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Colombia

 

The Republic of Colombia was formally established in 1855. Over the next 100 years, Colombian politics were dominated by the Conservative-Liberal feud, which often broke out into warfare. Periods of democratic government alternated with dictatorships. There were occasions, however, when the two parties were able to unite to see off a common threat. The 1970 election was a turning point in Colombia’s recent history. Disaffected members of ANAPO (Alianza Nacional Popular) formed a guerrilla movement known as Movimiento 19 de Abril (M-19), which initiated a 15-year-long guerrilla campaign against the government and acquired other left-wing groups.

 

Anyone who has kept up with the news knows that Colombia has experienced its share of unrest and violence. Drug running, guerrilla warfare, right-wing death squads, kidnappings, and devastating earthquakes plague this midsize South American country. But Colombia is a bewildering paradox, and bad news is just one part of the story.

If you were to look at the country purely from a travel point of view, you might be surprised to find that Colombia is one of South America's gems, a country bestowed with magnificent landscapes as diverse as Caribbean and Pacific beaches, tropical rainforest, and snowcapped Andean peaks that tower over fertile valleys. From a historical standpoint, few Latin countries boast better museums or more handsome colonial architecture. Colombians are proud of their long-standing cultural and intellectual tradition that has produced noted writers such as Gabriel García Márquez and artists such as Fernando Botero. The country has wonderful cuisine, a rich variety of native musical styles, and a population that is ethnically diverse, somewhat sentimental, and always ready to greet you with a warm smile.

And herein lies the paradox. How could a country with so much to offer find itself torn by terror and poverty? Should you as a traveler risk visiting such a country, and if so, where and how should you go? For the answers to these questions, it helps to have an understanding of historical and current events that have shaped, and disfigured, this enigmatic nation.