Colombia - an absolute whopper of a country both geographically speaking (although it's no Brazil) and in terms of its diversity. It may forever remain synonymous with one particular resident (thanks, Narcos), however, on my trip to this colourful (in more ways than one) country I discovered that there's so much more to this South American gem...
Overcoming Past Stereotypes
With the current popularity of Netflix's Narcos series documenting (albeit slightly embellished) the drug cartels of Medellin and Cali in the 80s and 90s, I wasn't sure what to expect on my recent trip to Colombia. In other parts of South America I have experienced roadblocks and bus holdups and have been regularly advised not to leave my hotel or walk alone, even in daylight.
I was therefore very pleasantly shocked that in just over two weeks in Colombia, I didn't ever feel unsafe, threatened or even uncomfortable. I wandered around Bogota, Medellin, Cartagena and Santa Marta alone and was often aided by some of the friendliest people I have ever met. People were excited to know that I was exploring and learning about their country and they were always keen to offer advice on the huge variety of options in this beautiful country.
Colombia's Bright Future
You may have read about the recent peace agreement with Colombia's largest rebel group - the FARC - bringing an end to the longest-running armed insurgency in the world. This agreement resulted in the award of the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize to Colombia's president and strongly demonstrates the direction that the country is heading.
Where to Go
Cartagena has long been on the tourist map with its cobblestoned, colourful colonial streets but Bogota and Medellin are cities very much on the up-and-coming list. Great restaurants and buzzy bars, new luxury hotels and high-end boutiques are popping up and I would suggest both cities should join Cartagena on any itinerary to Colombia. Whilst in Bogota I highly recommend that you spend some time soaking up some culture in one of its many museums and galleries. The city's Gold Museum contains more than 55,000 pieces of Colombian gold, with all descriptions in both Spanish and English, and with private guided tours in English available. For art enthusiasts The Botero Museum houses one of South America's most important international art collections, full of works by Colombia's most famous artist and sculptor, Fernando Botero.
As Colombia continues to reinvent and rid itself of its unfavourable reputation, it is still relatively quiet compared to its better known neighbours. While you will undoubtedly have to queue at Machu Picchu, I was one of six people in the UNESCO World Heritage site of San Agustin! Less than 50 people a day visit the tiny Caribbean island of Providencia with its white sand beaches, colourful diving and creole-speaking locals.
My Main Discovery
After being lucky enough to travel to Colombia on my research trip this September, I urge you to go now, before everybody else discovers that Colombia is one of the safest, best value and most beautifully diverse countries in Latin America...