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coming over, but use it as just that, a guide…it’s not a bible, it’s not a lifestyle and the moment it’s in print it’s out of date.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!
I really love Colombia, the unique problem is that sometimes is very difficult find a good bus route, but recently I find a good place to see the bus and company bus, if you're travel through Colombia try with http://andestransit.com/
All good stuff. I always enjoy every minute of my travels to Colombia. Business and city traffic is an entirely different animal. But the scenery and the spirit of the people can't be beat anywhere on this planet.
Good timing for this article, my lady and I will be arriving on the 1st of the year. Hopefully passing through Mompox as well, maybe we'll run into you. Thank you for the advice!
Matt, please come on through Mompos if you can, a place which has nothing and everything at the same time. Enjoy Colombia.
Sound advice Richard. I lived in Colombia for a year as a Language Assistant with the British Council, and even spent a very enjoyable couple of days at the Casa Amarilla. Being based in Ibague I'd like to think I scratched the surface a little more than your average backpacker, as it was well off the tourist trail, and I made some good Colombian friends during my time there. Tourism in Colombia has got to be a good thing for the country, and it is indeed a wonderful place to travel but I really think you've hit the nail on the head here encouraging people to read up on the current situation a little bit before arriving and to visit more than just the backpacker hotspots. I loved travelling through the country and met lots of travellers doing the same. I found those intent on spending the entire time in the country in hostels in El Poblado consuming large quantities of cocaine a little bit sad. In addition to the damage this does to Colombian society I couldn't help but feel that they had completely missed the point of visiting the country in the first place. If all you want to do is sit around and snort coke, why waste your money on the air fare?
Alec, I recall your visit to the Casa Amarilla, thank you for commenting! Your points are all too true and your final sentence is strikingly poignant.
Very disappointing to see Che and Fidel on Colombian money. But somehow it is kind of fitting for them too.
yes, I was only shown this recently!
I'm from Colombia I highly recommend a lot of places there, we have a tons of awesome natural parks: traditional cities, breathtaking landscapes, good restaurants, only select the place that you want to visit, if you have to find a nice route bus or a comfortable company, go to http://andestransit.com/ and use its search engine.
Thank you Marcela, there's too much to see in Colombia!
Colombia's really amazing place to travel, but some times it's much better traveling by air as everyone knows there are some dangerous zones or just the roads are not very good to travel by car, but i found a good and cheap airline to travel in Colombia http://www.viva-colombia.co
In this great design of things you’ll receive an A just for effort. Where you actually confused us was in your facts. You know, they say, details make or break the argument.. And it couldn’t be more accurate here. Having said that, let me reveal to you just what exactly did deliver the results. The writing can be pretty persuasive and that is possibly the reason why I am taking the effort to comment. I do not make it a regular habit of doing that. Second, although I can easily notice the jumps in logic you make, I am definitely not convinced of just how you appear to connect your ideas that produce the actual conclusion. For right now I will subscribe to your position however wish in the near future you actually connect your dots much better.