Johnny Depp waits, nervously sweating in the mid-day heat of the Colombian jungle. Hovering behind each shoulder is a heavily armed guard, ready to put a bullet in him. Across the square where he’s standing two men are talking. One of them gestures in desperation, and the other one responds by putting a gun to his head, pulling the trigger and leaving a red stain on the wall behind him as the body crumples to the ground. Depp flinches as Pablo Escobar, the most powerful drug lord in the history of the world calmly turns away from the execution and strides towards him.
It’s a scene from the popular Hollywood movie, Blow, but it could be any one of a number of films featuring Colombia. Drugs, violence, corruption. Any time Colombia comes up, it always seems to be a dangerous place that the main character of the story must brave to achieve his goal. A steady stream of TV shows like Miami Vice and movies like Scarface in popular culture have repeatedly kept us under the impression that the country is run by the main players of the international drug trade and their business. Added to the mix the history of terrorism, violence and crime that has bubbled up into the news seeming every month up until the present day, and you find yourself thinking about Colombia as the last place that you’d want to visit.
Is this a true picture of Colombia? Certainly not. Lets have a look at a couple of events over the last couple of decades that can break Colombia’s unfair reputation.
• On December 2nd, 1992 Pablo Escobar was killed in a fire-fight with Colombian police. Within a couple of years all the leaders of rival cartels were either killed or imprisoned.
• Colombia’s homicide rate, for many years one of the highest in the world, has almost halved since 2002.
• In the recent decade violence in Colombia has decreased significantly. Many paramilitary groups have demobilized as part of a controversial peace process with the government, and guerrilla groups have lost control in many areas where they once dominated.
• There has been a steep decrease in reported kidnappings – from 3,700 in the year 2000 to 172 in 2009. That’s a decrease of over two thousand percent.
• Lonely Planet picked Colombia as one of their top ten world destinations for 2006. When the most popular guidebook in the world encourages you to go, it should give you a bit of confidence.
• According to the Colombia Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism Colombia received 2,348,948 visitors in 2008. They say there’s safety in numbers.
Plenty of signs show that thanks to a savvy government, the dangers of Colombia are diminishing and tourists are flocking to the country to sample its diverse and beautiful attractions. If you finally kiss goodbye to the scare-stories, you could soon be enjoying the beaches and walled city of Cartagena, Medellin’s Festival of the Flowers, or any one of the country’s national parks, including the Tayrona National Nature Park on the Caribbean coast.
Nevertheless, the problems that do exist in Colombia can serve to sour your holiday if you don’t take a well-informed approach to the up-to-date state of the country. You certainly don’t want to end up in a bad place or situation through ignorance. Make sure you check your Government’s website for the latest information, or if you’re going to Colombia with a tour company, ask them what to expect or avoid to keep safe and have a happy, fulfilling Colombia vacation.