For a nation whose past half-century rivals few others in its complexity and brutality, Colombia is rightfully being lauded for its spectacular turnaround, at least by those who are paying attention. In recent times the government has sought out peace talks with the leftist guerrilla movement Los FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), with whom they’ve been battling since 1964. Furthermore it has confronted the issue of drug trafficking head on, whilst improving its cities through upgraded transport systems and educational programs thanks to large external investment and a renewed focus on entrepreneurship. Despite this significant change it’s far from a finished product. Given its recent and fragile history, the Colombians’ immense pride comes with an underlying cynicism, and who can blame them? For every person that speaks of their love for the country, there is always another that speaks of their distrust for their compatriots.
From a traveller’s perspective however, Colombia is undeniably one of the world’s most exciting and rewarding countries to explore - even for a nation situated in a continent as geographically spectacular as South America, its diversity is truly astonishing. There are 58 nationally protected areas which include the Amazon in the south east, the steamy jungles of the north where you can witness La Ciudad Perdida or 'The Lost City', whilst not forgetting the trekking available through the peaks of the Andes in the centre. On top of an Atlantic and Pacific coast, Colombia also owns two small idyllic islands located near Nicaragua (San Andres and Providencia) which lend themselves to a much more Caribbean way of life.
The main cities Bogotá, Medellín, Cali and Cartagena all claim their own identities and are compete fiercely with each other (none more so than Bogotá and Medellín). Their differences nevertheless make it special and worthwhile when visiting each one - something I haven’t found to be true of any other South American country. Wandering around any one of the colonial villages such as Villa de Leyva can be just as fulfilling however, especially if you are searching for something that seems to be fairly elusive here: peace and quiet. Indeed the numerous national holidays are put to good use with explosive festivals that show off the colour of the country and the love that the locals have for partying. For that is above all the most striking thing about Colombia: beyond any natural or historical wonder, the locals stand out as extraordinarily friendly and welcoming. At times it’s hard to imagine how the Colombia of today could ever have been so dramatically different from that of 20 years ago.
There are no two ways about it - the country is set for a boom in all senses of the word. With the strongest economy in all Latin America, a rapidly growing tourist industry, huge investment from overseas and valuable products available to export (coffee, flowers, emeralds and coal to name a few), Colombia has a bright future. As a languages student on my year abroad here, I have been fortunate enough to witness all that Colombia has to offer at a time when it is still relatively untouched by the huge numbers of foreigners found in neighbouring nations such as Brazil and Argentina. Inevitably, the day will finally come when this country’s reputation is not one of drugs or violence, rather its natural beauty and vibrant culture. Increasing numbers of tourists may bring fresh challenges for Colombia, but for now her cities, countryside and two coastlines are largely unspoilt, offering great opportunities for the traveller.