How many tourists visit Colombia each year

Colombia is mutating into a tourist destination

"Paisa Road" is written on the Japanese minibus that Nicolás Solórzana takes to Medellín almost every day. The lanky man in his late thirties in the training pants with the three stripes is a tour guide and drives vacationers in the footsteps of Pablo Escobar through the relevant districts of Medellín. "My aim is to provide information on how the city suffered under the patron's terror," says the trained graphic artist about the tour concept that he developed ten years ago.

The pioneer now has to face considerable competition. The travel industry discovered what is probably the world's most famous cocaine dealer after the somewhat pathetic film adaptation of his life on Netflix and sometimes portrays him as the Robin Hood of the poor. For the Medellín writer Héctor Abad an horror: »It's similar to Adolf Hitler because of the building of the highways, ”he grumbles.

However, Abad is quite impressed by the increasing number of tourists who stroll through the Poblado nightlife district and the center of Colombia's second largest city with 2.4 million inhabitants and often do not shy away from even the trip with the cable car to Comuna 13. "A few years ago it was still a hotly contested area, now it is relatively safe, at least during the day," says Abad.

Increasing security is one reason why tourists have flocked to the South American country for the past few years. In 2010, 2.6 million visitors came mainly to the cities on the Caribbean coast, above all Cartagena. In 2016 there were already almost 5.1 million tourists, and last year there was another 28 percent increase. The 6.5 million visitors ensured that tourism has become the second most important economic sector in the country after oil and before coffee export. And Colombia has further potential. On the one hand, the four metropolises Bogotá, Medellín, Cali and Cartagena are visited by tourists, on the other hand, more and more visitors are discovering the scenic regions such as the coffee zone or following the traces of indigenous cultures in Ciudad Perdida in northern Colombia, next to Machu Picchu one of the largest rediscovered pre-Columbian cities in South America. Ornithologists, on the other hand, have the nature reserves with their many exotic bird species in their sights and spend a lot of money on snapshots. Those in charge in Bogotá, who are working on new routes to appeal to cyclists as well as coffee lovers, climbers and hikers, know that. In addition, tours are offered on the Caribbean coast, on the trail of the War of Independence or Vallenato, currently the most important music style.

Tours are also organized in the protected areas. For example, from Bogotá you can visit Páramo Sumapaz, one of the country's most important water reservoirs, just an hour's drive away. It lies above the 2500 meter mark in the middle of raised bogs that can absorb and store immense amounts of water. Countless rivers in the country have their source here. There are 36 of these water reservoirs, mostly surrounded by impressive vegetation, across the country. The trip to Páramo Sumapaz was risky until peace was made with the FARC guerrilla movement. Since November 2016, buses with tourists have been going to Páramo and back every day. Local daily newspapers report that there are up to 1500 people a day. However, they also point to the harmful influence of tourists who leave rubbish behind, hunt wild animals without a license and show a lack of respect for the environment.

A problem that tourism minister María Claudia Lacouture has not dealt with any more than with sex tourism, which is not only widespread in holiday destinations on the Caribbean coast, but also in Medellín. Although there is a strategy against the sexual exploitation of children and young people, in reality the police often turn a blind eye, criticizes Héctor Abad. This is the downside of the tourist boom, which poured an estimated eight billion US dollars into the state coffers in 2017 and gave around 1.8 million people jobs - and the trend is rising.

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