Before I go into how wonderful my trip to Colombia was, I feel there are a few things I should state first. Colombia is a beautiful country with truly amazing people. The hospitality and warmth I experienced there, from friends and strangers alike, was amazing. Colombia is the 2nd most bio diverse country in the world and offers pretty much any climate or landscape you would like to see. It’s a country with a growing tourism industry (most notably in the Caribbean towns of Cartagena and Santa Marta), yet in the city of Medellin (2nd biggest city in Colombia) I went days without seeing another foreigner. The foods amazing, its affordable and only a 6 hour direct flight from NYC. Despite what sounds like an ideal tourist destination, Colombia, at least for most Americans, is still stigmatized as an outlawed country over run by drug dealers and rebels who might kidnap or kill you.
Colombia has changed greatly since the late 80s and early 90s, yet most Americans do not seem aware of this. Many parts of the country are safe for overland travel (I took a 9 hour overnight bus trip from Bogota to Medellin) and the major cities are much safer then in the past. I had a few sketchy moments, but nothing worse then what I have experienced in Europe or even at home.
Yet at the same time it’s a country that has been at war for 50 years and has many pressing current day issues. There are multiple fractions, whether it’s the FARC or Paramilitary or the ELN, fighting for power. Nowadays most of the fighting between the rebels and government is far removed from major routes or major cities. While Uribe’s government has been successful at fighting the FARC, there are many social and human right issues that have not yet been addressed.
Pretty much what I am trying to get at is that Colombia has greatly changed as a country since the late 80s yet still faces major obstacles. I had an amazing time in Colombia, but I feel I must mention these issues before continuing on. Even just understanding the problems is no easy task.
Luckily for me I stayed with friends (who happened to be journalists, filmmakers and environmentally progressive thinkers). I was able to pick all of their brains, learn a great deal and at the end make my own conclusions. I was also privileged to meat many amazing people along the way, many of whom gave me hope for the future of Colombia. (in terms of politics, environment and equality)
So in short, if you have a chance, go to Colombia, you won't be disappointed, but at the same time educate yourself in advance so you better understand the country you are visiting. Although I stress this for any country you visit, in particular I feel it’s extremely important for Colombia. While you can go to Colombia and sit on the beach and party all night (and trust me the nightlife is amazing) I feel any visitor should be aware of the history and current affairs of the country…. but perhaps that is just the documentary filmmaker side of me talking.
One of the many slums outside Medellin, Colombia.