Colombia 101: from drug haven to tourist haven
Aug 12--Colombia. The name probably conjures up images of Pablo Escobar, massive coca plantations in the jungle, and skirmishes between government troops and rebel guerrillas. Most people probably picture men with machine guns rather than peddlers and artists selling their wares on the streets. Not the ideal tourist destination, right? For a long time, this was true, but in recent years, Colombia has been a country on the rebound.
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Current President Álvaro Uribe has taken serious steps towards "democratic security". Police and military presences have been increased, and people have been encouraged to take back their neighborhoods from the drug runners. Education is being promoted and children in inner-city areas are taught to sell arts and crafts to show that they can make an honest living without getting involved with the drug trade. As a result, much of the violent drug-related activity has been pushed to the more remote areas of the country, while the major population centers of Cartagena, Bogotá, and Medellín have become largely safe for tourists. The only remaining problem is to get the word out to a world that still assumes the worst about the country.
My parents visited Cartagena in March. While talking to some locals, one man asked them to tell everyone they knew back home that Colombia is a safe and fun place to visit. With its location at the northern end of South America, Colombia features a vibrant mix of Native American, Caribbean, Spanish, and African cultures. There are a variety of attractions for all tastes, from wild urban nightlife to hiking in the jungles and mountains, to sports such as soccer and surfing. Colombian food prominantly features grilled meat, corn, rice, beans, and of course, coffee.
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