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Travel with Respect

Generally avoid discussing politics or the present civil war in public, except with well-known acquaintances or relatives that have your trust and confidence. In general, nobody will react with violence to different opinions, but the hearts of Colombians suffer deeply remembering all the victims of the political and narcotics wars of past and current conflicts. Accordingly, do not approach these subjects in your first conversation with a Colombian. Even if you want to denote being informed about the country's main issues, most Colombians will find it rude if your first association of the country is with drugs, war, or corruption (they are clearly aware of their country's bad reputation). Most likely they will answer with "Colombia has many more wonderful things besides that", which is true, and turn away.Always say "please" ("Por favor" or "Hágame el favor") and "thank you" ("muchas gracias") for anything, to anyone. Colombians tend to be very polite and formal, and explicitly good manners win the approval of those around you. Sometimes it can sound rude to Colombians if somebody calls you and you answer with just an "Ehhh?"--the proper response being "¿Señora?" or "¿Señor?", depending on who's calling you.Despite being a formal people, Colombians tend to speak their minds and opinions quite freely. They are also not shy of asking questions about health, salary or social status and thinking--topics that could be offensive to others or considered personal information. Like many other Americans, Colombians dislike arguing. So if you get involved in one with a Colombian person, it is likely that most people will avoid talking to you, so while discussing certain issues, keep yourself cool and express yourself with calm and reason. Colombians admire people with such nature.Most Colombians are laid back regarding race issues, since white or creole persons blend naturally with natives and Afro-Colombians in everyday life (education, living, politics, marriage). So the word "negro" can be used regardless of who's saying it, or who is being referred to in this way. You can hear expressions like "negrito" or "mi negro" in a restaurant or on the street. You could hear someone calling "negra" to a woman, regardless of the race of the person. And in general, Afro-Colombians don't find it offensive, as they are simply variations on the Spanish word for "black". But remember, even if you're not a tourist, when you use the word "negro", try not to apply any rude tones or use the word in a derogatory way, because that will mean that you're using it in a racist way.Differences between white British persons, white U.S citizens or northern Europeans are not perceived by most Colombians. Hence, you can expect to be called "gringo" even if you are, say, Russian. Don't let this offend you as a non Spanish-speaking visitor. In fact there have even been cases of Spaniards (a mostly white country) being mistook and also being called "gringos".The same statement could be issued regarding Asian visitors. Due to the fact that the most common and familiar Asian ethnicity in Colombia is Chinese - even though there are few Chinese travellers in Colombia, very often visitors from the Pacific Rim and the Far East such as Korea, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, among others, are considered the same race, hence, the expression "Chino" for males and "China" for women (Chinese in either case) to all people coming from an Asian ethnicity. If this is your case, trying to point out your ethnic and cultural background will be difficult, so passing by this perception could avoid uncomfortable situations and instead will allow you get in touch with the warmth and friendliness of Colombians. Something peculiar is that Colombians refer to children as chinos, in a casual sense, this use comes from Chibcha the language spoken by the indigenous people and is not a reference to the people of the Asian country.Colombians have a very unusual and funny mannerism of pointing to objects with their mouths. Sometimes it is because pointing to a person with the finger may be considered a rude gesture in Colombia.Regarding table manners, a lot of the more traditional elder Colombians hate when the guest leaves some of the food uneaten on the plate. This sometimes can be uncomfortable to visitors due to the "exotic" food that can be served, like tamales (with the green wet leaves envelope). However, you can explain your fears regarding certain foods--they'll understand. When you are eating with young people, you can negotiate and even ask what is going to be eaten in the first place. Colombians like to dance a lot. It's part of the cultural ancestry. And as in other Central and South American countries, it's very common to hear and feel rhythmic music such as salsa, son, merengue, cumbia or reggaeton. Anyone will be glad to teach you how to dance, and they will not expect you to do it correctly, since they have been practicing every weekend for all their lives. Colombian night life centers mostly on dancing, and bars where people sit or stand are rare. In Bogota, Andres Carne de Res is especially famous and El Salto del Angel. Also in Medellin you can find great places like the "fondas", they´re places that resemble the old country houses in the Antioquia region. You can find many objects, pictures and other artifacts that are part of the coffee culture. They're great places to eat and dance, and you must visit them every time you come to Colombia.When dancing, despite what you might think of all the sensual movements of men and women, people just enjoy music and dancing and are normally not used for sexual encounters or as sexual signs. Here you could find salsa in children "piñata" parties, or even in parties for old people. North Americans and Europeans could find this odd or confusing because of the use of salsa and Latin rhythms in their countries. A Colombian dancing innocently could be misinterpreted, and in general, Colombian women or men are not "easy" just because of the way they dance. It is applied in the same way as in Brazil --an almost-naked "garota" dancing samba in the carnival is not inviting you to have sex with her but inviting you to enjoy, to be happy, to join in the celebration, to join the exuberant shedding of inhibitions. This is sort of a ritual thing imprinted in the Colombian genes.Regarding religion, most Colombians are Catholic, and it´s important to them to keep certain ceremonies and respect for all things related to religion. You could visit great architectural churches, even going inside, but taking pictures may be considered disrespectful. Young people are more open to learning about other religions and debate on this subject.Colombians are very conservative about homosexual issues, so it's not common to find a couple of men holding hands or kissing in the street. Young people by comparison are more open-minded, but don't expect too much. As a general rule, socially "liberal" Colombians are roughly the equivalent of a socially "conservative" Western European, so you can expect older Colombians to have quite stringent values.Colombians use their hands to show the height of people and animals in a different way. Avoid using your hand with the palm facing down to describe the height of another person; it is used for animals and may be insulting. If you must describe the height of another person, use your hand with the palm facing inward.When writing the name of the country do not spell it "Columbia". Everyone will spot the misspelling right away, and though not necessarily offensive, Colombians are aware of this common mistake and find it rather annoying. The Spanish (and English for that matter) name of the country is "Colombia".

Information from wikitravel.org*

Travel Safe

Colombia has suffered from a terrible reputation as a dangerous and violent country and it is. However, in the last few years safety has improved in a certain way. Colombia is relatively safe compared with the Congo or Iraq, but keep an eye on your surroundings. Tourists will face problems if they decide just to fool around in cities. Of course it pays to think safe, just as you would in any other large metropolitan city and even more so here because of the extra violence factor of the guerrillas. To discover the forest, ask somebody to stay with you. Walk relatively free during the day, but during night take precautions and from time to time observe who's around you. Normally the people who steal look awful, so be cautious when a stranger who looks messy come near you!According to a 2001 study conducted by the Hiscox Group, Colombia has the largest percentage of Americans kidnapped in foreign countries. One should be aware of this when traveling, and therefore avoid being alone at all times.

Information from wikitravel.org*

 

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* ecotourdirectory.com is not responsible for the travel advice and travel with respect sections on this page. We would strongly advise that before traveling to Colombia you consult your countries embassy for the lastest guidance.

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