Colombia, until recently, held quite a taboo-esque notoriety due to their struggle with drug trafficking and crime. Only over the last few years, has Colombia been transformed into a country whose history is beginning to fall way to a newer, innovative, and industrialized nation. A lot of travelers are starting to see Colombia as a new backpackers paradise complete with low costs, beautiful terrain, and non-touristy places yet overcrowded by backpackers.
I visited Colombia with a Colombian friend, so got a different type of experience than I usually do when I travel . First, I got some first hand knowledge about what it was like to grow up in Colombia during the 80’s and witness some of the atrocities that happened during that time with a soaring murder rate, drug lords, and dangerous communities. Colombia during that time seems like a horrible experience for anyone.
Luckily, during my entire travel in Colombia, I never was compromised by theft or any sort of danger. I was however plagued by a parasite that made the entire trip mostly miserable due to not knowing what was causing the stomach issues. Since I was traveling with a native, I let my otherwise heightened guard of water and food down, and I allowed myself to drink water from bottles without seeing the bottle actually be opened in front of me. It’s hard to pin point where I would have gotten the parasite, but as an avid traveler of countries from around the world, this was the first time I had ever gotten this sick.
After reflecting upon my trip to Colombia, I must admit it will probably not be on my ‘To Return To’ list. South America has never had a huge lure to me for some reason, and back in 2005, I traveled to Brazil and Argentina. During these two trips, I found an unsafe feeling because of how many people were actively trying to protect me. I would take out my camera for a photo, and immediately I would be rushed by people saying, ‘Put your camera away, it’s not safe’. That along with a petty mugging that happened during a stroll along Copacabana’s beautiful wavy sidewalk, put me a bit on edge for traveling in South America. Argentina was better with this, however I still felt a little anxious. Several years later, in 2013, I visited Peru and had an amazing experience–safe, beautiful, delicious–Peru reignited an interest in learning more about South America due to its rich culture, delicious food, and genuinely great population.
Colombia to me was lacking in these key points that I enjoy in travel. Safety, beauty, and delicious. I wasn’t able to have my cell phone out because I would be scolded into hiding it in case someone would try to steal it. I wasn’t able to bring my camera to places that I felt would be grand photography ops because of it potentially being stolen either. The uber-vigiliance that was exerted by my hosts was a bit smothering, and made for a less than enjoyable experience feeling free to expose myself to the culture. There were some beautiful spots, but an overall impression of Bogota’s pollution and traffic, gray skies, colder weather coupled with Medellin’s poorer areas, downtown all contributed to a lasting impression of Colombia not being one of the most beautiful places to visit. I think the final thing lacking from my experience in Colombia is what Peru offered ten fold. Peru’s identity as an Incan culture hub was taken pridefully, and it permeated all aspects of the culture there in food, architecture, stories, and history. Colombia, I felt, didn’t have a clear identity since it had been robbed of so much during its history. Corruption all but crippled the country’s advancement, sadly, and it’s one of the only countries I’ve visited that did not have a rail system mobilizing its citizens. For this reason, I felt lucky to have hosts that were able to drive us to places, as I would have been quite immobile being a backpacker here. Colombia also didn’t seem to identify with a richer history, didn’t seem to have a clear precise culture, and unfortunately, I didn’t find the food to be anything I’d seek after leaving it.
I would like to recommend if you are visiting Colombia, to check out the following places should you find yourself there. I’ll rank them in order of my preference:
- Cartagena — While a bit dirty and no amazing beaches, the old city was beautifully colored and gave a glimpse into what I would imagine a cultural identity of Colombia to look like.
- Santa Marta — The main attraction here is the beautiful area of Taganga, coupled with the ability to go to Tayrona National Park for an amazing hike.
- Medellin — A city, but beautifully situated in a green valley with huge mountains. Medellin was ranked as 2013’s most innovative city, and as cities go, seemed like an enjoyable place to adventure about:
- Bogota — My least favorite place, Bogota’s traffic, pollution, and overall dirtiness contributed to never wanting to return to this city. While Montserrate was a beautiful lookout point on a mountain, overall ‘touring’ in Bogota was minimal as it’s an urban sprawl.
These impressions are simply my opinions and a result of my traveling the world and being able to compare my trips to others. If you plan on going to Colombia, like any adventure, I’m sure you will have a great time!
- Capital: BogotÃ¡
- Founded: 1819
- Continent: South America
- Language: Spanish
- Government: Republic