The series of commercials that highlighted Colombia cultural and natural wonders was launched by the Colombian tourism board in 2008. They feature locals and visitors, speaking with thick accents that are specific to their regions, describing the country’s hospitality and climate. The commercials end with a man saying, with a chuckle, or “The danger is that you’ll want stay.”
Colombia is in a good place to handle tourism responsibly compared to 30 or 40 years ago.
In the 1990’s and early aughts I used to tell people about my Colombian heritage. I received a winking reference from cocaine every time. It’s still a joke that my family, who emigrated from Colombia in large numbers due to drug-related violence and political turmoil, find very funny.
My grandparents used to speak of Medellin as their hometown with the sepia tone of something long lost. While I was able to visit Medellin occasionally for most of my childhood, I was always aware that there were areas out of reach due to the violent, unpredictable, and widespread destruction of entire regions. It’s not just me: I know of at least one Colombian who has been a victim to violence, regardless of their political or socio-economic backgrounds. To count how many of my relatives have been abducted or directly affected in the ongoing conflict in Colombia, I would need two hands.
Medellín—once nicknamed the ‘murder capital of the world’—has collected accolades that include the world’s most innovative city and ‘South America’s Silicon Valley.’
In the 1960s, a deadly web of armed Marxist guerillas such as the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), ELN (National Liberation Army), and right-wing paramilitary organizations, along with drug cartels that rivaled government power and influence made Colombia one of most violent countries on the planet. The war, which was the longest indefinite one, claimed 220,000 lives from 1958 to 2013. displaced around seven million people making Colombia the country with most internally displaced persons. Parallel to the drug war, Medellin, which was home to Pablo Escobar’s cartel, was hardest hit. Medellin’s homicide rate reached 375 per 100,000 people per year in 1991 when Escobar was at its peak. This is three times the current highest murder rate per capita in the United States, which is Caracas, Venezuela. (Today, has 21 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, or the same as Cincinnati, Ohio.
For most of modern history, South American tourists chose to visit South America by hiking the Ecuadorian Andes, or even visiting the beaches of troubled Venezuela. Today, Colombia, despite all the difficulties that still remain in any post-conflict country, has changed significantly, even if slowly, thanks to ongoing conflict and improvements around safety and infrastructure in cities throughout the country.
Boris Seckovic is the co-founder and chief executive of Amakuna. He fell in love with Colombia after his first trip to it in 2006. He tells Traveler that there were only three hostels in Medellin when he first arrived. “Today, there are more than 500 hostels in Medellin,” he tells em>Traveler. Richard McColl is a Colombian journalist who first visited Colombia in 1998. He says that he believes there was a saturation of gentrifying tourism to Peru and Ecuador, which made Colombia more appealing to adventure travelers.
According to Seckovic, the country is becoming safer and more peaceful as civil conflicts have decreased in intensity. He has been able send people to other places than the Big Four of Colombian tourism: Cartagena, Bogota and Medellin. ncluding the Pacific Coast and Cano Cristales, which is famous for its multi-hued rivers. They are very welcoming and eager [to change] people’s views about Colombia–that Colombia isn’t what they see in Hollywood movies and U.S media outlets.
This growth is not unique to Amakuna’s operations. In the last ten year, Colombia’s visitor numbers have increased by a remarkable 250 percent, from one million in 2006 to over 2.5 million in 2016. The September edition of La Republica , Colombia’s newspaper, reported that the number of visitors to Colombia had increased by 20% compared with last year.
Colombia is now in a better position to manage tourism responsibly than it was 30-40 years ago.
There’s also plenty of opportunity–especially in eco-tourism. Accommodation and other tourist-friendly infrastructure are beginning to emerge in the Amazon rainforest. It was once off limits and heavily controlled by FARC. While government control does not guarantee that tourists will have access to a wide range of luxury lodges, it does allow for practices that respect indigenous rights and the environment. Seckovic states that Colombia is now a much more popular destination than it was in the past 30 years. Colombia is now in a better position to manage tourism responsibly than it was 30-40 years ago.