Narco-tourism in Colombia: ‘No worse than in Bolivia and Peru’
Narco and drug tourism in Colombia has maintained a presence, but according to backpackers is no worse than in neighboring countries.
Despite Colombia’s history and international image, drug tourism has been listed by travelers as less prevalent than in other South American countries.
While the presence of drug tourism is undeniable, many backpackers and tourists that spoke to Colombia Reports insisted that cocaine was in fact much easier to buy in neighboring countries such as Bolivia and Peru, where it was less hidden from the public eye. One backpacker said that “cocaine is much more in your face in other places, such as La Paz (Bolivia)” another added that “I was offered cocaine more frequently in Peru and Bolivia than I was in Colombia.”
However, of the six back packers Colombia Reports spoke to, almost all of them had witnessed some usage of cocaine in Colombia. This was not restricted to specific parts of the country, although there was a general consensus that cocaine was less common and harder to come by in capital city Bogota than in other parts of Colombia.
One traveler said that “if tourists go looking for it, they can find it quite easily” while another added “I don’t look for cocaine, but I was offered a lot. It’s very easy to find if you’re a gringo.”
Despite these assertions, travelers specifically located in Cartagena reported that cocaine was incredibly common. One backpacker said that “offers of cocaine are more common than being offered beads on the beach” and that dealing with the offers “was a fact of life.”
Another described how, while sitting in a restaurant, a dealer had tried to pressure them into buying cocaine and got quite belligerent when they seemed reluctant. They managed to get away after he returned to his house to collect some cocaine and left them at the restaurant.
Cocaine and Colombia is nothing new; even two decades after his death, drug lord Pablo Escobar is still a household name across the globe in spite of the world’s biggest narco’s death almost 20 years ago.
While the Colombian government decriminalized the possession of small amounts of cocaine (1 gram) in 2012, it isn’t entirely clear is the success of drug, and more specifically cocaine, tourism within Colombia. After speaking to groups of back packers and hoteliers alike, the two camps agree on the presence of drug tourism in the country.
Besides pop-culture glamorizing cocaine use and decriminalization potentially endorsing it, the are a plethora of websites dedicated to helping travelers getting the best out of their cocaine adventure. After googling the question “where can I buy cocaine in Colombia?” over 4 million results appear, many claiming to know the best way to obtain cocaine in the country.
While most discussions concerning cocaine on websites such as bluelight.com and drugs-forum.com were dated between 2008 – 2010 (before the decriminalization), it is perhaps fair to imagine that its popularity as a “tourist attraction” will have increased among travelers now that there is less risk of being arrested.
Even before the decriminalization took place The Guardian reported that “backpackers were doing lines in their hostel dorms while simultaneously organizing tourist ‘excursions’ to cocaine factories.”
Unlike the travelers themselves, most of the hostels that spoke to Colombia Reports were unable to comment on how commonplace drug use was among travelers. They stated that the prevention methods they had implemented, including information programs to dissuade people from buying cocaine in the first place, had worked effectively or at least seemed to.
That being said, while the Mama Waldy hostel in Cartagena does enforce a no drugs policy, there are no signs or warnings in the hostel’s interior – they rely on guests to police their own morals on the matter and do not get overly involved.
All of the establishments also said that the use of cocaine was prohibited within their respective properties and that largely this was respected by tourists.
Medellin’s Casa Kiwi told this website that as well as signs around the building prohibiting cocaine, they also run a program called “Tour Pablo Escobar.” This tour “provides tourists with information regarding the dangers of personal drug use, as well as informing them as to the socio-political problems that are triggered by cocaine consumption in Medellin and the rest of the country.”
Similarly, Hostal Amber in Cartagena revealed that they use the example of women and children “who are sexually exploited by drug gangs to discourage buying cocaine and other substances.” They also added that while they “did not inform tourists of the decriminalized status” of drugs in Colombia, the believe that maybe “60% of tourists” make use of recreational narcotics in the country, although this is not just cocaine.
- Interviews with backpackers
- Interviews with hostels (Casa Kiwi, Medellin; Chocolate Hostal, Bogota and Hostal Amber, Cartagena)
- Buying cocaine in Colombia (Bluelight)
- Cocaine Tourism (Exploration online)
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