If you told people in the 1980’s to the early 2000’s that you planned to travel around Colombia, they would have thought you were mental. Back then the Colombian civil war – which pitched the government against left-wing rebels such as FARC, ELN, and M19 — was in full swing, as well as the war against the narco-terrorists of the Cali and Medellin cartels. It is fair to say that the country was a war zone, and as many kidnapped hostages would attest to, far from a safe place to travel around.
But in 1993 Pablo Escobar was killed, and over the next 25 years things slowly got better every year. 2017 saw a peace process begin between FARC and the government that (largely) ended the Civil War. The power vacuum that followed in Escobar’s wake did, however, result in a wave of fresh unrest. FARC dissidents, the ELN (National Liberation Army), and new-blood Mafiosi all arose to take advantage of the drug Czar’s unstable legacy.
Despite this, few could argue against the fact that the country is in a better place than it’s ever been, particularly with regards to tourism. Here are our top five things to do in Colombia:
5) Tayrona National Park
Depending on how it’s measured, Colombia alternates with Brazil for the top spot of the world’s most biodiverse country. Visiting Tayrona National Park (nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountain range) not only offers a great look at Colombia’s biodiversity, but also a chance to see the country’s remaining indigenous peoples. The area also features some secluded beaches that are well worth a visit. For extended visits the park features several eco-resorts, whilst the less adventurous can stay in a hostel in the nearby city of Santa Marta.
If you’re into the old colonial-era cities of the Caribbean, Cartagena’s gonna be your jam. There’s a ton of Spanish Inquisition for history buffs, and Simon Bolivar lore is littered around the city. But it’s at night when the city really comes alive, with fabulous street food and glorious sunsets from the bars atop the city walls. The Bolshies amongst you can enjoy a drink at the Communist-themed KGB Bar.
3) Street Food of Colombia
The street food of Colombia isn’t just good, it’s amazing. Every city has a plethora of food and drink options day or night, and each city has its own twist. Get into roast-potato-topped kebabs or beef intestines and wash them down with fresh coconuts or lime juice. If you like your food by the roadside, you won’t go hungry in Colombia.
2) Party in Bogota
It was not that long ago that Bogota was a war zone. These days it’s full of hipster-style bars, nightclubs for all budgets, and some of the most beautiful and friendly people on the planet. Remember – what happens in Bogota stays in Bogota.
1) Get on the Escobar trail
“Narcotourism”, as it’s now being called, is controversial. Bogota and Medellin are hardly pushing it as a tourist draw, but the fact remains that Escobar’s reign was as fascinating as it was bloody. Throw in the current popularity of Netflix’s Narcos, and the topic is more popular than ever. Squeeze in a trip to Medellin to take the official Pablo Escobar Tour and get the local slant on his tale. You can even take a boat ride out to Escobar’s one-time residence, La Manuela.
Of course, there are many more things that you can do in a country as diverse as Colombia (apparently they also make coffee). Whatever you fancy, Colombia is sure to have it.
Check out the link to our next tour to Colombia!