Colombia has a very interesting and dark history and certain cities were even among one of the most dangerous in the world. Many of you will wonder ‘Is Colombia Safe to travel to’? And rightly so, but I will tell you how the country has gone through an insane transformation for the good! Read along, because times has changed!
Brief History of Colombia
During the 80’s and early 90’s Colombia saw cartel leaders like Pablo Escobar got extreme wealth with even political aspirations. The government launched an offensive against the cartels which the cartels responded with bomb attacks. In 1993 Escobar (any many other leaders) were killed in Medellín and even though it didn’t effect the drug supply, it dismantled crime syndicates and stopped the bombs.
Besides that, a guerilla movement called the FARQ, claiming to be fighting for the poor, is in conflict with the government for 55 years. It was more dangerous for the average Colombian than ever, until the peace agreement between the FARQ and the government in 2016.
In short, Colombia was associated by drugs and violence. The country faced a lot of conflicts between the guerillas, paramilitary armies and cartels until 2016.
”Colombia has gone through an insane transformation in the last decade!”
Tourism in Colombia
After reading this, you may ask yourself how did Colombia become a safe country. Colombia has gone through an insane transformation in the last decade and the government has done lot’s of actions to make the country safer. Right now, the country is safe for travelers and getting very popular among travelers. Colombia is still working towards an even safer place, welcoming more tourists every year.
Colombia even had a visitors record of 4.5 million in 2019. After a huge drop during the pandemic, the country is back on track and growing popularity every year!
As in many countries, tourism plays a big role in the growth of a country and their economy. Not to forget, tourism creates an insanely amount of job opportunities and open doors for locals. Therefore the government cares a lot about their safety reputation and would do everything to keep tourists safe. Not saying petty theft doesn’t overcome tourists.
Tips to stay safe in Colombia
Know where you can/can’t go
Colombia is a huge country with a capital with over 10 million inhabitants (looking at you Bogotá). Unfortunately there’s still a lot of poverty in the big cities, and because of that also certain barrio’s that are unsafe. Luckily, all the tourist spots are not in these neighborhoods. So, there’s no reason for you to be there.
Before coming to Colombia, make sure to look up these neighborhoods in the places you want to visit. Another option, is to ask your hostel or the locals.
Want more Colombia Tips?
10 Best Things to do in Medellín, Colombia
Get a local simcard
The first thing I do when I enter a new country is going on a hunt for a local simcard with some gigabytes internet on it. Not only is this convenient while traveling, especially if you’re a solo traveler, but also makes sure you always can check where to go or keep in contact with friends/family about your location.
Get yourself a simcard from the company Claro!
‘No dar Papaya’
No dar Papaya is a local expression literally meaning “don’t give papaya’. Which means, don’t show something valuable that could make you a target. Talking about your fancy new iPhone, big camera’s and golden jewelry,
As you know, I love taking pictures with my camera and capturing moments on the streets, but in places like Bogotá and Medellín, I decided not to. I don’t say you can’t, but for myself I decided to better safe than sorry.
However, when visiting Comuna 13 I did walked around with my camera and my phone because our guide told us it was completely safe to do so.
I asked her why this was, because it confused me. Comuna 13 has become one of the city’s safest and touristy neighborhoods. Even though gangs still rule most of the area, you can understand that all these tourists bring in a lot of money for them too.
If something happens to a tourist in their barrio, they know it would have a huge impact on their reputation. On top of that, there’s a strong police presence keeping an eye on the tourists.
Don’t walk around at night
One that speaks for itself, but isn’t less important. It’s actually one of the most important in the list. I’ve heard many stories about people thinking ”it’s only 3 blocks away, I’m not taking a taxi for that” and ended up getting robbed.
If it comes to your safety, please pay a little more to secure that. I’ve used Uber in all cities and it’s always maximum a few euros. Definitely not worth giving up your safety for these few bucks.
Uber is still illegal, but used by everyone. The driver may ask you to sit in front, to look like a friend of them.
Stay in a safe neighborhood
Colombia is a country that requires a bit more research before arriving than other countries. Your safety is number one priority and you want to make sure you’re staying in the right neighborhoods. Here are some good neighborhoods to stay in for travelers throughout Colombia:
– Medellín: El Poblado, Laureles
– Bogotá: Chapinero, La Candelaria (where the most popular hostels are located in)
– Cartagena: Getsemaní, the Old Town
– Santa Marta: around Parque de los Novios in the city centre
Book your accommodation here!
Share location with loved ones
When traveling solo it’s always wise to share your location with other people. Of course you won’t share with someone every time you’re leaving your hostel solo. But when changing hostels, taking a bus somewhere new or getting an Uber solo. Always letting someone know where you go, in case something would happen.
When taking an Uber I often would send a friend my location to feel more safe. Also I would let my family know which hostel I was staying at for the next few nights.
Don’t drink to much alcohol
This may be a standard one for all your travels in basically country. I still wanted it to include it in the list, as it’s not less important than the other ones on here. Most bad things happens to drunk people wandering the streets or those involved with drugs.
About drugs. Don’t do cocaine in Colombia. This powder caused enough problems in the past.
Watch your drink! People use Scopolamine to drug you and then rob you. It’s a common scam.
Listen to tips from locals
During your trip through Colombia you may come across locals giving you advice. For example, they will tell you if you give papaya 😉 Sometimes I asked for advice myself asking if certain places or neighborhoods were safe to walk around.
Remember, that locals have lived there their whole life and just want to help you. Please listen to them and follow their advice.
Only bring with you what you need
As I mentioned earlier, petty theft is one of the most common crimes against tourists in Colombia. That’s why it’s important to keep your most valuable things locked up in your hostel/hotel. I always put my passport, laptop and bank cards in there. I only take cash with me when going out or maximum 1 card.
All good hostels have lockers in their dorms, one of the first things I check for when looking for hostels.
Learn some basic Spanish
When visiting Colombia, you’re going to need some basic Spanish and it will make you feel a lot safer too. When I get a weird vibe in certain taxi’s, I try to speak some Spanish to the driver so they know you’re not unknown with traveling and that you can understand them.
Colombia is still transforming into a tourist destination and many locals don’t know good english. Even though, it’s only a few words, locals really appreciate when you’re willing to learn.
Keep up-to-date with your government’s travel advice
Safety recommendations can change very quickly when something happens. That’s why it’s always important to check your government’s travel advice before planning your trip. When traveling for a longer period, it’s always useful to regularly check for updates.
All touristy areas are green and safe for you to travel to. The borders are the most dangerous due to drugs traffic and cocaine productions.
source: gov UK
Get yourself a Travel Insurance
Petty theft is one of Colombia’s main safety problem for tourists. Never go traveling without a travel insurance. Not only for your health when getting sick abroad, but also to insure your expensive camera gear, new iPhone or laptop.
Personally, I use a travel insurance at my bank in Belgium. Even though I don’t have any experience with SafetyWing, it’s a travelers favorite and very practical for long term travelers and digital nomads.
Even though you’re following these rules, bad things may happen to everyone. Most important is that IF something happens, give everything! Nothing is worth your life.
Is taking local transport safe in Colombia?
Public transport is your main way to get around in northern Colombia and also the cheapest. As long as you travel during the day, it’s perfectly safe. These are green/white vans and can drop you off everywhere along their route.
In the cities there are other ways to travel around. For example, Medellín has a fantastic metro system. And the same counts here, avoid taking the metro at night. When you need to travel in the dark, Uber is your biggest and safest friend.
Busses in Colombia
Busses are the way to go to get your from point A to B in Colombia. Easily book them through Busbud.
Bolivariano and Berlinas are trustable bus companies with routes all over Colombia, with comfortable seats, plugs and toilets.
Nightbusses are popular and a safe way to save money on accommodation and still have your daytime to explore!
Is Colombia safe for Solo Female Travelers?
Simply answer, yes! However it’s important to stick to these basic safety precautions to stay safe in Colombia. If you’re not really comfortable traveling solo, going for a country like Costa Rica or Peru may be a good alternative to start with.
Colombia was my first destination outside of Europe as a solo female traveler. Even though, it took some adjusting and getting used to, I felt safe during my travels and had a great experience!
Conclusion, Is Colombia Safe?
Don’t let anyone telling you Colombia is an unsafe country, because they may had a bad experience. Everyone’s experience is different, but any traveler I’ve come across in my 3 months in Latin America, told me Colombia was amazing and to some even their favorite country (me included). So yes, Colombia is safe, for either families as solo female travelers.
Colombia is changing and takes more mindful travel than usual. But with the above mentioned tips, you’ll be fine!
Take them seriously & don’t give papaya! 🙂 But, most important, enjoy the rawness and authenticity of Colombia!