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You've won a contest. The first prize is you get to visit as many countries as you can in one week. The catch? You only have 2 hours in each country and you only get one photo.
You pick: Egypt, Peru, Australia, France, Brazil, India and Colombia.
Where would you choose to have this picture taken? Where would be your 'I've been there!' photo from each country? Every major travel destination on the list has an icon that needs no further explanation.
Some time ago, in our See Colombia Travel Blog I asked this same question to a bunch of expat friends and 99% of their answers were the same for the first 6 countries:
But when we reach Colombia, the answers are something like this:
Er….. Cartagen.. no wait, the coffee thing ..area ..no,no,no …the beaches? Ermmm...
Exactly. There’s no symbol; no graphic representation; no icon that says “Colombia” loudly and clearly in just one glance.
The question I'd like to address is: Does Colombia need one of those? Or are those icons just good for a post card?
We who live in Colombia dedicate ourselves to promoting travel in this amazing country have two main tasks: the first and the hardest one is to help spread the word about how those stereotypes about Colombia being a violent drug filled country simply not true. Unfortunately the first ideas that come to mind to most foreigners when Colombia is mentioned are danger and drugs. In the best case scenario, maybe Juan Valdez and coffee.
Although things are rapidly, positively evolving and the general perception of Colombia travel is changing worldwide – I say “general “because people “in the know” have already changed that perception and are investing in various businesses and even moving over here – it is still hard to fight the bad image that some media (and Hollywood ) use to keep selling stories.
The second task, after having convinced our interlocutor that there’s nothing to be afraid of, and that this is actually one of the most beautiful, friendly and diverse lands in the face of earth, is to start explaining WHY almost every foreigner that comes to visit the country doesn’t want to leave. Why is Colombia so magical even for us who have been to many other parts of the world and that have chosen, very consciously, to live here. Where to start? How do you describe something you can only feel?
Many of my traveler and travel industry colleagues – native Colombian and gringos – agree on the fact that the key to that question lies in the fact Colombia is such a diverse country, that you can hike snow caps, enjoy paradisiacal beaches, live a jungle adventure or trek deserts in the same country and in a week time span. And although that is true, I’m one of the few that disagree about showing that as a “competitive differentiation” to “sell” what Colombia really is. Moreover, most Latin American countries claim to be “one of the most diverse countries on earth”, (Peru, Chile, Costa Rica and Brazil are the first to pop up on my mind) not to mention countries in other regions of the world, such as New Zealand.
So, diversity might be part of the answer, but we need a stronger argument to convince our skeptic imaginary interlocutor. Another factor that makes Colombia special – the one I personally consider the most important – is how warm, generous and friendly Colombians are. I’m not sure if it’s because Colombia has been “closed” for travelers for so many decades and they don’t really know what to think of these strange “mochileros”, but unlike other countries in South America – including my native Peru – as a traveler that has been many times taken for Gringo I don’t feel that people here are trying to rip me off just because of my accent or my looks. On the contrary I have always found people very keen to help me and to proudly show their customs and sites with no further interest than that. Becoming part of this culture has been one of the most enriching experiences of my life.
So, the experience of discovering the amazing Colombia and to interact with Colombians is one of the other fantastic things you can talk about when raving about Colombia. But being completely honest, this is the kind of feeling that many foreigners develop when they fall in love with their new home-countries. I’m trying not to be biased by my love for Colombia here – although I’m pretty sure that people in Colombia are indeed absolutely special and I have never found so many people sharing this opinion – but that’s something you can’t really perceive until you’re here, so it’s something very difficult to get across.
The diversity and the people; these are the things that make Colombia magical, but they're not points that are sold easily nor indirectly. You can find endless landmarks here: the magnificent Tayrona beaches, the mysteriously enchanting streets of Cartagena, the surprisingly modern and multicultural Bogota, those otherworldly landscapes in the Cocora Valley or Tatacoa Desert that leave you just breathless… As a matter of fact, as I think about the Colombia I know and love dozens – no – hundreds of images (sanagustinarchaeologicalparktheloscityboteroplazainmedellinbeachesoftolucocoravalleythe streetsofcartagenalacandelariasaltcathedralofzipaquira) flood my mind. But there’s still no one unique image that shouts “Colombia!”.
I believe Colombia needs to officially choose an icon, just as Peru has Machu Picchu or England the Big Ben; those icons are used to get travelers to all their other important destinations. A symbol for Colombia is one of the important steps that have to be taken in a macro plan to get this still undiscovered country to the next level. The industry here is still in its infancy and we (bloggers, travel professionals, hotel owners, governmental representatives) have an almost unique chance to do it right and responsibly in order to attract more travelers and spread the word about our beloved country.
So if you have any idea about which site do you think should be Colombia’s icon drop us a line, they don’t only have to be existing landmarks, because as in the case of the Opera House in Sydney... you can always build one.