MY FAMILY SPENT THREE MONTHS in Colombia back in 2014. Friends and family back home in Canada couldn’t understand why we wanted to travel there, especially with our 5-year-old son along. Questions like: “What about kidnappings?” And: “Isn’t Colombia a third world country?” were common. Some people were convinced something bad would happen to us.

Well, we did encounter many surprising things during our visit, but none of them were bad.

We learned children are revered in Colombia.

Latin American countries are known for being kid-friendly and this is absolutely true of Colombia. We found Colombians welcome and even celebrate rambunctious kid behavior! Our son is energetic and precocious. This amounts to a lot of running around, making noise, and monkeying with things he knows he shouldn’t.

Displaying these behaviors in public at home in Canada or other places we’d visited like England, usually invited dirty looks from strangers and sometimes even a stern reprimand. Not in Colombia, while we were there, shopkeepers, restaurant owners, and Airbnb hosts all laughed and played along with him.

Colombians told us, “Let kids be kids! Noisy, messy, active kid behaviour is acceptable everywhere in Colombia.”

Help was always there when we needed it.

We felt so taken care of in Colombia, right from the beginning of our trip. Anytime we needed help, the response we got always exceeded our expectations. When we needed directions, people would show us the way. Suggestions for what to see and where to eat were offered with pleasure in every city we visited. Airbnb hosts acted as tour guides, perfect strangers engaged us and offered advice.

When our three-month tourist visa in Colombia was up, we moved on to Ecuador. We could feel the difference in the culture almost immediately. The first city we arrived in was Otavalo. We rolled into town at 11 in the evening and needed to find a phone to contact our Airbnb host. My Husband, Rob, asked 12 different people, including shop owners, to borrow a phone, and no one would lend us one for a quick local call. He laughed and said, “If I had asked to use a phone in Colombia I would have had 20 different ones handed to me by now!”

In fact, we made more friends in Colombia than on any other trip.

Colombians love to socialize. The people we met were fiercely proud of their country and curious about life in other places. They openly shared their culture and loved to learn about ours, which made for many fun conversations.

So much so, a language barrier never prevented us from making friends. One incredible Airbnb host, Nazly, spent the most time with us than any other person in Colombia. She had us to her home for meals and gatherings, she took us to her favorite spots for food in her neighborhood, she toured us around her city enlisting a translator (yeah, she didn’t speak a lick of English) to show us the best places to shop and important attractions to see.

Both Nazly and the translator, her friend Guillermo, became our friends. Half the time, we were just with Naz, no Guillermo — we’d still communicate effectively, despite our extremely limited Spanish. We could always use Google translate if we really needed to.

Colombians made us feel like friends almost immediately and the relationships we developed were lasting. We are still in regular contact with four friends we made in Colombia.

We could see and do so much because the prices were cheap.

We travel on a budget, but that didn’t prevent us from doing a ton of fun things in Colombia. We visited seven different places and we ate out a lot. In fact, in Cali, we visited one restaurant in our Airbnb host’s building every day for the entire month that we were there. It was cheaper to eat at that place than it was to cook for ourselves.

We traveled throughout Colombia in comfort. We took tours, visited attractions, ate at great restaurants, and stayed in excellent accommodation all for a fraction of what we’d paid to visit other destinations.

We saw more and ate out more in every city we visited than we normally would on a trip. And, nothing bad happened to us or our son.

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