International visitors are coming to Colombia in record numbers to experience the country’s sandy beaches, adventure sports, traditional cultures, and food.
The cities of Cali, Barranquilla, and Medellin, along with the Santander department, have seen a substantial growth in tourism in 2010, according to Proexport Colombia, the country’s tourism promotion body. The growth comes during tough economic times across the world, which saw a tourism drop of 4 percent in 2009, while Colombia experienced a of 10.7 percent increase.
The Andean city of Cali has seen a 15% growth in tourism between January and August of 2010, a bigger rise than capital city Bogota or popular coastal destination Cartagena. A total of 72,343 international tourists visited the city, representing 7.4% of Colombia’s total international visitors. Proexport credits Cali’s hotels and event centers as well as music, dance and food for the growth. Cali is especially well-known for its salsa scene.
Colombia’s second city, Medellin, is the country’s third largest international tourism destination. It experienced a growth of 32.7% in 2009, which Proexport attributes to the city’s superior business environment, as well as urban development schemes. According to statistics from the Medellin Convention bureau, the city has been named number 128 in the world in which to conduct business.
Tourists visiting from the United States and Venezuela make up the largest group of visitors stopping in the coastal city of Barranquilla and Santander. More than half of the visitors to this border department are from Venezuela, with the total number of tourists between January and August 2010 topping 19,000. The department is famous for its offerings in adventure tourism, with opportunities for paragliding, white-water rafting, caving, rappelling, horseback riding and more. Proexport is also promoting ecotourism and bird watching to encourage Europeans to visit the region. International accessibility to Santander has also increased, with direct flights from Panama City and frequent flights to nine other major Colombian cities from departmental capital Bucaramanga.
With access to all Santander’s outdoor activities, the largest tourist attraction in the department is Chicamocha National Park. It opened at the beginning of 2009 and has seen over 1 million visitors a year riding the cable car across the Chicamocha Canyon. There are currently plans to build a hotel and water park.
In 2009, 36.1% of Barranquilla’s visitors arrived from neighboring Venezeula, followed by 32.9% from the U.S. The coastal city receives its largest surge of international visitors in the month of February for the city’s famous carnival celebrations. It is well-connected to the U.S., with frequent flights to Miami and Fort Lauderdale from three different airlines.
While tourism is growing in record numbers throughout the country, a study in Cartagena found that visitors have some concerns about vacationing in the coastal city. Conducted by Criterium and the Tourism Corporation of Cartagena de las Indias, it found that tourists in Cartagena were most bothered by litter, harassment by street vendors, and general insecurity. Surveys were distributed to 668 people in the airport and bus station in Cartagena. Despite these complaints, foreign tourists ranked their visit to Cartagena on average as 8.9 out of 10.
Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera said recently that security for tourists in Cartagena is one of the government’s priorities, as the industry creates so much employment and generates revenues for the country. Tourists were found to spend per capita $2,149 in Colombia, compared with $1,038 in the U.S., according to a study by the Organization of American States.