There are some countries that you swear you’ll never visit again or you have not liked them enough to spend your precious time or your money in them for a second time and they will simply remain in your memory as a mere check (✓) on your list. There are other countries, the big majority of them, that will bring you back good memories, you will probably write a blog post about it and will recommend it to your friends if you are asked for advice; you don’t rule out coming back one day, but you think you’ve only visited 78 countries in the world and you still have a long list to achieve. And finally, there are those countries that leave a mark on your heart. Within hours Colombia became one of those countries for me. Perhaps Colombia is not as economically developed as Chile, or it doesn’t have a world wonder like Peru, but the coffee country is in my humble and honest opinion, and I hope the other countries of the continent forgive me for this, the best country in South America.
After returning from my South America tour, the most recurrent question from my friends was: What was the country you enjoyed the most in the continent? Without hesitation I always responded that it was Colombia! Proudly showing the tricolor bracelet that I still wear in my right wrist, but what are the reasons? I will gift you with them right now.
1. The people.
The first point and perhaps the most important subject to choose this country over others is its people, Colombians. Although they were victims of their own ill-fated past for many years, Colombians are very affable, friendly and close people, knowing that they need to change the reputation of a country that until not so long ago was plagued of negative adjectives, and among those you could find the worst that a country that seek to attract foreign tourists can have: Dangerous.
If what you think is that as soon as you arrive to the airport the taxi driver will kidnap you and ask for a costly ransom for your release, you are totally wrong. Actually, the conversations with the taxi drivers in Colombia are rich and full of content. Conversations in which you go from talking about the state of politics in Colombia, the last agricultural strike, trendy places in town and you normally end up debating on who are the most beautiful women in Colombia, if Paisas (those from Medellin), Rolas (those from Bogota), Costeñas (those from the Coast) or Caleñas (the ones from Cali), always with a very good vibe. Neither all Colombians are guerrilla fighters, nor do they traffic with drugs. Colombian kindness is unmatched and you will soon realize about that, you simply have to cut with any type of prejudice.
2. Colombians have plenty of reasons to celebrate.
Although the Colombian workers have only 15 working days of paid vacation per year by law, they are awarded, on the other hand, with a lot of public holidays: 18 days, placing Colombia as the country with more public holidays in the world.
Whether the football national team wins or lose, the weather is ugly or beautiful, it’s the date of one of the renowned city fiestas such as the Flower Fair in Medellin, or it’s just a simple Monday; Colombia is the country where all the things that take place are celebrated, and for that it is essential to take your booze, the Colombian aguardiente (sugar cane liquor with anise flavor), as if it were the elixir of life, the solution to all their problems and sorrows. And going out and party or rumbear, as they call it, enjoying of their varied native music. Famed Caribbean rhythms like Cumbia and Vallenato make up the Colombian nights’ soundtrack. Because at the end of the day, Colombia is also known as the land of the thousand rhythms.
3. The accent, slang and idioms of the friendliest people in the world.
You may have not met people in the world more educated, friendly and with such a ravishing accent like in Colombia. Yes, I know there are many different accents within Colombia, but I found all of them very seductive. When you order something in a restaurant they always respond with a la orden! (At your disposal) as if you were a captain and they were your servants. Then you are grateful to them for the work they do, but they always do it con mucho gusto! (With so much pleasure). They use words bacano orchevere to express that they find something cool. And the funny thing is that when they go to a store or restaurant the expressionme regalas? (Will you gift me with) to ask for things or borrow something. This expression can lead to misunderstandings with Spanish speakers from other countries as you may think they want that thing for free. For instance, I was once asked if I could gift them with my pen, not knowing that what they really wanted was only to borrow it for a few minutes. Other idioms that can lead to confusion are: ¿qué más? (Literally “what else?”) meaning how are you? Or ¡qué pena! (Literally what a shame!) When they try to apology for something.
Colombia is a very cheap country for those who come with a Western wallet. Both transport and food are quite affordable, but you have to take into account that despite continuing advances and developments in the country, there are still abysmal social differences remaining. For instance, the minimum monthly salary for 2014 was set at $318 (616,000 Colombian pesos), ie just over $10 a day.
The Colombian national cuisine is so varied that each region has an own way to prepare food. Among the traditional dishes that you cannot miss are the bandeja paisa/Medellin’s tray from Antioquia (beans, chorizo, egg, rice, pork), ajiaco santafereño from Bogota (chicken sou ), the sancocho of Valle del Cauca and the city of Cali (plantain stew, potatoes, cassava and meat/chicken), tamales from Tolima (corn flour stuffed with carrots, potatoes, rice, chicken / pork, peas wrapped in biajo leaves ), empanadas (filled fried corn dough) or as much as 75 varieties of arepas (a kind of corn cake that you can fill with whatever you want). Other things I enjoyed were the numerous street stalls where you could buy at a great price empanadas, arepas, cane sugar juice or delicious tropical fruits that were used in the preparation of delicious juices and sorbets.
Colombians know how to win the affection of the people making them surrender to the spell of a good menu; using sayings like “conquer the stomach” or as an immediate consequence the “full belly, happy heart”
Colombia is the nation of magical realism, It is a diverse country like only few others: it is the 25th largest country in the world , enjoying plenty of different climates and landscapes; It has the second largest population of Spanish speakers in the world (only after Mexico); It is the largest producer and exporter of roses in the world; It is one of the largest producers of coffee in the world ; It is one of the richest countries in biological and cultural diversity, It has many places declared as World Heritage by UNESCO, among which are the monuments of Cartagena de Indias and the Barranquilla Carnival.
In the month I spent in Colombia I managed to visit the bustling Bogotá, the shocking salt mines of Zipaquirá, the festive Medellín during the Festival of Flowers, the picturesque and colorful Cartagena and relax in their nearby beautiful Baru Island, Barranquilla, Santa Marta and the lush Tayrona National Park, but even with that I know I miss many other things to see and, for that reason, I have not the slightest doubt that I will be back one day.
Despite all that I explained above, visiting Colombia continues to generate fear in many travelers and it is probably because there are still uncomfortable reminiscences about the more than bloody recent past of the country, and more specifically hearing about FARC, the war against drug trafficking, the Medellin Cartel and its well-known leader Pablo Escobar. But Colombians show us, with their incomparable way of enjoying life, that they knew how to turn page and put an end to that gloomy past. So I encourage those travelers who are still hesitant about visiting this country that they should take this post into consideration and buy the next ticket to Colombia.
As the National Tourism Agency campaign says: “Colombia, the only risk is wanting to stay”