The above quote has become the new marketing phrase of Colombia’s tourism sector. Although long beset by a reputation marred by violence, corruption and crime in the 1980s and 1990s, Colombia has worked hard to shed its image as a dangerous spot to visit. In December of 2007, former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe made the statement that the “country has moved from terrorism to tourism” to delegates at the United Nations World Tourism Organization in the coastal city of Cartagena. An increase in safety and stability during the Uribe administration has brought more visitors to the country including those that don’t fall under the demographic of thrill seekers (i.e. those who get a rush out of visiting dangerous countries).
By all accounts, Colombia is an incredibly diverse and picturesque country. Bordered by two oceans, it is also home to three mountain ranges, jungle and plain regions. Its people are just as rich as the land. Many African slaves were brought to Colombia when the country was part of the Spanish Empire and so today its people are a mezcla (mix) of ethnicities and cultures.
In college I had a friend whose mom was Colombian (her dad was from Ecuador and so she had christened herself “ecuolombian”) and during the summer between our sophomore and junior years she traveled there. She visited the capital of Bogota as well as Medellin, Colombia’s second largest city, known at one time as “the most violent city in the world.” It earned this unflattering reputation as a result of an urban war set off by drug cartels at the end of the 1980s. However, since the death of its most famous drug cartel leader, Pablo Escobar, crime rates in the city began to decrease in the 1990s. When my friend returned, there were no tales of daring exploits, rather just ones related to cumbia dancing and delicious patacones (twice fried plantains).
The city I would like to visit most in Colombia is Cartagena de Indias (Cartagena of the Indies). The city was one of the first sanctuaries of freed African slaves in the Americas and is currently one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the country in addition to being a beautifully preserved example of a Spanish colonial city. I’m a major fan of Chilean author Gabriel Garcia Marquez and adored his novel, Love in the Time of Cholera. Although the setting of the book is an unnamed port city somewhere near the Caribbean Sea, descriptions of it throughout the novel imply that it is Cartagena, a city where Marquez lived early on in his writing career. Screen adaptations of a novel usually are inferior to the written version, yet Love in the Time of Cholera on the big screen was incredible and I think largely due to the fact that it was shot on location in Cartagena. The part that contains the ciudad amurallada (walled city) is where most visitors to Cartagena go when they visit. The Castillo de San Felipe (Fort of Saint Phillip) is a fortress designed by Dutch engineer Richard Carr and built in the 17th century by the Spanish as a means of protection against pirates while shipping gold out to Europe.
While there are those who would never visit Colombia due to their prejudices and beliefs that Colombia is still an extremely dangerous place, the only thing keeping me from visiting is the extremely high cost of plane tickets to get there from the United States. Although Cartagena is only a 2.5 hour plane ride from Miami, plane tickets seem to cost a lot more than the length of the ride. My only hope is that Colombia becomes a destination visited by more Americans so more airlines will offer service there, thus making it less expensive to get to.
Julie is a librarian by day, die-hard travel fanatic and writer by night. When she’s not traveling, she’s either testing out a new recipe or being a foodie in Pittsburgh. If you're interested in seeing where she travels to or what she makes next, follow along via the links below!