Western backpackers are flocking to the cocaine-paved streets of South America because of its relaxed laws on drugs and the increased availability of the narcotic, experts warn.

It is known as a rich man's drug in Australia, the US and the UK, but in Colombia cocaine can be sold for as little as $5 per gram and personal possession of up to 1g is legal, according to Daily Mail.

Criminal justice strategic professor Andrew Goldsmith says there are are more and more Western travellers heading to places such as Colombia to indulge in the "easy availability of cocaine", the ABC reports.

Professor Goldsmith worked in Colombia as a police reform adviser and warns drug cartels are attracted to travellers as they hold passports which are the ticket to transporting the drug to Western countries.


He adds that drug mules are commonplace and are known to freely cooperate with traffickers, and said it is "difficult to imagine how one could be completely unknowing".

The culture of drugs in South America has transformed the Colombian cocaine trade into a tourist attraction.

Backpackers in South American countries like Colombia, Mexico and Peru are drawn to the superficial allure of wild nightclubs, cheap shopping and a gentle dusting of the addictive white powder.

Caught up in the whirl of partying and the recreational drug scene, travellers develop an invincible attitude which convinces them to become a one-time drug mule - without delving too far into the real-world consequences.

Professor Goldsmith said Colombian jails are overcrowded with travellers just like 22-year-old South Australian woman Cassandra Sainsbury who was allegedly found with 5.8kg of cocaine concealed in headphone packages.

Red flags in Sainsbury's claims of innocence includes her third-party purchased plane ticket and the fact she had never travelled to Colombia before, he said.

Colombian police were tipped off about the accused cocaine smuggler by the US Drug Enforcement Agency and pounced on her just minutes before she boarded her flight back home.

South Australian woman Cassandra Sainsbury (pictured) was allegedly caught with 5.8kg of cocaine concealed in her luggage. Photo/AP
South Australian woman Cassandra Sainsbury (pictured) was allegedly caught with 5.8kg of cocaine concealed in her luggage. Photo/AP

The Adelaide woman was at the tail end of an international trip that saw her visit China and the United States before arriving in South America's cocaine capital.

But she drew the attention of the DEA when her plane ticket home to Australia via London was reportedly purchased last minute by an "unknown party" in Hong Kong.

The haul of cocaine, with a street value of $1.7million in Australia, could cost Sainsbury 25 years in a Colombian women's prison - and her lawyer has suggested pleading guilty to lesser charges.

But Australian author Rusty Young, whose book Marching Powder was based on the three months he spent with an English drug smuggler in prison in Bolivia, says he doesn't believe authorities there will make an example of Sainsbury.

"Basically, the bigger traffickers are the ones they are after," he told the Seven Network.

"Small traffickers are just an annoyance for the country."

"Colombia loves foreigners coming in. One of their major industries now is tourism. They do not want the name. They don't want the media attention for drug trafficking."