A Guide to Staying Safe in Colombia

Bogotá, Colombia
Bogotá, Colombia | © Fernando Garcia / Flickr
Photo of Chris Bell
17 April 2018

Colombia has a reputation as a dangerous country to visit, and while that was certainly once the case, this South American country is now no more risky than many others in the region. That’s not to say that Colombia is 100% safe, but you can travel there safely as long as you take certain precautions. Here’s a quick guide on how to stay safe on a trip to Colombia.

It’s important to note that Colombia can be an unsafe country by some standards. If you look at certain crime stats and figures, you might conclude that Colombia was too unsafe to visit, but that would be a misguided assumption. While Colombia has had its problems over the years, and is in the process of trying to move past those problems, it has improved dramatically and as a visitor you are unlikely to come across most of the issues that the country faces.

The tourist trail is now very secure, and if you are sensible, the chances are that you will only come across kind and friendly people and have nothing but good experience in Colombia. There are a few things you can do that will help make sure this is the case.

Bogotá, Colombia | © Pedro Szekely / Flickr

Don’t ‘give papaya’

The Colombian expression ‘give papaya’ means ‘make yourself a target,’ and means giving someone the opportunity to rob you. Although this might stray annoyingly close to victim-blaming, there is some logic at play. When you visit a big city, try to avoid wandering around flashing an expensive camera or iPhone, and don’t draw too much attention to yourself by walking around a chilly Andean city like Bogotá in flip flops and board shorts.

The same goes for going out in the evening. By all means, enjoy a night out in Bogotá or Medellín, but when it comes to ending the night, make sure to call a taxi from the bar or club, or to use a taxi app like Tappsi or EasyTaxi. Don’t just wander home drunk at 3 am and expect everything to be fine: the majority of tourists who are victims of crime in Bogotá or Medellín are robbed late at night in the most popular tourist areas. If you follow these basic tips and try not to present yourself as an easy target, you will generally be OK.

Taxis in Colombia | © Edgar Zuniga Jr. / Flickr

Learn the language

This might be the most essential safety tip on a trip to Colombia. Why? Because it can really help, especially if you are planning to travel to off-the-beaten-track Colombian destinations, to be able to communicate with people during your trip. Being able to clearly articulate addresses to taxi drivers, bus drivers and hotel staff will make a big difference in terms of how you navigate your way around the country, and can help you to avoid inadvertently putting yourself in dangerous situations.

It’s also a good idea to familiarise yourself a bit with the Colombian security situation. While this is not really necessary for established tourism destinations, if you are planning to travel a bit more in emerging destinations or remote spots, it is recommended that you read up on the current security situation before you travel, just to make sure that everything is OK.

If you're heading to off-the-beaten-track spots like Araracuara, check up on the situation there first | Chris Bell / © Culture Trip

Don’t take drugs

This isn’t a question of physical health, but rather a question of putting yourself in potentially dangerous and explosive situations (not to mention all the damage which the cocaine trade has done to Colombia over the years). If you plan to go out and night and approach people in the street trying to buy drugs, you have to expect potentially dangerous situations to occur. The last thing you want on your holiday in Colombia is to end up being busted by undercover police and ending up in jail. And never follow anyone to a second destination in a quest to buy drugs. Here’s an idea: maybe just enjoy Colombia without the cocaine!

If you begin by following some of these basic guidelines, you will be in a good position when you start travelling. The most important thing is to relax and enjoy your trip without constantly panicking about safety, but these tips should allow you to do that.

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