Top reasons why you shouldn’t believe the bad press about Colombia being dangerous

Posted: 28 Jun, 2019

You’ve just planned a trip to Colombia. It’s only weeks away and the excitement is building to epic proportions. You tell your family about it at dinner…  

“We’ll never see you again! You’ll get kidnapped!” exclaims Grandma as she clutches her pearl necklace in shock. 

“Why Colombia?” asks Dad, raising a bushy eyebrow in disapproval. “What if you’re forced to join a drug cartel?”

Sigh.

As over-the-top or comical as this scenario sounds, these first-world preconceptions are a lot more common than you may think. Despite stepping away from the shadow of its violent past, Colombia still gets a bad rap as a dangerous country that tourists should avoid.

Stories of kidnapping and shootings taking place in broad daylight have put off wary travelers in the past, but you’re missing out on an incredible adventure if you decide to take the bad press seriously. Here are some excellent reasons to ignore the naysayers. 

1. The government is making big strides in curbing crime 

While it may have been more like the Wild West during the 80s and 90s, the Colombian government has done an excellent job in bringing peace to the country. Police recently revealed that kidnappings had fallen by 92% since 2000 thanks to a peace deal struck with the main rebel group, seeing an end to 52 years of armed conflict.

Cities like Bogotá and Medellin are enjoying huge upsurges in tourism, with craft breweries, boutique hotels, clubs, and restaurants popping up everywhere. Like almost all countries around the world, petty crime still exists, but it’s easy to guard against. 

The locals have a saying in Spanish: “No dar papaya”, which colloquially translates to, “Don’t put yourself in a position where you can be taken advantage of.” Don’t leave your bag unattended or flash huge stacks of cash around in a busy street, for example.    

2. Hollywood exaggerates Colombia’s violent history 

Colombia’s violent, explosive history is the stuff that Hollywood script writers dream of, and popular movies and TV shows like Narcos, Blow, Loving Pablo and Paradise Lost (among many others) perpetuate the image of Colombia as a dangerous drug state. 

What we’re watching is a creative interpretation of what Colombia was like from the 60s to 90s, based on the drug wars between Pablo Escobar, US and guerrilla troops and the Colombian government. While you definitely won’t see any of this in modern-day Colombia, you can still open the door to Escobar’s home in Puerto Triunfo. 

It included his sprawling ranch house, motor museum, and even a zoo. The hippos from the zoo still wander around the area today. 

3. The locals are friendly and accommodating 

I was captured in Cartagena a few years ago – but not in the way you might think. I just never wanted to leave! Cartagena is a city that’s truly alive; you can feel its history pulsating through the brightly coloured colonial buildings and ancient fortresses which still stand today.  

I was taking a photo of Torre del Reloj, the clock tower and central archway leading into Old Town, when a random man called out, “Welcome to Cartagena! Enjoy your stay!”

This small, friendly interaction was the first of many. Colombians recognise and understand the importance of tourism, and while some will try to make a quick buck off you, they’re quicker to help you find your way in a new city, recommend delicious dishes, or just enjoy a good party with you. 

“Reflecting on the last month in Colombia I couldn’t believe how much I had fallen in love with it,” writes traveller Sarah Richard. 

“I’ve done seven countries in seven months and over 25 in my lifetime, and Colombia is right up there at number one! It was totally unexpected and emotionally captivating, kind of like a holiday romance. I will always love Colombia, and anyone who tells you it is dangerous has obviously never been.”

4. You would miss out on so many incredible adventures 

If you did decide to take the bad press to heart and stay away from Colombia, you’d miss out on a world of amazing experiences … 

You’d never get to walk through an underground salt cathedral 

Even if you’re not religious, the underground salt cathedral of Zipaquira invokes a sense of awe. It was hewn from the surrounding salt deposits and used mainly by miners after it opened in 1954. Today it’s one of Colombia’s top attractions and Catholic pilgrimage sites.

You’d miss out on one of the most gorgeous national parks in the world

Tayrona National Park lies near the northern tip of Colombia (a short trip from Cartagena), and is a picture-perfect representation of the Caribbean – swaying palm trees, turquoise lagoons and white sandy beaches, with a diverse range of wildlife living between its shores and the Sierra Nevada mountains guarding it from the south. 

You wouldn’t experience Cartagena’s vibrant Old Town

A trip to Colombia isn’t complete without visiting Cartagena and Old Town. Congested streets humming with people open up to grand plazas and tropical squares. Street vendors peddle everything from artwork, fruit, beer, hats and clothes, all played out to the upbeat tunes of the city’s buskers. It’s impossible not to get swept up in its energy.

You’d never taste the best coffee in the world

One stereotype about Colombia that you can believe wholeheartedly – the coffee here is liquid gold!  The country’s geography is perfect for growing beans that produce a rich, medium-bodied brew, famous around the world.

The list goes on…

There’s a reason Colombia has been the new darling of South American travel for years now. The locals are warm and accommodating, its history is captivating, and its sights are breathtaking.

Don’t let the negative things you see in the media or misguided first-world preconceptions influence your perceptions about Colombia. But don’t take my word for it – book a trip and find out for yourself. 

Written by: ticartagena
Photography by: ticartagena
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