Visiting Colombia, land of hummingbirds, fabulous beaches, tropical fruit, beautiful women, coffee, emeralds and other products so beloved of guidebook blurbs and national tourism bureaus can be a daunting prospect and lead to an investigation rife with misinformation. Colombia, the only risk is wanting to stay. Colombia, C-o-l-o-m-b-i-a (you have now been officially warned regarding the spelling), parties, late nights, wild festivals, breathtaking scenery, colonial towns, aguardiente and warm friendly people. There’s simply too much to see and do in Colombia, the country is a mouthwatering assault on your senses, a place to relax, a place for adventure and above all a place to enjoy and respect.
In not one gasp for breath in the last paragraph did I pause to break to mention guerrillas, paramilitaries, protests, cocaine, kidnapping, extortion, illegal mining, exploitation, feudalism, regionalism or human rights violations. I’m not ignoring these facts and neither should you.
You can come to Colombia and remain thoroughly oblivious to the aforementioned blights on the country, but, it would be a tough task. Although, saying that, I am certain that there are some backpackers in-country with no inkling about what is going on here. Take heed of events, read the newspapers and relevant websites, show an interest and leave with an informed, albeit possibly, shallow opinion of life and politics here. Read your country’s Travel Warning Advice page for Colombia and then once you are back home, still spewing about the glories of your holiday, promote this fantastic country of mountains, beaches, jungles, savannahs, deserts, rivers and plateaus.
- Do your research
Read the relevant literature on Colombia as there are many books to choose from that can keep you up to speed and informed. Buy a guidebook and read it prior to coming over, but use it as just that, a guide…it’s not a bible, it’s not a lifestyle and the moment it’s in print it’s out of date. Talk to people, check around and enjoy the adventure.
- Do not be tempted into trying “national product”.
To quote from one hostel website: “Please don’t forget that the consumption of cocaine significantly damages Colombian society. Money spent on cocaine goes directly to support armed groups, fighting in Colombia’s internal conflict, leading to assassinations, kidnappings, massacres and one of the world’s largest refugee problems. Consuming cocaine means nothing less than having somebody’s blood on your hands…..”
- Don’t romanticize your trip through tales of derring-do
This asshole quoted below wrote all about “it kicking off” and an imminent “civil war” in Colombia. Aside from the severe inadequacies in his knowledge of Colombia all of this came just one page after he had written on his blog how he was now earning an income from Google ad-sense. So, can we presume that he was exaggerating to drive further traffic to his site with the hope of gaining some revenue? Tell the truth, it makes for a better story, most of the time!
- Don’t limit yourself to a strict budget
Banish all thoughts of saving money or sticking to an extremely tight travel budget on your trip to Colombia. Accommodation is not as pricey as places such as Chile or Brazil, but transport – for the quality – can be a real stinger. And remember, you’re here to enjoy yourself, have a lobster in Capurgana, eat out some nights, and enjoy the local cuisine. Why limit yourself to a diet of boiled eggs and be miserable?
- Be adventurous
Within reason. I am not telling you to hike off into the wilderness to contact an unknown indigenous tribe, nor I am suggesting that you should try and contact the guerrillas, but, check out places of interest, don’t shy away from adventurous travel plans. If you have to hump it up a mountain, catch a boat and then hire a mule, then that’s pure unadulterated travel.
- Do discuss politics and the Colombian situation but remain objective
Remember your surroundings as this is a highly politicized country. You are here as a guest and there’s no reason for you to push your own political agenda. Listen to Colombians and learn from them as they have lived the situation, have suffered due to the conflict and have a far greater understanding than we will ever be able to achieve.
- Stick to a time limit in cities
The historical and contemporary importance of cities in Colombia cannot be overstated, but, cities are cities and to really get out there and enjoy Colombian hospitality and experience the regions then you need to head out into the small towns and into the countryside.
- Don’t be deceived: Beauty and opulence often belies a rotting social infrastructure
Behind the facades of shopping malls, surgically enhanced plastic women and the shiny latest model cars lays an altogether different reality of IDPs, violence and clandestine industry. Just remember that when you are uptown Bogota, Medellin’s Poblado or somewhere else similar.
- However long you travel, you are only going to scratch the surface
You could spend months here in Colombia and not get to everywhere you want to. I have been here for going on 7 years as an expat resident and am still missing some really important destinations.
- Put away your Che Guevara Tees
Check out the reverse side of the $1000 peso bill and you’ll see Che Guevara and Fidel Castro there in the crowd listening to Gaitain speaking at a rally. I’ve said it before and I will repeat it continually, leave your politics at home.
- Book for more days than you Originally Envisage
Don’t rush Colombia, if you are thinking of coming for two weeks; better make time for four as you will never do the country justice in 14 days!