I regularly receive questions about the security situation in Colombia’s capital, Bogotá. Logical, since Bogotá is not exactly in the top 10 safest cities in the world. However, Bogotá is perfectly safe to visit these days. Despite Bogotá also being called “the Athens of South America,” Colombia’s capital city cannot be compared to the real Athens or any other European capital in terms of security. Still, despite some increased risks, my hometown is ideal for a fun city break or exploring. I myself, after living here for over 8 years, know the city well and know what to do and what not to do to in terms of safety. If you are coming here for the first time, it is advisable to take a few things into account. Therefore, herewith 10 tips for a safe stay in Bogotá!
Tip 1: Choose your hotel or hostel in Bogotá based on safety
When booking your hotel or hostel, pay attention to four things:
- Is the neighborhood safe?
- Does the hotel have security?
- Can I walk the streets safely at night?
- Can I easily take public transportation to parts of the city I want to go to?
Check out booking.com – Bogotá for hotels in various neighborhoods. The map shows where most of the hotels are located: these are safe neighborhoods to stay in and convenient to public transportation. Safer and nice neighborhoods to stay are El Chicó, Usaquén, Chapinero (Alto) and Teusaquillo.
Are you only in town for a day or have a short layover in Bogotá? You can also book a hotel safely at the airport. Click here for hotel tips and attractions near Bogotá airport.
Tip 2: Don’t stop a cab on the street, but order one
You will probably find that Bogotans themselves do often hail a cab on the street. Better not imitate that. It is immediately obvious that you are a tourist, and if you don’t speak Spanish very well, everything becomes even more difficult. It is common for the driver to use a quick exchange trick to swap the 50000 pesos bill with the 5000 note and say you have underpaid. The money is very similar and before you know it, for a ride, instead of 5 euros, you’re spending 50 euros. What is less common, but can happen, is that the driver kidnaps you to empty your bank account at gunpoint.
Very easily you can order a cab through the apps CABIFY or DIDI. Or go with Uber. This is not legal in Colombia, but is widely used. Or go by bus: very doable, fun and much cheaper! Find out how it works by bus in Bogotá including a fun itinerary! Do not take the bus after 6 PM in the evening, go by cab.
Tip 3: Wihdraw cash in a safe place and spread your money over several places
You won’t be the first to be chased after withdrawing a large sum of money in Bogotá to be robbed later. Therefore, withdraw cash preferably in a safe place, such as a mall or supermarket. Handy is to spread your money across your body immediately after withdrawing, rather than putting everything in your wallet. Put a little in your wallet, most under your clothes and a little in your jacket pocket. By the way, your bra is also a good place to keep a pile of cash.
Tip 4: Don’t give papaya, or in other words, don’t show off what you have
No dar papaya: a typical Colombian saying to indicate that you should not show off what you have, or you will lose it or increase the chances of being robbed. Here are some tips:
- Make a copy of your passport and leave your passport at your hotel;
- Divide your money among several places;
- Don’t take too much money, only what you need and then a little more;
- Also, leave (bank) cards you are not going to use in your hotel (or at least well hidden under your clothes);
- Do not wear expensive jewelry, so also take off your watch and (wedding) ring;
- Don’t put anything in your back pocket, you’ll lose it in no time;
- Do not use your phone on the street, but walk into a store, restaurant or café;
- Dress like a local, so don’t explore Bogotá in shorts or zip-up pants with sandals (read more about clothing advice here);
- Leave your camera in your bag and take it out only when you want to take pictures.
Tip 5: Stay in safe neighborhoods
Very nice to visit less touristy neighborhoods, but also: Bogotá is not a destination for traveling off the beaten track if you don’t know where to stay safe. So above all, stay out of the slums, some of which are very dangerous in Bogotá, and don’t enter neighborhoods where you have no business being. Want to safely see more of the city, admire graffiti and meet the strangest fruit? Then join a bicycle tour of Bogotá!
There are plenty of safe neighborhoods in the city, and you are unlikely to just end up in a slum (those are the neighborhoods on the mountains) or in dangerous neighborhoods in the south of the city. Safe neighborhoods with nice sights are (see a fun bus route to explore different neighborhoods here!):
- La Candelaria
- Parque Simón Bolívar
- El Jardín Botanico
- El Retiro
- Chico Norte
Tip 6: Don’t wander around Bogotá
In Bogotá, a street can be safe, while 100 meters away it is quite dangerous. So if you do not know the city, it is not advisable to just wander around and see where you end up, especially after sunset in the city center, when some parts that are safe during the day become unsafe. For La Candelaria, it is useful to read the Lonely Planet to see where you can safely go and stand. During the day La Candelaria is generally safe (as long as you don’t give papaya), but in the evening it can get pretty unsafe. Stay out of the neighborhoods and streets outside La Candelaria both during the day and after sunset.
Tip 7: Recognize tricks
Well-known tricks are:
- Known all over the world: drugs in your drink while going out;
- Tickets handed out (especially downtown and entertainment spots like Zona Rosa) that have drugs on them that can sedate you after which you are robbed. So be careful about accepting tickets on the street;
- Don’t let anyone touch your phone: you can get numb that way, too;
- Distraction tricks where someone spills something all over you or bumps into you and you get rolled unnoticed by another person;
- Being kidnapped in a cab you didn’t order in advance, after which you have to hand over all your money;
- Pickpockets in areas where there are many people.
Tip 8: Pay attention at Monserrate Bogotá
The tourist attraction in Bogotá is Monserrate. The 3,100-meter-high mountain in the city, on top of which is a small church. A must-see for great views! Cab drivers also know that there are many ignorant tourists here; therefore, it is best to order a cab back to the center here as well or go by bus. Furthermore, you can go up Monserrate by little train or cable car, or you can walk up. However, this is only safe on weekends and when you are used to the altitude.
Tip 9: Asking for directions does not always yield the right answer
Colombians are extremely friendly people and very helpful. Therefore, if you ask someone for directions, that person will be happy to help you. In fact, they are so eager to help that, for convenience, they just never say that they don’t actually know their way around. As a result, you are sent in a totally wrong direction and you are not actually helped at all. Is not so bad in a safe neighborhood, but can be quite annoying if you end up in a back alley somewhere. Check the route with several people to be sure.
Tip 10: Use your common sense and enjoy!
Bogotá, above all, is a great city to visit, and if you simply use common sense, realize that you are not in a safe city like Amsterdam or Barcelona, adjust to the risks and stay away from drugs, nothing is likely to happen. Learning Spanish and dressing like the locals helps too! Take the above tips with you and enjoy!
Are you going to travel in Colombia? Then don’t skip the capital city! Bogotá is a very nice city where there is much beauty and fun to see and do, as well as an ideal base to explore the beautiful surroundings. For example, check out these 22 day trips from Bogotá. With the above tips, you will have nothing but a great stay!
Still have questions about safety in Bogotá or Colombia? Then be sure to ask them below in the comments or send me an email. Some affiliate links were used in this article, click here for more information.
This article first appeared May 26, 2016 and was updated Oct. 4, 2022.