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.

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.

Need help planning your trip to Colombia? Hire me as your Travel Coach!

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 841 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!


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{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

Adrienne June 7, 2012 at 8:39 am

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.

Robert Schrader June 7, 2012 at 9:49 am

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

Leigh June 7, 2012 at 12:12 pm

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.

TammyOnTheMove June 7, 2012 at 9:39 pm

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.

Robert Schrader June 7, 2012 at 9:57 pm

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

Runaway Brit August 11, 2012 at 5:29 am

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:


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.

Ali August 11, 2012 at 6:10 am

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.

Robert Schrader August 11, 2012 at 10:00 am

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!

Mike April 18, 2013 at 2:28 am

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 May 7, 2013 at 9:09 am

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.

Robert Schrader May 8, 2013 at 11:27 am

Where in Colombia is he from?

Gustavo Angarita July 16, 2013 at 5:25 pm

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. [email protected]

Robert Schrader July 17, 2013 at 9:03 am

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

Colombianito September 18, 2013 at 7:57 pm

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. [email protected]

Robert Schrader September 20, 2013 at 1:04 am

Thanks for your input Colombianito!

Ale March 14, 2014 at 7:10 am

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.

Robert Schrader March 14, 2014 at 1:10 pm


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

Wroots May 19, 2014 at 8:35 pm

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?

Robert Schrader May 20, 2014 at 9:22 am

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 May 20, 2014 at 5:22 pm

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?

Robert Schrader May 21, 2014 at 8:36 am

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 May 21, 2014 at 7:51 pm

Sounds just like home (minus the kidnappings). 🙂

Melissa McCutcheon August 17, 2014 at 1:44 am

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.

Robert Schrader August 18, 2014 at 5:17 pm

Thanks for providing your viewpoint!

Nic37 October 19, 2014 at 9:58 pm

In other words –No, not safe.

Robert Schrader October 20, 2014 at 3:42 pm


Invictus Salvi Deus November 28, 2014 at 11:53 pm

When visiting Bogota,DO NOT stay in La Candelaria where most hostals are
located. I being Colombian find it VERY IRONIC that most foreigners stay in La
Candelaria.There are many nice neighborhoods to stay in that feel a lot safer at night. DO NOT stay in
the center or South of the city, The center/La Candelaria is an interesting area to visit during
the day, cultural events, bohemian, etc. I spend a lot of time there for events but it gets extremely dodgy/sketchy
late at night. At night, many junkies from the crime pockets start wandering into the center of the city. I often see clean-looking Colombians rushing to get out of La Candelaria late at night to avoid getting robbed while foreigners who
stick out like sore thumbs are staying there. What the hell!? As I
mentioned, there are many nice neighborhoods to stay in. Try Airbnb, etc.
Colombians are very friendly and will give you tips about places to
visit, there are also beautiful suburban/country-side areas outside of Bogota
that many Bogota-residents frequent. Go to language exchange groups and get info from
locals, but don´t stay in La Candelaria. I am a local and I´m telling you this
with all honesty, I´m just trying to save some face and doing what I can so that people visitng my country enjoy it, so stop staying in the dodgiest areas of the city you crazy tourists! Also, I´ve been showing foreigners around the city and taking them to gorgeous natural areas and smaller towns outside of the city as a part-time gig that is more of a hobby to me. I offer this service at an extremely economic rate where you get a personalized tour with me and my sister which is way, way more affordable than what a tour company would charge for. I lived in the United States but returned to Colombia recently, it is definetely a country worth visiting and there are awesome places to see, it is a very diverse country and it is a shame that many people who come visit miss out on many incredible locations and events just due to lack of information. If you would like any tips on your visit to Colombia, I´ll be glad to offer my feedback even if you´re not interested in having me show you around. I can be contacted at: [email protected] My name is Andres Duran,

sofoy14 January 23, 2015 at 12:21 am

email me for info, trust me I know and go to the best places in bogota and possibly the country. [email protected]

Claire March 22, 2015 at 10:02 am

Come on…is obvious you don’t know a thing about what is happening in Colombia…the rural locations in Colombian are, indeed, more insecure than the cities and it is because of the guerrillas (FARC, ELN) war, that has been taking place since 1950’s….they are against all involvement of the US government in the country (due to imperialism). The cities are “unsafe” (not really) for robberies, but also because of the BACRIM, that appear after the demobilization of paramilitars, nonetheless, they are only present in some places in the cities, that all the people actually advise you not to go to, and they represent a threat for local people that are targetet due to involvement with them. The drug wars happen between them and, almost always, do not affect the lives of the people (that are not involved with them) as it happened before in the 1980’s. I have been living here and traveling around the country for almost 20 years, and ABSOLUTELY NOTHING HAS HAPPENED TO ME, sometimes it is true you have to be more precautious, but I suggest you that the next time you are talking about historical facts, you make a reaserch before. I need, as well, disagree when you pointed out that Medellin development was due to the money entering of the cartels, THAT IS ABSOLUTELY NOT TRUE!…actually, Medellin is the most industrial city in Colombia, (none of those industries and companies were done or build up with “illegal” money).

Ig March 22, 2015 at 12:40 pm

When you talk like that about Buenos Aires, it shows that you don’t know your ass from your elbow. This article is about Colombia, so why don’t you stick to that and stop denigrating Buenos Aires which is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and original cities of the world! If you have no idea of its historic, architectonic and cultural significance, then do some research first.

KUMA April 16, 2015 at 5:02 pm

SAFE HOLIDAYS IN COLOMBIA. Check the website , please.

Anxo Touriño June 4, 2015 at 3:11 pm
Abbig Effenkuhnt June 14, 2015 at 4:41 pm

Not a problem at all with Buenos Aires. Roamed all around, partied with some locals. I liked it better than New York City in some ways.

Carl D June 25, 2015 at 10:14 am

There are some wonderful places in the south. Do you even know your own city or are you just one of those North Bogota folk who automatically assume everything in the south is “no go”? Learn about your own city man before you advertise your services!

Carl D June 25, 2015 at 10:15 am

In other words, learn to read.

Carl D June 25, 2015 at 10:16 am

You sound like you have never been.

John Wick November 7, 2015 at 11:04 pm

haha, buy your own plane ticket you bum

John Wick November 7, 2015 at 11:13 pm

your email suggests that you are highly bias

Amadis Daylaw December 16, 2016 at 12:34 pm

13 is no time to travel…you have a LIFETIME ahead of you. I have been in 80 countries and I started at 17. Listen
to your grandma and wait a little bit!

Amadis Daylaw December 16, 2016 at 12:39 pm

I beg to differ. Colombia (and most notably Medellin) has had a lot of infusion of drug money. To say that Medellin has not prospered due to drugs is to tapar el sol con un dedo. (Translation: To block the sun with a finger) Whenever you have a local economy where billions of drugdollars are pouring in, that money gets laundered and prosperity happens. This exact thing happened to Miami in the 1980s. Economists estimate that if all the drug money had been removed from Florida or Colombia, both economies would have had a thunderous crash. Whether we like it or not, wars, prostitution, and drugs stimulate the economy. Of course, decent people like you and I despise the aforementioned but it is a fact. So yes, I am willing to bet 101% that Medellin’s prosperity came as byproduct of drugs.

Amadis Daylaw December 16, 2016 at 12:44 pm

Mexico is not safe. It is – LISTEN – highly UNSAFE. If this is a lie, it’s what my own Mexican friends tell me. I have travelled and been to South Africa several times, but I would not advertise Johannesburg as safe. If you have to be watching your back, it’s UNSAFE. If there is high murder and rape occurrences, it’s UNSAFE. Get the facts from the INTERNET. If you are even discussing a place, it’s UNSAFE. Don’t take stupid risks. The world is full of places where there is no crime. Venice, Shanghai, Bali, Costa Rica, Norway, Switzerland, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, are all very safe places. OMAN is my #1 best safest place on the planet with ZERO CRIME. Avoid crime areas and stop contradicting the people that know best.

Spring Spring December 16, 2016 at 12:49 pm

Oh my…since when is Colombia richer than Buenos Aires? And what crime in B.A? I mean…yes…all major cities of the world have some sort of crime but you are comparing B.A. to Medellin? Are you serious? Have you only been there in winter? What bleakness? I have been travelling to B.A. for 20 years and go there 3 and 4 times a year. I have never seen any of that utter despair you talk about. And although Medellin is a beautiful city, it will never compare to the cultural heritage of B.A. You must be an Argentina-hater. In fact, Argentina has always been a magnet of people flocking to its borders from all over South America to work. Is that a place of such despair? Doesn’t the USA have its slums and France and even Norway? All countries have good and bad points but please do not misinform people here with UNTRUE statements.

Spring Spring December 16, 2016 at 12:51 pm

Ale is right. I’ve been to Colombia more than 20 times in 10 years and it’s unsafe.

Spring Spring December 16, 2016 at 12:56 pm

I don’t hate Colombia. In fact, I love Colombians and their culture but Colombia is highly unsafe. I go there all the time for business but I’d never take my family there to travel. When I am there, I am always on pins and needles. And as one of the comments stated, the “hostal” people themselves, in fact, the police personnel itself will call the CARTEL to take care of you. In Colombia you can’t trust anyone. Also, many crimes go unreported…we only hear part of it because the police does not want bad rap for their country. Rape and murder often goes “under the carpet” scooped up. A friend of mine was beaten and raped in Bogota and we went to the Police Station to file a complaint and the police would not even take a report. They kept saying: “Senorita, what were you wearing?” And mocking us. They finally took a report. Two months later when I went to the same Police Station to have them give me another report, they said there was no record of the incident. I knew that was the case. But I wanted to verify for myself that they had destroyed the record. A Colombian friend told me that the Chief of Police does this to prove that the numbers of crime are actually down, so much goes unreported. Nope! Colombia is not safe.

Pantpurlais December 16, 2016 at 7:51 pm

If you look at travel advisories from Canada and the US, Mexico is deemed to be unsafe. It you look at the UK government’s travel advisory there is no such fear-mongering. The UK gov’s website points out that almost half a million Britons visited Mexico with very few problems. I’d travel in Mexico before travelling around the US, that’s for sure. And, by the way, Costa Rica is no longer safe. It used to be extremely safe when I lived there in 1975 and 1976 but that was before US Americans arrived in droves and changed things. Now: https://costarica.usembassy.gov/uscitizen/the-threat-from-crime2.html

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