When Travelling to Colombia: Expectations vs Reality

When Travelling to Colombia: Expectations vs Reality

Colombia is known for its flashy nightlife and biodiversity. However, if you have any assumptions about this Latin powerhouse, this article might just throw them out of the window.

You’ve conquered Europe and Asia and now you’re planning to venture into something new. Something unconventional. Maybe South America. Particularly Columbia, since they’ve become pretty good at football recently…and World Cup cameramen have proved that they have exceptionally good-looking people, too.

But as a sports fanatic, that’s probably the only thing you know about the country. You realise you’ve barely scratched the surface. As you explore the city, your worst and best expectations take unexpected swaps. And your eyes are opened to the wonder that is Columbia.

Expectation: They have run-down streets

Image credit: Rej Natarajan

Before visiting places like Colombia, we generally foresee them to be run-down and dirty. I personally imagine people content with they have, living laidback lives. But I also picture anorexic dogs running around grimy streets.

Reality: It’s painted with vivid colors!

columbia expectations vs reality

Image credit: Fernando Garcia

In reality, Colombia’s pathways are among the most vibrant and colourful streets that you will ever see. Walk into their allies and you can snap an Instagram-worthy picture of yourself with these brightly coloured houses in the background. If you’re lucky, might just come across some lovely street art. Besides that, the streets are also really clean.

Expectation: There are many drug lords and gangsters in the country

On top of people’s pre-existing negative perception of Colombia’s crime rate, successful TV shows like Narcos have further imprinted in our minds the idea that many Colombians are drug lords and gangsters.  

Reality: Not really — the crime rate has improved exponentially

Image credit: RaeTayPhotography

As much as some of them might look like Pablo Escobar, most Colombians are in fact just regular, normal people…like you and me. In the last 25 years, the Colombian Government has taken extra measures to cease violent acts, which has resulted in an 82% decrease in Colombia’s murder rate since then till today. Nothing to worry about, guys.

Expectation: They have great food because it’s South America! And it’s exotic!

columbia expectations vs reality

Image credit: jeffreyw

We look to the Mexicans when deciding on having South American cuisine for dinner (even though they’re technically North Americans) and I’ve got to say, our amigos do set a good reputation for their neighbours. Burritos, tacos, quesadillas these are foods that we could eat all week and still not get bored of. So, what’s there to worry about? It’ll just get better in Colombia, right?

Reality: Was that from last night’s dinner?

Image credit: wnhsl

If you come here expecting fancy food that’ll give your taste buds a real treat, you’ll be disappointed. The cuisine here is extremely bland, boring, and can have absolutely no flavour at times. I’m pretty sure I’ve had something similar during my time in the military and boy, that speaks volumes.

Expectation: You have to dress up everywhere

Image credit: Iván Erre Jota

Colombians are known for being formally dressed at all times. It’s a common perception that even if they’re dining at a restaurant or drinking at a bar, Colombians will be in tip-top attire and it’s even considered rude to be in Bermudas or flip-flops in the country.

Reality: It is really not that formal

Image credit: Adam Cohn

Yes, you do have to dress appropriately in places such as clubs and restaurants like everywhere else in the world. But it is very common to see Colombians dressed down all the time, especially if it’s a hot day outside. So, there’s no need to worry. Pack your Fippers but pack a shirt as well.  

Expectation: They have great coffee!

columbia expectations vs reality

Image credit: Jack Zalium

Colombia is one of the biggest coffee producers in the world and they are known for their premium arabica beans. Enjoying a cup of coffee in the country means embracing the caffeine kick that comes with a mild chocolate flavour and if this isn’t a coffee lover’s paradise, I don’t know what is.

Reality: It’s just mediocre

Image credit: Multivac42

Unfortunately, even though Colombia produces some of the best coffee in the world, most of their good stuff are exported out which leaves a vast majority of mediocre coffee in the country. Coffee connoisseurs would say it’s pretty poor quality. Also, it doesn’t get any better when it’s served with their food. Despite this, you’d still be able to find good coffee in major cities, but just not everywhere like you’d expect.

Expectation: Breathe in the fresh air of this South American getaway

Image credit: Reg Natarajan

Filled with gigantic, magnificent mountains, Colombia is sure to have the cleanest and freshest air in the world. I mean, there’s just no way a land with that much vegetation would have unhealthy air, right?

Reality: Face mask, anyone?

In the list of top 30 cities with the worst air quality in South America, Colombia comes in second with seven cities due to their high usage of firewood and solid fuels for heating and cooking. Pollution in areas such as Bogota can go as high as twice the World Health Organization’s unsafe limit.  

All in all, Colombia is still filled with unique traditions and interesting people that might just give you a broader perspective of life and how people live in other parts of the globe. Yes, it might place you out of your comfort zone but, that’s exactly what makes travelling so exciting, isn’t it?

Also read: Top 10 Things to Experience in South America

Note: Featured image collage shows a photo by Actuality Media.

About Author

Kanesh Pillai
Kanesh Pillai

A sad Manchester United fan and a deluded superhero. Kanesh hopes to be worthy enough to lift Mjolnir and fly around the world without rendering himself broke.


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