Things I Hate About Colombia

19 Things I Hate About Colombia

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I’ve lived in Colombia for more than three years now, specifically in Medellin, while also traveling throughout most of the country… Visiting everywhere from Palomino to Mocoa. I’ve seen more of Colombia than most Colombians, and it has become my home away from home and is the longest I’ve ever lived in another country. After that long, I was bound to discover some bad things about Colombia, the types of things that rub me wrong, or even things I hate about living here.

To all my Colombian friends or readers, I want to be clear that I love living in Medellin, and I love Colombia. I’ve never been tempted to say “Colombia sucks!” or “I hate Colombia!” when the reality is quite the opposite.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about the bad things about Colombia. It’s nothing personal.

There are good and bad things about any place on earth (including other places I’ve loved living), and there are far more things I love about living in Colombia than I hate–which is obviously why I’ve stayed so long. 

I don’t mean to offend anyone, I just want to address some of the real frustrations, annoyances, or downsides about living in Colombia, or sometimes more specifically about living in Medellin (along with some of the silly, unimportant things that perplex or confuse me as an expat).

Keep in mind while reading that just because something is on this list, that does NOT mean:

1) it is a serious complaint that ruins my time or ruins my life, and thus I should “just go back to Los EEUU”. If it was, I would.

2) it is “the worst” in any given category when undoubtedly there are other cities or countries that are worse offenders than Medellin or Colombia in various categories or qualifications.

3) that these complaints are unique only to Medellin or Colombia, or that the United States (my home country) doesn’t also suffer from some of the same problems listed below.

4) that some of the complaints apply to every single person or place in Colombia, when there always are exceptions, although if I’ve included it below, it’s because it’s something that is WAY too common or that the majority seem to do.

With those caveats out of the way, let’s get onto some of the bad things about Colombia…

Inefficient Businesses

It seems like the relationship between quality/price and service are often inversely related in Medellin. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been out to a somewhat middle class or upscale bar or restaurant and you have to practically beg for service from the waiters or waitresses.

Once they can finally be bothered to serve you (usually with a look of disdain that you are making them work), they finally come take your order, and then it takes them half the night to bring you your food or beer.

The worst part though, is that they have the nerve at the end to ask whether or not to include “servicio” (aka a tip) for their extremely attentive service (in a culture where tipping isn’t common, although I know tipping can be one of the most perplexing things a foreigner encounters when traveling to the USA).

All of these businesses have the same spiel when you ask for the bill “vas a pagar en efectivo o con tarjeta?” “y quieres incluir el servicio?”

Whereas you can go to a cheap little mom and pop restaurant for a menu of the day for like $3 (9.000 pesos) and you get fast, efficient, and even friendly service with no expectation of a tip.

I actually once had a guy chase me down the block because I “paid too much” aka left a modest tip when it wasn’t expected.

The fact is that big businesses often hire incompetent people, and there is one of those weird laws in Colombia that makes it VERY difficult or almost impossible to fire these people — the onus is on the business to have cause to fire them (and be able to prove it) or the employee can sue.

And since waitstaff don’t earn their income through tips (and can’t be fired for being a bad worker), they act like it’s a nuisance when they actually have to work when you show up, rather than sit there chatting on WhatsApp.

Going Out to the Movies

I like going out to the movies every once in a while, and Colombia has some truly amazing cinemas, big, modern, clean, 3D, 4D, whatever-D, and VIP.

But every time I go to the movies in Medellin, I’m reminded of why it’s terrible here and immediately wish I was at home with Netflix. First of all, the lines are out the door almost any given night because going to the mall is about the most popular thing to do here (I’ve never seen so many malls in one city, and each one is full), so you need to go like an hour (or more) beforehand… And the lines move slower than molasses… Why?

Because they have assigned seating and everyone has to go to the front of the line and hem and haw for 15 minutes trying to pick their assigned seats. It is ridiculous how long some people take to buy their tickets and pick seats–I honestly don’t understand how it can take that long.

Are assigned seats really necessary?

And if so, didn’t we have technology like 10 years ago that can solve this problem?

I mean Medellin has got kiosks that can show you exactly where you parked in a gigantic mall by entering your license plate into a touchscreen and it will show you your car via live camera feed… Things I’ve never even seen in the USA.

Narco Culture

Pablo Escobar may long be dead, but he has forever left his mark on the culture of an entire city. A large portion of the youth today in Medellin look up to Pablo Escobar as a role model, probably since they didn’t have to experience the terror and violence that he perpetrated on an entire country.

Too many people are out there searching for quick riches and an easy buck, whether through drugs, sex, murder, or robbing others. These guys dream of being drug dealers, kingpins, they blast reggaeton music (Spanish hip hop) which idolizes the narco drug culture, assassins, and womanizing, and they dress as “nea” as possible.

Meanwhile the girls have latched onto the idea that catching one of these guys in a relationship is their only way out of poverty and they skip education and become “grillas” (or, worse, prostitutes) at a young age and then soon find themselves with a baby on their hip and a guy who is completely unfaithful (also a key part of local culture, regardless of social class).

Meanwhile, other, more educated Colombians criticize foreigners for their passing interest in Pablo Escobar (the most famous person to ever come out of Colombia — sorry Shakira, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Fernando Botero), or the TV show Narcos, when NO ONE does more to promote and celebrate Narco Culture than the people that were born and raised in Medellin, including a number of people who have created Pablo Escobar Tours to capitalize on his name.

Incredibly, you can even find people like “Popeye” — a former top assassin for Pablo who killed more than 300 people, along with orchestrating the bombing of a plane that killed 100 and assassinating a leading Colombian Presidential candidate — who has become a YouTube star with more than half a million subscribers.

Like, how is this guy still alive or even walking free today? That tells you something about the Colombian justice system.

Hilariously though, even Popeye fell victim to Medellin’s insecurity (which he helped create) and was robbed at gunpoint by those notorious motorcycle thieves who forced him to pull his car over and give up his sunglasses, cellphone, cash, and jewelry (of course he’s got jewelry, he’s an old tough guy mafioso).

Mail Service

Don’t ever count on receiving mail that was sent from abroad.

I was sent a few Christmas cards one year and they literally never arrived, not even five months later… Maybe they are still on the way?

If it does come (sometimes things do arrive), it will take months. Be sure to never send anything of value though, as that definitely has a habit of disappearing.

But for some reason, my bills for EPM or UNE always show up on time though, like clockwork.

Safety and Security

Medellin is “mas o menos” safe, but there is a long, long way to go in every big city in Colombia (and many small or medium-sized cities too, unfortunately). Many Colombians act like these sorts of robberies happen all over the world.

No, they don’t.

These violent robberies with motorcycles robbing people (even Popeye!) at gunpoint at virtually any time or place (mid-day, busy areas, nice neighborhoods, wherever, whenever), pretty much only happen in Latin America, and Medellin is among the worst offenders — even within Colombia.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw a car full of Colombians getting robbed at midday on a Sunday on the corner of the ever-popular Parque Lleras. We were in a taxi like two car lengths away, and everyone on the street just stood around watching, then the motorcycle robbers took off the wrong way down a one-way street. Our taxi driver didn’t even react or say anything, just started driving like normal when the thieves took off.

And although nothing has happened to me in Medellin, I know far too many friends and acquaintances that have been robbed violently. I know WAY more people who have been robbed in Medellin or Latin America in general than I know who have been robbed after a lifetime in the US. I can tell you plenty of stories, but that would be a blog post in and of itself.

The fact is the police don’t do anything about robberies (most of the police are like 19-year-old kids with guns), and even if they do catch the robbers by sheer dumb luck, they are back on the street in no time (within days) where they can do it again (but this time with more practice in how not to get caught). 

It doesn’t just happen to foreigners either, indeed it happens way more to Colombians, and most Colombians are sick and tired of the insecurity as well.

Turns out if someone does try to rob you and you fight back (not a good idea if they are armed–that’s how tourists get killed) then the robber can actually turn around and sue, then you’ve got to fork over money to them anyway. I’m not even exaggerating… Yeah, there are some strange laws in Colombia.

No Lines

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been standing patiently at the counter to receive attention at a store or other business, waiting my turn, when all the sudden some potbellied Colombian dude crowds up next to me (bumping into me, of course, since they have no concept of personal space) and shouts at the clerk and they attend to him first.

Sometimes the clerk will give me a knowing look as if to say sorry. Other times they seem to care even less than the guy cutting to the front.

This lack of lines is common throughout Latin America and can be found in many situations, except when you’re going to the movie theater, then it’s a monster, multi-hour line. But it’s all a symptom of a bigger problem in Colombia…

Lack of Common Courtesy

People generally seem to think that the world revolves around them here, or that other people don’t seem to exist.

People cut lines, they stand in the middle of the sidewalk blocking passage, they flail their arms blindly on busy streets and almost slap you in the face, they park their car over the entire sidewalk so you have to walk in the street, they yell on their cell phones in the middle of a restaurant, and on and on. 

You can walk down the sidewalk where someone is blocking the way, make eye contact with them, and they still won’t politely step aside to let you pass unless you ask for “permiso” or just bump passed them (when in Rome).

It’s baffling sometimes to see just how little consideration the majority of people show for those around them. This Colombian mentality of absolute obliviousness in public is just strange. One expects it out in the countryside or in a small pueblo, but this stuff will even happen in the middle of the busy Medellin Centro

Colombian Drivers

This lack of courtesy extends to people behind the wheel, where it seems to have become a sort of middle to upper-class entitlement… The “I can afford a car, therefore I’m better and more important than you poor people walking” complex.

You must be very careful, drivers will practically run you down in the street like a dog (something that some jerks here actually do on purpose), and they will NEVER voluntarily yield to you, only if you force them to by stepping out in the road.

If you drive in Colombia, you will see a whole new class of animal behind the wheel as normal rules of the road (even those concerning their own safety) fly out the window. After driving across all of Latin America, I’ve had first-hand experience behind the wheel and seeing what are Colombian like, and trust me, they are up there near the top of the list for craziest drivers.

The only thing that keeps things relatively sane within the city of Medellin is the prevalence of red-light and speeding cameras all over, because the transit police (different from the ineffectual regular police) literally don’t do anything except report to the scene of accidents (which are plentiful), the occasional motorcycle checkpoint, and stand at intersections directing traffic when it grinds to a halt. That is seriously all they do.

Do you have any idea how much money the Colombian government could make if they actually tried to enforce the tiniest semblance of law and order among Colombian drivers? The national debt, solved!

It's a me, Ryan!

(Psst... Wanna know the "secret" to traveling forever or being free to do what you love? Here's how I did it, in five simple steps)

Colombian Time

Do you have plans with someone at a certain time? Forget about it.

Colombian time means that everything is later than actually stated.

I see this as another symptom of the lack of common courtesy and respect… They simply don’t care if they keep you waiting half an hour or much longer because the world revolves around them.

So you’re there waiting and you call to see where they are, and they will even lie and say they are on their way (“Ya voy!”) when they haven’t even left the house yet.

“Ya voy” basically means they are getting in the shower now. This is probably the biggest thing that I hate about Colombians… I mean, can’t you just say “Sorry, I’ll be there in half an hour,” or something to that end?

Again, this is something that is common throughout Latin America though.

Fake Directions

Not sure where the store or business you are looking for is located? Ask for help from a kind passerby and they will tell you “two blocks ahead and to the right”. So you follow their directions and find there is nothing there. You ask someone else at that location and they tell you it’s four blocks in the other direction…

… and there’s still nothing there.

Now, at first I chalked this up to a simple mistake or misunderstanding on my part when I was learning Spanish, but it truly has happened too many times to count and has happened again when I’m basically fluent in Spanish.

After asking for directions all over Latin America (and not just in Colombia), I’m convinced that most people are incapable of saying “I don’t know” so they literally just make things up and lie to you.

They would rather send you on a wild goose chase, or basically, just get rid of you and make you someone else’s problem rather than, you know, actually helping or admitting they don’t know.

My rule of thumb, if it is something important or time-sensitive, is to ask at least three people to see if the information lines up or if every answer I get is different.

Honestly, it’s better to rely on Google Maps than ask locals, but be careful taking your phone out on the street or you open yourself up to those previously mentioned motorcycle robberies.

Thousands of Pesos

One dollar is equal to about 3,000 pesos. The currency has suffered from so much inflation that they have three useless zeros. I don’t know why the government doesn’t reform the currency and just chop off those three zeros, but whatever.

The real problem is those bills of 50,000 pesos (roughly $16) that are a total burden… You can’t believe how tough it is to break a 50,000 bill or use them in many businesses… Yet that’s about the only bills the ATM machines spit out.

50,000 was the largest bill, but now they have introduced a 100,000 peso bill, which is probably only useful if you are going to buy a car in cash.

8 Days A Week

Yeah, it’s like a Beatles’ song every day in Colombia. There actually are 8 days a week here.

If the doctor tells you to take a pill “cada 8 dias” that actually means once a week, aka seven days.

So then how many days are in two weeks? Is it fourteen, fifteen, or sixteen? The whole thing is very strange.

How Many Continents are There?

Speaking of strange counting… According to Colombians, there are only 5 continents on earth.

Which doesn’t make much sense if you think about it… They don’t count Antarctica at all… Okay, fine, I guess.

North America and South America are considered only one continent… simply, America. Which is also part of the reason they get so irked that those from the USA refer to themselves as Americans since according to them, everyone from Canada to Paraguay is also American.

But how are they one continent when they are connected only by a tiny little sliver of virtually impassable land?

Yet, they consider Europe and Asia to be two different continents when they are connected by a massive swath of land crisscrossed by roads, trains, and no clear division (unless you count a low lying mountain range)?

I’m of the mind that Europe and Asia should be considered one continent, Eurasia, but I can’t fathom how North and South America could be considered one continent.

Plastic Surgery

Medellin is one of the plastic surgery capitals of the world, which may have something to do with why it is so renowned for its beautiful women.

I’m not a big fan plastic surgery, but to each their own, I guess.

But what is truly absurd are the butt implants that have become all the rage with Colombian women here… They look absolutely terrible (sometimes even terrifying), I mean we are talking about a big boxy (literally square shaped) thing stuck on their backside.

It looks not only ridiculous and unattractive, but it also looks extremely uncomfortable… Like, can you still sit down? Can you sleep on your back?


This is one that has gotten really bad over the past few years in Medellin, even more so since I first came to the country. The situation was exacerbated by the effects of El Nino, which essentially put a cap on the Valle de Aburra and held all the pollution in… Something that happens in other parts of the world as well, like Salt Lake City.

Sometimes looking out my window in the Laureles neighborhood, I could barely see the other end of the valley, near Las Palmas. Everything turns into a China-like soupy haze, they advise people against doing any physical exercise, the government declares a Car-Free day, and the next day life returns to normal while the pollution remains.

The sheer amount of low-quality cars from China and India, the hundreds of thousands of motos, and the old buses spitting out black smoke are all a HUGE problem that they are doing nothing to address, but they are planting more trees, I guess (even as they chop down others for more big infrastructure projects).

Medellin is innovative when it comes to public transport, but they need to do more to proactively tackle this problem because it only continues to get worse each year.

Litter, Litter, Everywhere

Colombia has some gorgeous natural landscapes, undoubtedly. But the worst part about nature in Colombia is Colombians.

Wanna go for a dip in a beautiful waterfall? Expect to hop over tons of rubbish and the picnic leftovers of some inconsiderate Colombian family.

Noisy Mobile Street Vendors

At first, it was kind of a neat novelty, having these guys with their pushcarts or cars and their megaphones announcing tamales or fresh fruit or whatever.

But yeah, they get really annoying after awhile.

Every day, yelling into a super loud megaphone (or playing a prerecorded loop) about their fruits for sale.

I admit, the fruit carts are great, but some of these megaphones are absurdly loud… Like disturbing the peace, loud. As if we couldn’t hear you? Tone it down a little.

People Hustling While You Eat at Restaurants

Everybody is hustling in Colombia — you don’t ever see much in the way of homeless people begging for loose change here, rather people will go out and sell candy, gum, movies, whatever. I think that is absolutely awesome, and I much more happily oblige someone trying to earn money like this rather than someone begging for change.

But what I hate is the people that come and harass you in the middle of eating a meal. Again, that lack of common courtesy.

Medellin has a climate perfect for patios and outdoor dining or cafes, but these guys make sitting outside a total chore… Honestly, Andrea and I often prefer to sit inside simply to avoid getting hassled by street peddlers.

But even THAT doesn’t stop them at times. Many (but not all) restaurants don’t care that people come in to sell to their paying customers.

To be clear, I will never buy gum or movies or anything from you if you come and interrupt me while I’m chewing or while I’m having a conversation with my girlfriend while we are out on a date. 

This has always been a problem, but it has only gotten worse with the huge influx of Venezuelans.

But I’ve saved the thing that I hate most for last…

How They Tie up Grocery Bags at the Supermarket

I always try and use my fabric bags or little grocery cart, but sometimes I forget and have to use plastic when I go to the supermarket. You know how plastic grocery bags have those big loops that are meant to serve as handles?

Pretty handy, right?

Well, at every major supermarket in Medellin they load your groceries into those same plastic bags and then go and braid some crazy knot to close the bag, effectively sealing off those handles and leaving a tiny little hole to carry your bags.

So then I’ve got to stop at a bench and unweave these crazy braids just so I can use the plastic bags as God intended them to be used — with big loops that serve as handles.

I can’t understand why they do this (is it simply to assure costumers that the bag lady isn’t stealing your groceries? Probably…) but it is extremely annoying.

I Love Medellin and Colombia

Yet despite these little (and sometimes big) irritations, annoyances, and inconveniences, there is much to be loved about living in Medellin, and I’m proud to call it my home away from home.

What about you? What bothers or annoys you to no end in Medellin or Colombia as a whole? Sound off in the comments below…

Colombia Travel Tips

Colombia Travel Tips

Important tips and resources for planning an amazing trip to Colombia, based on my years of traveling and living in Colombia.


  1. Book a cheap flight to Colombia with Momondo, or better yet, start travel hacking so you can fly for free.
  2. Plan a rough itinerary and how long you will spend in each destination. Use an itinerary planning service for custom recommendations and/or pick up Lonely Planet Colombia.
  3. Work a little every day to teach yourself Spanish, you'll want to know as much as possible before you arrive.
  4. Book cheap accommodation in advance, at least for the first destinations -- For hostels use: Booking, for cheap hotels use:, for apartments use: Airbnb.
  5. Reserve your on the ground tours and activities through Get Your Guide.
  6. Purchase travel insurance with World Nomads to protect yourself from illness, injury, and theft while in Colombia. VERY important.
  7. Sign up for my free emails about planning a better trip to Colombia, and be sure to check out my comprehensive guide about traveling to Colombia.
  8. Learn more money saving tricks with my top budget travel tips.
  9. Put together your Colombia packing list.
  10. Enjoy this incredible country!


I hope this helped you plan your travels in Colombia! I know it can be a struggle to find accurate and on the ground information when traveling to a new place like Colombia, which is why I started writing so extensively about it!

If you have any questions about Colombia, budget travel, or anything else shoot me an email at

(I love getting questions! That is how I get ideas for my blog posts and what to write about!)

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Things I Hate About Colombia

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Author, Writer, and Head Honcho at Desk to Dirtbag
Ryan is an author, adventurer, perpetual wanderer, and self-proclaimed dirtbag (but that might not mean what you think). Originally from Seattle, he headed to Washington D.C. where he spent five years working for Congress before heeding the call of the wild. He set out truck camping to road trip across the American West. Since then he set out traveling to Colombia, drove across all of Central America, and also wrote a best selling book: Big Travel, Small Budget. He just finished driving his old truck across all of South America. Follow the adventures on social media or read more about me.

Comments 39

  1. Avatar

    Dear Ryan,
    As a Colombian there are a few thigns I would like to comment on:

    1. During the XXth century Colombia has NEVER experienced hyperinflation. The 000 are a consequence of accumulated changes in prices and exchange rates. The reason why we still keep it is that, opposed to any other country in Latinamerica, there has been no need to drop them. Besides that, droping them would be a huge expense that can be used for different things.

    2. This Narco culture is something you will mainly find in the West, the area between Medellín and Cali. and some parts of the Caribbean and the Pacific Coast. Also in the Orinioco Basin and parts of the Amazon. The central, southern and eastern parts of Colombia, usually reject this Narco culture.

    1. Avatar Post

      Hey Nicolas, thanks for the comments! It does look like Colombian is gradually moving toward chopping off those three zeroes in any case, as the money now read 50 mil instead of 50,000. And yeah, you’re definitely right about the Narco culture thing, it’s just my perspective of Colombia has been more shaped by Medellin than any other area and I know there are some generalizations here that aren’t always true of everywhere.

  2. Avatar

    Interesting. Lived in Bogota for 3 years now. I recognize some of the aspects like time keeping but not many of the others. I find people generally polite especially if you speak decent Spanish. Getting in a lift is certainly better than in UK or US where smiling at someone results in you being regarded as a potential axe murderer. I work with Colombians in the criminal justice area and there are many fine people in that sector and many have given their lives for their country (and patriotism etc are not just empty words here). Police etc are certainly politer than many of the arrogant aggressive types that you encounter in the US. Peoples driving is terrible esp the failure to use signals
    Tipping…i live as said in Bogota and really can’t think of too much bad service and unlike the US they don’t expect you to basically hand over a quarter of the price of the meal as a tip.
    I find people helpful in terms of asking directions etc and i don’t agree they dont know how to queue..on the Transmilenio they are always in orderly queues as they are in airports etc..try that in the US or UK… its everyone for themselves.
    I always in general find that on arriving in a country one pretty quickly either feels comfortable or doesn’t ..and often it has nothing to do with the language. I love Colombia and its people and often fall into the habit of saying `we` when referring to how things are done here. I am not blind to history of violence etc here (given that the US and UK have contributed to much of this by their demand for drugs as there seems to be some kind of mental weakness in many in the latter 2 countries where they can’t enjoy themselves without a crutch…i can go back to the UK and see drunk people workers 7 in the night) and its one of the contradictions perhaps of Colombians that they are some of the friendliest people I have met working in various countries (and despite comments above, i don’t feel that its the fake insincerity of the USA) whilst at the same time there is this violent subculture…but then the UK now has a wave of acid attacks etc so we can’t say too much. Overall where the lady above mentioned she hates the culture (which is kind of sad..i read many comments like that about other countries too where people seem to living places mainly for a job yet despise the local culture) i feel the same about the USA..nice place to visit and i know some nice Americans but i would never live there if you paid me ..too full of right wing nut cases and arrogance. I suspect that many of the commentators here are Yanks…as a Brit I do think that we maybe have a better connection to Colombians than their cousins to their north..there is a bar in Bogota called The Ugly American and it does kind of sum up maybe a view of Americans. I always say that Brits here have 2 advantages ..firstly we speak English which many Colombians want to learn and secondly we are not Yanks. I have worked in various parts of the world and found that the American attitude of `we give the money so that gives us the right to tell you want to do` to rub people up the wrong way..there are some nice Yanks but many are boorish and arrogant. Where people with WASP type names are saying they have been to Colombia twice and found rude people i can only think they don’t speak Spanish…the rudest people on earth i have found have been some Yanks. I would never want to bring up a family in a country like the US so full of bigots and right wingers
    Did i say i don’t have much time for the US.

  3. Avatar

    THIS IS SPOT ON! I have been living in Medellin for the past three years on and off and this article could not be more accurate. I am from Canada and the fact that your biggest annoyance was how grocery stores tie the handles RESONATED WITH ME 100%. Thank you for writing this!

  4. Avatar

    There’s some good people in Colombia, just like everywhere else.But the list of things Ryan mentioned is spot on, without a doubt.Colombia will never change their mindsets about things.Disarray brings uncertainty as a rule.People should stop visiting Colombia or living there because that’s not living.

  5. Avatar

    Hope things are well with you Ryan? There are many things I hate about Colombia but these things scare me about Colombian women. There are so many butt implants and boob implants it’s scary. Especially when I was standing by a woman by the fireplace in Manizales during winter and heard something dripping. She said help I’m melting, her nose became long and pointed. She looked at me and said ” I’ll get you my pretty and your little dog Toto too. ” LOL

  6. Avatar

    Dont forget these girls from colombia tv novelas is like a religion, the weather is so nice outdoor but they need to stay inside to watch those f’ing things, i am living also in medellin… and they come with (pereza) hahah

  7. Avatar

    Nice write up on Colombia RYAN thanks for posting my comment a while back. Many can’t stand the truth in life but you tell it like it is, and bluntness is appreciated by me and others who commented obviously. Many Colombians complain about people touring Pablo Escobar’s house but it’s still standing. Cocaine is a focal point a legendary thing in Colombia, truth be known. Fact is cocaine was throughout Colombia before Pablo Escobar was even born. Just the same the majority of Colombians like to carry the past around as if Pablo was the worst person in the world wanting people to feel sorry for them and their families when many Colombians we’re and still are part of the drug trade. It’s sad that so many people were murdered while Pablo’s operation was running but the majority of people will risk everything even their lives where money is concerned. Dealing drugs can and normally does take it’s toll, as it comes with the turf. Keep up the great work Ryan you’re gifted. I thoroughly enjoy your no holes barred facts, thank you. P.S. I guess Pablo Escobar invented the coca plant, lol.

  8. Avatar

    This is the greatest article I have ever read on Colombia hahahhaha I was almost on the ground laughing for many of the points that you made. I love Colombia with all my heart and don’t laugh because of of how unfortunate these things are but rather because I can relate 100%. That being said, I have experienced many things here that have led me to tears as it’s hard living here sometimes when a child begs for the 1/2 eaten salchipapa that I am going to take home, or like Chris mentioned SO much trash everywhere. My friends and wife’s family just throw there wrappers on the ground as we walk. I want to make a difference here not sure how yet but I love this country and hope to be able to help these people somehow. I live in Sincelejo btw.

  9. Avatar

    Excellent article and comments. I have lived in Cali for more than 12 years full time. The air pollution index for Medellin is about 75. Cali is about 37. The higher the number the worse the air pollution is. Max 100.

  10. Avatar

    OMG Pablo Escobar is such a touchy subject with Colombians never to be mentioned because it’d infuriate them. Colombians get over yourselves, cocaine was alive and well before Pablo Escobar was even sperm. Colombians have a bad habit of handling the truth,let alone ever telling it. Get over yourselves 3rd worlders and women don’t stand too close to the fireplace or your plastic boobs and butts might have a meltdown.

    1. Avatar Post

      You can talk about Pablo Escobar with Colombians — but there is a big difference between that and having some foreigner coming to town and celebrating or venerating the worst terrorist in a country’s history. While different, it’d be kind of like hundreds upon hundreds of Saudis coming to ground zero in Manhattan, with t-shirts of Osama and then going out for tea with members of the bin Laden family.

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    Not taking responsibility is spot on. Especially with deals involving money. I’ve been living here for a year. Finding an apartment or house here to your liking (not airbnb or furnished gringo apartments ) is damn near impossible. Which is ridiculous because there’s a rental sign on every 5th house you walk by. If you manage to reach someone to question about the property they will forever tell you to contact someone else (responsibility) …their compañero…. this “compañero” will always be a 21 year old kid that was hired on because he’s a friend of the family …whose only worries in life is keeping his moto clean and taking his girlfriend for salchipapas. Not doing good business. He will leave your messages on seen. Most likely because he is a 21 year old kid with no mature response or business since. He is most likely strategically mapping his route on how he can f*ck you out of your money. I’m 32 and have lived on my own since I was 18 so I find this exceptionally frustrating dealing with kids that still live with their parents. Oh and never contact someone on the weekend for business related questions that is
    sacrilegious and you will get no response. For a culture that scrambles and hustles to make money for some reason when it comes down to it… they flake. It is very oxymoronic and annoying. I speak Spanish and I look latin so i can pass as a paisa.. so you can rule out that gringo factor of getting hustled. I love Medellin but the immaturity level with mostly grown ass men is ridiculous and cartoonish. I love Medellin and the people (mas o menos). Once you can break past certain barriers it’s heaven.

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    I am German and I worked in Colombia for 2.5 years. I agree with your comments. I also have to add that upper class people (presidents of banks etc. are extremely stupid if compared to their peers in EEUU or Europe, no academical background).

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      Validation! Thank you for writing this. I have been accused of rejecting my own people when in fact what I reject is exactly what you list. The problem is, like you say, an inability to take responsibility and admit fault. If only the country could adopt HUMBLENESS as a trait this could possibly open their eyes to how all of those unfortunate characteristics can in fact be overcome and perhaps take the country to the next level. Potential exists however the first step to recovery is acceptance. But getting Colombians to understand there is thin line between patriotism and delusion is quite the feat and I have sadly given up.

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    Thank you for the article, I found it an enjoyable read!

    I’ve been travelling in South America for the past two years now. (I retired early) Colombia is actually my favorite country in South America ( I haven’t been to Brasil).

    That being said, I agree with your observations. I personally find the oblivious nature of Colombians on the streets to be just bizarre. That…and the total disregard for time…just drives me nuts.

    But small prices to pay, for what I consider to be an amazing country.

    Thanks again for the article.

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    Thanks for the factual information Ryan I agree.As long as humanity exists people will act and react differently regardless of culture.I’ve been retired in Colombia for 16 years now.There’s an easy solution to the inconsiderateness, in Colombia and other parts of Latin america.I used this approach in the U S for many years.I speak perfect English and Spanish as well.Since hand gestures are common in Colombia I use my own set of hand gestures.When someone approaches me on the sidewalk I play the deaf mute syndrome by giving hand gestures a deaf mute would give.People look at me kind of strange then walk away,end of communication.Since I’m a Caucasian gringo with beautiful blue eyes I wear blacked out sunglasses.I have perfect vision.Sometimes I use a walking stick when out and people yield the right of way on the sidewalk.People worldwide recognise hand signals and supposedly blind people with walking sticks ))) Sounds a bit extreme and sinister however nobody ever gets to me,factual food for thought.The hype about women actually isn’t true at all in Medellin nor anywhere in Colombia and that includes the U S.Once again hand gestures blacked out sunglasses and a walking stick are essentials to live in an inconsiderate world in general.

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    I live in millerton ny and the Hispanic population has grown tremendously over the last five years. I had moved to another town and lived there for ten years. I came back to millerton last year and finding rent here is nearly impossible. Well my family and I moved into a large apartment next to a Colombian family. Mind you in my apartment there is only three of us . Me my husband and twelve years old daughter. In the year we lived here , tge Columbian family has invaded our space. They would just walk over and stand on our porch and look at our things. They play music all hours of the night as loud as they like. They have ten to twelve people living here at all times. Slamming doors all hrs of the day . Shoveled a path in the snow over to our car so their dog would walk over and take a poop there. Stomp around in heels all day , and they have a bed room above our living room. They are very highly inconsiderate people. I used to greet them each morning in their native language and tried to be neighborly . It wasn’t until about two months ago did I start stopping to their level of ignorance. They are very rude . When they had company , if their driveway filled up with cars they would just direct the other fifteen cars to park in our driveway. They never asked they just did and do whatever they want. I’ve tried doing research to understand them but why?? They obviously understand things are different here in the US and continue to behave as though they still live in Columbia. Where that type of rudeness is overlooked. It’s been a rough year. My family and I are will be so happy to move .

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    You know what Ryan, if you don’t like it here you should “just go back to Los EEUU.”

    lol not really, just kidding.

    Actually my first reaction after reading this was holy shit! This list is gold!

    For a second I thought you were going to sugarcoat the truth (like most other blogs) but you’ve nailed it perfectly. I came across your site when I was searching Google to see if other travelers/expats were running into the same problems here in Medellin.

    I’ve come up with a list that is similar to yours but with a few more grievances. Like you, I’ll start by saying the same thing; Colombia is actually pretty cool and I’ve enjoyed calling it home for almost a year now. BUT after living here for some time, I’ve run into the same odd and annoying behavior.

    Although each problem is annoying by itself, I think that they all boil down to 3 larger issues at hand.

    1. Not accepting responsibility 2. Lack of common courtesy 3. No respect for the law/ the law not being enforced.
    (It really can be boiled down to just plain not accepting responsibility).

    Sure, these things happen everywhere in the world but nowhere near as often as they do here.

    I’m still not sure why but maybe as I learn more about the culture I’ll have an answer later down the line. Regardless, life is good here in Medellin and will continue living here for the foreseeable future.

    Keep spreading the good word! Let’s meet up whenever you’re in town again.

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    One more!
    About the pollution, YES I noticed every place I went in Colombia.
    It was SO very hard to breath and walk on the street as well as being in a car with windows rolled down.
    Yet, when I brought up the pollution issue, this one Medellin person said it was not a serious problem! wow, dumbfounded!

    That is one big complaint I have for the country.

    I worked in Panama many years ago, therefore some of things you have listed resonated a lot . Although I was in Colombia on holidays so how I took things were different, but I know they are quite common in Latin America (at least few countries I have been to), and they drove me insane when I worked there…! 🙂

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    Hola Ryan,

    I was so glad to come across to your Colombia blog. My interest in Colombia started with the coffee then got into watching “Narcos” and got fascinated by it. However I changed my plan after reading your blog and did not take the Pablo escobar tour while visiting Medellin a week ago. I am very glad I did not. While I did not support its business, I still could not help but asking locals what they thought of him. The answer was the same: it was a part of their history, but did not want Medellin/Colombia to be associated with him. Let the past be bygone. When I shared my changed plan and your blog, they were all pleased and agreed that your blog posting was very valid. I wanted to share this with you!

    My two weeks in Colombia, I visited Medellin, Santa Marta for the lost city trekking, Cartagena (too touristic and was not my cup of tea) and Salento. I loved loved Salento, the coffee region. I look forward to more trip to Colombia and hey who knows I may take a leap of faith and move there.

    Thank you again for your blog. Muchas gracias por compartir tu vista del pais.


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    This is spot on… The contradiction of the place and the severe lack of morals there is beyond disturbing. In general, I think it stems from a lack of civic order that is respected. Inefficient businesses with no regards to time and customer service, difficult to do business with and easy to take advantage of by just throwing money at the problem and not getting to the root of it. Prepagas and child prostitution all over the tourist areas, not appealing. Extremely friendly with blatantly visible ulterior motives, discouraging to say the least. General lack of common courtesy which elevates if and when they get a car, chaos… I think much of it has to do with a careless mentality because tomorrow was never promised in that land with as much chaos and corruption that they faced and still may face. Women, physically stunning, easily the most vain in the world, scheming and lying constantly. Just my experience… Difficult to build a sustainable life. It’s odd, because they are extremely practical and thrifty, but contrary to that, they almost never think long term beyond how long can I continue this scheme… This really sucks for the people from there that actually try and do better rather than scheme… With as many resources as that country has, it easily could and can be one of the richest countries in the world, but the mentality that is permitted there clearly leads to disintegration. Sucks, because the place is beautiful and there are some really really good people there. Now think, what would make me write this. Jajajajaja

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    I am travelling solo from India to Colombia for about 3 weeks soon at the recommendation of several people. I have been to Mexico (Yucatan) before. I thought Yucatan was really nice. How does it compare with cities in Colombia? I am not planning to splurge or travel widely in my limited time. Just a few major locations. I was really looking forward to the trip, but now I am slightly worried by what I hear. Some of these problems exist in India as well (not respecting queues at bus stands, general lack of civic sense, lack of sense of time and horrible traffic with pollution etc.) but here it may be complicated by the fact that I know little Spanish. Almost everyone I spoke to and everywhere I read, travelers say overwhelmingly positive things about the beauty of Colombia. I really, really hope they are not wrong!!

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      Colombia is amazing — I love it there, as I said. As a traveler you probably won’t notice or care much about the things I talked about. These annoyances really come to light when you are an expat and living long-term somewhere, maybe after 6 months to a year of living there, that’s when the “shiny newness” of being a traveler wears off for most people.

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    I am a Colombian who just came back to Bogotá after living some years in France and I can agree with everything you wrote (except maybe the Pablo Escobar part) and so far I can’t seem to adapt myself back in my own country, so I’m having a hard time to see any positive yet to the point I don’t understand why someone who isn’t from here would choose to spend their life here. People are so disrespectful, it’s horrific.

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    Bogota is even worse! I find myself crying non stop here. I’ve lived in china, Israel and the states and enjoyed myself very much and understood that every place has its problems and that is fine. Bogota is a different story.Colombians are disrespectful, immature, unable to take responsibility for their actions, have no idea what minimal customer service is and lets face it..they LIE! all the time…
    They say they will come install your wifi or cable TV on a Thursday at 8:30 and never show they say ok so tomorrow and never show up…for us this was the situation for 3 months!!!! with everything..our landlord promised a refrigerator the day we got into our apartment and that whole day we called him and he said he was on his way to the apartment with the refrigerator but he really wasn’t. at 10 PM we called again and he told us he got stuck in traffic and decided to turn back and that he will bring it the next day…he didn’t! a week later we got a refrigerator finally…but it was a different one than the one he had promised (and older smaller one of course). Were diplomats so we live in one of the most expensive building in Bogota and the embassy pays ALOT! of money for our place and yet the amount of issues we have to deal with are unthinkable. We pay about 250 dollars of administration to the building since there’s Supposed to be an active pool, gym, Jacuzzis, kids playground and such…its been 7 months since those were supposed to become active and we just found out the construction company still hasn’t received any authorization to activate them…but we still have to pay! when we moved into our apartment they asked us to give them 2 more days to check everything in the apartment was working properly (lights, water, electricity and such) we agreed and had to pay the extra night at the hotel but when we finally moved in…no hot water, most lights were not working and one electrical outlet was so loaded with electricity for some reason that when we plugged our brand new 500 dollar blender in, lights and smoke came out without even switching it on and we nearly got electrocuted and lost the blender. after hours of me yelling they promised to pay for a new one..we ordered a new one 3 months ago and still waiting for our money. I can go on forever here… I really hate this culture!

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    I’ve been to Colombia twice, and even though they have very beautiful landscape and natural beauty I’ll never ever be able to live there. I find the people extremely rude and unhelpful and as you say they definitely lack common courtesy. Definitely not a place I ever want to raise my children. But as every country it has it’s ups and downs, just not a culture for me to embrace.

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      I lived in medellin 5 meses and got tired of it. now I live in manizales and its a little better.. but the same walking into me thing happens daily. I just stand my ground and dont move, walk with a purpose and I think most people see my body idoma y yo no cambio para them. I have learned how to let em know i wont budge before they bumbp me..

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      Yes, that’s very true… But after traveling through most of Latin America now, it’s definitely interesting to see the differences between countries and regions.

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    Very interesting article! I went on a long trip to Colombia this year and I have to say many of the things you write are absolutely true but a lot of it is cultural and common to many Latin American countries. I would say a lot of Latin American things (no time concept, bad organization, pollution etc.) are amplified in Colombia but not unique to Colombia.

    The one thing I completely disagree though is the Narcos culture. I would say that over 90% of Colombians absolutely hate it and do not idolize anything, every single Colombian told us that they hate the whole Escobar tourism thing (especially in Medellín) and that their country just wants to move on, which is what they are trying to do. The people idolizing it and the women you are talking about are mostly very poor people with very low education from the comunas, who just don’t have any other chance in life. Every ‘normal’ Colombian is certainly not like that. All in all I think Colombia is a fantastic country with a lot of potential, let’s see how they do in the future 🙂
    PS. We wrote some very comprehensive articles on Colombia, you can check them out here:
    Cheers, Jack

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      Yep, there are many things that are common throughout Latin America, but you also see many differences from country to country, which is interesting. I’ve traveled through most of Latin America now and I always love seeing the changes from place to place.

      Yes, when I referenced the narco culture, it is primarily among poorer and younger generations, but it is extremely prevalent and only seems to grow in popularity even among the general populace (albeit younger again). I’m certainly not the only one that thinks the narco culture is a problem in Colombia (especially Medellin), many Colombians themselves are sad about this generational change, where everything is nea, urban, narco, and they’ve lost the general diversity and striving for education that used to be common. Thanks to Pablo, many see the drug world as the way out. It didn’t used to be like that.

      I’ve also spoken to many, many Colombians from all walks of life in my 2+ years there, and the vast majority hate the Pablo tourism, but it’s impossible to deny the prevalence of the culture, even if it isn’t among the majority of all Colombians, it is huge among the younger generation. Just look at the popularity of reggaeton — Colombia is one of the biggest places for reggaeton in Latin America and it certainly isn’t confined to poor or uneducated Colombians.

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    Wow! As a Colombian (from Medellín), I can honestly just say ‘I agree’ with you. This is a perfect summary of those things that bother me all the time in my city… but somehow -even after leaving the country for a few days- I come back and say living here doesn’t compare to living everywhere else. Sometimes I can’t even explain to myself why I still love this city and I come up with this idea about how nice it is to being a “paisa” even if I’m not identified at all with the nea/grilla/mafioso/reggaetonero culture around. I guess all of those annoyances remind us we’re alive. I can’t give it any other explanation.

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      I too love it there in Medellin, sometimes I’m not even 100% why, but it’s a great place to live despite the occasional annoyances. It’s definitely my favorite city in Colombia, there’s no doubt about that.

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    ExCELLEnT. article! I laughed all the way through. These are most of ths things I hate about Ecuador. We have lived in EC 3 years and are moving to Medellínin 8 weeks. We are going to love !

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      Funny… I’m an Ohio girl that has lived just outside of Guadalajara, Mexico for the last 7.5 years. These all pretty much apply to my location too. It’s a Latin culture thing 🙂 I’m planning to visit Medellin for the first time the month of March (2018). Thanks for the write up!

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        Hah, yeah, much of it is very apparent after traveling across almost the entirety of Latin America now — it’s refreshing to see the subtle differences from place to place though. For instance, in Mexico City it was jaw dropping to have cars yield and let you cross the road! The other day here on the Chile / Argentina border crossing someone actually said to the agent that I was waiting first, rather than just jump at the chance to get through the line first. AMAZING.

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