Colombia is a country of stunning natural beauty and vibrant culture, yet also great disparities and dangers. This South American nation has long captivated foreigners, especially Americans and Europeans, with its allure of cheap thrills and wild nights contrasted by impoverished streets and crime syndicates. Colombia is akin to Thailand in Southeast Asia – the epicenter of indulgence in its region, despite rampant poverty and destitution.
In Colombia, one can find pristine beaches, lush rainforests, exotic wildlife, colonial architecture, pulsating nightlife, and some of the world’s best coffee. However, under the surface is a turbulent history of drug cartels, guerrilla warfare, and violent crime that still lingers today. The country is full of contradictions that both enchant and repel.
The Life of the Streets
Walking down a Colombian street, you’re greeted by a stark contrast – gated mansions and luxury cars on one side, homeless beggars on cardboard on the other. There’s an uneasiness in the air, a feeling you’re being watched and sized up by strangers. Trust is difficult in a place where someone can charm you one minute and pull a knife the next.
Crime has ravaged Colombia’s social fabric for decades, leaving thousands dead and countless families destroyed. This instability bred the national motto “Live each day as if it’s your last and cherish what you have.” For some, desperation leads to sleeping on the streets and begging. This hardship matures children early compared to the sheltered offspring of the wealthy worldwide.
Colombian kids are forced to be more aware and think through consequences. European families are sometimes struck by their composure and maturity beyond their years.
A Pleasant Climate
Another aspect that delights visitors from frigid climates is Colombia’s weather. Located near the equator, most regions stay temperate year-round. Days aren’t oppressively hot or bone-chillingly cold. Skies can be overcast but pleasant. One can comfortably wear t-shirts daily. For many Americans and Europeans, this is paradise.
A Bargain Paradise
Furthermore, Colombia’s weak currency makes life incredibly affordable for dollars and euros. In the US, one may pay $15/hour for a house cleaner, but the daily rate in Colombia is $15. What’s reluctance or extra fees back home is readily done with a smile here – laundry, cooking, cleaning, and more for a song.
Of course, paradise has a few snakes. Some Colombian men rarely admit fault, whether a botched store purchase or a taxi going to the wrong place. Confrontation and placing blame are heavily frowned upon. Never cuss someone out; profanity is seen as outright aggression.
Also, English fluency is limited, although improving with recent American and Canadian migration. Retirees are drawn by the rock-bottom cost of living where pensions stretch much further. They crave community and must adapt and learn Spanish. Some opportunistic locals do take advantage occasionally.
Kingpins of Scams
In fact, Colombians have a notorious reputation for elaborate scams parting tourists from their money. If you need something urgently and shop outside reputable platforms, chances are someone will gladly provide convincing forgeries to hook you.
Apartments, phones, cars – they fabricate slickchoreography around your needs but deliver only disappointment. However, some good souls will go the extra mile despite modest means – drive hours to deliver a spare tire or help with language trouble. Kindness still exists, if you know where to look.
Undercurrent of the Drug Trade
Another reality in Colombia is the thriving drug trade. Cartel members openly take over venues with their entourage without drawing attention – violence simmering under polite appearances. The female companions of cartels often have exaggerated, pneumatic figures, a trend dating back to Pablo Escobar’s reign.
As cartels amassed more wealth, plastic surgery advanced, and curvy silhouettes came into vogue, likely enhanced by implants. Now, many Colombian women carry on this beauty tradition that brings more attention from local men.
The Allure of Cartagena
One city where this is notably prevalent is Cartagena, on Colombia’s northern coast. Its picturesque setting on the Caribbean and colonial architecture draw droves of tourists. Here, the wild side emerges after-hours on the same quaint streets. Elderly Americans and Europeans flock for the cheap thrills.
Venezuelan refugees peddle cigars and knickknacks. As a male, eyes seem to constantly follow you in hopes of exchange. Of course, objectification discounts numerous Colombian women with strong family values, education, and careers. But the city has an indulgent, freewheeling vibe.
During the day, Cartagena entrances with bicycle tours of Spanish buildings, serenity along the water, and glimpses into local lives. At night, talent emerges hoping for tips, and scantily dressed women work to catch male attention. Supply and demand drive this economy of revelry.
Finding Joy in Family
Despite lower incomes, Colombians are incredibly joyful with perpetual smiles. Their ability to find happiness in small things and appreciate their modest lives is remarkable. Families often have at least 3 children, some more than 5. Extended families commonly live together.
Twenty years ago, 8-10 kids per household was the norm. Young children still beg on streets prodded by parents. Colombians also adore beer, considered a staple like bread and cheese. Aguardiente, the national liquor, is enthusiastically consumed in social gatherings that last for hours. Women join in the cheer, spending entire days at cafés laughing together.
Colombian cuisine centers around fish, with abundant markets in cities and villages. Vendors grind corn into various breads and soups. Fried, crispy fish is widely enjoyed. The range of fruits and produce will also impress any visitor. Yet while vibrant culture exists, caution is still warranted, as scams target tourists.
The Intoxicating Contradictions of Colombia
Colombia remains a country of countless contradictions – stunning yet dangerous, prosperous yet destitute, welcoming yet suspicious. For decades it has beckoned thrill seekers into its web of indulgements surrounded by poverty and crime. Yet it is also home to kind souls and breathtaking landscapes.
One visit will intoxicate your senses, confuse you, enthral you, and terrify you in equal measure. You will float on cloud nine one moment and paranoid the next. But Colombia will certainly leave an imprint on your soul and memories that will endure for a lifetime.
Lastly, you might also interest to read our previous post about Exploring the Contrasts of Colombia