Car Sales Surge in Colombia


This video backs up the observations I’ve made since arriving in Medellin in 2009. Over the years, I’ve noticed an increase in the number of cars on the roads.

When I left Colombia in mid-2011 to see more of South America, I was curious if other countries like Ecuador, Peru, and Argentina had the same number of motorbikes on the road as I’d gotten use to in Colombia.

Not even close!

Ecuador, which by all accounts is poorer, had more cars. Peru too. And I rarely saw motos in the major cities of Chile and Buenos Aires. At least nothing compared to the numbers in Medellin.

Since I was robbed by a few guys on a motorbike a few years ago, I’ve been especially anxious around them. I’m more than happy with the recent uptick in Colombian car ownership.

I also find motorbike drivers, usually the young men, to be reckless, weaving in and out of traffic lanes, trying to reach the front of the stopped traffic before the light turns green.

I realize they’re a more affordable form of transport, but I also think they’re a nuisance, and both a public safety threat, as well as a generally dangerous mode of transport for the drivers too.

Of course cars have their downsides too, namely an increase in traffic and air pollution. Car thefts will probably increase too.

What do you you think? Do you prefer to see more cars on the road if it means fewer motorbikes?

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  1. Interesting observations and articles about the car situation in Medellin.
    While reading this posting I also read the article referenced “Robbed by a few guys on a motorbike” for the first time. Though as you know from my prior comments on your blog, it’s for the reasons of crime that you experienced first hand, and that I myself experienced (having a gun pulled on me and pointed directly at me by a CAB DRIVER) first hand, that continue to give Colombia a bad name. These realities cannot be ignored.

    Also, just this morning I had a detailed conversation with a nice girl who’s father is from Spain and who’s mother is Colombian. While visiting recently she was robbed by 2 guys on a motobike coming outside of a restaurant in broad daylight. The bandits took her watch, her purse, and her bracelet.

    She is of the impression that she was targeted because she’s very blonde and very pale, and thus sticks out like a gringa. Whatever the reason, Colombia will never be a world class travel destination until the govt addresses the seriousness of the conditions which lead to constant crime against apparent visitors.

    I realize that this is bit off topic and not about “Car Sales Surge’, but I was disappointed to read for the first time the experience in crime that you also experienced within a country which you obviously enjoy so much Dave.

    The BIG problem with Colombia is that even now, you must constantly remain on your guard about being victimized. For the long term, that’s no way to live, the stress alone will send you to an early grave.

    I like Colombia lots, but only for short term recreation, lots of other safer more enjoyable places to LIVE full time than Colombia, places that won’t add unnecessary aggregate stress to your life.


    • I agree, partially.

      “Colombia will never be a world class travel destination until the govt addresses the seriousness of the conditions which lead to constant crime against apparent visitors.”

      Colombia is still clearly trying to shake off old images of civil war and Pablo Escobar. The peace talks with the FARC, if successful, would do a lot to boost confidence, but let’s face it, the FARC are not the biggest danger to the average tourist, it’s the street criminals. And they exist in every major city, in every country, to varying degrees.

      I think we can all agree Rio de Janeiro and Brazil have risen to the distinction of “world class travel distinction” which has allowed them to win the rights to host both the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics. Most of my friends would live there in a heartbeat if the cost of living were the same as Colombia.

      Yet nobody would deny there continues to be a serious problem with street crime (including pickpockets, robberies, and even rape), specifically in the tourist areas of Rio. Friends tell me Sao Paolo is even worse.

      The problem both Brazil and Colombia continue to face are HUGE income disparities. Similar to what I saw and experienced in South Africa. You can’t have millions of people living below the poverty line in and around major cities, rubbing up against the rising middle class, ultra rich, and growing influx of foreign tourists not expect there to be problems.

      I agree that having to take extra precautions I wouldn’t normally take in squeaky clean Arlington, VA or New York City adds some extra stress to my life. But the excitement and joy I get from living here still outweighs it.

      • Hey David,

        Very thoughtful and well informed reply.

        I wonder if you would still feel that “the excitement and joy you get from living here” would still be worth it IF that gun was pointed directly in YOUR FACE at close range, instead of at the body of a stranger on the outside of the car during your robbery episode.

        Naturally, that’s a distinction that I hope you never experience David. But it took me being in Colombia for less than a year to have that exact experience with a cab driver in his cab, and over a lousy $3.00 dispute at 2:30am on a dark road on a quiet street and with no witnesses in sight.

        I have a close friendship with an expat family (Father German mother Colombiana) who’s only son was shot in the head and is now permanently blind as a result of being shot by accident between a gunfight with police and bandits while he was sitting in the back of a cab with his girlfriend.

        The guy that used to cut my hair in Colombia was shot and severely permanently wounded over a $20.00 chain that a thief with a gun wanted. The mistake that my barber made… resisting the theft.

        An expat British friend of mine was drugged and robbed by his live in girlfriend of 6 months just out of the blue, after she gained his complete trust.

        A teacher at my Spanish language school (Colombian himself) was drugged and robbed at a night club by a beautiful unassuming girl in a posh nightclub in a tourist area. I could go on with these episodes.

        Like you, at some level the danger was a part of the allure of being in Colombia- but when you get to know people and experience their stories and their genuine pain from tragic experiences, you end up doing the mental math, especially if you have lived abroad in other places without an equal share of steady exposure to violence, and the real threat and paranoia of violence.

        And at the end of the day, if you value your life the way that you should, you conclude that life is short- in Colombia life is too cheap. Anyone with a grudge minor or major can have just about anyone killed for the equivalent of $100.00, sometimes less than that amount. Again life is too cheap in Colombia which is part of the reason why so many Colombians still emigrate en mass in post Pablo Escobar Colombia.

        1 year ago my friend’s little cousin was taken for ransom. A demand for $50,000 was imposed by the bandits. The family had the means to pay and the matter was settled without bloodshed.

        David, when I red your account of robbery within your prior post along with the many comments and experiences by other victims, in comparison to my own experiences and awareness, it was simply a sobering reminder to me of the mountain of work that Colombia as a country has to achieve before it does become a world class tourist destination.

        It is true that violence and petty street crime are rampant in many places, however when making these blanket statements in defense of Colombia, it’s easy to forget the common stories of violence and theft that foreigners have experienced in such a short amount of time of actually living in Colombia.

        That’s where the ‘doing the math’ part has to kick in. In your case, the robbery occurred I believe within 2 years of you living there. In my case within 6 months.

        MOST foreigners who visit Colombia will never stay as long as we’ve stayed, therefore they can experience the best of Colombia unmolested if they are lucky. In and out, one week or two weeks like the average tourist anywhere, and that’s smart.

        The threat of violence of crime increases exponentially when foreigners stay for extended periods of time, that’s when they become prime targets as some of the other comments clearly indicate from your other post, which I agree with 100%.

        Many people have given Colombia an opportunity because they are willfully optimistic or they have bought into the post Pablo Escobar media campaigns supported by the Colombian tourist industry. The reality is Colombia remains one of the most dangerous places for even seasoned travelers such as yourself, and you never know where the danger will emerge.

        There’s a weird pervasive mentality that many Colombians have that all foreigners are marks, or stupid and are vulnerable to some kind hustle to part them from their money.

        That was shared to me by my ex gf who is from Cali but who now lives in the US with her family. She has no anti Colombian bias because she loves her country and visits at least once every 2 years, but she called it for what it really is.

        A bandit (male or female) will always regard a foreigner as a target for theft, and incidences of life threatening situations at the hands of bandits is simply not worth the stress and paranoia.

        Vice produced a documentary which can be found on Youtube “Worlds Scariest Drug”, among other things, this is an aspect of Colombia which should remain in your consciousness.

        For me Colombia is a great place to spend time for certain things, but to make it a permanent place to live is simply unwise given my options. Uncool to have to sleep with one eye open so to speak.


        • “There’s a weird pervasive mentality that many Colombians have that all foreigners are marks, or stupid and are vulnerable to some kind hustle to part them from their money.”

          That’s hardly unique to Colombia. In Asia, it’s more about hustling or cheating you out of your money, while in Latin America, they’re more likely to be armed and taking it forcefully. I know when I go to most foreign countries, especially developing ones, I’m seen as a mark in one way or another.

          “Vice produced a documentary which can be found on Youtube “Worlds Scariest Drug”, among other things, this is an aspect of Colombia which should remain in your consciousness.”

          Yes, I’ve seen the Vice video and agree scopolamine is a scary reality. But people get drugged in other countries too. I heard similar stories of men being drugged/robbed in Lima. It may not be as common for men to get robbed this way in the US, but date rape drugs are a reality women have to worry about.

          At the end of the day, I’m not going to walk around living life in fear of being drugged, mugged, or worse, killed. I think that’s the point of your concern.

          Just look at this recent case of 3 teens in Oklahoma who decided to shoot and kill an Australian man simply because they were bored.

          I know a nice guy in San Francisco who was stabbed and almost killed in the process of being mugged on a walk home one night.

          When I visited friends in Puerto Vallarta (Mexico) this past May, I learned about the murder of an expat family’s toddler by the drug-crazed boyfriend of their babysitter’s daughter. They were living in a quiet beach town called Sayulita, not a major city.

          Random, senseless crime happens everywhere. I guess that’s the point I’m trying to make, in response to your argument against living in Colombia.

          I appreciate your concern and comments, and am certainly not trying to push my luck. I’ve learned from past mistakes, and try to be more careful. I also try to be transparent with readers, and advise other foreigners about how to stay safe.

          I hope I’m never again the victim of an armed robbery here or anywhere else. If it were to happen in Medellin or Colombia again, I can’t say that I wouldn’t choose to base myself somewhere else. We all have our limits.

          • David you are spot on, and I agree that street crime etc is not native or exclusive to Colombia.

            The comparison that you made between Colombia vs Asia (Gunplay vs no gunplay) is PRECISELY why I prefer Asia to Colombia for extended living atmospheres. Having a gun pointed at you in your face at Point blank range is a Game changer. Not so much because of the event, but because the bandits have no hesitation in actually shooting you if you resist as this happened to my barber.

            Peace of mind becomes necessary for me. Also I am not passive by nature and I’m trained in disarming armed aggressors. The problem is the outcome of self defense in an atmosphere like Colombia is not worth the fallout of self defense. Using lethal force in self defense would be the only sensible solution. The problem then becomes, who do you become a target for because of your defensive actions? Pragmatism requires compliance to thugs, totally against my nature.

            I have a partner (expat American US Army) who LOVED Brazil and South America until he made the trip to Asia. Now that he’s had both experiences you can’t get him to consider moving back to anywhere in South America for permanent or extended living. Too much ‘aggressive crime’.

            Another partner lived in Colombia for 10 years, eventually had enough- happily now lives in Asia.

            One final point, true crime is not native to Colombia, however during the short time that I lived there, I’ve encountered my own armed robbery, and I’ve known over a dozen people who have all lived in Colombia for less than 2 years yourself included who have experienced encounters with armed crime.

            The issue of significance goes beyond awareness of crime not being exclusive to Colombia, the issue of significance is Proportionality. For example, if I lived in the states and had 12 people at the dinner table discussing direct contact with violent crime, I’d be surprised if 2 people of the 12 had any direct experience.

            Meanwhile, in Colombia you can take 12 ex pats who have lived there for up to 24 months and I guarantee you that MOST have had direct experience with aggressive street crime such as your own experience.

            Within 4 weeks of my being in Colombia I met 4 expat families- ALL had direct experiences with crime. My example here is unscientific David, but you get my point. It’s a matter of proportionality. I for one in 30 years being in the US have never encountered any level of street crime and I’ve lived in major US cities. Yet within 6 months of being in Colombia I found myself staring down the barrel of a 45 in a cab over a lousy $3.00.

            This has been my experience. Some commentors on your other posting have had much scarier experiences. Intelligent people disagree with me but for me Colombia is a great place to visit as a foreigner, but staying long enough for someone to understand your routine or have deeper insight on your lifestyle design (I’m assuming that’s what you’ve done David) is asking for trouble. Too many hungry people, too many ambitious people who view you as their opportunity for a leg up.

            Just to be clear, I’m not just picking on Colombia for this topic, I feel the same about Venezuela, another country that I liked living in but has very high crime against foreigners.

            Just my 2 cents

          • You make a lot of good points. We all have our own limits, and game-changing events that would push us over them.

            My robbery experience pushed me to the brink, and were it not for all the positive experiences I’d had over the prior 16 months, I might have left for good. But I think that I left to travel for a year and a half soon after that allowed me the space to and comfort to return for an extended time again.

            I agree with you on proportionality, as well as the concern about retaliation.

            While I probably won’t write about it, a new arrival roommate of mine recently got robbed by some teens with knives two blocks from our apartment while walking home one night.

            The catch is someone phoned in the taxi they got in to getaway, and the police caught and arrested all four of them by the time he got back to the apartment. Despite this, and a night spent at the police station, he still decided very quickly to give up his one year volunteer teaching position, and return to the US.

            I believe it was because the guys were caught, and he was worried about retaliation, that lead him to leave. I felt bad for him, and I really don’t know what I’d have done in the same situation. Move to another part of the city? Or simply cut your losses, and leave the country entirely.

            Regarding Asia, I spent 9 months traveling around there, and while I loved the food, feeling of personal safety, and aspects of certain cultures, overall I prefer Latin America in large part to the music, and culture of dancing. It makes me unbelievably happy, and while you can find salsa bars in most major cities around the world, it doesn’t pervade daily life and culture like it does here.

          • David,

            Your honesty regarding the new arrival room mate situation is appreciated. It’s a regrettable story but is all too common and doesn’t surprise me one bit.

            This kind of crime happens even in the Best and most desirable neighborhoods in Colombia. It happens to Colombians and it happens to tourist. Tourist are simply easier targets. United States, Mexico, Panama, Spain, London, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic etc are full of Colombians who have left their country for this exact reason. People who are progressive or ambitious tend to leave the country in part for safety in part for better opportunities abroad.

            I have a neighbor now from Medellin who was forced to close his cafe as a result of extortionist who demanded a sum of money with the threat of extreme violence if he didn’t pay, a sum of money that was not in his means to pay.

            Police wouldn’t or couldn’t do anything, he was in genuine fear of reprisals to himself or his family just at the thought of involving law enforcement. His concerns were 100% valid.

            Those Colombians who can leave Colombia leave. Those Colombian dating sites are FULL of ambitious women who view a foreign sweetheart as their ONLY legit means of leaving the country. Many of the prepago (prostitutes) women who prey on tourist are simply using what they have to get to where they desire to go. Many are very pragmatic and focused in a male dominated society.

            Not judging them harshly, if you were in their position, what would you do?

            Colombians with the financial wherewithal understand the necessity of relocating themselves and their loved ones abroad. They do it.

            I have more personal safety stories that I have not even shared yet, but I’ll summarize just one more. lol

            I was involved with this girl that I’d met at the mall. One late night I was entertaining another girl and this girl that I met at the mall happened to arrive at my place unexpectedly. (a big surprise to me because she had strict parents and it was a school night and she was under 18)

            My apartment at the time was the second floor of a big house. Lucky for me the house was gated for security. All lights were out except for my bedroom light which had a red glow lamp (My bachelor mood lamp lol)

            All of a sudden my guest and I began hearing my name called repeatedly.

            Naturally I ignored it and turned UP the music in my apartment because I recognized the voice. The girl that I was with (a local student from the school that I was attending) understood that I was single and ‘dating’ and that crazy sounding voice outside must be ‘the other girl’ that I was dating.

            Anyway the girl inside was cool about it. All of a sudden my cell phone starts ringing. Naturally I ignore it because I see that it’s the girl downstairs screaming my name at the top of her lungs, by this point in a jealous rage.

            After a few minutes of ignoring her shouting and waking up the neighbors she disappears. I resume entertaining my guest and about 15 minutes later I heard her screaming my name again at the top of her lungs next to the locked gate, but after I ignore her some more, I heard a series of pop pop pop pop.
            My guest and I hit the ground instinctively and she slid under the bed.

            I crawled from my bedroom to my living room to see WTF was happening from the side living room window. Looking out the window I see the girl that I was seeing standing next to a guy waving a pistol in the air.

            The scene:
            She’s yelling my name in a fit of jealous rage, he (later I learned it her cousin) is shooting in the air between her shouting. I’m in utter shock.

            My dueno who lived downstairs emerged and walked up to the young man and my friend and pointed his finger into the chest of the young man shooting the gun, admonishes them severely and makes them leave his property.

            I’m still in shock at this display mind you, and the dueno comes upstairs, with a grin on his face. Tells me. Not to worry, you’re girlfriend is just upset because she caught you with another girl.

            My reply “we are just friends patron’
            His reply “I know but Colombia is different than the US, if you sleep with a girl of that age, she’s your girlfriend, she cares about her reputation because she told everybody that you are her boyfriend. But you can fix it and make her happy tomorrow” I asked him, “what did you say to them to make them leave?” his reply: “This is my house, the American is my tenant, if anything happens to him- I’m coming after you, now get the fuck out of here”

            My landlord actually knew the girl because he’d seen her with me before and they had chatted, she was a neighborhood girl. He actually told her that I would talk to her the next day.

            I did of course speak to her the next day in order to make the peace.

            Despite how I mishandled the emotional aspect of the girl who was aggrieved by my undeclared fidelity, it was a really fucked up situation David. Why? because of the ease of which Colombians will resort to lethal GUNPLAY.

            Remember she was not even 18 years old and viewed it as acceptable behavior to go summon her cousin to teach me a lesson.

            Anyway, I’ve written long enough on this subject matter for today. Like you David, I love Salsa, it was Salsa and learning a quality form of Spanish and living a bit on the edge which brought me to Colombia.

            The fact that I survived it all is significant. With all the drama, the good the bad and the ugly, I still look forward to my extended return trip.

            Make no mistake David, the FUN and the Good times that I’ve had in Colombia far outweighs the bad, but for living full time, it’s not even an option, if I crave the Latin culture and dancing, or full time Latin living, I’d rather be in Panama, sure it has it’s problems too, but the cheapness of life is absent.

            One wrong move in Colombia could be a move that you don’t survive, and it could for something as trivial as dancing with the wrong girl in a club, a lousy $3.00 in a cab ride. The proportionality of crimes account for the most profound demerits in my equation.

            Because I do enjoy Colombia so much, I have considered living for an extended period of time in a place like Bucaramanga / Pereira / or some far less cosmopolitan big city area of Colombia. In the hopes that it would be a safer more pleasant stay. I’m still open to the idea, just have to do more research.

            Living life in fear is definitely undesirable, and your attitude David while living in Colombia is the best attitude for someone in your position to have. YOLO- you only live once; if Colombia makes you happy, it makes you happy. You’ve certainly traveled to enough places to know what you like.

            Stay positive, but maintain awareness. And of course I always wish you the well David.