Why would you go there?
Isn’t it dangerous?
You’ll be killed!
These were the common responses I received when I informed the friendly folks who seem to care about me that I would be remaining in Colombia for an extended stay. I have been here for several months now and I would like to clear up a few things about this country that is entirely lovely but stuck with a terrible stigma.
Most all of the bad things people say about Colombia were true, but are no longer major problems. Yes, in the 80s the murder capital of the world was in Colombia. There were political murders, kidnappings, cop killings, drug induced robberies and of course major problems with the drug trade which funded most of these problems. Rampant government corruption did not help the situation either. The problems persisted mostly until the early 2000s. Since then things have been improving rapidly. In fact, the first week I arrived in Colombia a new peace was announced between the government and the ILM, Colombia’s most troublesome guerrilla group. There is still plenty to work through, but progress is being made each day.
Now that you know that most of what you knew about Colombia is in fact history, let me enlighten you to the better and current state of this country.
The nature is AMAZING. From Caribbean beaches to massive mountains in the Andes to part of the headwaters of the Amazon, the terrain is beautiful. Tayrona is a national park and is protected for good reason, it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.
The cities are all diverse and each have something to offer. There is Salsa in Cali (which I do not understand how to dance to and probably never will), art in Medellin, big name live bands in Bogota, amazing nature around Santa Marta, the friendliest people you have ever met in Pasto, the list goes on and on. No matter what you are looking for, you can find it in Colombia. I imagine Colombia will become a booming tourist destination soon once everyone figures out that the dangerous past is now behind us, hurry up and beat the rush!
Colombia is progressive. Spending on education just surpassed the spending on national defense! They are investing in the future heavily and are striving to continue their rapid progress and improvement. In fact the program in which I am volunteering is sponsored by the Ministry of Education. Their goal is to make Colombia a bilingual country to open new economic opportunities and other doors for their citizens. In fact there are about 750 fellows volunteering down here and there are more on the way!
Colombians are some of the nicest people you have ever met. After such a turbulent past, one might expect people in Colombia to be fearful and closed-off. They are actually quite the opposite. They are eager to change the negative image Colombians have in the popular world view. From day one I have been welcomed and folks have gone out of their way to help me get settled into my new home. Colombians also get excited about little things, it is very refreshing. When Colombia won one gold medal in the Olympics for the triple jump, the whole country went wild. Each soccer game is basically a holiday here and they have many other actual holidays that they celebrate together with their friends and family. In fact I have only worked a few 5 day weeks here, there is always a holiday to celebrate!
Things are quite nice down here in South America, although technically considered the Third World someone in the right area of Bogota could easily confuse it for a European or American city. With nice roads, sidewalks, fancy shops, 5 star restaurants and every comfort of home imaginable. Well almost every comfort, I am still searching for a good burrito in this country… The public transportation in Medellin even involves a gondola.
I could go on and on, but it is all beating a dead horse. Colombia has changed, and is changing, for the better. Don’t believe all the rotten things you’ve heard, experience it for yourself so you can form a proper opinion of one of my favorite countries. As always I would like to encourage you to travel and broaden your perspective, but in the very least I hope I have opened your eyes to part of the real Colombia.