Should you travel to Colombia? The good and the bad of a latin gem
If you have never been to Colombia or South America, the only thing that will come to mind is drugs, Pablo Escobar, salsa and maybe coffee. That's the truth, and I know it because everytime I tell someone in Europe or Asia about the years I lived in Colombia, they start acting weird and asking about weed and cocaine. If I try to explain to them that travelling there is worth it, they immediately change the topic or say things like "I don´t want to get killed". So, this blog will be about the good and the bad things I experienced during my ten years living in Cali, and some tipps I want to give you if you ever make it there.
There are basically two things that sum up my opinion about this country: first, this is the most breautiful country I have ever visited, and second, this is also the country where I have felt the most unsafe. So if you are asking yourself if you should take the risk and travel there, my short answer is definetly yes. But...only after reading this blog and knowing what you're getting yourself into.
Colombia does have a history of drug wars and cartels, and to be honest, drugs are still very present today. Almost everyone I know smokes weed, but honestly, this is exactly the same in Germany or other countries, only that in Colombia it's much cheaper. It is illegal, but, well, you can't ban drugs in a country with a drug history, right? It's not that easy. Talking about Escobar in Colombia isn't really a tabu, but you will face different opinions about it. You can find the taxi driver that is proud of all those dark times, or the law student that would like to kick you out of the country if you even mention it. One thing that really sticks from those times is the insecurity. The government has been struggeling since forever with crime in cities. The risk of getting robbend or assaulted are high and you shouldn't walk around at night. To get an idea, in ten years, I got robbed by armed guys on bikes three times, and was approached by gang members twice, almost getting killed for nothing, once in Cali and once in the port of Buenaventura. And I'm one of those that's really careful. But this doesn't happen in smaller towns, touristic places or most of the beaches and islands. These parts of the country stay relatively safe and there is where you really want to go. I will add some tipps at the end, so you can stay safer on your trip.
Colombians are very welcoming, friendly and have a dancing spirit. You will notice it every day. People always try to help you on the street if you're looking for directions or don't speak the language, which is great while traveling. If you are a social person, you will enjoy life in the cities, learn to dance some salsa and just have fun with locals. But there are some things that I really hated, maybe it's just because I stayed for too long. People can't say no. And don't get me wrong, the word no in spanish exists and it's "no", but people just don't use it. Everyone prefers to smile, be nice and say yes, and after just find stupid excuses. They also have no respect for your time. People come late constantly and it's normal for you to wait for an hour for someone. Maybe you will get used to it after a while, but I couldn't in ten years. Something that also has a great impact on how people behave, is that most cities in Colombia have divided social classes in levels 1 to 6. 1 is the lowest level of housing and income, and 6 is the highest. This really gets to people, I remember lots of times someone asking in which social class I was living. Where you live and what you own is important here, same as your appearence. Something you will see a lot is plastic surgeries, and not only in women.
My colombian readers should be thinking, this guy is an a***hole, just writing all the bad things. Don't worry, here it comes. As I said before, Colombia is a wonderful country. Landscapes, culture and food are just amazing. You have the greatest variety of species in the most exotic environments here. To get an idea, you can travel to the far south and enjoy the Amazon, surrounded by the stunning jungle and everything it houses. If you go to the far north, you will find the Guajira desert just by the sea, offering the most amazing views of your life. Colombia also has the greatest beaches in the west in Chocó, the beautiful island of San Andrés, tons of waterfalls, volcanos topped with ice, giant mountain chains and small towns to fall in love with. This country has everything you ever wanted, and it is really cheap to travel too.
Food in Colombia is one of my all time favorites. Everytime you get close to the ocean, you will be able to enjoy a perfectly cooked coconut rice with grilled fish. If you get closer to the center, you will find something called "bandeja paisa", which is a dish with almost everything you like on it, based on rice and beans. Near the jungle you will get many exotic fruits you never heard of before, and different types of goods cooked in platai leafs, liberating an amazing smell. Rice is something you won't be able to get away from, but Colombians also love their "sancocho" which is like a chicken broth with more stuff in it, and their coffee, which they say is the best in the world.
As you see, Colombia is so much more than just drugs and salsa. I promise that you will enjoy every second of the trip, and if you're careful, you will even make it out alive. Just kidding, your life is not in danger (...or is it?). Here are the places I enjoyed the most in Colombia, with photos so you can fall in love before you decide to go:
1. The Guajira desert, stunning views, beaches and lots of sunsets.
2. The Tatacoa desert, much smaller but an amazing place to camp. You can see the stars here like you were floating in space.
3. Puracé, here you will find a volcano to climb, condors and icelandic landscapes with lots of colors and hot springs.
4. Chocó (Capurganá and Bahía Solano), for the most beautiful beaches next to the jungle.
5. Parque de los Nevados, to climb all those icy volcanos and mountains.
6. Eje Cafetero, to visit charming towns in the middle of a palm valley.
And there is just so much more to see. You should definetly make it to the Amazon (Leticia), San Andrés island and Providencia, the pacific coast, the cold south (Nariño), el Cocuy, the city of Cartagena and so many beautiful small towns all around the country (Filandia, Salento, Villa de Leyva, Barichara, Jericó, Salamina, Silvia and so many more). I would recommend around 5-6 weeks if you really want to see and enjo everything. A budget of 800-1000$ could be more than enough, if you are not a heavy drinker.
So let's come to my tipps for staying safe during your trip:
- try to avoid taxis or walking, and prefer taking an uber. It's cheap and safe.
- avoid ATM's next to the highway, prefer the ones in shopping malls.
- if you have to walk, hide your belongings.
- if you get robbed, just hand over everything and they will leave. Refusing or arguing could just end up in you getting hurt or even killed. Lots of criminals are on drugs and don't care about the consecuences.
- if you go out to party, try to always go with friends or locals.
- always inform yourself about current situations before taking night busses to the next town or city.
- just take all usual precautions, watch your belongings at all time and don't take unnecessary risks.
Anyway, if you take these precautions you will probably be fine, and believe me, a roadtrip through this country might be the best thing you will ever do.
Don't forget to check my instagram @robwandering for more photos, and I hope you stay safe during these times.