Published on October 3rd, 2017 | by Charly Mancilla Monroy
Forbidden Colombia, Part 1: Chocó, A Pacific Coast Paradise Rediscovered
As a young Colombian, I always heard stories from my grandparents about the war that afflicted my country, my people, my culture. I always heard about how various armed groups killed each other over ideological, political and economic differences. I heard about how innocent people died, people in the countryside who weren’t part of any of those groups. I heard about how those armed groups, on the margins of the law, recruited children to take part in their activities. I heard how my parents couldn’t go outside to play because they were afraid a landmine might kill them.
As a university student focused on tourism, I’ve learned about the many beautiful destinations within Colombia, and the ones that could not be visited because of the civil war … unspoiled beaches that weren’t visited for fear of being kidnapped, or tripping over a landmine.
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One year after my country took a big step forward with the signing of a peace treaty with one of the largest armed groups, the FARC, I can say that things have changed significantly. I now hear about new possibilities that have opened, new routes to visit incredible places that were once prohibited. I hear about how ex-members of FARC have integrated into society, forming a unified heart among Colombians. I hear about community initiatives between the government and FARC to remove landmines so that no one will be hurt again.
Colombia is experiencing an important and historical change, breaking internal barriers and welcoming people from around the world who previously wouldn’t have come, because of the civil war that lasted more than 52 years. These changes have compelled me to write about my experience as a tourism student and as a Colombian, about how conditions are improving in various departments of Colombia, and which tourism destinations are best visited today, and why.
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This is the first of a three-part series that explores places in Colombia that were once unvisitable for international travelers. But now they’re back on the map.
Chocó, on the Road to Tourism and Peace
This beautiful paradise is hidden along the Pacific coast, with exotic beaches that can heal the wounds of war. This region suffered the sixth greatest numbers of victims from the armed conflict. The Colombian government decided to take advantage of the destination’s beauty with an investment of nearly $30 million pesos, earmarked for improving infrastructure and promoting Chocó to travelers.
When visiting this department, it’s impossible not to think about all those cases when the civil war wrought harsh consequences. But since the peace treaty, the government has pushed its appeal as a vacation destination, with various tourism attractions that are unique in the world.
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A few years ago, it was unthinkable to make great investments in this territory, since violence from various sources and among various armed groups didn’t allow for the potential to be recognized. But today, Chocó has opened its doors for everyone — especially for people who are seeking a stress-free, tranquil and decidedly non-urban escape. Visitors can relax and enjoy beautiful landscapes and meet locals who welcome visitors with open arms.
Various municipalities in Chocó are graced with picture-perfect beaches, with a wide variety of tourist activities, including surfing, rappelling and scuba diving in the Nuqui municipality, as well as whale watching in the municipality of Bahía Solano. Water sports and water-based activities are just part of the fun that awaits in Choco. Land-based vacation activities include bird watching, hiking, visiting natural parks and interacting with different cultures. You can also explore the distinct ecosystems that exist in Choco, with tropical rainforests, mangroves and swamps.
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Chocó is a natural vacation paradise that has left behind its history of war, arms and blood. Today, it’s a new story — of peace, culture and natural beauty. And tourism plays a fundamental role in that new story.