Is Colombia Safe? | Gringo’s Travel Guide
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 “nice” area, but I couldn’t help but wonder…Is Colombia safe?
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.
- 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 setups.
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 the El Bronx neighborhood 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 conversations with crackheads.
The English-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 the pharmacy, handed the crackhead a granola bar, and walked home.
Colombia hadn’t gotten the best of me yet.
That’s why I’m here writing this article about safety in Colombia and how you can have a damn good time here…
Without fear! In this guide, you’ll find information like:
Table of Contents
Is Colombia Safe? | My Honest Opinion
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 and Mexico, but my experience in Colombia has been a safe one – thus far.
Knock on wood.
No real issues for me after spending over a year in the country. I’ve been in almost every major Colombian city, including:
- Santa Marta
Still alive and kicking…
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.
Sure, if you’re staying off in the slums, you’ll probably have some issues. But nice neighborhoods in Colombia are a lot like the nice areas back home.Fairly safe and secure.
Colombia Crime Rates
Is Colombia dangerous? 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 jacksh*t in the grand scheme of things.
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 2018:
- #27: Palmira – 48 murders per 100K
- #31: Cali – 47 murders per 100K
Does the United States have any cities that make the list? Yes, including:
- #15: St. Louis – 61 murders per 100K
- #23: Baltimore – 51 murders per 100K
- #46: Detroit – 39 murders per 100K
- #50: New Orleans – 37 murders per 100K
*Source: USA Today
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. Don’t get it twisted.
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 about as safe as you would be in the USA.
Te lo juro.
What the U.S. Department of State Says?
Even the U.S. Department of State believes Colombia’s days of danger are almost behind them.
Well, maybe not entirely. While the U.S. Government has issue a Level 2 Travel Warning to Colombia for the time being, things have gone downhill since a few years ago.
According to Travel.State.Gov:
Exercise increased caution in Colombia due to crime, terrorism, and kidnapping. Some areas have increased risk. Read the entire Travel Advisory.
Do Not Travel to:
- Arauca, Cauca (except Popayan), Chocó (except Nuquí), Nariño, and Norte de Santander (except Cucuta) departments due to crime and terrorism.
Reconsider Travel to:
- Several departments throughout the country due to crime and terrorism.
Violent crime, such as homicide, assault, and armed robbery, is common. Organized criminal activities, such as extortion, robbery, and kidnapping for ransom, are widespread.
While the Colombian government signed a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) terrorist group, some dissident groups refuse to demobilize.
The National Liberation Army (ELN) terrorist organization continues plotting possible attacks in Colombia. They may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, local government facilities, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, parks, major sporting and cultural events, educational institutions, airports, and other public areas.
U.S. government personnel cannot travel freely throughout Colombia for security reasons.
I dunno about you, but that doesn’t sound too charming to me. Hell, it sounds downright scary when you read it. But when you compare the above to the advisory the U.S. Department of State offers for a truly dangerous country, Venezuela…
Well, it paints a little clearer picture.
Here’s the Level 4 Travel Warning they issued about Venezuela:
Reconsider travel to Venezuela due to crime, civil unrest, poor health infrastructure, and arbitrary arrest and detention of U.S. citizens. Some areas have increased risk. Read the entire Travel Advisory.
Level 4 Areas – Do not travel:
- On roads after dark outside of Caracas due to crime.
- To certain neighborhoods within Caracas due to crime.
- Within 50 miles of the Colombian border due to crime.
Violent crime, such as homicide, armed robbery, kidnapping, and carjacking, is common.
Political rallies and demonstrations occur, often with little notice. Demonstrations typically elicit a strong police and security force response that includes the use of tear gas, pepper spray, water cannons, and rubber bullets against participants and occasionally devolve into looting and vandalism.
There are shortages of food, electricity, water, medicine, and medical supplies throughout much of Venezuela. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a Level 3 ‘Avoid Nonessential Travel’ notice on May 15, 2018 due to inadequate healthcare and the breakdown of the medical infrastructure in Venezuela. Consular access to detained U.S. citizens who also have Venezuelan nationality is severely restricted by the Venezuelan government and the U.S. Embassy may not receive access in these cases.
Security forces have arbitrarily detained U.S. citizens for long periods. The U.S. Embassy may not be notified of the detention of a U.S. citizen, and consular access to detainees may be denied or severely delayed.
On January 24, 2019, the Department ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and family members.
*Source: U.S. Department of State
That doesn’t sound too pleasant if you ask me.
And while the Colombia advisory was a bit rough around the edges, there’s clearly a big difference between safety in Venezuela and Colombia…according to the U.S. Government.
Now, I’m of the opinion that the U.S. Department of State is just a little off with their assessment of safety in Colombia.
Scopolamine in Colombia
Personally, I believe the biggest danger the average tourist faces in Colombia is Scopolamine.
Also known as ‘devil’s breath’. The stuff is scary. Here’s what generally happens:
You go out to a bar or nightclub with some friends you met at the hostel/hotel or whatever. You start drinking and then you spot a cute girl.
She looks back at you and gives you a smile. Next thing you know, she’s standing next to her and you know she wants to chat.
You start in with some of your broken ‘Spanish’ skills and she’s eating in all up. A conversation in ‘Spanglish’ occurs and she’s all over you. You buy another round of drinks.
You wake up the next morning in your apartment. The girl isn’t anywhere to be found. Neither is your cell phone, laptop, bank cards, and camera. You were drugged. Scopolamine got the best of you. And the stuff is more popular than ever in Colombia, especially in Medellin.
Here’s how scopolamine works:
The criminals generally slip the stuff into your drink or beer. You take a few sips and it hits you quickly. The girl who was all over you. She now wants to ‘go home’ with you. Your friends think you got lucky. They’re wrong.
Scopolamine works because you’re drugged but you’ll look normal, and you won’t have free-will. You’ll do whatever this girl tells you.
“Take me home, baby.”
Once inside your house, she’ll get down to work with the quickness and not in a good way. You’ll have no idea what hit you…
“What’s the pin number to your bank account, baby?
She can literally get anything she wants from you after you take the stuff, and people who know you won’t even be able to tell you’ve been drugged.
Sounds scary, right? It is.
It’s probably the biggest safety issue in Colombia. One you have to be paying attention to every single night you go out to the bars or clubs.
Never accept drinks from someone you don’t know. Make sure bartenders open beer bottles and liquor bottles in front of you.
A buddy of mine got scopolamine’d in Medellin a few months ago. They stole his PayPal, Gmail, and bank accounts…along with all his physical items.
He still hasn’t been able to get access to some of his account after days upon days spent on the phone with companies.
How to Stay Safe In Colombia | 5 Tips and Tricks
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. While there may be paramilitary groups in the jungle areas, most of them don’t strive to cause havoc in the major cities.
Ya tu sabes.
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’s 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.
P.S: If you’re traveling to Colombia, I highly recommend using Airbnb. Get $40 off your first rental by clicking here!
Don’t Be An Idiot
Most people who end up in grave danger in Colombia are basically looking for trouble.
If you come down here to snort copious amounts of cocaine and shag poor hookers for pennies on the dollar, then you needn’t be surprised when you end up in a sticky situation.
And sticky situations in Colombia can easily become life or death. That’s just the way it is.
If you’re concerned about safety in Colombia, don’t do drugs. Is Colombia dangerous? Well, if you’re not engaging in sex tourism, the country tends to be a little bit safer for sure.
Avoiding drugs and prostitutes will help to ensure you stay safe in Colombia.
Learn Some Spanish
Colombia is a Spanish speaking country.
While the tourism industry is exploding here, there aren’t many English speakers. The vast majority of the people you’ll meet here won’t speak English.
By learning a little Spanish, you’ll have a better experience in Colombia.
Plus, you’ll be able to defuse potential confrontations a little easier with an understanding of the local language.
P.S: If you’re looking to learn a little Spanish, I recommend this program. Click here to learn more!
Try to Blend In
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.
I typically roll around in an outfit like this:
- A nice pair of jeans like these.
- A dress shirt or two.
- Some nice shoes.
- A decent, but inexpensive watch.
While there’s nothing too fancy about my attire, these type outfits look good and will help you blend in while traveling around Colombia.
Just take Uber while in Colombia. It’s super cheap and easy. I’ve taken Ubers in Colombia that cost me less than $2 USD for a 10-15 minute trip.
You stay safe, don’t have to deal with scamming taxi drivers, and it’s cheap. There’s literally nothing not to love about it.
Sure, a couple of cities in Colombia aren’t thrilled about Uber being in the country. But trust me, there’s more than enough drivers in every big Colombian city to ensure you never have to take a taxi in Colombia.
Gracias a Dios.
Is Colombia Dangerous? | Verdict
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.
But right now, Colombia shouldn’t be considered an exceptionally 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.
Ya tu sabes.
For more Colombia travel tips, check these articles out:
- Bogota Travel Guide For Digital Nomads
- 11 Observations After Living in Bogota, Colombia
- Cost of Living in Bogota, Colombia – Zona T Edition
- A Gringos Guide to Nightlife in Bogota
- Colombian Vs. Dominican Republic