Police in Colombia

Is Colombia a Safe Place to Travel?

Colombia has the reputation as being a dangerous place to travel. It was for this reason that I excluded Colombia from my first trip to South America in early 2011.

Plan your trip using my Colombia travel guide

During the year that followed, I would learn that almost none of the people who’d advised me against traveling to Colombia had ever been themselves. To be sure, the majority of my friends and colleagues who did travel to Colombia told quite a different story.

I returned from my trip to Colombia completely unscathed, but I wouldn’t go so far as to label Colombia a “safe” place to travel. With the right amount of vigilance, however, you too should be able to travel to Colombia and return with your belongings and person intact.

Are Colombian Cities Safe?

Colombian’s largest cities couldn’t be more different from one another. As a result, I am going to address the topic of safety in Colombian cities on a city-by-city basis.

Is Bogotá Safe?

Like most travelers, the first stop of my Colombia trip was Bogotá, the national capital. As you might remember, I got caught in some kind of worker’s protest my very first day in Bogotá, complete with riot police, tear gas and youth in “Anonymous” masks. Fun!

In spite of this — and in spite of the fact that La Candelaria, the historical neighborhood where most tourist accommodation is located, is reputed to be unsafe — I felt mostly safe in Bogotá. This was largely due to the obscene number of police that patrol Bogotá’s streets.

Is Cartagena Safe?

Owing to its Caribbean location, Cartagena is the most popular city in Colombia for tourists, and is without a doubt at the center of the growth strategy for Colombia’s tourism ministry. Police here, not surprisingly, are even more numerous than they are in Bogotá.

Tourists who stick to Cartagena’s historical center and the posh, Miami-like downtown district of Boca Grande will be safe. It is in the outlying barrios (and on the sketchy Avenida Venezuela that bisects the historical center into two lobes) that danger is present.

Is Medellín Safe?

The drug barons who up until very recently held Colombia under siege based themselves in Medellín, and it is for this reason that Colombia’s most modern city has a reputation as being so dangerous. The recent killing of an American tourist probably didn’t help.

Ironically, it is also because of the money the drug trade brought into the city that Medellín has become so modern and prosperous. To be sure, I felt slightly unsafe walking the streets of Medellín, both during the day and at night, but police are relatively high in number here.

Safety in Rural Colombia

Most crime in Colombia is concentrated in the country’s big cities. You aren’t likely to be robbed on a coffee finca in the eje cafetero, sunning yourself on Playa Blanca or hiking in Parque Tayrona, which is as infested by police as it is by mosquitoes.

This is, however, a general rule. Certain regions of rural Colombia, in particular the jungle regions near Colombia’s borders with Ecuador and Venezuela, are known as bases for the drug cartels that used to hang out in Medellín.

Best Practices for Safe Colombia Travel

Overall, I would say Colombia is about as safe as anywhere else I’ve traveled in South America, a classification I qualified in an earlier article. This being said, adopting certain best practices can help make sure you stay safe when you travel in Colombia.

As a general rule, you should never get into a taxi unless someone you trust has called it for you. Likewise, don’t walk around with more cash or belongings than you can afford to lose. If someone does try to rob you, let them. Try not to walk around alone at night.

Indeed Colombia is only truly unsafe if you allow yourself to be vulnerable. There is something to be said about not behaving like a tourist. Walk confidently, even if you don’t know where you’re going; Limit the amount of time you spend speaking English.

And, most importantly, don’t flash your valuables. It’s fine to carry an expensive camera around, like I did, or use an iPhone from time to time — just don’t be obvious if you want to be safe as you travel in Colombia.

About The Author

is the author of 517 posts on Leave Your Daily Hell. Robert founded Leave Your Daily Hell in 2010 so that other travelers would have an entertaining, reliable source of information, advice and inspiration at their fingertips. Want to travel more often? Subscribe to email updates today!

  • http://www.adriennelives.com Adrienne

    Thanks for this. It’s funny, I never thought of going to Columbia, because I thought of it as too dangerous. But in the last month or so, I’ve had several different people tell me that it’s not as bad as you think if you stick to the right areas. It is slowly moving onto my radar.

  • https://plus.google.com/116480057469316097585?rel=author Robert Schrader

    I hope I’ve inspired you to go to Colombia now!

  • http://hikebiketravel.com Leigh

    I am going and I will keep your comments in the back of my mind. I don’t plan to spend too much time in the big cities anyway and will certainly avoid the borders.

  • http://www.tammyandchrisonthemove.blogspot.com TammyOnTheMove

    Thanks for your insight. All of my friends who went to Colombia had only good things to say and none of them ever felt threatened. Bad things can happen to you anywhere, even in London or Rome. I think as long as you know which areas to avoid and don’t flash your valuables you can enjoy yourself. Colombia is definitely very high on my travel list.

  • https://plus.google.com/116480057469316097585?rel=author Robert Schrader

    I certainly hope you’re able to visit! Trust that there will be plenty of advice and inspiration for you here!

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  • http://www.runawaybrit.com Runaway Brit

    I recently spent 7 weeks in Colombia and left having not been robbed, threatened or intimidated by anybody at any point. I found the Colombians to be charming, welcoming and friendly, and I loved the country. Having said that, I only walked around at night when in big groups of people and I didn’t flash expensive equipment around.

    Like you say, I wouldn’t put Colombia in the ‘safe’ category – indeed I heard of a few robberies when I was there (many in the Taganga region) but that is the case all over South America. I felt more unsafe on the streets of Buenos Aires than Medellin. It is wise to be aware of what is happening politically in the country. We arrived in Santa Marta to find the streets deserted and all businesses closed, but it was not a public holiday. We discovered that an incident had occurred and that a criminal organisation had closed down the town. See the details in this link from The Economist:

    http://www.economist.com/node/21542791

    To walk around the streets during this time would have been a very stupid thing to do. We stayed in the hostel until the danger had passed.

    I visited Bogota, Medellin, Santa Marta, Parque Tayrona and Cartegena. Don’t leave Colombia off your travel itinerary but be sensible with your belongings, keep up your guard, and have a good travel insurance in case the worst happens.

  • http://aliadventures.com Ali

    I’ve heard about so many travelers in the past couple of years who have really enjoyed Colombia and don’t consider it as dangerous as its reputation. I’d love to go there someday.

  • https://plus.google.com/116480057469316097585?rel=author Robert Schrader

    Your comment really brought me back to Colombia! We visited many of the same places on our trips. I really hope to get back soon actually!

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  • Mike

    I like to travel a lot to Colombia and I’m very fascinated with the beautiful country, the country has excellent security, Colombia every day improves more and is for this reason that Colombia is now a large emerging market. But I’m in disagreement over what you write about Medellín.
    Medellin to grown economically thanks to their companies of food and financial services companies.

    Please correct your terrible misinformation about the economic development of Medellín.

  • Lula

    I’m 13 and I really want to go to Colombia with my friend, he’s going to visit his family there, but my grandma keeps talking about how dangerous it is and how no one who loved me would buy me a plane ticket there. The only places I’ve traveled are California, and Washington. I REALLY want to go, but I’m worried she’s right, and I won’t be able to.

  • https://plus.google.com/116480057469316097585?rel=author Robert Schrader

    Where in Colombia is he from?

  • Gustavo Angarita

    It seems a bit exaggerated his point of view of Colombia. It is true that we must have a low profile and not draw fancy objects to the street, and that happens by thieves looking dumb tourist, there are in all countries. But the Tayrona parks, Cabo de la Vela and others are places visited by thousands of tourists from around the world, they have had the experience of being in the real jungle without running any danger. The cities are cities always have problems, but if you walk safe tourist places will be just fine. The special forces of the police in recent years have had a major breakthrough, we all felt safe in Colombia and so I invite you to visit. gustavoangaritajr@yahoo.com

  • http://leaveyourdailyhell.com Robert Schrader

    Thanks Gustavo, for your perspective on Colombia. I look forward to returning!

  • Colombianito

    I have been traveling to Colombia for 13 years. I have lived there for 3 years on a full time basis. Colombia is NOT a safe place to visit! Can you go there and get back in one piece? Yes you can. But understand, its not safe. Beware the traveler. If you want more real info., email me. savagecolombia@gmail.com

  • http://leaveyourdailyhell.com Robert Schrader

    Thanks for your input Colombianito!

  • Ale

    Colombia is not a safe place for any single person wanting to come here, however if you are in a group is better for your safety. Thieves are specially in Poblado are waiting to rob you, from personal experience. Thank God nothing happened. Do not trust hostal people, they themselves sometimes send you the thieves.

  • http://leaveyourdailyhell.com Robert Schrader

    Ale:

    I disagree with you, from personal experience, but I appreciate your perspective!

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  • Wroots

    I find it hard these days to figure out what people mean by “safe” and “unsafe”. Take Mexico, for example. Many people have told me they wouldn’t go there because it’s dangerous. Some people in busy resorts in or near big cities have had problems, and some have even lost their lives. On the other hand I have travelled around Mexico by bus by myself, and camped alone on beaches on the edges of small fishing villages. I have left my belongings in the tent and taken only my passport, money and camera with me. I have had no trouble at all, and I’m a woman travelling alone.

    Is this the sort of difference between city and country that one is likely to encounter in Colombia?

  • http://leaveyourdailyhell.com Robert Schrader

    Hi Wroots: In general, I would say rural locations everywhere are “safer” than cities. The problem, as I understand it, occurs if a gang or cartel happens to be passing through the same rural area you are, in which case you are in some big trouble if they find you.

  • Wroots

    What are they likely to do to you? Do gangs/cartels target foreigners in particular, or would any villagers they found also be in trouble?

  • http://leaveyourdailyhell.com Robert Schrader

    Well, they target white foreigners. What they do depends on the situation, but I have heard of anything from ordinary robbery to kidnappings and even killings. Of course, this is not “common,” so please don’t be scared. Just saying it’s possible!

  • Wroots

    Sounds just like home (minus the kidnappings). :)

  • Melissa McCutcheon

    Medellin is a dream compared to Buenos Aires. I felt MUCH safer every day walking the streets of Medellin than I did in Buenos Aires. Medellin has a contemporary, progressive appeal and you can feel the surge of positive energy and hope in the air. Medellin also demonstrates an inclusive approach to its impoverished population who love in slums which creep up onto the hills surrounding the city through the innovative use of gondolas and brand new “bibliotecas”. Strategically locating these “Bibliotecas” (beautifully designed buildings which include free daycare, free use of computers and numerous other community resources) within the slums at various gondola stops has revitalized the once extremely dangerous barrios and serve as a tourist attraction as well as a source of neighborhood pride. The gondolas also provide a cheap, efficient alternative to buses and the dangers of walking to the city center to work for the slum population. Buenos Aires, on the other hand, feels like a city clinging to its past with no eye toward the future. It is a sad, dilapidated place with an aura of distrust and danger, and urban blight on a scale of which I have never experienced in any other city or country, for that matter. It is a city that has created and seemingly reinforced the massive divide between rich and poor through its numerous gated communities which separate the wealthy from their impoverished neighbors in the villas miserias. They live side by side and yet are separated by walls, guards anything to keep out the so called riff-raff of the extensive network of slums. And wheni say extensive, I mean EXTENSIVE.

  • http://leaveyourdailyhell.com Robert Schrader

    Thanks for providing your viewpoint!

  • Nic37

    In other words –No, not safe.

  • http://leaveyourdailyhell.com Robert Schrader

    lol

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