My last few days in Colombia were spent in the fortress-sealed city of Cartagena de Indias, a blend of romantic colonial buildings and the daily rush of modern living. The narrow streets were a mix of people, horse-drawn carriages, bikes, and cars, with street names changing by the block. In the city square, a group of teen boys challenged each other with breakdance moves, propping their boombox against a statue of national hero Simon Bolivar. Nearby street vendors sold liquid-caramel obleas and waved pigeons away from their piping-hot salted corn, and a few steps from the fortress walls, white sand beaches stretched in front of the city, waves crashing against cliffs.
A boat ride and slight sunburn later, we ended up eating juicy pitaya and salty patacones on Isla del Sol, where an iguana nestled in atop our boat motor and fish darted by mangroves under still waters. With salsa playing in the background, a cold Club Colombia beer in hand, the image the media portrays of Colombia due to its turbulent past was a world away.
Fifteen years ago, Colombia was a far cry from the country I spent a week in. Medellín was the murder capital of the world, and kidnappings, murders, and terrorism occurred on a daily basis. Colombia’s name flashed in the news for kidnappings by Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and its guerrilla troops were widely feared, both in Colombia and further abroad. Pablo Escobar remained the international symbol of an unquashable Colombian drug trade long after his death in 1993.
Its vibrant culture has been hidden under red-tape warning signs for a good while now. And while it has had a difficult history, it’s time to start looking at its present. You should probably visit now, as well, while a few hoards of tourists are still scared off.