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Colombia Tourism Bubble About to Burst

“These people are sick of tourists already,” my wife spoke about Colombia. I had to agree with her. All too often people are afraid to speak out against the opinion of the group they’re surrounded by. Nobody wants to be a buzzkill. “Colombia is great, Colombia is great,” is the most commonly opinion from travelers [...]

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“These people are sick of tourists already,” my wife spoke about Colombia. I had to agree with her.

All too often people are afraid to speak out against the opinion of the group they’re surrounded by. Nobody wants to be a buzzkill. “Colombia is great, Colombia is great,” is the most commonly opinion from travelers in this country. I stand out by saying, “Colombia is alright,” and this perhaps makes me look like a real buzzkill.

For me, I have no idea how anyone who has been all through Latin America can fall in love with Colombia in particular. I just don’t see what they are looking at. This country is alright, though very similar to its neighbors and around twice as expensive.

The tourism Colombia bubble is about to burst.

For the past decade a big bubble of hype has been built up about Colombia. It was the NEW place to BE in South America, a seemingly dangerous country that offered its fruits only to the boldest of travelers. This legacy has outlived the reality. Colombia is now PACKED with tourists, the crowds have arrived, the commercial culture has adapted, and now the adventure of traveling here is really not much different than Ecuador, Peru, or pretty much any other country in Latin America.

It is still possible to be kidnapped, robbed, attacked in Colombia — though way safer than what it was a decade ago, it is still, relatively speaking, a dangerous country — but the sheen of romance that once surrounded these risks have been worn off by the excessive amounts of tourists now inundating the country.

But who has anything bad to say about Colombia?

Colombia does not seem to be a culture which is allow mass tourism to blend very well into its fabric. There seems to be rather stark dichotomies between locals and tourists/ travelers.  One of the things that I love about Mexico is that the backpackers, the expats, and the Mexicans all hang out together in big groups without many stark cultural divisions. In Colombia, I did not notice this international adhesion in the least: the backpackers hang out with the backpackers, the expats with the expats, the hippies with the hippies, and unless copulating with any of the above groups, the Colombians hang out with the Colombians. The invisible cultural lines seem far thicker here than in some other parts of Latin America.

“This is my brother, this is my wife, this is my sister in law, and you are white, go back to the center,” a friend of mine was told one night when he made a friendly gesture towards a group of Colombians at a bar.

I did not find Colombia bad, unfriendly, unwelcoming, or really anything that can said to be negative, but I also did not find Colombia to be superior to any of the other countries in Latin America in any regard beyond the higher cost to travel there.

The Colombia tourism bubble is about to burst.


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Filed under: Colombia, Tourism

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3706 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

13 comments… add one

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  • Caitlin January 2, 2012, 11:26 pm

    Mmmm… When did this section of your website start?

    I’d make it a bit more obvious from the travelogue section if I were you because I was unaware of its existence, so perhaps more people were too.

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    • Wade Shepard January 4, 2012, 5:06 pm

      Hello Caitlin,

      I’ve made an announcement or two about this blog in the old one. It’s also on the homepage as well as in the full site feed. Sort of needed to separate the articles from the personal stuff and have completely different sections for many of the topics on the site. Trying to take the site in a different direction for this year, and the mixing of types of pages is sort of limiting our ability to move forward. If you would like, the feed for the personal blog is personal blog feed. Trying to separate everything so people can just follow what they like most rather than the entire mess that gets published each day haha.

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  • Kevin Wollam May 21, 2012, 6:39 pm

    hola…hey man I hung out with you a bit in Cartagena…Cartagena, and Medellin were just that for me about Colombia…not til I got off the beaten path and picked places out on maps did things really change. Going to small pueblos people were very friendly and welcoming. I got an apartment in Cali for awhile, and made some really good colombian friends. Colombia for me was great. Also getting out of the cities does wonders aswell, but I will agree with you many people say Colombia is so great (gringos) and basically get drunk in a hostel and drunk at a bar packed with other tourists. (I was the guy making fajitas) If you can man shoot me an email and let me know how you are doing. Take care man

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    • Wade Shepard May 21, 2012, 9:49 pm

      Hello Fajita man,

      Great to hear from you again. Yes, I suppose our travels there were divided up into two sections: small pueblos in the mountains and the coast. We really enjoyed the country until we arrived to the Caribbean — no, I think we enjoyed pretty much the entire think. The problem for us was that the costs were a little too much for us during that time — we weren’t keeping our fractions constant then. Also, I just got the feeling that the country was on the verge of being absolutely ravaged by unchecked tourism. It was still cool when we were there, but I can’t say that I think I’ll feel the strong urge to return any time soon. But next time my kid will be a little older and we could probably get into the wild areas a little more.

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  • Kevin Wollam May 21, 2012, 6:41 pm

    sorry i mistyped….I agree Medellin and Cartagena are long gone….there are many places here that are still gems, and I dont see tourism ruining these places for a long time (Salento, San Gil, Barichar, Guatape etc etc)

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    • Wade Shepard May 21, 2012, 9:52 pm

      Hope you’re right, man, but I can’t say I’m as hopeful.

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  • Dmitri December 28, 2012, 7:06 am

    I dig that you can stand out and say “eh, it’s alright.”
    I kind of have the same thing sometimes. It depends on the mood, too.
    Been to Peru, now about to go see Ecuador. Hm.
    Starting to be more and more interested in Mexico. I don’t really MIND hanging out with JUST the backpackers but, yeah, I mind – I mind the limitation in principle. Thanks for the heads up, it’s valuable info.

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  • tourist February 9, 2013, 7:15 pm

    I agree that the tourism bubble has burst. I have been to Colombia on more than one occasion, and in my opinion, the attitude of the Colombians (in general) towards tourists is changing. I felt definite hostility for the first time – especially at the Bogota airport, which is a gong show of incompetence (ironic given the massive investment in the airport). Many Colombians in the service industry have no idea what customer service is, and can’t be bothered to do a good job. There are better places to visit that cost less.

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    • Jeffrey Diamond May 22, 2019, 11:20 am

      You mentioned in this response and your article that there are better places to visit. Care to specify?

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  • Diego Fran April 14, 2013, 4:23 pm

    I´m glad you write this comments about us. We can´t pleased everyone. I have lived in 3 countries, traveled a lot and I have also the right not to like a certain place. So, I don´t have to go back there. Colombia was affordable before the boom, beaches cleaner, tourist sites better kept, so I would be very happy with less tourists, specially professional moaners. So, unless you are invited (or any tourist), you don´t have to come here. Easy. Or… take it as it is, a long suffering country that is just coming out of a nightmare and try to be happier. So, if you don´t want to share this part of our history, with us, just don´t. We didn´t have tourists for decades, we can carry on like that.

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    • VagabondJourney April 14, 2013, 8:16 pm

      In getting defensive you seem to have missed the point. This is the perspective of a visitor to your country. I believe I did take it as it is, and I wrote about the country as I took it. What more should be expected?

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  • Tony Logan March 12, 2014, 11:21 am

    Colombia is a huge country with huge regional variety within it, and tourism has only marginally touched most of Colombia yet. So Wade Shepard is completely incorrect in thinking that Colombians are getting jaded by having too many gringos all around.

    In most of Colombia people will still greet you as if you were a Martian that had just landed. In more traveled areas such as Bogota, Medellin, Cartagena, and Santa Marta (Tayrona), people are hardly unfriendly or exploitative. I believe that you kinda just had a bad trip, Wade. Kevin is right, in that you just need to broaden your horizons in the country a little bit more, if you ever travel to Colombia again.

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    • VagabondJourney March 12, 2014, 11:31 am

      Did you read the last paragraph?

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