Perhaps you've seen the beautiful pictures of Colombia, and thought: sure, it looks like a dream vacation, but is it safe to travel to there? Many people remember the days when Colombia's presence in the news was always related to violence and drugs. However, Colombia is a different country today than what it was 10 years ago. It is now safe and no more dangerous than any other country in Latin America.
Colombia is not without its problems when it comes to crime, but you can stay secure if you take basic safety precautions. To have an incident-free vacation in Colombia, here are our top safety tips.
Stay safe on the streets of Colombia with these handy tips / Image Source
1. DON'T HAIL A TAXI ON THE STREETS
This is one of the most important safety tips for Colombia. There is unfortunately a fair amount of taxi-related crime, specifically what is called express kidnapping - where you are taken by taxi to the ATM to withdraw cash. Instead of hailing a cab in the street, call one, either by phoning a reputable company or by using an app like Tappsi, Easy Taxi or Uber.
2. DON'T USE ATM'S ON THE STREET
The safest way to withdraw money from an ATM is to use an ATM inside a commercial centre or bank. Pay attention to your surroundings and don't let anyone distract you while you're using the ATM. Likewise, don't change money on the streets.
3. STAY ON THE BEATEN TOURIST TRACK
While it may be tempting to venture into non-touristy areas, in Colombia, it is safer to stay firmly on the beaten track. While Colombia's cities and main tourist areas have really improved their security, the rural areas have not. Most government warnings for Colombia advise travellers to avoid rural areas, and the south of the country. The main tourist spots are considered safe for travel.
4. AVOID GETTING TOO DRUNK
For your own safety, don't put yourself in a potentially dangerous situation by getting too drunk. While out drinking, keep an eye on your drink and don't accept drinks from strangers. There has been a rise in the use of burundanga drug, which is slipped into drinks, usually by well-dressed people in upmarket bars. This has the affect of a date rape drug and is most commonly used to rob people.
5. DON'T FLASH YOUR WEALTH
There is a saying in Colombia: "no dar papaya." This means don't give people a reason to rob you. Leave you fancy jewellery at home. If you have an expensive camera, put it away while you're walking in the streets.
6. BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS
Using your common sense is the best way to stay safe. Always be aware of your surroundings, and keep an eye on your belongings. Listen to the locals if they tell you an area is not safe. And, of course, don't carry more than you need with you! Take just enough cash and a copy of your passport, and leave the valuables in your hotel safe.
7. DON'T DRIVE CROSS-COUNTRY AT NIGHT
Avoid driving between places at night, particularly through rural areas. Luckily, Colombia has a few low-cost carriers making flying within the country an affordable option.
8. DON'T RESIST ROBBERS
If you are unlucky enough to get mugged, don’t put up a fight. Rather hand over your belongings. Your personal safety is more important than your possessions!
9. AVOID DRUGS
It seems obvious, but this is an important one. While Colombia's drug-related violence has decreased dramatically, it does still exist. Getting yourself mixed up in this scene is asking for trouble. Locals are also not appreciative of tourists who come to the country because they think it is easy to get drugs here.
10. TAKE PRECAUTIONS IN BIG CITIES
Like anywhere else in the world, big cities have higher crime rates. Pay attention to which areas are considered safe in each city and which aren't. A general rule is that downtown areas tend to be more dangerous at night.
Bogotá: The downtown area of La Candelaria is very touristy, but not particularly safe at night. Avoid walking alone here. Stay away from the south and southeast areas where possible.
Cartagena: Inside the old walled city is considered to be very safe, as well as Bocagrande, during day and night. The area of Getsemaní, just outside of the walled city, is fine to walk around during the day, using basic safety precautions, but avoid this area at night if possible.
Medellín: Avoid the city centre after dark, as well as areas not serviced by the Metro System.
Cali: Cali is considered to be one of Colombia's more dangerous cities, however, as a tourist in Cali, petty crime is much more likely to affect you than anything more serious. Take extra precautions here, and stick to the safer touristy areas, and always listen to locals about where to go and where not to go.
Don't be scared to visit one of South America's most diverse and spectacular countries. Colombia is an incredible destination for a vacation. Just be sure to use your street smarts to ensure you stay safe. Convinced? Plan your vacation and book your tours in Colombia with Colombia4u!
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Do you have any specific safety concerns about Colombia that weren't discussed in this article? Leave a comment and we'll do our best to help you!