I first visited Colombia as a volunteer teacher in 2011. I lived for a year on the Caribbean coast and travel around the country. I also traveled around Colombia for 2 weeks in late fall 2013.
Pablo Escobar. Paramilitaries. Cocaine. The FARC. Coffee.
(Check out this fun flowchart on where what you first think about when you think of Colombia means for where you should travel).
Thanks to sensationalist news, TV shows, and films such as Blow, Clear and Present Danger, and Romancing the Stone, many U.S. Americans have a very clear idea of what life in Colombia might be like: it is a land of drug smugglers, armed rebels, and violence. There is no denying that these are elements of Colombia’s reality (and certainly the drug trade negatively affects Colombia), but these hardly constitute parts of everyday life for Colombians in the 21st Century.
Beyond the Stereotypes
One of my goals in writing Misspelled Paradise and this blog on travel destinations I have visited is to strive for that lofty goal of diffusing stereotypes.
I don’t want to convince anyone that the drug wars and armed conflicts in Colombia are not important or relevant in sometimes very tangible ways to the lives of many Colombians today. I do want to try and convince people who have never been to Colombia that letting cartels and paramilitaries define an entire country is not only irresponsible but can blind us to the humanity of a place.
Ten Things You Might Not Know About Colombia (and that might surprise you):
- In a 2012 poll, Colombia was ranked the happiest country in the world.
- Colombia is the most biological dense country in the world (most species of plants and animals per square mile) and has the second-highest number of species in the world, second to Brazil.
- Colombia produces 60% of the world emeralds.
- The highest peak in Colombia, Pico Cristóbal Colón, is 18,947 feet tall (5,775 meters) and is snow-capped year round.
- While Simon Bolivar is rightly credited as the Liberator of South America, Colombia’s independence came about thanks to a flower vase.
- Colombia is the only country in South America to border both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Colombia also encompasses the Andes Mountains, the Amazon Rainforest, plains, and deserts.
- While soccer (football) is Colombia’s most popular sport, baseball and cycling are close seconds and Colombians have had international success in both sports.
- Colombia is the second-largest producer of cut flowers in the world (next time you buy roses, check to see where they were grown).
- Cartagena, Colombia is one of the Caribbean’s premier travel destinations (including for cruise ships) and is a UNESCO World Heritage City.
- Colombia is never spelled with a u in English. Columbia is a city in South Carolina, a university in New York, and a river in Washington. Colombia is a country in South America.
My favorite city
Cartagena de Indias, on the Caribbean coast.
My favorite destination
The lush coffee-growing region, including Manizales, Armenia, and Salento
Favorite foods (or meal) that defines Colombia for me
A plate of coconut rice, fried fish, patacones (twice-fried green plantains), and a fresh fruit juice (preferable guanábana, mango, or passion fruit). Green mangoes in lime juice, arepas, empanadas, and fresh coffee should not be missed either.
Song that defines Colombia for me
“A Dios le Pido,” by Juanes. Other quality Colombian singers are Jorge Celedon, Joe Arroyo, Fonseca, and Shakira.
Check out photographs from around Colombia here.
Why should you care about Colombia?
I encourage you to read my post on why you should care about Colombia as well: the short answer is the country is more popular for travel and more important on the world stage than you might think.
Colombia has astonishing natural beauty: postcard tropical beaches, rolling green hills with year-round spring temperatures, craggy snow-capped mountains, swaths of rainforest home to millions of plants and animals, flat plains stretching to wide rivers, sparse deserts hosting cacti.
Colombia has amazing cultural diversity: the hot, sweltering coasts pass the time slowly while the big cities bustle with productivity, 84 languages are spoken everyday in 34 different departments, well-preserved indigenous ruins and centuries-old cathedrals rise from the stone, different regions and proud ethnic groups all blast their own genres and styles of distinctly Colombian music.
Colombia’s amazing natural diversity might contain just a few too many biting insects, the music might be played at a volume fit for listening to a mile away, and the drivers of buses, trucks, taxis, motorcycles, and horse carts might make you wonder how pedestrians are not an extinct species, but these more minor concerns are what make up the everyday lives of most Colombians today.
In 2011, when I was teaching in Colombia, the country was still on the cusp of change, less a mainstream tourist destination then a place still defined from the outside.
But the secrets of Colombia are coming out and travel to Colombia is growing.
Colombia has much to offer the world. I encourage you to read Misspelled Paradise to discover more.
For further reading and travel research, I recommend the following websites
- Colombia Reports: Daily news and information from Colombia in English.
- Official Colombian Travel Guide (Colombian Government page): History, travel destinations, and more.
- Human Rights Watch: Background information and current issues revolving around human rights abuses by paramilitaries and the government.
Favorite blogs and travel sites on Colombia or Traveling to Colombia
- Banana Skin Flip Flops: Crisp writing focused mostly on life in Bogotá, but also covering other parts of the country and fun features like profiles of interesting Colombians.
- Undercover Colombia: This blog and travel site has both interesting insights in Colombian culture and practical advice for traveling and booking tours.
I continue to write about Colombia and this site also has many more posts about Colombia: browse through the posts on Colombian Culture to explore more.