Having had such a tumultuous history in the 80's and the 90's due to violence arising from drug and revolutionary political groups, it is no secret that Colombia earned itself a reputation as being one of the more dangerous places in the world. However, the country has since renovated itself on all fronts, almost miraculously fast, to where it is today considered one of the safest, most modern, and breathtaking destinations in South America.
My name is Connie, and I'm a junior travel consultant at Latin Excursions. Recently I had the opportunity to travel throughout Colombia for 2.5 months (not to say that I wasn't tempted to stay until the very last day permitted on my 3-month tourist visa!). Here, I'll address some concerns that might be running through your mind while considering your Colombia vacation.
What is the FARC and terrorism situation like today, and should I be worried?
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia People's Army, known as FARC, is a guerrilla group that has been promoting agrarianism and socialist rule in Colombia. They have been active since the early 80's stretching into the 21st century. However, with the death of the FARC commander Mono Jojoy in 2010, who was regarded as the organization's leading instigator and symbol of terror, the safety situation in Colombia has turned around entirely. In fact, in mid-2012, FARC leaders, and Colombian government officials met and engaged in peace talks that have slowly but surely making headway into hopefully nothing but brightness in the country's future.
Today, even those Colombians who lived through the decades of FARC proudly consider their country to be as safe as any other in South America. Where one girl's father once dared not walk the short distance between the nearby town and his coffee finca plantation, today she strolls with her two young sons admiring the countryside mountainscapes. As well, the more rural parts of southern Colombia were once the stronghold zones for the guerrilla group. These days, destinations such as the colonial "white city" of Popayan and the archeological parks of San Agustin are among the most popular in the country by both nationals and international visitors alike. If you're visiting principle destinations such as Bogota, Medellin, and the Caribbean coast including Cartagena, you do not need to worry more than any other large city anywhere. The national government has invested millions of dollars in tourism and security, providing travelers with nothing to fear on its police- and military-patrolled streets besides maybe a sunburn and indecisiveness over the countless things to see and do.
However, there are still some areas considered unready for tourism. The Amazon region, Choco state on the Pacific coast, the large eastern Llanos state with its plains ultimately stretching until the Amazon, and rural areas just above the Ecuadorian border should be approached with caution.
What about the cocaine drug cartels?
When Colombia is mentioned, perhaps no two themes pop up faster than cocaine and Pablo Escobar. Indeed, both came to power in Colombia in the 80's and ultimately left their unforgettable legacy for the country to clean up after. Pablo Escobar, to this day, one of the world's most notorious drug chiefs in history, led the Medellin cartel to international success at the expense of countless deaths of those involved in the cocaine trade. Unfortunately, there were also countless innocent victims. Battling his rival, the Cali cartel based in Colombia's southern, third largest city, Escobar, unfortunately, made the country synonymous with drugs and criminal gang lawlessness.
Escobar was ultimately shot and killed on December 2, 1993 at the age of 43, a death that almost instantly crippled the Colombian cocaine trade. In the two decades since, the government has made it a priority never to allow drugs or gangs to rule the country again. Medellin, Cali, and Bogota are now regarded as showcase cities for internationals, attracting unprecedented numbers of foreign investors, innovators, and of course travelers. In fact, Medellin has recently been known as the rising technology capital in South America, exemplified not least by its modern public metro system and numerous startup companies.
While gang violence can still be found, as in any large city around the world, it is mostly confined to the impoverished neighborhoods. As basic travel sense dictates, it is not recommended to visit these areas in any case.
Understanding the state of modern Colombia, I had not a single hitch in my almost three months in the breathtaking country. Instead of a tense atmosphere, I was met with some of the most genuinely welcoming and hospitable individuals I have ever met, both while in the city and in the countryside. I wish I could have put the Colombians' honesty, sincerity, and amicability on a postcard to be shared. Not to mention, an exponentially growing number of Colombians speak English, and they are more than patient enough to listen and help if you speak even a word or two in Spanish. This country is not forgetting but instead, quickly moving on past its painful recent history; it would be a shame not to see it now during its rise back into the positive international spotlight!
Can't wait to discover one of South America's most enchanting countries for yourself? Contact Latin Excursions today to speak with one of our expert travel consultants who can help create your personalized holiday based on first-hand experience!
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