It makes me very sad to acknowledge that most people’s perception of the country of Colombia is a negative one. Of course, I understand that the drug cartel have given the country a pretty bad reputation. It’s true that for years now the United States has been helping Colombia to fight a major drug war. Even just as recently as June of 2010, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials arrested several men in Colombia as part of a major drug raid across South America. It was estimated that the gang that was arrested was responsible for at least half of the cocaine that was being sold on American streets.
Considering this information, sure, I see why Colombia gets a bad rap sometimes. But as one who has personally visited Columbia, which is located on the northern coast of South America between Ecuador and Venezuela, I can promise you that there is so much more to see here than the drug cartel.
The number one attraction that draws people to the country of Colombia and keeps them coming back is the marvelous Caribbean coastline. The coastline stretches for nearly 1,000 beautiful miles, all the way from the western border of Venezuela to the eastern border of Panama. And this coastline is one of the most varied in the world, comprised of towering steep cliffs, rocky mountains, sandy desert regions, and hills of lush green foliage and coconut trees that tumble right down into the sea. Truly, the beaches here are magnificent.
One of the most popular and busiest tourist spots along Colombia’s Caribbean coast is the beach resort of Santa Marta. People come from all over the world to relax in Santa Marta’s white sands and sparkling clear waters, and to enjoy scuba diving in the area’s offshore coral reefs. Santa Marta is also the location that was chosen by the Spanish as their first settlement. At that time, in 1525, they were attracted by the prospect of gold; the local Tairona people were skilled goldsmiths. Today, in the 21st century, people are drawn by the area’s natural beauty, and to explore the treasures of both Spanish and indigenous Tairona influence.
Just an hour east of Santa Marta is Tayrona National Park, one of the most treasured spots on Colombia’s coast, and the home to some of the country’s most scenic beaches. This is an excellent place to backpack, and spend your nights snoozing in a hammock on the beach. You can also camp in one of the area’s campgrounds, where you can sleep in a beach cabana. Pretty much any time of year is ideal for camping, since Colombia has a tropical climate. One caution, however, is that the sea tends to be rather rough here, so it is important to pay attention to the warnings about where you should and should not swim. When in doubt, only wade into the water up to your knees.
Nearby is Colombia’s #1 most popular tourist attraction, the city of Cartagena, which is known as one of South America’s most beautiful and romantic colonial cities. It is filled with Spanish style buildings, cobblestone alleyways, churches, boutiques, and plazas. In the old section of town, many of these buildings have been turned into lovely hotels. The new section of the city, known as Bocagrande, hosts the more modern chain hotels and overlooks the Caribbean coastline.
Yes, it’s true that Colombia has a bit of a bad reputation. But I can assure you that a visit to this gorgeous and scenic country will shatter your preconceived notions. It is wise to follow some basic safety rules while you’re there, such as not traveling by yourself at night. But these are the same rules that you would follow in Chicago, LA, or any other American city. You’ll find that the Colombian people are overall very kind, hospitable, and welcoming.