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Last year I was in Colombia watching images on the news of my hometown being ransacked and burnt. I was a mixture of emotions, from anger to sadness. From my adopted home in Colombia I could see from an outside perspective what was happening in my country. I was embarrassed and angry: a minority of the population was causing panic in other countries, making them heighten their security warnings for my beautiful home and even go as far as to advise against travel there.
Trying to assure my foreign friends it was just certain areas and the problems would go away soon was difficult; they made up narratives in their heads and imagined worse case scenarios.
Fortunately, I'm from London, England, and so the incident was quickly forgotten and normal tourism services resumed.
Fortunately for us hat's what happens when you have a history of relatively stable governments and a good international reputation - the media are relatively quick to forget and international business even quicker.
It made me think, though, about Colombia - about how frustrating it must be for the locals that walk safely around among the beautiful streets of Medellìn, or frequent the many international-quality restaurants in Bogota, or bump shoulders with fellow salsa dancers on the shores of Cartagena, and yet are still told by so many voices from abroad their country isn't safe.
Let's be clear here: Colombia isn't perfect. Grinding poverty, inequality and corruption all exist here. Colombia, after all, is only a product of the world that surrounds it and as most people know, history has been all but kind to this region of the world. There is no clear reason that in 2012, however, people should still be worried to travel here (unless they have an ingrained fear of travel itself in which case only the most sheltered of Latin American journeys would be advisable, and I have no problem with that).
It's also fair to say that certain areas of the country are still off-limits, but as many people will reiterate, these are areas of limited tourist interest compared to the beautiful countryside, mountainscapes, coastlines and deserts that all characterize this phenomenal country.
What Colombia lamentably suffers from is a bad reputation. The US security workers that solicited prostitutes in Cartagena weren't the bad guys in much of the subsequent press - Colombia was. Why? Because in many minds Colombia is a place of pure, unadulterated hedonism and these guys, even after so much training, were no match for the lusty delights that entrap even the most honorable of men. Similarly, when robbery or tragedy occurs here, it is reported with very little of the 'they will recover and improve' kind of press that, thankfully, England received. Rather, it only goes towards cementing what many people believe, and what much of the press need you to believe in order to sell: Colombia is dangerous, and it will never change.
Thankfully, here in Bogota I see more and more travelers encouraged to come here by blogs, open-minded media and sheer adventurousness. All around the country we're seeing a huge boost in tourism, and it only helps add to the sense of optimism that oozes from every pore of the country's being.
"Is Colombia safe" is an easy question to ask and a difficult one to answer. All the statistics in the world won't convince some people (Bogota has a lower murder rate than Washington, for example), and a mere anecdote can go either way. My answer is simply: don't be afraid to come and find out for yourself.
Bonus: Take a look at the below Infographic we did regarding safety in Colombia and be sure to check our Safety in Colombia special at our original blog here: Is it safe to travel to Colombia? Infographic.
Today post is written by Paul Fowler, See Colombia Travel Blog's editor.