A big South American country at the northern end of the continent, bordering the Central American land-bridge (namely its southernmost country Panama), and is unique in South America in having both a Pacific
and an Atlantic
/Caribbean coast. To the east is the country's longest land border, namely with Venezuela
. OK, that puts it on the map. And why is it represented here as a dark-tourism destination?
For most people the name Colombia alone triggers associations of terror and danger: drugs trade, murder, rebel armies in the jungle, kidnappings … And it's true, Colombia has long been the world's No. 1 supplier of cocaine, a trade in the hands of well-armed, Mafia-like cartels run by powerful drug barons (although more recently the trend has been towards smaller, more elusive organizational structures).
I remember that when I was in Venezuela
at the end of 2007, a high-profile kidnapping case (Ingrid Betancourt) was in the media – in fact the negotiating parties (and lots of media) were right in the hotel I stayed at in Caracas at the time!
revolutionary rebel army FARC
, responsible for a large number of such kidnappings, operated like proper guerrillas from camps in the jungle and was the oldest such guerrilla organization in the world
However, there have been great changes. A new peace deal was struck and was finally ratified by the Colombian Congress, so as of November 2016, the conflict is officially over. Parts of the population still don't trust the new peace, but it does seem to work OK for now. In a world full of conflicts this one's resolution stood out as a rare beacon of new-found hope.
All in all Colombia has come a long way over the last decade or two. Some parts of the country may indeed still be too dangerous to visit, but elsewhere, tourism is beginning to flourish. In fact, several times I've seen Colombia dubbed the world's most upcoming tourist destination in recent years.
This includes Medellin – probably the single most infamous place name in the whole of Colombia. Once the murder capital of the world and seat of the most powerful of the drug barons, it is now one of the safest cities in the country to visit as a tourist. And they even milk their dark history:
The most infamous of the Colombian drug barons, the "kingpin" of the Medellin Cartel, was Pablo Escobar, possibly the financially most successful criminal of all time: at one point he was said (by Forbes!) to be one of the richest men on the planet. But I guess he couldn't take it with him when he was assassinated in 1993. Despite the brutal murders he administered (car bombs and drive-by shootings were favourites) he was still revered as a kind of Robin Hood figure at home, because he also donated millions to the poor. Good old Mafia tactics to keep the locals loyal.
There are Pablo-Escobar-themed tours in Medellin – taking in everything from his birth place, sites where he escaped assassination, to the one where he didn't, and ending at his grave. As a special treat, tourists can even visit Pablo's brother Roberto and talk with him about his famous sibling's legacy.
However, do take note that many locals do not welcome such exploits. I was told by a fellow traveller who'd been to Medellin that the people he spoke to there were quite opposed to this glorification of the crimes of Escobar and his circles.
More recently, the Escobar connection also featured in a controversial “docu-series” on Netflix called “Dark Tourist”, in which the presenter meets and talks to Escobar's former main hit man, i.e. a multiple murderer. If this sort of thing can even be regarded as legit dark tourism at all (I have my doubts), it is certainly very far on the edge.
At the more kosher end of the dark-tourism scale, there may at some point be some form of commemoration/memorialization of the long internal conflict and the FARC. I'm not aware of any such commodification
yet, but it's not unlikely to appear in the future. When/if any readers find out about any such things, could they please contact
(Please note that the photo at the top is only a joke: it's just a line of harmless flour and the staw was placed next to it without any intention of using it ... but you can guess what it is supposed to represent. Sorry if it's a bit cliched ...)