Some of you know, some of you don’t, but recently I made a trip to Colombia. It was my third trip to South America and my second country visited over there (my first ever: Ecuador, which you can read about here, here and here).
When I announced my decision, everybody was freaking out. Oh, it’s dangerous, they said, you’re gonna get raped and kidnapped, or kidnapped and raped, and oh haven’t you heard the news about that disastrous peace agreement (or rejection of it, rather)?
Actually, no I haven’t because I don’t follow the news. Which is good because I bought the ticket to Colombia, spent the best three weeks of my life there, came back home safe and sound, and now am ready to share my first eight impressions of visiting the world’s “most dangerous country”.
My 8 Impressions of Visiting Colombia
1. Colombia is jaw-dropping.
It’s a cold fact: Colombian landscapes make your jaw drop wherever you go. Be it the dry desert, your jaw drops. Be it the lush jungle, it drops. Be it the sunny beaches, it drops. In fact, when you’re in Colombia, you never close your mouth, that’s how jaw-dropping it is. It is so jaw-dropping, really, that you can’t talk anymore and just stare around and mumble all the time just like I’m doing it right now, writing this jaw-dropping paragraph and wrapping it up with these jaw-dropping pictures that explain Colombia better than my ten thousand words:
2. Colombian people are actually quite cool.
I mean it. Colombia had a very turbulent past and has a very difficult present still. And yet, I’m sure it will have a bright, prosperous future because of its people — the people with open hearts AND open minds, eager to dream and ready to explore the unexplored. In other words, Colombians don’t box themselves in.
On top of that, I also found them to be extremely friendly and helpful. Like, if you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere late at night, the bus driver will spend an hour looking for a safe cab for you to take. Or, if you lose your phone somewhere because you were just starting around and mumbling all the time (see the previous point), the person who found it will send it to you by post overseas. That’s the type of friendly and helpful I’m talking about.
3. It can get crowded.
When my friend visited Colombia ten years ago (I’m talking about you, Didi!), she said there was “literally nobody in the Tayrona park” (poke me in the eye if I’m misquoting you, Didi!). Tayrona was this one national park that I really really wanted to visit during my trip — and yet I couldn’t, because over the last ten years the influx of tourists in Colombia increased to such an extent that some places literally couldn’t handle the people (and the trash that they leave behind). So they had to be closed down for a while until they’d get sorted out again — Tayrona wasn’t an exception.
Colombia is one of the fastest growing tourism markets globally (i.e. not just in Latin America): due to improved safety and infrastructure, it’s easy to go and travel around the country now. And with relatively cheap flights into Bogota, you can see why Colombia is now the trendiest country to visit in 2017, according to Lonely Planet.
4. Poverty is a big deal — and it is sad.
I’m a selfish person. I often cry about my own personal dramas and occasionally shed a tear watching sentimental shit in a movie theater. It’s because I think my problems are real and I give them so much importance because I think I’m important.
In first-world countries, people die from broken hearts. In third-world countries, people die from hunger. There are children dying from this disease called “poverty”, and the scientists say there’s no cure to be found for it yet. In Colombia, the scientists are also clueless, especially in particular regions, like La Guajira, a place so poor and empty it doesn’t have scientists at all. They’re all extinct. So nobody’s looking for the cure over there.
It’s sad to see those skinny children with huge eyes, dirty clothes, running barefoot after the car you’re inside of, with outstretched arms, begging your for coins, begging you for a cheap lollipop, begging you for anything that would tell them, sometimes in a purely symbolic way, that they are noticed by the passers-by. The only thing they want is to be seen — but it seems, the more they want that, the more invisible they become. And that, my friends, is so so sad that any tear you shed feels fake. So you don’t cry. Instead, you simply look away.
Seeing lives like these makes you realize how selfish we sometimes are, complaining about what we have and lamenting about what we don’t. The ungratefulness of the privileged is just as sad as the miseries of the unfortunate, but that’s another story to tell.
5. Colombia is DEFINITELY not as dangerous as people think.
In fact, the country becomes safer as we speak. While there, I’ve met lots of solo travelers, independent backpackers, and, most importantly, lots of female solo travelers. Oftentimes, without speaking any Spanish.
I took buses, caught cabs in the streets (even though I was advised to always order cabs either over the phone or through a hotel), went to the local markets, talked to people I don’t know, and did everything my mom wouldn’t approve of.
Now, I’m not claiming that Colombia is the safest place on Earth and nothing will ever happen to you there because it’s not true. Anything could happen. But it’s also true that anything could happen anywhere, be it Colombia, Finland, Canada, or Russia. You just gotta be a bit more careful.
6. And the coffee is even BETTER than people think.
7. Arepas are to die for.
Coming back to Point Number One, when I said that you never close your mouth in Colombia, well, I have another point to add to this. Colombian food is awesome. So you eat, and eat, and eat, you chew and swallow, and you want more every time, so yeah, your mouth is pretty much always open because you’re throwing something yummy into it every single minute. Or if you’re me — every single second.
What I loved eating most was: All the fruits, fruit shakes, fruit smoothies, etc; All the ceviches; All the cakes; All the arepas. Colombian arepas are honestly to die for — it’s these grilled cornbread things stuffed with cheese and sometimes other stuff, too. And yes, they’re to die for, absolutely to die for.
8. There’s much more to explore than you’ll ever know.
During my three-week visit to Colombia, there was this quote from Narcos that I kept coming back to in my mind. It says:
”God made our land so beautiful it was unfair to the rest of the world.”
And indeed — everything I saw, everywhere I’ve been, everybody I talked to reflected this very special type of beauty — it’s pure and raw. It’s the real thing. And you’ll regret it if you don’t go and see it for yourself one day.