when I knew I wasn’t going to leave any time soon. The hostels in Solento (and now I realise the whole of Colombia) were of the best standard of the whole of South America.
Bogota was my next stop, on arrival it was a dull city with nothing different from any other.
Then I opened my eyes, and my heart. Bogota has captured me, I belonged to the city now.
The streets were like those of museums; amazing art work covered the once decaying walls and illuminated the once scarce alley ways.
The smiles from the locals were infectious, the love poured from their hearts.
At first I was wary when people approached me on the street, but eventually I realised how genuine these people were, and how much they cared about the tourists.
Asking for directions was different from other ‘dangerous’ countries in South America, you would get the directions, a recommendation and a warming smile.
For me Bogota and the Colombian people changed my view on everything. I was confused how it had such bad press when I was staying in a Colombians house for free, being taken for dinner by new Colombian friends and partying the night away with locals. This can not be the former ‘worlds most dangerous city’ the guide books claimed it was.
I took a walk alone one night to pick up some groceries, it was dark, and I was in an unkown neighbouroghood. Yet all I could think about was how safe I felt, by dark I almost felt like I was in my local town. People smiled, didn’t stare and carried on with their own business. I walked slower and stayed for longer, that moment I knew I had too change foreigners perception on Colombia.
I was genuinely sad to leave Bogota, but I know i’ll be back. No city has taken my soul like Bogota did and I feel like I have friends for life there.
The only downside to the city however was the weather. I needed to get some sun on my pale skin, so along with two amazing Colombian friends I had made in Bogota we headed to the sunshine coast of Cartagena and Santa Marta.
The beaches were not ones of exotic pictures, but as I knew by now it was all about the people you meet along the way, not the scenery anymore. We partied for 5 days on $1 beers and cured hangovers with freshly caught fish in the day.
I was in pure bliss. Reflecting on the last month in Colombia I couldn’t believe how much I had fallen in love with it. I’ve done 7 countries in 7 months and over 25 in my life time, and Colombia is right up there at number one! It was totally unexpected and emotionally captivating, kind of like a holiday romance. But this one will last, I will always love Colombia and any one that tells you it is dangerous has obviously never been.
Try it for yourself, and leave the pepper spray at home.
You can read more about Sarah’s adventures on her blog coffeewithasliceoflife.com.