I can appreciate their concerns of course… I mean, Colombia’s ‘second city’ Medellin was, in the recent past, the murder capital of the world. Averaging over 17 murders daily through 1991… No big deal, right?! And while Its since undergone a renaissance of sorts—becoming one of the country’s main cultural hubs—that kind of stigma still blankets the entire country .
These fears of gratuitous violence aren’t assuaged by recent Hollywood hits—such as Netflix’s Narco’s—that romanticize and regurgitate those violent times in Colombia’s past. And so, even as Colombian’s are looking towards a better, brighter future, the question remains, Is Colombia Safe? The answer…
So… Is Colombia Safe To Travel?
Colombian stamps were once found only in a hardcore traveler’s passport, due to the decades of armed rebel incursions & civil war the country suffered through. But gone are the days of Pablo Escobar and the rule of the cartels & rebels over everyday life here. These days, Colombia isn’t simply one of the most thrilling & thriving destinations in South America—it’s also one of the safest.
I can see you thinking “safe compared to the rest of South America maybe, how safe is Colombia really?” Well, I’d hazard to say it’s likely a lot safer than you think. To illustrate that fact I grabbed these freshly up to date crime stats for the 50 most dangerous cities in the world. The only problem? I had to go to spot #53 (fifty freaking three!) to find a city in Colombia!
Go on, check it out:
World Crime Rankings By City – Courtesy Numbeo.Com
|2||San Pedro Sula, Honduras||82.98||17.02|
|3||Pietermaritzburg, South Africa||82.48||17.52|
|4||Port Moresby, Papua NG||81.34||18.66|
|6||Johannesburg, South Africa||80.03||19.97|
|7||Pretoria, South Africa||79.95||20.05|
|9||Durban, South Africa||79.73||20.27|
|10||Rio de Janeiro, Brazil||78.59||21.41|
|11||Porto Alegre, Brazil||78.10||21.90|
|13||Port of Spain, Trinidad||76.48||23.52|
|14||Port Elizabeth, South Africa||74.90||25.10|
|15||San Salvador, El Salvador||72.68||27.32|
|17||Sao Paulo, Brazil||72.02||27.98|
|19||Detroit, MI, United States||71.31||28.69|
|20||Baltimore, MD, United States||70.87||29.13|
|21||Cape Town, South Africa||70.32||29.68|
|22||San Juan, Puerto Rico||69.73||30.27|
|23||Albuquerque, NM, United States||69.15||30.85|
|25||Santo Domingo, Dominican||68.33||31.67|
|26||Mexico City, Mexico||68.19||31.81|
|29||Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia||66.77||33.23|
|31||New Orleans, LA, United States||66.24||33.76|
|32||Belo Horizonte, Brazil||65.98||34.02|
|33||Saint Louis, MO, United States||65.97||34.03|
|34||Milwaukee, WI, United States||65.56||34.44|
|35||Chicago, IL, United States||65.01||34.99|
|37||Oakland, CA, United States||64.79||35.21|
|41||Atlanta, GA, United States||64.00||36.00|
|45||Dar es Salaam, Tanzania||63.04||36.96|
|47||Buenos Aires, Argentina||63.00||37.00|
When asking yourself “is Colombia safe?” instead ask yourself if you would go visit Detroit, Baltimore, Albuquerque, New Orleans, Saint-Louis, Milwaukee, Chicago, Oakland or Atlanta. Bogota is safer than any of these major American cities!
Medellin, the next Colombian city on the list ranks at #134 beating out the likes of Houston, Jacksonville, Philly, Washington DC, Tijuana, San-Fransisco & even Regina, Canada. Is Colombia Safe? With a little common sense, I think so…
The data reinforces my gut feelings after visiting Colombia. During our trip through the country, from Bogota to Medellin and out to the Caribbean coast I never felt overtly threatened. Sure, there is a need for some common sense still, but the majority of people in Colombia simply want you to safely enjoy your vacation and tell your friends.
I’m left wondering how Colombia became so safe in such a short period of time, so I did some research. Here’s how they did it:
How Did Colombia Become Safe?
Since 2010, Colombia has gone from being a place dangerous enough to land you a book deal or television show to the tourist hot spot which we enjoy today without any real incident. Following the 2016 peace accords with the FARC rebels the number of violent crimes in Colombia have continued to drop. The numbers are deceasing so significantly in fact that 2018 is looking ready to set an all time (45 year) low!
Statistically speaking Colombia is safer than it’s ever been! This can be attributed to five major initiatives & events within Colombia.
- Peace Agreements With Left Wing Groups. These long needed peace accords with groups like FARC, ELN & M-19 were pushed through the government in 2016 and have shown a huge decline in violent crime in the country for the effort.
- The Fall Of The Cartel’s. The major drug cartels in Colombia have been eliminated or disbanded. That’s not to say that there isn’t still a problem though. Colombia is still the worlds top cocaine producer but there are no organized groups able to stand up against the government or exert their influence far & wide.
- A Beefed Up Military & Police Force. With the help of other countries (namely the USA) Colombia has modernized its military and police forces to better cope with safety issues of travelers and locals alike. If you see them on the street its not because this is a dangerous place, its to reassure you that it’s not, say hello, they’re always happy to talk!
- Development Of A Tourist Police Force. Cracking down on major crime, violence and drug issues was something the military and national police did well. Cracking down on petty crime in the cities however wasn’t their forte. A new division of the National Police versed in a multitude of languages was created to assist and protect tourists in Colombia.
- They See The Value Of Tourism. Tourism has become an extremely important revenue stream for Colombia, its citizens and their livelihoods. Tourism in Colombia is outpacing tourism growth in south america as a whole and even the world average. But tourism dollars in Colombia all depend on Colombia being safe for travelers & tourists. Because of this every Colombian has a stake in making Colombia safe.
What about for Solo / Female Travellers?
Colombia is surprisingly safe for women and even solo female travelers!
Being part of Latin America, it is still a very macho society but the only place you might feel uncomfortable during your travels here is on the Caribbean coast where cat calls and whistles are common.
And while you might be the unsuspecting recipient of what you could perceive to be an unwanted advance fear not. The Colombian’s are a very protective society and don’t look well upon any kind of harassment.
Staying Safe In Colombia
Even though Colombia is not a “no-fly” destination, foreigners must take precautions, as they would in London, Rio de Janeiro, New-York or Barcelona. “The City” Newspaper, Bogota
Stunning views, diverse ecosystems and historic landmarks attract jet-setters and backpackers alike to this South American gem. And as mass-tourism slowly discovers this new hotspot Colombia has also been exposed to the growing pains that it brings.
While specialized tourist police units have been setup, and the tourists of today are rightly weary, there are still a few things you can do to help ensure your safety in Colombia.
Here are a few easy tips on staying safe in Colombia:
- Check your local government security advisories for the areas you plan to visit.
- Like any other major city in the world, be careful of your surroundings, especially at night. Criminals tend to work in groups, often near tourist centers.
- Inform yourself. There is a wealth of knowledge about the places you’ll be wanting to see online (and right here in our Colombia Archives) the more you know the harder you are to take advantage of!
- When considering accommodations, no matter if a hotel, hostel or AirBNB be sure its located in a safe area. Colombia is friendly but also socially complex and the catchphrases authentic and local dont always mean safe.
- Scan a copy of your travel documents (passport, reservations, plane tickets, credit cards etc) and put it in a safe place. I leave a copy in my e-mail/icloud/dropbox in case my devices are stolen.
- Avoid wandering with your passport. Carry alternative ID or a photocopy of your passport being sure to leave the original in a safe location.
- If using apps to discover Colombia’s cities and towns, ask a local if the suggested routes are safe to walk through. Maps don’t understand the safe and less-than-safe areas of a city, talk with a local if you’re unsure!
- Let the concierge at your hotel or hostel know your itinerary for the day, ask if it’s a safe option and if they have any input. They’re the experts after all.
- Use ATM machines during daylight hours preferably and only in well trafficked areas. Shopping malls and museums are great options! Most of Colombia’s ATM’s have a small room and a door, ensure the door closes behind you before using the machine.
- Don’t flaunt your camera, cell phone or other valuables unnecessarily on the street. If you need to connect to Wifi stop and do so where you can monitor your surroundings. That said, I walked around Colombia with an expensive camera hanging on my arm and never felt at risk.
- Do not accept drinks from strangers, no matter their sex or how friendly they seem. We shouldn’t even have to mention this one! Be smart!
- Uber, Use it. While Uber may technically be illegal in Colombia you’ll be in good company breaking the law with lawyers, police and government officials using the service daily. Because Uber requires a background check of its drivers (unlike the taxi services) it dramatically cuts down on the risk of scams and theft and increases your safety in Colombia.
- If you ever feel unsafe in Colombia, enter the first shop you come across, explain the situation and request police assistance. The locals understand and the police force makes a huge effort to keep tourists safe & happy!
- Ask for prices before you order or commit to a service to avoid being over-charged. Hold vendors accountable if they attempt to bait and switch or change the price. Don’t be afraid to ask for the police.
- Do NOT hand-over documents or money to plainclothes “police.” Just don’t! Tell them you want to speak to their “boss” at the local station. Once these people have your ID you’re ripe for extortion.
- Consider carrying only the cash and debit/credit cards one needs for the day. Budget accordingly.
- You’re on holiday, who needs to wear expensive jewelry? Don’t bring it with you, at the very least leave it at the hotel.
- Know your limit with alcohol and never do drugs. Although recreational use and possession of a “minimum dosage” was recently legal, that decision has been turned around and the police are cracking down. Don’t get caught in the middle. Colombian jail is not where you want to end up!
Emergency Numbers You Should Know
Write these down, screen shot them or commit them to memory before your trip!
Thoughts & Take Aways
In the end, even as new parts of the country open up to tourism and avid eco-travelers clamor to be first in line, there’s still the question of just how Colombia will overcome it’s shady reputation to attract more mainstream travelers. But thanks in part to the grassroots, viral, word of mouth publicity that travelers are happily spreading, Colombia has seen an insane increase in the number of visitors to it’s shores.
Reflecting on my time in Colombia I couldn’t believe just how much I had fallen in love with it. I’m now one of those happy travelers preaching it’s beauty to all who’ll listen. Its the unexpected gem of my passport and anyone who tells you of it’s dangers has obviously never been.
While some remain convinced that a traveler who goes to Colombia may never come back, it wont be a lack of safety that’s kept him or her from returning. The Colombian Tourism board’s promotions, at one time, all ended with a man on a beach who chuckled “El riesgo es que te quieras quedar,” or “The risk is that you’ll want to stay.” And honestly, I cant think of a better way to put it.
I hope this helped put your mind at rest and answered the question “Is Colombia safe for travelers”. Maybe it even inspired you to go ahead and plan a trip to
Colombia. When asked whether Colombia is safe my answer is a resounding YES. In 2018 even the (typically overprotective) US State Department isn’t even telling citizens to avoid travel to Colombia! So go ahead, pack your travel backpack, book a flight and go see it for yourself!