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Why Travel to Colombia?

Cartagena Skyline

Early Morning Cartagena Skyline

We are all aware that Colombia has a reputation of being a dangerous country. The country has been battered by drug cartels, guerrilla wars and public kidnappings i.e. Ingrid Betancur.

After spending traveling in Colombia for over a month, we now consider it one of our favorite Latin American countries. The country of Colombia has much to offer its foreign and national tourists.

Northern Colombia

Best Colombian Beaches

Playa Blanca on Bara Island

Cartagena is a beautiful colonial city with many open plazas adorned with flowers, cafes, high-end hotels and beautiful surrounding beaches, making it an amazing vacation spot.

Colombia Travel

Walking the Streets of Old City Cartagena, Colombia

Just 4 hours northwest of Cartagena is Tayrona Park.  This park is a gorgeous gem with pristine beaches and untouched forest that provides a great weekend getaway into a natural paradise.  This can be considered one of the most beautiful natural beaches in South America.

Colombia Travel

Tayrona National Park – Best Beaches in Colombia

The greatest trek in Colombia is a 5-day trek through the jungle to the “Lost City” or Ciudad Perdida.  Just an hour outside of Cartagena, Colombia you can visit Volcano Totumo and experience a volcanic mud bath.

Colombia Travel

Just an hour outside of Cartagena, Colombia – Volcano Totumo a volcanic mud bath

Central Colombia

Bogotá was once only a transportation hub for Colombia, but now travelers are staying for a few days to explore what the city has to offer.  Considered a world city and one of the most economically important cities in South America, Bogotá has turned it’s focus to tourism and is succeeding.

Colombia Travel

Bogota Colombia

Medellín is an impressively developed city with great architecture, a modern rail metro system, brand name shopping, paragliding and an exciting night life.  December is one of the best times to visit Medellin when they decorate both sides of Medellín River with thousand of colorful lights and designs for the holidays.  You can spend two days visiting the many libraries and museums, which are architecturally stunning. We took our recommendations from Dave Lee’s Medellin Travel Guide.

Colombia Travel

Medellin Metrocable

Southwest Colombia

Cali is the 3rd largest city in Colombia and home to some incredible restaurants and many nightclubs.  You must go out and salsa dance in what many consider the salsa capital of Colombia.

Colombia Travel

Manizales Colombia Skyline

Don’t miss the beautiful Coffee Region.  The natural landscapes make you forget you’re in the scary Colombia you’ve heard and read about.  Some of the best coffee in the world is grown in this region and the production occurs in Manizales.

Colombia Travel

Wax Palms of Valle de Cocora near Salento, Colombia

Sit down at a Juan Valdez Cafe and you will think you are in a Starbucks.  We visited Salento, home of the tallest palm trees in the world.

Colombia Travel

Tanganga Fishing Village in Colombia

Traveling Colombia we were able to experience many wonderful places and there is so much more that we didn’t have a chance to see.

Colombia Travel

El Cabo Beach in Tayrona National Park Colombia

Despite all this, Colombia doesn’t come so easy.  We had experiences in Colombia that we did not elsewhere.  Here’s a list of what else to expect when traveling through this beautiful country.

1. Frequent security check points

When taking a bus from city to city you will arrive at various security check points where passengers must disembark the bus to be checked. Men and women get separated. Women get their bags searched and men get a full body frisk. At one particular security check point everyone in the bus had their face filmed. We were told that there have been cases where people ride the bus acting as passengers and then attempt to hijack the bus. Therefore, as a security measure, they video tape everyone on the bus, and in case something like this happens again they can identify the perpetrators.

2. Public demonstrations

Colombia is currently going through a transformation period. There seems to be various different laws being put in place and the local people are voicing their opinions regarding these changes. For a traveler, witnessing a demonstration can be intimidating. In our case, we witnessed two. In Medellin they were protesting the increased control of street vendors. In Cali protesters were against the consolidation of bus routes, which would eliminate private bus companies. Aracely and I curiously watched as tear gas and smoke bombs were used against the Colombia protesters and us. Click the link to watch the crazy video.

3. Colombia Cocaine

We were offered cocaine by random people on the street very often. We also experienced two of our dorm mates snorting cocaine in our hostel dorm room right in front of us. Every night in the hostels you could hear other travelers planning their cocaine purchases.  A local explained to us that the authorities tend to look away when tourists are engaging in drugs or prostitution.  Sadly, actions like this feed the Colombian stereotypes.

Colombia Travel

Border Crossing: Ecuador to Colombia via Ipiales

Lonely Planet listed Colombia as a top 10 destination for 2010.  NY Times recently touted Colombia, as well as CNBC and National Geographic.  Crime rates are being compared to large cities in America.  It’s time we ventured out and explored the vastly unknown Colombia!

Click here to see more PHOTOS from Colombia.

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Sander says:

If you have 4 weeks to travel in Colombia and visit Bogota, Cali, Medellin and Cartagena. What are your experiences in way of transport in Colombia if you travel from city to city? Bus or Airplane.

Bus to stay cheap. It all depends on your budget.

Ali says:

These are some great travel tips. I would love to visit Colombia some day! Thanks for the info :)

Melissa says:

Great overview post for people thinking of coming to Colombia! Quick and to the point, which is hard to do because there is so much to see here. I love Colombia so much I never left! For anyone looking for travel assistance I’d be happy to help :)

I’ve always been interested in visiting Colombia. A buddy of mine I met at university was from Cartegena. I was looking forward to going down there about 11 years ago or so to get into the Spanish language thingy. But he told me his bro was kidnapped…all worked out well though.
Now I’m in Africa. lol!

Great post! I have always been a little bit apprehensive about visiting Colombia but posts like this have made me feel better about it.

Jason says:

There are so many travel bloggers in Colombia. When you are close to going hit up Dave from @rtwdave. He has lived in Medellin on and off for the last few years.

Trevor Allaby says:

Hello, I myself traveled to Colombia recently. I was 17 at the time and backpacking alone. I found the locals to be immensly friendly. I was welcomed into homes and treated like family. Drugs are still a large part of Colombian culture but I wouldn’t blame them. I learned that after the Americans declared a war on drugs, they sent airplanes filled with herbicides into the jungle. They killed all sorts of vegetation. Coca grows and sprouts so fast that locals grew it inorder to provide for their families. Coca is an intricate part of the Tayrona’s livelihoods and culture. In it’s unprocessed form it is live using tylenol 3’s. I myself have never used drugs but was offered them often. At least in Colombia they take no as no and do not try to resort to peer pressure. Beautiful people and country. One of my favorites. Happy Trails,
Trevor

Jason says:

One of our favorite countries too. Thanks for sharing your experiences Trevor.

Great article…the good, and the ‘what to look out for.’
I head to Colombia in 2 weeks and am so excited. I’ve heard from so many that it’s their fav country in Latin America.
LL

Jason says:

Colombia was definitely one of our favorites. The cities are incredible, our favorite being Medellin and so are the beaches. I hope you have a wonderful time!

clemencia mcdonald says:

PORQUE COLOMBIA ES MUY HERMOSO PAIS ME GUSTA CARTAGENA MEDELLIN BOGOTA Y SANJOSE DEL GUAVIARE MIS ANCESTROS PERTENESCO A UNA TRIBU INDIGENA

Adam says:

Great article. I absolutely LOVE Colombia, and it was actually our favorite country during our year long RTW trip. The thing that made it tops for us was the people. They were always so warm, friendly, and most importantly, happy. Their smiles and happiness were infectious, and our four weeks there were simply not enough. It’s definitely tops on our list of places to go back to.

As far as the drug aspects of the country, obviously it was around, but when going out to bars in my own midwestern, US city and being there late night, there is plenty of nefarious activity going on. I’ve walked into plenty of people doing lines in the bathroom of local bars.

Unfortunately for Colombia, they have such a reputation, and even more unfortunately, if it wasn’t for tourists and western countries rampant drug use, there would be no market for the cocaine they produce. The vast majority of the cocaine produced in Colombia goes to the US or Europe for white, western people to consume. And can you really blame some of these dirt poor people for trying to capitalize and get out of poverty? I know it’s hard for me to do so.

No matter what, Colombia gets a bad rap from some people, and it’s always from people who have never been there and believe the doom and gloom of the media. In our six months in S. America, literally EVERYONE we encountered who had traveled around S. America and been to Colombia rated it as one of, if not THE, favorite country. We were no different.

Sandra Bermudez says:

Adam,
Great comment about Colombia. I was born and raised in Colombia and then moved to NYC 20 years ago. I try to go as often as I can because I still miss the food, sceneries and most its people. I am so glad to see that many people are traveling to Colombia and they are finding out what a beautiful country it is. Hope you go back soon!!!

Couldn’t agree more with everything you said here, great comment…especially about the fact that it is foreign visitors to Colombia who are consuming drugs and they are the reason that the production of drugs in Colombia continues…demand creates the offer.

It’s very ironic how people from the US and other western countries say Colombia is dangerous when it is because of the demand from the US and Europe that started the production and subsequent war on drugs.

Why do you think you (the post authors) were offered drugs in Colombia? Because you were foreign there. You were the stereotypical client. Would I be right in assuming your hostel dorm-mates were also foreign? Most Colombians have never, and will never do drugs and most have never been offered drugs in their entire lifetime of living there.

To be called a drug dealer is bad enough, and yes often Colombians are called this by ignorant people but to be a consumer is the lowest of the low….and unfortunately many people in the US and Europe are.

Anyway great to see more positive promotion of a great and beautiful country. I visited many of these places also on my trip there and loved them!

Liliana says:

Wow…I´m very happy you even traveled to Colombia…being colombian and being raised in the States I´ve grown up being called drug dealer…etc ….. as many colombians often are but we defend the country and its people because we are truly proud of being colombian regardless of its reputation….Thank you for sharing your experience….

Brendan says:

Great article, although I have not see the coke snorting you refer too. More of that in bars and clubs in London!
I loved Colombia so much I stayed and opened my own tour operator with two other British lads who fell in love and stayed too. Spread the word, its a fantastic country to visit and also to live. Viva Colombia!

I’m a Colombian and the info here is good, though it could be more accurate. To tell you the truth, I have always thought that the stereotypes concerning Colombians have been extremely exaggerated and influenced by politics. I’ve lived here all my life, but I’ve also travelled through the rest of Latin America and it’s pretty much the same.

Here are some pics of Colombia, taken from the inside.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/juanfervalencia/
.-= Juan Valencia´s last blog ..Beautiful Manizales =-.

I’m not much of a coffee drinker, but when you’re in Colombia you gotta try it right? Didn’t cocoa beans used to have a higher value there than gold? If so it must be some pretty good coffee ;)!

Jason says:

Another one of our readers had mentioned it in a comment that the high grade coffee is sent overseas where it can be sold for more money. This is the case with most countries in Latin America. Although, we did enjoy sitting at Juan Valdez, an exact replication of Starbucks with what I considered, good coffee. There are many coffee tours in the Coffee Region where you can test all different kinds of coffee, including the good stuff!

Laura Scott says:

Thanks for this report! I am curious as to how safe you feel a single woman would be there? I have been to Peru and Argentina with no problems. Is it comparable?

Aracely says:

Laura, I felt save in Colombia but I’m usually always with Jason and rarely walk around alone. I don’t have the same experience as a woman traveler. But looking at the general infrastructure of bus stations and police, I think it is comparable to Peru. I saw women traveling alone as well. We haven’t been to Argentina yet so I can’t comment. I hope that helps.

Laura Scott says:

Thank you for your info and response! Safe travels!

Aracely says:

Brian, you are right, we could have spoke up and asked to change rooms that night. But to be honest I’m not sure we would’ve been heard. The hostel staff were also blasting music at 4am so we are not so sure how that would’ve worked out. We did however leave that hostel the next morning.

Catia says:

Thanks for writing about this, Columbia is on my list of possible destinations on my RTW. If I decide to go I’ll point worried family members here to help give some peace of mind.
.-= Catia´s last blog ..Monarch Butterfly Reserve, Santuario Sierra Chincua, Mexico =-.

Aracely says:

Catia, when you get on the road you are very likely to meet people that have been to Colombia, they will convince you to go. Jason and I were initially planning not to go to Colombia but heard such great things about it we decided to go and as you know are so glad we did.

Federico says:

Oops, apparently it never got through. Anyhow, totally agree with you. I have just arrived to Mexico after spending about the same time as you in Colombia and have left with the same feeling of satisfaction. The country is safe despite those randow road checks and the people are very friendly. I did not see anything drug related, but then I always slept in pensiones or hostales, not hostels, thus had rooms for myself at very good rates. Cartagena with Playa blanca, Salento, Bogota or Popoyan with Silvia in the South are destinations not to be missed. I had been wainting to go to Colombia for years, and having finally made it I now am sure I will be back (will post in my blog soon). And hopefully have a better time when I visit Venezuela than what i have had now.

Happy travels,

Federico
http://www.maitravelsite.com

Aracely says:

Federico, thanks for the information on Mexico. In the beginning of our trip we actually weren’t planning to go to Colombia and because we heard such great things from other travelers about we decided to go. It’s nice to hear the same about Mexico and I am sure one day we will make it out there as well.

Dave says:

So glad you had the chance to check out Colombia on your trip. I did run into a few coke users, but once I started renting a room in an apartment, I was able to distance myself from that activity.

Andre says:

I spent a couple of weeks in Colombia and it is hard ot compare to other countries. There is so much diversity and the best of colombi has to be its people.
as far as drug use I did not think it was more available than other latin countries like mexico, ecuador, panama or peru. Also if you are in a more touristy city then you are more likely to have people offering drugs.

I found myself feeling safer in Colombia than Peru and Mexico City. I traveled much in the countryside. loved those little towns that have so much culture especially in the coffee region. Guerillas and Paramilitaries supposevely are still around but they are not interested in travelers. they know who they are going after and not some random traveler. I know this from reading about colombia much.

Aracely says:

Andre, I agree, the people of Colombia are amazing. We made great friends there and hope to one day go back and visit them.

With regards to the availability of drugs, I my opinion, everyone has a different experience everywhere. Jason and I definitely experience much more drug offerings in Colombia than anywhere else. Thank you for sharing your experience with our audience. It is important to get different perspectives on our site.

And I agree with you that small towns feel safer than the big cities this was specially true for us in Central America where we mostly visited small towns and rarely stayed in a big city for very long (with the exception of Panama City, which we loved.)

Aracely says:

@Stephen, Davestraves & Aly Thanks for you comments! Helps drive the message home about Colombia.

Colombia certainly looks gorgeous (nice photos). I’ve been wondering for some time how much of the horrible reputation is true anymore, looks like things are getting much much better.

The jungles probably still have their real safety issues though (there are still the FARC etc), but the cities sound safer. Maybe like Mexico City was a decade ago (i.e. still sketchy, but no guarantee you’d be robbed).
.-= Jack – eyeflare travel´s last blog ..Basilica di San Francesco, Assisi =-.

Alex says:

An amazing country. I stayed and am opening a hostel in Bogotá with plans for more in the future. Feel free to contact me for Colombia-Bogotá info @HomeHostels

Aly says:

We absolutely loved Colombia! Spent 3 months along the coast and in Cartagena, a don’t miss city! Cheers
.-= Aly´s last blog ..You’ve Been Traveling Around, Now What? =-.

Davestraves says:

Great post. I love Colombia. Its one of those hidden gems that many people pass by. follow me on twitter @davestravels

Stephen says:

Awesome post. Colombia is hot topic right now. It made GoMad Nomad’s Top Destinations for 2010 as well: http://gomadnomad.com/2010/01/29/top-travel-destinations-for-2010/

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