Forget what you’ve heard on tv and open your eyes: this will be my one and only advice if you ever thought about going on a trip to Colombia. How many times have you heard good things about the country? I bet not as much as you’ve heard “narco-trafficking is everywhere” or “you’re gonna get kidnapped, are you out of your mind?!” and of course the famous “don’t you remember it’s Pablo Escobar’s land?”. What people tend to forget, if they have ever tried to get curious about the country -well yes, there is life and often truth outside the medias- is that Colombia is a beautiful country with just about every kind of landscape you can dream of, with a history and a culture you probably never heard of during high-school (unless you had a Colombian teacher): Tayrona people anyone? The Ciudad Perdida, Barranquilla carnival, the history of the Plaza Chorro de Quevedo in Bogotá, does any of this ring a bell to you?
If it doesn’t, then put your best walking shoes on, grab your camera and go out. In 2011, 62,2% of the people who came to Colombia went there for tourism with 54,5% who chose to travel to Bogotá (9,6% decided to try the wonderful arepas in Medellin; 6,9% went to move their hips in Cali and 11,2% prefered get a tan in Cartagena de Indias). Tourism is getting stronger and I honestly don’t know how can one get tired in a country so welcoming and full of, well, yeah: everything.
Can we please talk about the safety now? Well here’s a quick Q & A: would you go out -even in your own country- with your smart phone/wallet/Ipad in your hands at night while heading home? Would you let your bag without keeping an eye on it at a shopping mall while talking to a friend? Of course not. Would you go to unknown or sketchy places without having checked with locals first or called a friend to come with you? No. So why on Earth would you do that when travelling abroad? Colombia is no different from any other country for that matter. I’ve never had any problems related to mugging or theft of any kind during my travels but yes, it happened to some of my friends… in Paris, London, Bogotá, Buenos Aires and New York. Colombia has a very heavy past, ignoring it or forgetting what happened is not the point, but one has to get over it for good. Carefulness and common sense will be your best buddies if you decide to explore it.
I should probably mentioned the 30.000 pesos I gave away plus the restaurant bill I had to pay for 3 people the very first day I arrive, because the guy -who’s been recommended to me by a friend- didn’t have any money with him… Common sense and intuition are teaming when you are travelling alone for sure! I learned my lessons and when that so-called guide tried the same trick the next day, I used the most internationals 4 letters and then went my own way. As simple as that.
Travelling alone gives you that tremendous sense of freedom and awareness: following your spider sense is usually enough to take you out of tricky situations, along with wall crawling (if you master the skill). That trip helped me growing up in many ways and I can’t stop raving about backpacking now; so, is it safe to travel to Colombia? Yes it is, if you trust your senses and plan a few things ahead. Better than that: it could be your best experience ever. If I could go back in time, I would have changed only one thing: I’d have left earlier.