Much of the Latin American continent remains unexplored, but if there’s any country that has undiscovered magic, it’s Colombia.
Twenty years ago, it was unthinkable to go on holiday in Colombia. Home to the most notorious and ruthless drug lord in the world, weekly kidnappings and bombings in cities and the countryside alike, no where was safe. Colombia lived in the shadow of its internal conflict. It was dangerous enough to live in Colombia, let alone travel. It wasn’t even an option for Latinos to visit Colombia, it wasn’t even an option for Colombians to travel within their own country. The average Colombian doesn’t know their own country. Most Colombians haven’t been to the Amazon, or the Guajira, much less Chocó.
Although this is less true now, the situation hasn’t changed dramatically. Of course, our history has affected our attitude towards our own country. The idea of the American Dream is really prevalent in the collective Colombian conscience, and moving to the U.S or Europe still appeals more than sticking around Colombia, where everything national is deemed dysfunctional, corrupt and inferior.
The country is changing and our perception of our country is changing. With the decline in violence over the last decade, Colombia has opened up to tourism and is now one of the most popular destinations for foreign backpackers. Colombia is ill-prepared for tourism, to say the least. We didn’t expect backpackers to flood-in, keen to explore previously forbidden territory. This has unveiled the magic of a country that is still in the process of discovering itself.
Colombia is 60% rainforest, most of which is impassable – there are towns and villages that you can only reach by boat and uncontacted tribes in the Amazon. There are ruins 500 years older than Machu Picchu and ancient pictographs painted rocks in the middle of Orinoquia. Whales come to give birth in the warm waters of the Pacific coast. Altiplanos, cloud forests and páramos spread across the extensive Andean mountains, which traverse the country in three parts. We have Caribbean beaches that you can only reach hiking through dense, humid jungle or crossing endless stretches of desert.
The biggest mistake foreigners make is believing that the the tropical climes of the Caribbean coast is the best that Colombia has to offer. In reality, Colombia’s true charm lies in its incredibly varied topography and ecosystems. It is the second most biodiverse country in the world, holding 10% of the world’s flora and fauna, and has the highest number of endemic species. Its ecological diversity is unrivalled, making Colombia a heaven for hikers, wildlife-lovers and adventurers.
With this new era of peace, the number of foreign tourists is soaring. But, more than anything, we hope that Colombians will take the opportunity to uncover the magic of their own country and redefine what it means to them – not drugs, violence and war, but beauty, nature and hope for the future.