I’m going to tell you a secret. I was scared to travel to Colombia. In fact, when we arrived at the airport in Bogota I was sure things were going to end badly. No matter how many people recounted their love for Colombia, I had a hard time getting over my stereotypes.
That was until we met our couchsurfing hosts. They immediately welcomed us into their home with such warmth and hospitality, I was completely blown away. They turned out to be only the tip of the iceberg, everyone we met in Colombia was overwhelmingly friendly, hospitable and genuinely kind. People went out of their way to speak with us on buses and even on the commuter train in Bogota, a place where in the US you don’t speak to anyone! We received countless offers to come for coffee, of assistance and even offers to stay in people’s homes. These were genuine offers, offers that I wish we could have accepted.
When we arrived in Bogota I felt like I had been pushed into the decision to come to Colombia. Buyers remorse I guess, but I seriously questioned whether we had gone too far in our attempt to get off the beaten path. As our taxi weaved through the streets, I was sure we were about to be kidnapped, I had read every horror story on the web, I knew how these cons worked. We weren’t kidnapped, we weren’t robbed by a gun toting drug cartel, in fact we weren’t even hassled by street vendors. It wasn’t the drug cartel run country I was expecting.
Colombia, was for me, not only an amazing travel experience, but also the country that single handedly taught me what off the beaten track could be. It doesn’t have to be an uncomfortable living on the edge experience. I went paragliding for the first time (and learned a new Spanish word -acro- in the process), swam in the coldest waterfall I’ve ever experienced, biked 40 miles in the hot tropical sun and saw what is still today the most breathtaking museum in the world (Museo de Oro). Locals sang Happy Birthday to me in San Gil, I drank chicha and I learned that cheese and hot chocolate really aren’t a bad combination.
Colombia shattered my stereotypes. That’s not to say its a secure paradise. It is not for sure, but for all my fear, it was nothing like the wild west I was expecting. Although we’ve had friends who have been robbed in Colombia, I stand resolute in saying that it’s no more dangerous than anywhere else in South America. Colombians constantly offered safety advice on travel routes and I was duly impressed by their determination to push past their recent experience.
To be truly humbled in your life is an experience you’ll never forget. For me, the Colombian people did more than break down my stereotypes; they fundamentally changed the way I think about places, people and things. Colombia so fundamentally changed my way of thinking that the next time an opportunity arose at going to a “dangerous” country, I weighed the risks quite differently than I had before. Some of those “dangerous” countries we went to, others we skipped, but I took the time to really assess the information not just go with my prejudice. Those were some of our favorite countries of the trip, and as we flashback to them I hope I can do them justice.