Colombia – a country that is obviously very beautiful and packed with touristic spots that will leave every visitor in awe. Still, at the same time, Colombia is also known for having a fairly violent history.
At this point in the present, the situation in Colombia is not that bad – but there are still some areas that you might want to avoid. Or if you go, you should take some extra precautions.
If you are planning a trip to Colombia, this Colombia safety guide should give you some insight into how to avoid trouble there. Technically speaking, with a fair amount of care, you should have no issues there – but one should always better be safe than sorry.
Highest Risks You Expose Yourself to When Visiting Colombia
Highest Risks You Expose Yourself to When Visiting Colombia
Overall Risks in Colombia: MEDIUM
Colombia was once a very dangerous country to travel to – which is why it still maintained a dangerous reputation to this day. Still, despite its shaken history, nowadays it is no longer that bad.
You can visit their most beautiful touristic spots without having any incidents – and then return home feeling that your vacation was a safe success. You will, however, have to exercise some basic safety precaution. It takes just one moment of not paying attention to ruin your entire holiday.
Pickpocketing and Theft Risks in Colombia: MEDIUM to HIGH
How safe is Colombia for tourists when it comes to protecting your belongings? Like in every other country, pickpocketing is very high – particularly in crowds or in public transportation. Pickpocketers look mostly for those that seem to breathe money, since they are the most “profitable” targets. Therefore, if you walk around flashing an expensive Nikon camera in order to look cool, chances are that thieves will find it cool as well – but just to steal and sell.
- How to avoid pickpocketing and theft in Colombia?
In order to avoid having your things stolen from you, you might want to refrain walking around and displaying your most expensive items. If possible, try to avoid taking your cell phones and valuables out on busy streets. Many people who leave their phones on the coffee table have their phones stolen from right under their nose before they even realize it happened.
Furthermore, you may want to leave your most important belongings at your accommodation, if possible – and not take all your money and documents with you. In the event that you have your wallet stolen from you, at least you’ll have the consolation that not everything was taken in one go. Most Colombia safety travel tips will advise that you don’t take your documents with you, and that you only take as much money with you as you want to spend that day.
It can sometimes happen; one minute you have everything, and the next one someone is running with your purse down an unpopulated alley. It might be very tempting to run after them, since they are “just there” – but you might want to refrain from doing so. By taking matters into your own hands, you risk losing more than a wallet with some cash in it.
The best approach would be to go to the local authorities or the embassy. It might be a bit more hassling until they contact your own embassy, but at least your life will not be that much in danger. Plus, if you leave it to the professionals, chances are that they might actually find the thief and return the items that were stolen from you.
Scam Risk in Colombia: HIGH
How safe is Colombia for tourists, when it comes no scammers? Not that much; pickpocketers are a common occurrence in Colombia, but they are not that much of a risk provided you keep a close eye on your belongings.
What you need to keep an open eye for, however, are scammers. Colombia is packed with people that will try to take advantage, which is why you always need to be skeptical of those randomly approaching you.
Some taxi drivers may also scam you into paying more than you should, providing wrongful information. To prevent any unpleasant situations, you should always ask beforehand how much it will take to reach a certain destination – and check with the average market. Generally, the internet should tell you exactly how much the average per kilometer is.
You may also want to be very careful around ATMs – as well as people randomly approaching you when you are dealing with money. The chances that they are just trying to distract you so that their partner can steal your things are very high. To answer your question “is Colombia safe to visit,” we can only answer this for you: it’s safe only as long as you pay attention to your belongings.
- How to avoid getting scammed in Colombia?
Most scams are usually avoided by asking the right questions beforehand, so to speak. As mentioned above, you can avoid a taxi driver scamming you if you get them to tell you the price for your trip before you actually get inside the vehicle. The same applies to other services. For example, when visiting a restaurant, you can avoid overcharging and such by asking for the menu before you order anything. If a location fails to provide you with a menu, then you should know that something is not right.
Naturally, you should always check the receipt after purchasing a product or service, to make sure that the amount you payed is the same.
When buying souvenirs from street vendors, take a good look at every item that you want to buy, as they may be counterfeit. Also, before actually buying the items, we recommend you to check the licensed stores and shops as well. One to many times we found out that the "rustic souvenirs" we bought off the street could also be found in a convenience store or souvenir shop in a better quality and sometimes even cheaper! In short, don't let street vendors fool you!
Kidnapping Risk in Colombia: MEDIUM
Kidnapping can occur in Colombia, particularly in some regions such as Arauca, Cauca or Calle 9 region. Some regions are more prone to crime and guerilla attacks – and the chances of being kidnapped for political reasons can be very high. In the past, there were fair numbers of kidnappings, particularly in rural regions or around the borders.
Now, however, kidnappers do not occur as often in Columbia. The security was raised, and as long as you take some precaution, there shouldn’t be any incidents. It’s not completely safe either, which is why you may want to read a Columbia safety guide on how to avoid unwanted situations.
- How to avoid getting kidnapped in Colombia?
To stay safe in Colombia, the first thing you might want to do is avoid walking on dark alleys alone – or any other places that are devoid of people. If you are traveling alone, the best move would be to stick to public touristic spots where you can scream for help if something ever happens.
If you are the one being kidnapped, the best advice that we could give you is this: don’t struggle. Antagonizing your assailant may lead to more injury, and the risk or you losing your life can get very high.
Ideally, you should wait until help arrives. If you have a travel partner, wait until they realize you have gone missing and they contact the authorities. With a good search party, they should be able to find you or negotiate the terms of your release.
If you are by yourself, things might get rather tricky. The best thing to do would be to escape – but if that fails, chances are you might make the kidnapper get even angrier. Sometimes, kidnappers let people go when they see they are not actually of any use – so if they see they can’t actually get any ransom for you, then you might as well just be able to escape.
There was once a story of an abducted child who was set free after continuously singing gospel songs for three hours to his kidnapper – therefore annoying him until he let him go. Now this was a fairly creative way of escaping an assailant.
However, you do have to take in the personality of the assailant into account. This kidnapper may have released the child – but if you have the bad luck of coming across a murderer, this might have the least desirable outcome.
Terrorism Risk in Colombia: MEDIUM
With Columbia, you never know what might happen; one day it might be terrorist free, and the other you can hear bombs or guns coming from all around the place. The fact is, however, that terrorism is a real issue when it comes to Colombia, since many terrorist groups will try to conduct attack here.
There are certain groups that will try to carry out these attacks. One of them is the ELN (National Liberation Army), but the dissidents of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerilla group are also a matter of concern. For this reason, you might want to take a close look at what is happening around you.
- How to avoid terrorism in Colombia?
A terrorist will always have a suspicious behavior in public, which is why you always need to analyze the people around you. If they’re fidgeting, continuously looking around them, or looking like they have something to hide, chances are that they might be up to no good.
In you suspect that someone around you is a terrorist, then you might want to slowly get away from there – without alarming the person – and then look for a safe place from where you can contact the police.
Risks for Women Traveling Alone in Colombia: MEDIUM
So, is Colombia safe for solo women travelers? Not really. It’s very easy for women to feel unsafe of the streets, particularly in Bogota and especially when they are alone. Women can be approached even if they are accompanied – but generally speaking, the more people you have around you, the safer you will be.
You don’t have to know those people; you just have to be around them. You can look for a guide or a tourist group, or you can stick to walking only on populated areas.
- How to avoid crime as a solo woman traveler in Colombia?
If you are approached by a random stranger, the last thing you should do is tell them that you are traveling alone. Even if you are alone, tell them that you are traveling with someone – and that they are about to return shortly. In any case, however, you may want to keep your distance from anyone who seems suspicious.
Rape Risk in Colombia: MEDIUM
The rape rate in Colombia has certainly subsided over the years, but this does not mean that the danger is completely gone. Cases of sexual assault are still happening, particularly on non-populated streets, and especially at night.
Generally speaking, rapists will only target women traveling alone – and on streets where they can easily kidnap the victim, without anyone noticing. Still, these kinds of circumstances can be easily avoided, provided you take some precaution methods.
- How to avoid getting raped in Colombia?
First of all, the best way to avoid an unwanted situation is to stick to the beaten track and keep to some Colombia safety travel tips. We know, that small alley is more breathable since it barely has any people on it – and it’s also a great shortcut for your destination. Still, it is also the place that exposes you the most to sexual assaults – mainly because no one will be there to hear you scream.
You may also want to avoid wearing highly-revealing clothes. You may think that mini skirt looks cute or that low-cut tank top makes your chest look hot – but so will the rapist think. They will be seen as provocative and easy to take off – which is why you should dress as appropriately as possible.
Taking some self-defense lessons might also not be such a bad idea, since they can help you immobilize and escape your assailant. There are various classes nowadays for women who want to know how to defend themselves – and those classes generally do not take longer than a few weeks.
Last but not least, you should avoid traveling alone if you want to avoid an unwanted scenario. Criminals will be less tempted to attack you if they see you accompanied by a group – the larger, the better. To answer your question in “is Columbia safe for solo women travelers,” the truth is, it’s not really that safe. You can, however, prevent unlucky situations if you stick to your own issues.
This might be the last thing you want to hear right now, but in the event that something happens, do not try to antagonize the criminal even further. You might lose more than your dignity if that were to happen; you might just lose your life.
Look for chances to get away, and run for safety immediately. Find the nearest police station, and tell the authorities what happened. It might not be able to reverse what happened to you, but it might at least help bring a sense of justice.
Risk for People Traveling with Children in Colombia: MEDIUM
Technically speaking, it’s not really that dangerous to travel with children – particularly if you stay away from the “red zones.” There are indeed certain cities that are more prone to kidnapping or guerilla attacks – but if you keep a close eye on your little one, there should not be any problems.
- How to avoid unwanted scenarios?
In order to avoid any issues with your child, you may want to ensure that their hand never leaves yours – particularly in a crowded area. You may think that an environment with many people is safe – but it’s also the easiest place to lose a child. Even if no kidnappers are involved, it’s very easy to lose a restless child in a crowd. It can easily happen in a supermarket – so there’s no reason why it would not happen in a crowded plaza as well.
Natural Disaster Risks in Colombia: MEDIUM
Columbia is part of the Andean Volcanic Belt and the Pacific Ring of Fire – which means that volcanoes are always prone to erupt. They may stay inactive for years at a time – but there’s also the chance that a particular volcano may decide to erupt in the middle of your vacation. You should always follow the news so that you don’t have any surprises.
Transportation Risks in Colombia: MEDIUM
When it comes to traveling overall, keep in mind that the state's authority is rather limited in many of the country's rural areas. This means that, if you need emergency assistance, the authorities may not be able to help you, depending on your location. As a result, we highly recommend you to travel to remote areas only with recognized tour operators. On top of that, you could also rely on the services of a personal safety and security company, depending on the areas that you want to visit.
If you have the "Lost City" on your "to see" list - it is located in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta -, then it is recommended that you visit it with an organized tour only. Moreover, the San Agustin archeological park should be visited only via the main road through Popayan or Neiva.
In terms of transportation, you should be cautious with public transportation services across Colombia, as they vary in condition and safety, so to speak. Taxis are not to be hailed on the street - we recommend you to book one via telephone or have your hotel book a taxi for you. As mentioned above, Colombia is rather infested with unlicensed taxis - these are the main tool used for assaults, express kidnappings, and robberies.
In Colombia, the driving standards are rather poor, making traffic accidents quite common. If you have to drive, don't do so during the night, as it can be very dangerous. Do not hitch-hike and do not take any hitch-hikers, especially if you drive through a rural area, as such areas comes with a higher risk of kidnapping and violence. Moreover, illegal armed groups often set roadblocks that they use to stop cars - usually foreigners - and ask them for a fee, in the best case scenario.
Night-Clubs, Pubs, and Bar Risks in Colombia: MEDIUM to HIGH
One of Colombia's major problems is street crime, especially in the country's major cities - Medellin, Bogota, the Caribbean coast, and Cali. This means that, no matter the time of the day, you are at risk of being pickpocketed, scammed, and robbed, sometimes even at gunpoint. There are reports of foreign nationals who have been robbed at gun point in Bogota, in the Candelaria area. Therefore, here comes the question - hwo safe are night-clubs, pubs, and bars in Colombia?
Well, the answer is not in your favor, especially if you love spending time in such locations. Given the country's situation, you can expect any bar or pub to be "accompanied" by pickpockets, thieves, and violent criminals, to say the least. If you choose to walk home during the night, after spending some time in a night-club, then you will most likely be followed by a criminal - especially if the night-club you visited was in a deprived area of the city.
On top of that, the use of date rape and similar drugs has been confirmed in Colombia. Here, criminals mostly use scopolamine, drug that incapacitates victims and causes amnesia. Almost all date rape drugs can be administered via drinks, food, aerosols, cigarettes, and - interestingly - even via paper flyers. Therefore, do not take anything from any stranger, no matter how they look or how friendly they claim to be. Avoid interacting with locals/ strangers as much as possible, especially when you are in pubs and bars.
In short, you should avoid any area that implies you leaving your accommodation during the night and/ or making you visit deprived locations! If you feel like drinking something or simply need to be surrounded by that bar/ pub atmosphere, then we recommend you to visit the bar within your accommodation, as it is the safest location for you to have fun in while visiting a foreign country!
Health Risks in Colombia
As expected, the country's medical facilities vary in quality. State capitals and large cities come with private clinics that are able to provide you with good quality care for both routine and complex treatment. However, as these can get quite expensive, it is recommended that you have proper travel health insurance as well as enough money to cover the cost of any treatment, medicine, and emergency transportation. Check your policy to make sure that it covers emergency and private medical care, as not all of them do so.
On the other hand, if you find yourself in smaller cities, keep in mind that the public health facilities that you'll come across will be ill equipped, as well as poorly funded. On top of that, the ambulance services in most remote areas are usually unreliable and most public hospitals lack the medical supplies needed for proper medical care. In short, medicine and treatment for complex treatment may not be available in smaller towns and rural areas.
If you plan on spending multiple days in smaller cities, then you should buy the medication you may need soon after you land/ arrive in a major city, in order to avoid any future issues that would cause you to return to a major city for either medication or treatment.
When it comes to health concerns, Colombia has a risk of Zika virus transmission, on top of the presence of malaria, Dengue fever, and yellow fever within the country. You should take the necessary steps to protect yourself against such viruses and avoid being infected. For the latter diseases, do your best to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. Last but not least, you should avoid drinking tap water throughout the country, the only exception being the city of Bogota. Have a steady supply of bottled water if you plan long traveling sessions, so to speak.
List of Vaccines You Need in Colombia
Is Colombia safe to visit? It is – if you take the right shots. Before traveling to Colombia, here is a list of vaccines that you might need to get beforehand. According to the CDC and various other organizations, you may need to take several shots, including:
- Hepatitis B
- Yellow fever
Each region will have its own predisposition to certain illnesses, so you may want to be well-informed.
Most Dangerous Areas in Colombia
- Cali: Colombia did receive a “makeover,” but there are also certain cities you should refrain from visiting. Cali, for example, may have a healthy tourism economy along with great historical sites – but it’s still packed with violence. An average or 64 out of 10,000 people are murdered every year.
- Palmira: While the situation may not be as bad as it was in the past, Palmira is still home to a fair number of drug cartels and paramilitary groups.
- Bogota: Bogota may be a beautiful city to visit, but the fact that it houses various armed gangs is also an issue. Many kidnappings occur there every year, and the place is also infamous for being the center of many terrorist acts.
Concluding Remarks: Is Colombia Safe to Visit?
So, how safe is Colombia for tourists? In a way, you could say that it’s at a medium. As long as you pay attention to your surroundings, you should be able to maintain a decent level of safety.
Hopefully, this Colombia safety guide managed to bring in some useful tips. All that’s left now is to pack your bags and set on a holiday that you will definitely remember!