My name is Frank and I run a travel agency in Bogota, Colombia. Have fun while reading!
Colombia is a paradise; a country full of dreamy cities and natural wonders that you can hardly find anywhere else in the world. Unfortunately, Colombia is also a country full of stigmatizations and stereotypes that many people from all over the world believe.
It is true that Colombia has a dark and violent past, but it is a country that evolves every year and today I can also assure you that it is a paradise worth visiting.
Colombia is a very violent country
It is true; Colombia is a country that has historically been plagued by violence. In the 20th century this nation was involved in various armed conflicts. One example of this was the Thousand Day War, a civil war between the two then dominant political parties (which still exist today), the Liberals and the Conservatives.
Besides this war, most of the conflicts had these political parties as protagonists. This period was known as “bipartisanship”. In addition, the state’s neglect of various communities such as farmers, indigenous peoples, and low-income people resulted in massacres and unusual events.
An unfortunate fact to prove this was the Bananeras massacre, in which the army killed an indefinite number of people in 1928. The reason for this was that the workers had gone on strike and the government, in order to protect its own interests and those of the US American United Fruit Company, decided to use force against the workers. It is now considered one of the most unfortunate events in the country’s history.
In addition to violence, there have been numerous political scandals in Colombia throughout history. For example, the alleged robbery and assassination of presidential candidate Gustavo Rojas Pinilla in the 1970 presidential election led to the emergence of various lawless groups in the country, such as the M-19 guerrillas (Movimiento 19 de abril). The FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), considered the most bloodthirsty and powerful guerrilla group in the country, has political origins. In 1964, in order to “pacify” the country, the then President Guillermo León Valencia ordered the bombing of Marquetalia, a village in the south of Tolima, where some former liberal guerrillas lived, but also many farmers.
From that moment on, a group of people led by Manuel Marulanda Vélez (aka “Tirofijo”) founded the FARC and started a war that lasted more than 50 years. State neglect, extortion, massacres and displacement became daily bread in Colombia. This led to deterioration in the image of this country. The fear of visiting Colombia was so great that even during the 2001 Copa America (which took place in Colombia), teams like Argentina decided not to take part. This is because of all the violence that dominated Colombia at the time. The picture that prevails in the world of Colombia today is not good. But the question is: are we still the same country?
Violence in Colombia Today
We cannot deny that violence is still a strong issue in the country recently, but Colombia is no longer the same nation it was years ago. In 2018, the former President Juan Manuel Santos succeeded in signing a peace agreement with the most powerful and oldest guerrilla group in Latin America, the FARC, thus ending a war that had lasted more than 50 years.
It is thanks to this fact that places like Palomino (a village in La Guajira department), which used to be a frequent occurrence of clashes between the FARC and paramilitary groups, are now a tourist paradise visited by a large number of national and international tourists. We also have a Palomino guide for those interested.
Thanks to the post-conflict, some places now have better and obviously safer tourist offerings. Some examples are the Sierra de la Macarena (Meta), where the beautiful Caño Cristales is located, San Vicente del Caguán (Caquetá), where there are some ex-guerrillas who now work as guides and rafting instructors on the Pato River , and Florencia (Caquetá), which is characterized by its natural wonders.
Most of the armed groups like the M19 have already demobilized. And although Colombia was still the Latin American country with the most victims of terrorism in 2017, as noted on the Our World in Data page, the truth is that there has been a significant decline year after year and not with the situation can be compared in the 80s and 90s.
If I go to Colombia, I’ll be kidnapped
Another of the most common fears about Colombia is kidnapping. Unfortunately, this practice was very common in the 1990s and also at the beginning of the 21st century. As we mentioned earlier, there were a multitude of criminal organizations in Colombia and one of the modalities of groups like the FARC was kidnapping.
There came a point where the situation was so serious that kidnappings were commonplace in the 1990s. In 2000 there were more than 3,500 cases of kidnappings. Fortunately, this type of crime declined over the next two decades.
On many occasions, the abductees have been prominent and influential people, including the later President of Colombia in 1998, Andrés Pastrana, who was abducted in 1988 by a group of drug traffickers who called themselves the Extraditables. Another notorious case was that of presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who was kidnapped by the FARC in connection with the 2002 elections. She remained kidnapped until 2008.
Foreigners have also been kidnapped in Colombia. For example, Americans Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves, who were part of Plan Colombia (an anti-drug treaty between the Colombian and US governments), were unlucky enough to have the FARC shot down the plane they were traveling in. All of this happened in 2003 in the jungle of the Guaviare department. The 3 Americans were held until 2008 when the army released them. Nevertheless, the question arises here too: is kidnapping a real threat to tourists in Colombia today?
Kidnapping in Colombia today
Again, I don’t want to deny that there was a time in Colombia when kidnappings were commonplace, but today that threat has sunk to an all-time low. With the demobilization of the FARC and other criminal groups, kidnappings are becoming rarer in Colombia every year. In 2000, there could be up to 10 kidnappings per day, while in 2019 there were a total of 88 kidnappings, in areas that are not touristy.
Most kidnappings are no longer political, they are extortionate. This means that people are held captive for a short time and a ransom is required from the family. The groups that practice this are mostly FARC dissidents and the guerrillas known as the ELN (National Liberation Army). This happens in remote sectors of the department of Arauca and northern Cauca.
It’s hot and tropical in Colombia
Another of the most common myths about Colombia is the weather. There are many people who think that because this is a South American country there is only sunshine.
It happens again and again that foreigners travel to Bogota with only flip-flops and beach clothes in their luggage. It is a surprise that we have very cold weather here at an altitude of over 2,600 meters above sea level. Because of this, Bogotanos can easily spot foreigners. The truth is that the climate in Colombia is incredibly diverse and you can find all kinds of weather. For example, municipalities like Tunja (Boyacá) have recorded temperatures below 5° C (41° F), while cities like Santa Marta (Magdalena) can have temperatures above 25° C (77° F).
In Colombia, depending on the height above sea level, there are climatic zones such as:
- Warm climate, which exceeds 24 ° C (75° F).
- Temperate climate with an average temperature between 17° C and 24° C (63-75° F).
- Cold climate with temperatures between 5° C and 17° C (41-63° F).
- Glaciers, places like the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta or the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy, where the temperature can be below 0° C (32° F).
Everyone in Colombia loves drugs
It is undeniable that Colombia has a dark history of cocaine and other psychoactive substances, and as in almost every other country in the world, anything can be bought here. Sadly, Pablo Escobar, the most dangerous drug lord in history, came from Colombia. He was the leader of the dreaded organization called the Medellin Cartel. In addition to Escobar, other organizations such as the Cali Cartel and the Norte del Valle Cartel were also involved in this illegal business in the 80s and 90s. In addition, we must not forget that in Colombia armed groups such as the now defunct FARC guerrillas and paramilitaries were involved in the drug business.
That’s true, but that doesn’t mean that all of Colombia loves drugs. On the contrary, hard drugs are generally very controversial and their consumption is hardly socially accepted. The fight against drugs has left a trail of dead bodies in Colombia. It is estimated that at least 15,000 people died from drug trafficking between 1989 and 2013. Between 1989 and 1993 (the period during which the Medellín cartel was active) around 5,000 people died as a result of drug smuggling.
In addition, more than 600 attacks related to drug trafficking organizations have been registered. For example, it is estimated that between September and December 1989 alone, the Medellín Cartel planted more than 100 bombs in places like supermarkets, banks, schools, and so on. It’s all ironic because many Colombians are ultra-conservative and have never used any of these substances.
Series like Narcos, Escobar, El Patrón del Mal and other Narconovelas have influenced influential people like the Youtuber AuronPlay, with more than 27 million subscribers, to make imitations and allusions to Pablo Escobar. Even disgusting front pages, like that of the British newspaper The Sun, which played a pun between cocaine and Go Kane prior to the clash between Colombia and England during the 2018 World Cup, have resulted in Colombia being seen as a drug-loving country.
Colombia and Drugs Today
Now let’s answer the million dollar question: If I go to Colombia, will I be offered drugs on every corner? The quick answer is NO. It is illegal to sell drugs in Colombia, and you won’t find ‘camellos’ (that’s what drug dealers are called) on every street corner in the larger cities. Many Colombians have never had any experience with drugs. In 2013, a report titled National Study of Psychoactive Substance Use in Colombia, sampling 32,605 people, found that only 13% of the population had used some type of drug in their lifetime.
Colombia is all about coffee
Colombians are primarily associated with two things, drugs and coffee. The stereotype of Colombia and coffee is so strong that even countries like South Korea have made commercials showing Colombia as a place where there is apparently only coffee and beautiful women.
Of course, coffee is important and there is even the famous Eje Cafetero, made up of the departments of Caldas, Risaralda and Quindio. This area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011. There you will find a variety of coffee plantations and places that pay tribute to this Colombian product. For example, the Parque del Café, a theme park located in the municipality of Montenegro in Quindío, and several of its attractions allude to coffee.
With all of this we mean to suggest that coffee is important, but Colombia is not all about coffee. There are also large cities in this country that live from other economic activities. Also, it is clear that there are millions of farmers doing very important work for the country, such as growing coffee and other basic products, but this is not the only profile of the Colombian you will find. Colombia is characterized by its pluralism, here you will find indigenous people, whites, blacks and mestizos. In many cases it is good to think beyond the stereotype.
Colombia is the happiest country in the world.
One of the most surreal news, replicated by most of the media in Colombia, was a 2016 Global Happiness Barometer poll that said Colombia was the happiest country in the world. More than 68 countries took part in this survey, in Colombia a sample of 1000 people was drawn. Of course, thousands of Colombians believed this news and this also helped promote the stereotype of the Colombian who is always happy.
I don’t mean to say that the poll is wrong. The point, however, is that a stitch count of 1,000 people is technically representative, but does not reflect reality. An example of this is a 2020 survey by Sinnetic’s Consumer Pulse Observatory that found 89% of Colombians feel dissatisfied. This survey reflects the whole COVID situation. In Colombia there are many happy and extroverted people, but also shy and reserved residents. Not all Colombians are excellent dancers (especially not in Bogota) and even fewer are always happy. When traveling, one often finds that the stereotypes shown differ from reality.
Some tips to avoid fake news.
There is a lot of fake news out there these days, not just about Colombia but also in general. One can find these about politics, education and other topics of interest. That’s why we want to give you some tips here so that you don’t fall for this misleading news.
- Check other sources
- Research the author
- Be critical
- What is the motivation for the information?
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