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So, is Colombia Safe?

Written on: Friday August 1st, 2008

A journal entry from: Trails in 2008

Now we've been here a month, we can answer that question. 

Once we bought our tickets to Colombia, we belatedly checked the travel status on the NZ Foreign Affairs website, and were shocked to see that the warnings were more serious than visiting Iran, and I have to admit that got us a little worried.  We entered with caution, following the tips like keeping 'mug money' in a seperate pocket, not taking out full backpacks, keeping an eye out if anyone was following us from bank machines (apparently people follow you for up to half a day before taking action), not taking night buses because they get held up by guerillas, and generally being completely paranoid for the first few weeks.  It was completely unecessary, and from what we have heard from travellers coming from the other direction, this is one of the safest countries in South America!
It was interesting to come across a plant here that has big beautiful white flowers that are a strong hallucinogenic.  Just standing beside it on a hot sunny day, the scent will take its effect.  Traditionally, it is used on the tips of arrows in hunting birds and animals, nowadays it can be put to a more sinister use - put into cigarettes, food or drink which is impossible to detect, and you lose your memory of what happened.  We didn´t hear one story of this actually happening, but we had been warned to be careful, so more paranoia.  It's a pretty safe place for tourists, but don't tell the annoying ones!
The Colombians are reputed to be one of the friendliest countries in the continent, and I think we definitely missed out on experiencing this to the full because of the language barrier. Still, people were always smiling and saying Hola on the buses. No-one hassles you with hard-sell, and you can take photos of people without them asking for money afterwards, unlike the more popular tourist countries in South America.    The presence of tourists is a sign that life has become generally safer for Colombians, and maybe that's why they like us so much.  The Government has put a lot of effort into securing areas so more tourists will come and bring more money to them.  Random roadblocks by Police check all passenger ID, and maybe a quick look through some bags, but they are very nice about it.  
We have been surprised by how modern Colombia is, from where we were standing it didn't fit the stereotype of dodgy drug cartels or balaclava wearing guerillas.
Our favourite parts of Colombia has been the action adventure in San Gill, and the beautiful coffee growing region around Manizales.  I have to admit that we are looking forward to trying a new beer, they only have 3 varieties (all lager) here and made by the same company.
Colombians are sure that we have seen the best country in South America, we hope they´re not right!