Dispatch, Colombia: More nature than narcos


After decades of being considered off-limits by many travelers, Colombia is opening its doors to tourism. Travel Weekly senior editor Michelle Baran traveled throughout the South American country last week with International Expeditions to see what the emerging destination has to offer.

After decades of being considered off-limits by many travelers, Colombia is opening its doors to tourism. Travel Weekly’s Michelle Baran is traveling throughout the South American country this week with International Expeditions to see what it has to offer.

As we huffed and puffed en route to the 14,000-foot lookout at Valle de las Tumbas for a glimpse of the volcano Nevado del Ruiz, one of only a few snow-capped mountains in the Colombian Andes, our guide, Fabio, told us how much more relaxed security in the Los Nevados National Natural Park is now.

He pointed out a former army outpost where armed soldiers once kept watch over the park, looking for any criminal activity. Now, their overlook is empty.

Several years ago, a vacation to Colombia was likely considered a no-go by many U.S. travelers. Decades of drug wars that had gripped the country left even Colombians fearful for their safety, let alone visitors.

But exploring Colombia alongside a small group of American travelers with U.S.-based tour operator International Expeditions this week, all we have encountered thus far is an endless array of stunning natural landscapes, ranging from lush rainforests to moon-like mountain terrain; dozens of the more than 1,880 species of birds that call Colombia home, along with interesting plants and fruits; and a charming coffee plantation where we were walked through the process of making the famous Colombian coffee from start to finish.

We were wondering why the coffee so far has been just so-so. It turns out that they export all the good stuff and leave the lesser quality beans for the domestic market — bummer!

Colombia is an eco-touris

t’s dream, and specifically a bird-watcher's delight, with bird-watching being a major focus of this trip.

The country is still young enough in its tourism development that travelers can often feel alone with the flora and fauna, and yet far enough in its development that there is adequate infrastructure to travel to these places fairly comfortably.

And everywhere we have been so far —the Coffee Triangle of Armenia, Pereira and Manizales — the narcos, whose illicit drug-trafficking business has been reduced to a fraction of what it once was, were nowhere to be found (we weren’t looking for or expecting them, of course, but in case you were wondering).

Instead, we encountered throngs of Colombian tourists who appeared to be rediscovering their country with a fervor that has been stoked by reduced crime and an emerging economy.

When I asked the two Texans and two Tennesseans with whom I’m traveling whether they had any trepidation about coming to Colombia, they admitted some of their friends and families had concerns.

But having heard how beautiful the country is, and how rich with wildlife, they had no hesitation themselves. And having traveled with International Expeditions in the past, they felt confident they were in good hands.

We’ve been welcomed with warm smiles and seamless hospitality, for the most part. One has to almost giggle at the thought that anyone back home might be worried.

So this is a memo to those who know anyone traveling in Colombia: They are likely enjoying bountiful nature walks, sipping on exotic fruit juices and replenishing with arepas. You should probably swap out that worry for some envy.

Follow Michelle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly.

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