A big South American country at the northern end of the continent, bordering the Central American land-bridge (namely its southern-most 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 … aaaargghhh!!! And it's true, Colombia is 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).
Murder is still common. Kidnappings too. 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 in Caracas at the time!
revolutionary rebel army FARC, responsible for large number of such kidnappings, continues operating in the jungle (as the oldest such army in the world), although there have been various hostage releases, some of victims who had been in captivity for years. Others have been rescued by force. FARC is also under military attack in general and is probably no longer as strong as it once was.
At the same time, members of the right-wing paramilitary organizations have been encouraged to lay down their arms through being offered reduced or suspended sentences and help to start a proper civilian life.
All in all Colombia has come a long way over the last decade or two. Some parts of the country are indeed still too dangerous to visit, but elsewhere, tourism is beginning to flourish once again.
This even 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 time 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.
Now there are Pablo-Escobar-themed tours in Medellin – taking in everything from his birth place, places 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. True pioneering dark-tourism offerings indeed!
Tours last about 4 hours and cost between 50 and 100 USD for groups of up to four or individuals.
(For more info see medellincolombiatours.com/medellin-pablo-escobar-tour.html)