From gang members to tour guides: Community tourism development in Bogotá’s most violent neighbourhood Egipto

Community tourism development in Bogotá’s most violent neighbourhood Egipto Emilia Schmidt

January 24, 2020.  

After 52 years of internal conflict and four years of peace negotiations, the Colombian government and the guerrilla group 'Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia' (FARC) signed a historic peace agreement in 2016. Since then, Colombia has become one of the ten fastest growing tourist markets in the world. The official peace has brought a new dynamic into the tourism sector.

Most of the tourists start their journey in Bogotá, the vibrant capital and largest city in Colombia. Bogotá’s image has been transformed from one of the most dangerous cities of the world to a tourist destination. Many urban communities developed their own tourism-based businesses, for instance the Breaking Borders Tour through the neighborhood Egipto. Situated high above the historical center La Candelaria, the neighborhood Egipto was known for drug trafficking, robbery and gang violence.

Walled-up and marginalized by society, it was a no-go area for everyone else in the city. Three years ago, members of the “La 10ma” gang and the Universidad Externado de Colombia in cooperation with Impulse Travel started an initiative to rebuild Bogota’s most violent neighborhood. The former gang members took tourism classes at the University, and were trained in language skills and in the basics of tourism management.

Breaking Borders Tour for tourists

The tour starts on the Calle 10, the entry point to Egipto, home to 142 families and 600 people. Referring to painted murals, former gang members tell the visitors about more than 27 years of violent conflict between rival gangs of the vulnerable neighborhood Egipto. They also talk about their own life stories, about being part of a gang, family members murdered or being held in prison, and violence and crimes. To underline their stories, they openly show their scars. But their voices do not sound sad. On the contrary, they speak very enthusiastically about the transformation of their social environment, their personal development, and the positive impact the Breaking Borders Tour has had on the community and their home environment.

One guide said that while children in Egipto used to aspire to become gang members, they now want to become tourist guides.
There is a thin line between controversial slum tours and the commercialization of violent history, and the revalorization of marginalized barrios through community-based tourism. Yet the numbers speak for themselves: after three years without deaths due to arms and drugs, the project Breaking Borders seems to consolidate peace in Egipto.

About the author

Emilia Schmidt is a junior researcher at ZEF, working with the Doctoral Studies Support Program (DSSP): Environmental peace-building and development in Colombia.