I heard footsteps pacing behind me. They started to speed up. Too nervous to look behind me, I kept focused on what lay in front of me. I was in a “safe” area, but I couldn’t help but wonder…Is Colombia dangerous?
As the footsteps drew near, I had to turn around. Somebody was almost right behind me. Was I about to be robbed in Colombia? I’d heard stories about robberies here. They seemed to happen out of the blue. Random occurrences.
Phone jacked from your hands by a guy on motorcycle cruising by.
Gun to the back because you hit on the wrong girl at the wrong time.
Dancing gypsies stealing your wallet while you’re too drunk to realize what happened.
Armed robberies involving crooked taxi drivers and solid set ups.
Shit occasionally goes down in Colombia. So I was concerned as I turned around to confront the person running towards me with a full head of steam…
Luckily, it was just a crackhead who had made his way out of El Bronx and into Zona T. He was damn near out of breath, but way too energized for 2 AM.
“Hey bro, where are you from?”
His English was near fluent with little accent. An English-speaking homeless crackhead. This was a first.
“Uhh, I’m from the US,” I said while thrown off guard.
“I love the USA. Used to live in South Florida until they sent me back here.”
I turned back to the pharmacy window. Bring me my damn drugs and let me go home. I was in no mood for crackhead conversation.
The fluent crackhead continued on with his life story. He praised the USA for awhile until finally begging for some coins or food.
My drugs finally showed up along with some yogurt and granola bars. I paid, handed old dude a granola bar, and walked home.
Is Colombia Dangerous?
Talking to an out of breath crackhead in the middle of the night is the worse thing that’s happened to me in Colombia. I’ve been robbed in Central America, but my experience in Colombia has been a safe one – thus far. Knock on wood.
No real issues and I’ve been in almost every major Colombian city, including:
Sure, Colombia is dangerous. Make no mistake about it. But it’s not “dangerous” like many would have you to believe.
In fact, certain Colombian cities offer impeccable first-world amenities I’ve yet to see in any other Latin American countries.
Rent a nice Airbnb apartment around Zona T in Bogota or El Poblado in Medellin, then tell me you don’t feel safe. Both areas are filled with people nearly 24 hours a day and continually have police patrolling the streets – often with dogs. Violent crimes are nearly non-existent in these areas.
What the Stats Say In 2017?
Is Colombia safe? In my personal opinion, living in Colombia can be just as safe as any big city in the United States.
However, my luck of the draw while living in Colombia doesn’t mean jack. We need to look into the stats and see if major Colombian cities are safe or if they’re significantly more dangerous similar sized cities in the United States.
Here are the cities in Colombia that made the most dangerous cities in the world list in 2017:
#8: Palmira – 71 murders per 100K
#10: Cali – 64 murders per 100K
#45: Pereira – 33 murders per 100K
Does the United States have any cities that make the list? Yes, including:
While the United States has a significantly larger population, the USA still has more cities that make the list. Colombia is certainly more dangerous than the United States in most areas.
However, the difference just isn’t as vast as people want to believe. If you live in good neighborhoods in Colombia, you’ll be just as safe as you would be in the USA.
What Does the U.S. Department of State Say?
Even the U.S. Department of State believes Colombia’s days of danger are behind them. According to Travel.State.Gov:
“Tens of thousands of U.S. citizens safely visit Colombia each year for tourism, business, university studies, and volunteer work. Security in Colombia has improved significantly in recent years, including in tourist and business travel destinations such as Bogota, Cartagena, Barranquilla, Medellin, and Cali. However, violence linked to narco-trafficking continues to affect some rural and urban areas.”
Compare the above to the advisory the U.S. Department of State offers for a truly dangerous country, Venezuela:
“The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens against travel to Venezuela due to violent crime, social unrest, and pervasive food and medicine shortages. All U.S. direct-hire personnel and their families assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Caracas are subject to an embassy movement policy that limits their travel within Caracas and other parts of the country. These security measures may restrict the services the Embassy can provide. Country-wide shortages of food, water, medicine, electricity, and other basic goods have led to social unrest, including violence and looting. Security forces have arrested individuals, including U.S. citizens, and detained them for long periods with little or no evidence of a crime.”
If the fear-mongering U.S. Department of State finds safety in Colombia to be up to par, you can rest assured the country isn’t too dangerous, especially if you stick to the big cities.
How to Stay Safe In Colombia
While there’s a stigma about traveling and living in Colombia due to the violent past of the drug traffickers, the stats show a slightly different story.
Colombia is a dangerous country, but many areas offer similar levels of safety as big cities in the United States. The drugs wars are essentially over in Colombia. FARC isn’t disturbing the peace any longer.
Colombians are such dangerous people 😉
Still, it’s important to minimize risk when traveling around any foreign country, especially one with such a reputation for danger like Colombia.
After living and traveling around Colombia for nearly seven months, I’ve heard the stories. I know it can be dangerous here. I also know you can minimize risks of danger with a few simple precautions.
So here are a few tips on how to stay safe in Colombia:
Stay in a Safe Area
The easiest way to eliminate any risk of danger in Colombia is to stay in a safe zone. The higher class neighborhoods will offer a high level of security, as that’s where many rich locals prefer to live.
When looking for a place to stay, always try to rent a place in one of these neighborhoods:
Bogota: Zona T, Parque 93, Chapinero Alto
Medellin: Poblado, Laureles
Cali: Granada, El Penon
Cartagena: Bocagrande, Old City
Barranquilla: Villa Country, Alto Prado
By staying in neighborhoods like the ones listed above, you’ll eliminate 90% of issues that could arise in Colombia. Each of these zones are upper class and offer a decent level of safety.
Rent an Apartment with a Doorman
If you rent an apartment with a doorman in one of the neighborhoods listed above, you’ll find Colombia to be a fairly safe place.
I prefer apartments over hotels in Colombia, as they offer a greater level of privacy while being significantly cheaper than a hotel with similar amenities.
The doorman is essential, as he’ll ensure no rift raft comes anywhere near the area you sleep at night.
Last, but not least – make an effort to blend into the local culture a little bit. While many a gringo won’t be able to look the slightest bit Colombian, you can still adapt to local customs.
I’m talking about how you dress. Colombians dress well, but they’re not flamboyant. You’ll want to avoid wearing fancy jewelry and watches here. However, you’ll still want to wear nice clothing. Colombians don’t like sloppy looking gringos.
While there’s nothing too fancy about my attire, these type outfits look good and will help you blend in while traveling around Colombia.
The Dangers of Traveling & Living in Colombia – 2017
Colombia has a reputation for violence that has been earned over the years. Make no mistake about it – Colombia can be a dangerous country. However, with a little planning, you can minimize these dangers.
In 2017, Colombia shouldn’t be considered a dangerous country. Is Colombia safe? Not completely, but it’s certainly not as dangerous in years past. The best way to find out is to book a flight and experience the country firsthand.
For more Colombia travel tips, check these articles out:
Travel junkie turned blogger. Location independent. From the Midwest, but often based in Latin America. Big on beaches, rumba, and rum. Addicted to the gym. Committed to showing a different style of travel - one that involves actually interacting with locals and exploring different cultures.