The list of things to do and places to visit in Colombia is a long one: drink coffee and fresh juices, eat arepas and arroz con coco, and see sandy beaches, snow-capped mountains, old churches, historic city streets, deserts, rainforests…enought to keep even the most-seasoned traveler busy for weeks or months.
But there are certainly things that should NOT be on your list of things to do in Colombia.
- Joining the FARC or ELN probably shouldn’t be on your list (unless you’re into that sort of thing and want to commit 20 years to the life of an armed rebel).
- Doing, dealing, or smuggling drugs: usually a poor choice, which could lead to…
- Spending time in a Colombian prison. Highly unrecommended.
- Eating mondongo. Just don’t do it.
- And, of course, getting kidnapped.
While kidnapping seems like a real fear for some travelers (my friends and families were convinced they might never see me again), it likely won’t happen. Kidnappings, especially of foreigners has dropped dramatically in the last ten years (check out this graph), though there are still areas where deciding to walk through the jungle could land you in a rebel encampment for the next ten months or ten years.
While you may or may not be treated kindly, you might become an international incident — always embarrassing and always expensive. Something to try to avoid, for sure.
I was like most visitors to Colombia and did not have any problems with kidnapping or any direct repercussions from the ongoing civil conflict.
Others, such as Kevin Scott Sutay, decided to risk traveling through rebel-held territory (alone) and was captured as a spy. Sutay, who was a former Army combat engineer seemed to simply want to go on vacation and was acting of his own volition. But his choice to “risk it” ended up affecting more than his own vacation.
Read an article about Sutay and hiking in Colombia’s more dangerous areas entitled Backpacking in a ‘Red Zone‘ from the Bogota-based, English-language newspaper The City Paper.
As author Kyra Gurney writes in the article: “Colombia offers dozens of safe tourist destinations—it’s important for travelers to know the difference between getting off the beaten track and trekking through guerrilla-controlled territory.”
If or when you travel to Colombia DO go off the beaten path if you can. But please do not become a headline and pawn in the civil conflict by going somewhere you have a high possibility of getting kidnapped.
You and your mother will thank me later.