What comes to mind when you hear “Colombia?” For many people, it’s danger, Narcos, drugs, and a place they will never envision traveling to. I’d like to change that.
As tourists, we often see headlines like this, and that city or country will forever be ingrained in our minds as one that we’ll never visit. Although Colombia’s dark history mainly spanned the 1980s and 1990s, decades later the country still is trying to shed its bad reputation. Shows like Netflix’s Narcos aren’t helping.
However, since the early 2000s, the city of Medellin and the country of Colombia has done significant work to rebuild the trust of the people of Colombia. There are ongoing efforts to leave behind their dark history.
Is Columbia safe to travel?
When you search travel forums across the internet, you’ll find one of the most common questions when it comes to Colombia: “Is it safe?”
The truth is, statistically, the major cities of Colombia are safer than the United States. Yes, you read that correctly. Bogota’s crime rate is lower than Indianapolis, Indiana. However, just like anywhere, you need to use your common sense and be cautious and aware of your surroundings. When you travel outside of your country as a tourist, you are more vulnerable and therefore a target for petty crime. It doesn’t matter if you’re traveling in another first world country, or a place like Colombia. Be careful of your surroundings, don’t go out on quiet streets alone at night, be aware of your valuables, we all know the basic travel 101 safety tips. If you follow those, you’ll be completely fine while in Colombia.
If you’re still not convinced, note that kidnapping has dropped by 90% in the last 15 years and the country has great medical care, in fact, medical tourism is on the rise, because it’s been ranked better than the healthcare in Canada and the United States. The tap water is safe to drink, and it’s even boasted as a great place for family travel.
I personally felt just as safe in Colombia as I did in any other country I’ve visited. Medellin was one of the most beautiful, green cities I’ve visited. Yes, it has pockets that are more touristy and upper class, mixed with pockets of poor, lower-class citizens, but you have that back home too. In fact, Medellin was even named in 2013, The World’s Most Innovative City. I was blown away at everything the city was doing to bridge the gap between the different classes of people, and how eco-friendly and forward-thinking the city was with how it was transforming itself. It was hard to believe as I walked down the streets that once this place was a destination you wouldn’t even dare dream of going to.
In short... yes, it’s safe to travel Columbia.
But why visit Colombia?
I know there are skeptics out there that need convincing beyond just the stats. So, what is there to do and see in Colombia that makes it so great?
Columbia’s food & cocktail scene
I expected to head to Colombia and eat beans and rice for eight days. I had zero expectations of the food, since the only things I was recommended by people to try was a variety of fried foods you can get from street vendors (P.S. you also need to try all these).
However, there were SO many top rated restaurants across Colombia that blew my socks off. I’m usually a budget traveler, eating on a dime, but on this trip I spoiled myself because I couldn’t say no to all the amazing restaurants. On top of the Instagram-worthy food, the decor in many of the restaurants made me want to hire all of Colombia’s interior decorators to design my mansion when I win the lottery.
What also surprised me was the cocktail scene. In my experience, you can always find beer, average wine, and basic liquors on the menu. But in Columbia, almost every restaurant had a next level cocktail menu …I wasn’t complaining.
Some of my favourite restaurants were Alma in Cartagena, and Carmen in Medellin.
The diverse scenery
When traveling I love to go from hiking in the mountains, to sunbathing on a beach, and walking through a city, all in one trip. There is so much to see in Colombia:
Catch the amazing views of Guatape after hiking the 700 stairs up El Penon
See the river of five colours, Cano Cristales in Serrania de la Macarena National Park
Visit the beautiful Tayrona National Park near Santa Marta on the Caribbean Coast with beautiful beaches backed by a rainforest and snow capped mountains
Head to the Valley de Cocora, an endless valley great for hiking and horseback riding, with endless views of Colombia’s national tree, the wax palm
See the desert of La Guajira, home to the Wayuu indigenous tribe who live in the orange sandy environment next to the turquoise waters of the Caribbean
The gorgeous beaches of the Rosairo Islands, an archipelago located off the coast of Colombia and one of 46 Natural National Parks of Colombia.
… and the list goes on. There is seriously something for everyone here.
Learning about Columbia’s history
Colombia has very, very dark history. That’s no secret. Despite how terrifying this history may be, it’s also what has shaped the Columbia of today. Don’t turn to Narcos to learn Columbia’s history before visiting, rather, learn from locals while you are there. Learning about how Columbia has bounced back from what seemed to be a past that they could never escape, is part of what will make you fall in love with the country. You’ll notice the pride Colombians have of their culture and country, and what’s being done to make Colombia only appear in headlines for the good, and not the bad. Very few people are as resilient as the people you’ll find in Colombia!
I can’t say enough about Columbia - even though I only went for eight days it was a taste test that left me wanting the main course! I’ll definitely need to go back to explore more, and I want to continue to boast how amazing this country is because it deserves more recognition than it gets.