When I told people at home I was going to Colombia I was asked by many whether it would be wise to do so, the general view of Colombia being synonymous with drugs and danger. On the other hand, the people I met who had actually been there could not speak highly enough of their time in the country.
Colombia’s drug-trafficking problems and the actions of FARC, an insurgent terrorist organisation that is responsible for much of the violence there, are widely publicised. My first experience did nothing to contradict this impression. The border from Ecuador to Colombia was plastered with posters portraying the main leaders of FARC and offering massive rewards for information that would lead to their capture.
However, as with many things, first impressions did not tell the full story. In the past years increased military pressure has led to a dramatic decrease in kidnappings and homicide in Colombia, making it much safer for tourists to travel there. Pressure from the government is finally starting to have an effect against FARC’s hold. While I was in Colombia these efforts led to a significant success. On 2 July 2008, Ingrid Betancourt, captured during her presidential campaign and held captive for six years, was finally freed along with 14 other hostages in a daring rescue by Colombian forces.
What really impressed upon me the inaccuracy of the stereotype of Colombia was the way Colombians reacted to us being there. Far from being viewed as just another group of annoying gringos, many Colombians are so determined to rid themselves of their repute that they appreciate any opportunity to show Colombia’s true nature. It was humbling to be thanked merely for visiting a country, and it brought home to us just how important it is to them for their country to lose this infamous reputation.
It is not only tourists that are put off; Colombia has suffered due to foreign investors’ unwillingness to go into business with this country. When I travelled there, I experienced a Colombia that is too readily overlooked as our attention is drawn to its reputation for drugs and violence; a reputation that does not reflect the true character of Colombia. In reality, it is a country that possesses a colourful and vibrant culture. It is a country of salsa, coffee, lively modern cities and beautiful Caribbean beaches; an amazing place to visit in spite of its infamous history.