The general perception of Colombia is one of fear with drugs, cartels, kidnappings and violence dominating general stereotypes. But times have changed. Colombia has one of South America’s most vibrant capitals in Bogotá, the beautiful coastal region of Cartagena, tropical island paradise Providencia and miles of spectacular jungle landscapes.
But still, there is a stigma attached to the country. It is thought that it is unsafe and unwelcoming for travellers, there is corruption and a genuine fear for one’s life – thankfully, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Colombia has worked hard on its reputation and now she is happily welcoming globetrotters from all four corners of the globe.
Colombia has had long-standing issues since the 1960s with various groups fighting in order to increase their territorial authority while cartels influenced different fractions of the conflict to maximise their operations. While there still are political tensions, like there is of course in the Basque region of Spain, time has been a good healer for Colombia.
Has the reputation put people off though? Travelling Times asked David Nichols, Product Manager of operator, Journey Latin America: ” Yes, and with good reason. I would say between the mid-90s and six or seven years ago; certainly around that time it was quite risky travelling to even the main cities in Colombia. Since then, the security situation has vastly improved – vastly due to negotiations between the government and the rebels. There has also been a lot of fighting going on – not much of which gets reported upon in the UK but away from the big cities in the jungles is where there has been fighting – these areas were always quite unsafe in the 80s and 90s when people were travelling quite widely in Colombia.
“Nowadays, if you stick to the main routes, in my opinion, it is no less safe than travelling to Peru, Brazil and Ecuador even. Because there are not many international tourists visiting Colombia compared to Peru for example, you tend not to have a big backpacker scene. Colombians are overwhelmingly welcoming, hospitable and highly educated people – they are very interested in outsiders. It is a surprisingly sophisticated country with very proud history and a long-running democracy, but always with a thorn in its side because of the drug trade and paramilitary or guerrilla activity.”
With direct flights from Heathrow via Avianca and multiple connection options through Spain, Portugal, France and the USA, accessibility into Colombia has never been better. And there’s plenty of variety on offer for the adventurous traveller.
“It has an incredible variety to offer,” adds David. “It has Caribbean beaches that rival those of any of the islands on a wild Caribbean coast. Coming down to those beaches, you have one of the highest mountain ranges in South America with the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta for example. Bogotá has improved leaps and bounds; its much safer than it used to be and the central colonial district, La Candelaria, has been spruced up with small boutique hotels opening. On a Sunday in the city, there are no cars so it is just cyclists and pedestrians as well as having a gold museum which is fantastic.
“In the coffee country, you can stay at a farm and go hiking in beautiful, lush, sub-tropical vegetation; there are colonial towns which are absolute treasures when it comes to the architecture and there are hardly any tourists. Even the smallest Colombian town is a jumble of whitewashed buildings, guys trotting through on their horses wearing ponchos – and you get to see a glimpse of Latin America which you don’t see in other countries nowadays.”
For more from David, play the interview below (please note interview is embedded in Flash so may not play on Apple devices).
For information on Journey Latin America’s Colombia programme and the rest of their South America and Central America operation, click here.