5 Resources for Colombian Travel
I adore Colombia.
It surprised me more than any other country I’ve visited, as its reputation is so different than the reality I experienced. Not once while I traveled there, for more than four weeks, did I ever feel unsafe. Not once.
I would go back tomorrow – I love this country so much.
Though my experience of Colombia was great, and I recommend it to other travelers – I also advise people to research Colombia prior to traveling there. It’s beneficial to research any country before traveling there; however, in Colombia’s case, it’s a bit different. Because they’ve been such a violent country, and one so affected by the drug trade – I feel that going in blind isn’t the wisest course, particularly if you’re a solo female traveler. To understand a country better is to feel more confident traveling there. And will make the experience much more rewarding.
As such, I’ve pulled together five resources that will give the Colombian traveler a much deeper understanding of the country they’re about to visit.
- U.S. State Department Travel Website – Visit the U.S. State Department’s travel website prior to your trip, and look up travel warnings specific for Colombia. You’ll get an idea of common schemes that may occur, or other up-to-date information or warnings about travel in Colombia. This is a good place to start. Link to the State Department site for Colombia: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country/colombia.html.
- “The Guardian” Article on Medellin – Read the article entitled, “Medellin, Colombia: Reinventing the World’s Most Dangerous City,” by Ed Vulliamy, published June 9th, 2013. This article will give you a tremendous sense of what Colombia is actually like – in terms of politics, drugs, negotiating with drug lords, rebuilding cities, and how the Colombian people and children are affected by it all. I have read, and re-read, this article numerous times. In a fifteen-minute read, you’ll get an incredible amount of insight into the complicated place that is Colombia. I discovered this article while in Medellin, and it informed my time there dramatically, even changing what I was interested in seeing. Prior to reading the article, I was fascinated by Pablo Escobar, as many people are. I wanted to visit the jail he built (and escaped from), and visit his Medellin residence. After reading the article, however, I was much more interested in meeting the actual people of Colombia, instead of chasing Escobar’s ghost. I became curious to visit the barrios he once controlled, to meet the kids who live there now, and to feel the true tone of the city. If you do one thing on this list prior to visiting Colombia: read this article. Link: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/09/medellin-colombia-worlds-most-dangerous-city.
- “News of a Kidnapping.” Read this book by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It’s not a fun read, but it’s a necessary one if you wish to understand the history of Colombia, as seen through the eyes of its most famous author. Though Marquez is best known for his fiction, with books such as “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and “Love in the Time of Cholera,” he actually began his career as a journalist, and returns to those roots with this book. In it, he examines a series of kidnappings that happened in the early 1990’s in Colombia by the Medellin Cartel – the cartel made famous and run by Pablo Escobar. This book is fascinating not only because it gives accounts of those kidnapped, some who survived and some who did not – but because it describes the dealings between the government and Escobar, during the time when he was essentially negotiating his surrender. It’s a sobering look at the reality of violence in Colombia, during a time when the violence was near its worst. Reading this book will give you a better understanding of what Colombia has been through – what its people have been through.
- Museo Casa de la Memoria – Visit the Museo Casa de la Memoria while you are in Medellin. The museum is dedicated to the victims of armed conflict, and its main purpose is to educate the public (and visitors) about this conflict – to understand it, to reflect upon it, and to heal from it. I sat on a bench inside the museum’s cool, dark walls, and time ceased to exist, as I put on headphones and began listening to the accounts of the Colombian people. I was struck by how unsentimental they were, and though they were labeled as “victims” – it seemed to me that they were anything but. They told their accounts in a straightforward manner, no matter how horrible, without tears, in most cases – though I came to have tears in my eyes. The resilience, the strength, of the Colombian people – is what struck me so greatly, and stays with me still, to this day. A visit to this museum is moving, informative, and of the highest value to anyone who is seeking to better understand this country.
Watch “Narcos.” Or, “Pablo Escobar: El Patron del Mal.” Or, “The Two Escobars.” If you’re American, “Narcos” will probably resonate the most with you. My Spanish-speaking friends, however, prefer “Pablo Escobar.” Watch whatever appeals to you. All will give you a better understanding of Escobar, and in some sense, of Colombia itself. If you know nothing about Escobar, then in some ways, you are walking into Colombia blind. I watched “Narcos” just before I arrived in Colombia. Though it depicts much graphic violence, it didn’t necessarily frighten me or make me not want to visit Colombia. It did help me understand how Escobar operated, how he negotiated, how he used the threat of violence, in both subtle and in horrible ways, and in general, gave me a far better understanding of the drug trade (which I never had much cause to research). Though it’s a terrible history, it’s also a fascinating history. And these documentaries and series do a good job of depicting that history in ways that are both entertaining and educational.
- “Romancing the Stone.“
And lastly…a bonus! Something light. Since everything above is so heavy, I’m including a Colombian reference that is, frankly, much more like my actual Colombia experience than anything else. If you’ve never heard of this movie (which means you’re a millennial), it’s a romantic comedy set in Colombia, with all kinds of jungle adventures and run-ins with drug lords. It takes what could be scary about Colombia – and turns it into fun. My mom loves this movie so much, in fact, that this was her response to hearing I’d be in Cartagena: “Oh my goodness, you’re going where they filmed “Romancing the Stone“?! That’s great!” It actually made her excited I was visiting Colombia, instead of terrified. And that’s why I suggest you watch it. It’s a breath of fresh air after all the darkness, and accomplishes in some ways what the Colombian people have themselves: which is to take their pain and darkness, and channel it into music, dance, and laughter.
Have you been to Colombia? If yes, what resources helped give you a better understanding of the country? Let me know in the comments below!
Happy and safe travels, my friends!