Viva Colombia! Reports from a renewed country

central plaza, bogotaSouth America has been a hot topic of late. What with the Olympics finding a home in Rio, the inclusion of Machu Picchu in the “New 7 Wonders of the World” project and the overall positive growth of travel and tourism to that side of the equator, it seems like everyone’s talking about it. Last week I had a rare chance to visit the country of Colombia over what would turn out to be a very enjoyable and fascinating 6-day educational trip.

Naturally, I was hesitant to go to Colombia at first. Almost all my friends raised eyebrows of concern when I told them about it, or else had insular comments about kidnapping, mugging or whatever. I understood—the steady stream of drug cartel violence that held Colombia hostage for a full 15 years in the eighties and mid-nineties colored their impression of the country with a near perfect stigma: a place you don’t want to visit if you value your life. I’m here to tell you this is no longer true. The presiding and very popular president Álvaro Uribe, now looking at an unprecedented third term, has made great leaps in resolving Colombia’s violent history, bringing it soundly out of its dark years. While once severe and well-known, the trauma of that period is effectively over, and the only scars left visible are a manifest police presence and a penchant for graffiti art. The government’s integrated security policy, “Communidad Segura” has given Bogotá, and all of Colombia for that matter, a future they can now write for themselves.

La Candelaria, bogota, colombiaMy impression of Colombia is that it’s progressive, colorful, super friendly, communicable and safe safe safe. Which mirrors the tourist board’s new slogan broadcasting “The Only Risk is Wanting to Stay.” And with the liberal residency laws, it’s actually a fairly common thing to do. I have several colleagues that either have lived, are living or very much want to live there. And why not? The environment is welcoming, the weather pleasant and the landscape stunning. Bogotá and Medellín have average temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, with the Andes mountainous region bringing cooler nights. (Bogotá is at an elevation of 8000 feet.) On the coast the weather is decidedly more cartagena, colombiatropical, with Cartagena and Barranquilla regularly having temps in the 90s with a humidity level that will literally make your eyelids sweat. Colombia has two coasts, one on the Pacific and one on the Caribbean Sea, the first with a cool beaches and big surf and the other with genteel breezes and lapping waters, giving visitors a choice of which kind of relaxation they want.

My trip took me on the fairly typical route from Bogotá to the northern coastal city of Cartagena, missing Medellin and Cali only because of a limited amount of time. This week, I’ll be writing posts about Colombia with photos and destination info from there. So keep and eye out for dossiers from the country and feel free to enjoy an nice aguardiente in the meanwhile.

Read parts one, two, three and four of the Colombia series.

* photos courtesy of the author