“Ahhh, Colombia. You have to go to Colombia.”
The first morning of our RTW trip, while we were eating breakfast in our hostel in Lima, Peru, a Spanish woman said the above statement to us. She had been traveling around South America for months and had been to a good portion of the continent. She raved about Colombia.
As our journey through South America continued we heard much of the same. Any traveler who had been traveling extensively in South America and had been to Colombia waxed poetic about this polarizing country. “You have to go to Colombia” was told to us so many times that our expectations started to soar.
When planning our round the world trip, we knew we were going to spend about 5-6 months in South America, and while Colombia was on our radar, we didn’t commit to it during the planning stages.
While we had heard good things about Colombia before leaving, we were still skeptical. This was a country which just a short decade ago was ravaged by the drug war and had rogue paramilitary groups practically running the country. The 80’s and 90’s were not kind to Colombia, and the media didn’t do much to help their image. We knew that things were turning the corner, but there was still a stigma to traveling there. Our families and friends thought we were crazy for even considering it.
After a while, you start to listen to other travelers – to those who have actually been there. And when we listened to those people, visiting Colombia became a no-brainer. In fact, other travelers hyped up Colombia so much that we started to get worried that there was no way it would live up to our increasingly high expectations. Not only did we decide to go to Colombia, but it became the place we were most excited about visiting.
When you have extremely high expectations about something, it’s hard for that something to deliver. Though we became extremely excited about visiting Colombia, we started to get nervous that it wouldn’t live up to our massive expectations. Other travelers seemed to portray the perfect place, and we knew that no place was perfect.
Then we entered Colombia. Sure, no destination is perfect, but out of all the countries we’ve been, Colombia is damn close. Do you like big, bustling cities? Colombia has them. Do you like pristine beaches and crystal clear waters? Colombia has them. Do you like hiking in mountains and traipsing through jungles? Colombia has both. Do you like fresh seafood and tropical fruit? Colombia has those. Do you like dancing and partying and being around extremely beautiful people? You’ll find all in Colombia. Finally, do you like interacting with some of the most friendly, outgoing, happy people in the world? Then you’ll love Colombia.
Plenty of other countries in the world have that magical mix of sun, sand, water, mountains, jungles, and big cities. A good number of countries around the globe have the same natural beauty and variety that Colombia has. But it was the people who put this once-dangerous country over the top. The Colombian people are proud of their country. They want people from around the world to come see the beauty that their home has to offer. So they go out of their way to make visitors not only feel comfortable, but welcome. They view tourism as a major positive, not a hassle like many other places we’ve been.
While there are plenty of people around the world who go out of their way to make visitors feel welcome, it was the smiling and happiness that really set the Colombians apart from everyone else. They were always smiling. Always happy. Always looking for a good time. And it was contagious. How could you not be happy in a place where everyone else was happy? How could you ever have a bad time or be in a bad mood when everyone else around you was smiling?
While the natural highlights in Colombia are many, that’s not the main draw. It’s the people who really make Colombia memorable. There are plenty of beautiful and stunning landscapes around the world, and while we love to see those amazing places, it’s the connections we make when traveling that become most memorable. The conversations we have, the people we meet. It’s the little things that end up standing out over time, and that’s why Colombia will always be hold a special place in our hearts.
Photo credits: All except the last one belong to the author and may not be used without permission. Final picture belongs to D-minor.
Adam Seper is a veteran RTW traveler. He has taken to writing about his travels and will be appearing on the AirTreks Travel Blog biweekly. He lives in St. Louis with his wife.