Over the course of my three week journey through Colombia I learned a lot about this country, and I came to cherish the unique experience I had there. I have been in Peru for about a week now, and I continue to reflect on my time in Colombia. I want to share my thoughts with you while they’re still fresh in my mind.
These thoughts are my own, but they come from hearing and witnessing the experiences of the Colombian people and listening to what they want people to know about their country. To me, it was like discovering a new song that you like but isn’t all that popular yet. There’s a part of you that wants to hold onto this secret song you’ve discovered so that you can keep it all to yourself. On the other hand, you can’t help but share the song with your friends because you’re proud of this discovery, and you also feel like to keep it a secret would be a disservice to the song itself. That is why I want to share these experiences with you. Very few people from the generations before mine have had the opportunity to travel to Colombia, which makes this a very personal experience for me.
What do you think of when you think of Colombia?
Maybe you think of Narcos on Netflix, Pablo Escobar, and drug cartels. You might never consider visiting because of the negative stereotypes associated with Colombia.
There is no denying the dark and violent history that Colombia has endured. In fact, I believe it is important to embrace the story of Colombia that is now a story of triumph rather than destruction. I learned about what makes Colombia so special and unique from local guides as well as the Casa De la Memoria Museo, a museum/memorial dedicated to the victims of violence in Colombia.
“To create life when the easiest thing is to let death take over, that is wisdom.”
Extreme violence began in Colombia in 1948, and although Colombia is by no means perfect now, this period of intense violence lasted through the early 2000s. In 1948, Jorge Gaitán, a leader of the Liberal Party, was assassinated in Bogotá. This incited violence in the city in the form of mass protests and violent riots. These riots resulted in the death of 1,500 people and another 20,000 were injured. As a civil war began in Colombia different guerrilla and paramilitary groups on both sides came into positions of power. As the violence continued, many innocent people were killed or disappeared.
La Escombrera holds many of the secrets of Colombia’s violent history. This mass grave is believed to be the resting place of hundreds of unidentified bodies. Guerrilla groups, paramilitary, and the government were all guilty of the murders and forced disappearances. Several places and dates in Colombia are painful memories of the violence that occurred.
The violence originally began as guerrilla and paramilitary groups developed with the intention of gaining political power and creating change in the country. However, when they discovered the wealth that drug trafficking could bring, their goals changed to be fueled by the desire for money and power.
The Colombian people have worked very hard over the years to change this image. In places like Comuna 13, previously one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in South America, the local government has created opportunities for public transportation, free wifi, as well as better opportunities for employment and education. Comuna 13 is now a popular tourist attraction in Medellín because of its beautiful graffiti art and inspiring story. The first hotel will be opening there this year, which is a major accomplishment according to the people of this neighborhood.
The Colombian people are happy, proud, and hardworking. I believe that Colombia is in a sweet spot right now in its development of the tourism industry. As the second most biodiverse country in South America, it’s surprising that Colombia doesn’t attract more tourists. Although, I believe that very soon it will become a major tourist destination as people are able to look past the stereotypes and appreciate Colombia for all that it is and all that it has accomplished.
So, I hope one day you will consider a visit to Colombia and find the country as wonderful and inspiring to get a little bit lost in as I do. I hope you won’t come for the Pablo Escobar t-shirt, but for the enriching cultural experience and adventures that Colombia has to offer. I also hope that even if you don’t come to Colombia you will understand and help inform people that Colombia is more than Narcos, more than Pablo Escobar, and more than drug cartels.