This post was originally titled “Colombia: Travel is safer now than ever” and…
I was going to say kidnappings were a tool of the 1980’s and 1990’s but a quick Google search revealed that 18 foreigners have been kidnapped as of now in 2013. Still a tool.
I was going to say that generally rebel groups like the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) or ELN (National Liberation Army) only kidnap politicians and foreign workers in Colombia working for large companies but six travelers, like myself, were kidnapped in the Sierras on their way to visit the archeological site “Ciudad Perdida” last month. I visited this site myself in Colombia and was oblivious to the danger.
I was going to say that drug related crime is down in Colombia since Pablo Escobar was killed and many of the cocaleros moved on to Central America. Wrong again. The ELN has actually increased their use of violence in order to procure more land for growing coca and forcing poor farmers into indentured servitude. They also are responsible for kidnapping the 6 travelers I mentioned above.
What the hell was Hilary Clinton talking about when she said Medellin is an example of security? Oh, because she partied there while the secret service had her back. Lucky for her the secret service agents assigned to her were not chasing prostitutes or she could have been a victim of the drug gangs that continue to plague Medellin, Antioqua. The murder rate in 2013 is expected to rise there.
My argument for traveling to Colombia is falling apart.
My original piece was going to start with something like…
“It’s true that not every Colombian is drug trafficker, member of the FARC, or guerilla…
Colombians are probably the most pleasant and friendly peoples in the Americas. Most folks are up for a chat and often go out of their way to help out a stranger. If you speak Spanish you will get a lot of practice in Colombia. Even if you speak a little Spanish people are patient willing to hear you out which is not always the case in other countries. People in Colombia look out for each other. They want their cocaine dusted history to be over with and move on.
In rural Colombia, like most rural areas, poverty is higher than average. Warnings will have you believe that poor people in the country are waiting to rob you. This is not the case. As a young French traveler said to me recently, “poverty brings solidarity”. I think he nailed it. People with less need each other more than the wealthy. I feel like people in rural areas are proud to have you in their place and want you to share in that.
My first piece of advice is use common sense when you are traveling in Colombia. Be extra cautious in cities at night. Keep a low profile (not easy for tall white people but at least be quiet and respectful). Second, don’t get kidnapped.
Some may ask whether it’s amoral to visit Colombia, as if you would be supporting the drug industry. The answer is NO. If anything you are helping local economies by injecting dollars. You will see the poverty in all places and you will see people working every angle to make money whether it’s the daily job, juggling in front of traffic at stop lights, selling cold drinks or toilet seats. If you don’t buy cocaine, you don’t support the industry. Only rich Colombians and tourists use it. The rest would rather it never existed.
Is it safe to travel in Colombia? Well, it’s certainly safer than it was but you need to watch your step. I am a bit of an optimist when it comes to human nature. This was not always the case but after doing a fair amount of globetrotting I have concluded that most people are good.
People are people everywhere you go. They have families, friends, lives, and dreams. Colombian people are no different.
I would go back and have recommended travel to Colombia to others. If you travel to Colombia from the USA, I think you will be very surprised at how many Americans travel Colombia.