|While much of South America has boomed in tourism from Machu Picchu to Patagonia, the wonderful country of Colombia has been a victim of bad press with images of drug lords, kidnappings, and para-military rebels. Yes, the nation has had its pockets of unrest, but I kept hearing from friends who had actually traveled there reports of charming cities and exceptional friendly people. I’ve made a habit recently of visiting a new destination in Latin America each year, for the sake of adventure and to continue refining my Spanish skills, and in 2010, a cheap flight to Bogota tipped the scales in favor of Colombia, to check the “risks” out for myself. I even added an additional element of “risk” when I made an appointment to get some major dental work done down there that I had avoided for years in the States due to the extreme costs. Apart from seeing natural landscapes, historic cities and mingling with other traveling backpackers, I really wanted to meet Colombians themselves. I was able to do this with the help of friends-of-friends, networking on-line via couchsurfing.com, and even my dentist and his family welcomed me in. Indeed, while the sites and activities were rewarding, my favorite aspect of my trip was the people who befriended me, took me into their homes, and took pride in making sure I enjoyed their country. So, I did travel and return home safely (with a new smile, too) and so the only published “risk” that I can say is accurate in my experience, is the one that Colombia’s Tourism Ministry has cleverly adopted as their slogan: “El riesgo es que te quieras quedar.” (The risk is that you’ll want to stay.) And to that, I say: “De acuerdo.” I agree.|
|As a professional in the field of group tourism, I often ask myself how can a set group of travelers go beyond the insular trappings of their own familiarity and the limits of a designed itinerary and get a taste of the personal and cultural exchange that so many of us love who travel solo on a flexible schedule? And I also ask how do we balance a desire for adventure with our high standards of safety and amenities? These are delicate balances for sure, but it has to do with “risk,” knowing what they legitimately are and differentiating how they can be good and bad for you. I have traveled and lived in “risky” circumstances, but it is not because I’m care-free, I’m actually very strategic and a lover of efficiency and order. I do my research and prepare for the worst and avoid legitimate dangers, which actually frees me up to embrace the unexpected when it does come. I like to say I’ve experienced more spontaneity in my life and in the tours I lead because I plan for it, putting myself and my charges in the right context to be surprised. And thus we learn about ourselves, as history also teaches: the world would be even more “risky”, if there were no risk-takers.|
Isaiah Mosteller is the Director of Education at Academic Expeditions. Read his staff bio along with our other staff at our "Our Team" page.
Check out our Latin America Destinations page to learn more about potential trips to Colombia and other Spanish-speaking countries.