Colombia is Latin America’s third most populated country after Brazil and Mexico. However, its past has been dogged by guerilla wars, narcotrafficking and elements of political corruption that, in a number of ways, tarnished the thought of travelling around Colombia for many people.
Since 2002 the government has been gradually wiping out the guerrilla organisations and finally, in 2016, a peace treaty was signed between the government and the biggest guerrilla group, FARC.
To this day, parts of the peace treaty are not agreed upon by all Colombians (in October 2016, the vote on the matter failed) but one thing all of the population agrees on is this: the country is done with its bloody past and wants a peaceful future.
The country is continually being discovered by domestic as well as foreign tourists, which is why it is not accidental that Lonely Planet, Forbes and CNN all published lengthy recommendations and guides about the country in 2017.
All types of tourists (luxury, backpacker, business, family, solo) can enjoy what Colombia has to offer:
Amazing popular beaches at the Caribbean (Cartagena, Santa Marta -close to Santa Marta the Tayrona National Park-, La Guajira, Capurganá, San Andrés and Provence, San Bernardo Islands, Rosario Islands, etc.)
Calm, hidden beaches and jungles at the Pacific Coast (Chocó, Nuquí, Isla Gorgona, etc). Throughout the year we have chance to see whales here.
The Andes – not just for professional hikers – PNN El Cocuy, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Nevado de Tolima, etc.)
Vibrant big cities like Cali, Medellín, Bogotá – bars and parties, gastronomy, culture
The Amazonas – nature, jungle, wildlife.
Nature around the big cities – hiking tours, waterfalls, flora and fauna, tropical fruits, birdwatching
It is a big advantage of the country that the air transportation is well developed and cheap: there are 2 low-cost airlines with headquarters in Bogotá and the bigger airlines also have continuous promotions going on so you can fly pretty cheap within Colombia and relatively cheap in the region as well compared to other parts of Latin America (to Mexico, Cuba, Peru, Ecuador, Aruba and Panama).
Colombia isn’t one of the most popular tourist destinations so far because most people think of 2 things when they think of Colombia: the bloody crimes and the drugs. 20 years ago this might have been true, maybe even 15 years ago. But in the last 10 years, drastic changes have started to come about and even though we’re not talking about European level security, if you accept “the rules” you will enjoy yourself immensely and will be able to travel around without having to be particularly brave.
What rules am I talking about? (Commonsense):
leave your expensive, flashy jewellery and watches at home
don’t carry a lot of cash on you
don’t go into certain parts of town (this is also true for European big cities, there are districts where you don’t usually go – it’s the same here, with the slight difference that there are proportionally more of these districts than in Europe or the US)
It also feels nice that just because you’re a tourist, locals usually don’t try to scam you. In reality, Colombians are rather happy to help out any foreigner, be it a street vendor, police officer or banker that you ask for help - although a basic understanding of Spanish will be a bonus here!
Zones in Colombia (“Estratos”)
In Colombia, they grade zones from 1 to 6 (“estratos”), which are officially approved by the government (social-economic zones). 1 counts as the worst, 6 counts as the best. So what does it all mean? People pay their utility bills based on which zone they live in. There are huge differences – they are multiplied between the number 1 and 6 zones. People living in zones 1, 2 and 3 receive free/cheaper public education, get discounts for public transport and also receive free social security (don’t think of high quality health care though). It’s not uncommon in Latin America that right next to an estrato 1, there is an estrato 6. The price of real estate also changes according to which zone it’s in.
Colombia is cheaper than its “rivals” in the region and offers almost everything that a country can offer. This is why Colombia has a real chance to become one of the top touristic destination in the region (and also because of the really friendly Colombian people).
Words by Peter Popal Photography by Peter Popal Website: yourcolombia.com Instagram: @yourcolombia