What is the travel advice for Colombia? A common question is whether Colombia is safe enough to travel. The answer is: yes! In recent years, the security situation has improved (not in every area), and you can now explore this beautiful country in many places without much worry. That said, it is better to adhere to security advisories, because especially in certain areas and cities there are still problems and the political situation sometimes brings trouble. In addition, many tourists say: it’s just like any country. Not true. Colombia is not Thailand or Malaysia, nor is it the Netherlands. It takes more to travel safely in Colombia. What exactly? Read the Colombia travel advice here.
The sense of security in Colombia is high
If you ask other tourists who have been here before how safe it was, they usually say they never felt unsafe anywhere.
However, tourists do not know what is really going on in a country.
The sense of security in Colombia is indeed high, but that does not mean it is actually safe. In fact, there are many tourists who do get robbed in Colombia or encounter crime in other unpleasant ways. Reading up properly can prevent a lot of trouble, even if it seems completely safe at first glance.
Do not give papaya
In Europe, you can use your phone on the street or on the bus without a problem. Keeping your wedding ring on or lying on the beach with your favorite gold chain. This is not a good idea in Colombia.
The people themselves, of course, also have to deal with crime, and there is a famous saying that basically covers it all: don’t give papaya(no dar papaya). In other words, don’t walk around with what you have and don’t take unnecessary risks.
Leave your expensive stuff at home and don’t flap your phone in Bogotá or Medellín without paying attention. Chances are you will lose it. They also pull expensive earrings out of your ear or shove rings off your fingers without mercy.
Of course, nothing ALWAYS happens and that’s the danger of tourists saying they had their wedding rings on and nothing happened.
Not giving papaya also applies to actions you do and places you go. Hailing cabs on the street in big cities, especially if you barely speak Spanish, can go very wrong. Many bridges in Bogotá (that cross the highway or lead to a Transmilenio station) are not safe at all, but you just have to know when it’s better not to walk on which bridge. Like certain parks or streets.
In big cities, it’s often a matter of safe here, but not 100 meters away. If you don’t know where you are and if it is safe: don’t go there. Read all the safety tips for in Bogotá here.
When you go to an ATM in Colombia you get millions of Colombian pesos out of the wall, read here how to safely handle cash.
How do you know what and when in Colombia something is or is not safe?
I have lived in Colombia since 2014 and nothing has ever happened to me. Despite working in an unsafe neighborhood of Bogotá, every day with the Transmilenio, and being blond. I did get very scared a few times and definitely saw nasty things.
In addition, I notice the difference in security immediately when I am outside Colombia in a much safer country, such as the Netherlands, the U.S. or Curaçao. Suddenly, I can walk down the street wonderfully safe, use my phone anywhere and do whatever I want without worry. That alone is a reason for me to go away regularly for a week. Although Colombia is safe enough, it is really not like what you are used to at home.
So I am very careful: I do not have a wallet but keep everything under my clothes (in Bogotá), expensive earrings I use only when I am sure I can, and I didn’t use a watch since December 31, 2014. But perhaps the most important: I know where and when not to go and what to do and what not to do. As a tourist, you know this roughly by reading up on it and using your common sense. But just wandering around a big city without knowing where you are is asking for trouble.
I know many tourists who have had something happen to them. From being threatened with a knife to literally having everything stolen. And it could be much worse. Often such things take place in places or after actions that were previously inadvisable. For example, once there was a tourist who was threatened with a knife and came to me in shock, after she had run away rock hard and fortunately nothing happened. In a place, even after sunset, that I had expressly said not to go to.
Or tourists who put their bags on the ground next to their seats while eating and then lose them. This is very common in the Europe, not at all here. Look around when you are in Colombia, no Colombian does that.
Robberies also occur in tourist spots where you don’t expect it. For example, on the bus between Bogotá and Zipaquirá and between Barranquilla, Cartagena, Santa Marta and Palomino.
Even though I speak Spanish and know the country well, I also sometimes have doubts about whether or not something is safe or not. In those cases, I ask very specifically at my hotel or someone who knows the place well. Can I take that hike alone with my big camera? In Colombia, you can’t trust many people, so if you don’t feel comfortable with something, ask three more people to be sure.
Security in Colombia is hard to explain
I always find it difficult to explain exactly what security in Colombia is like. Especially to people who visit me. You can do this, better not do that. But in that situation it’s ok. And so on. Added to this is the fact that I myself have lived here very happily since the end of 2014. Again: Colombia is not the Netherlands. Crazy things happen here.
Most tourists don’t notice much of this, but it can happen. Is la Candelaria the safest neighborhood in Bogotá, for example? No, tourists only thank that because it’s the most visited area of Bogotá. Like the police in La Candelaria is there for the tourists only: of course not. It’s necessary. It helps for a sense of security, of course, but mostly the police is just needed. La Candelaria is by no means the safest neighborhood in Bogotá.
How do you interpret travel advice Colombia? So is Colombia really safe enough?
Absolutely! If it was not safe I and all the other foreigners who live here would not live here. No way. When I am on vacation in the Netherlands, I do notice the difference in safety right away. It’s something you get used to as a resident. Just like the Colombians themselves. It is really safe to travel here. Even as a woman alone in Colombia. I’m just saying: prepare well and realize that Colombia is not like Holland or Thailand.
Many places outside the big cities are much safer, but then again taking the night bus from Cali to Ecuador is not such a good idea. Even though other tourists said it was safe. That was just one bus ride over that route. If you do it, know the risks and alternatives. Know where you are and what you are doing.
Outside those red and orange areas and major cities, it is much safer. Even off the beaten path (in safe areas). In villages you will encounter little trouble and you can often do much more than in the big city. I also just used my phone on the street in Sopó, but not in Bogotá.
In recent years, insecurity has increased. In Bogotá and in Colombia in general. There are more robberies, sometimes in the craziest ways, and the number of guerrillas is increasing since the new president took power.
Again: know where you are. Read up. All of my mini-guides and other blogs describe the security situation (if it applies). In fact, there are plenty of places where it is even safer than in the Netherlands.
Contradictions everywhere… that’s typical Colombia 🙂 And that’s why it’s so hard to explain.
Safety in Colombia’s major cities
Particularly in the cities of Bogotá, Medellín, Barranquilla, Santa Marta, Bucaramanga, Cali and even parts of Cartagena, it is helpful to take some extra precautions. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t seek out unsafe situations, or in other words, don’t give papaya.
There is more crime in the largest cities than outside, and certain neighborhoods can be very dangerous. But even in the good neighborhoods you can be robbed in a violent way. I can no longer count on one hand the number of people (both Colombians and tourists) I know who have been robbed in one of the cities.
It is absolutely safe as a tourist in the major cities, but be well educated, adapt to the way of life with safety and you may benefit from my safety tips in the link below.
Are you going to Bogotá? Then read these 10 tips for staying safe. These safety tips also apply well in other Colombian cities. Thus, safety is no reason to skip these cities, you will miss out on a lot of fun!
Safety outside Colombian cities
Outside the big cities, Colombia is much safer and you are unlikely to experience nasty things. At least if you stay in the safe areas. Because there are still many guerrilla organizations, such as the ELN, operating, which pose certain (again, different from “ordinary” crime) risks. These are the red and orange areas on the Colombia travel advisory map by Netherlands Worldwide. Norte de Santander, for example, where on June 20, 2017, Derk Bolt and his cameraman were kidnapped by the ELN.
In addition, there are still many organizations engaged in drug trafficking and other criminal activities. So don’t mistake that for anything: a red area is red for a reason. Check the Netherlands Worldwide travel advisory here to see which areas are safe.
Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, this too is: difficult to explain. Because even in the orange areas there are destinations that are safe. Or where the security situation keeps changing and so one minute you can just go there safely, while a month later you are better off avoiding this place. Dutch travel advice Colombia is quite strict, and there are also countries that give much milder advice. England, for example. That already shows how unclear it is. The situation can also turn quickly and it is sometimes unclear how security in Colombia will evolve.
The fact is that there are more guerrillas active since the new president. Especially in the orange and red areas. People are again occasionally kidnapped for ransom, police officers or political figures are murdered and guerrillas bring all sorts of other woes. Are you going to an orange area? Be very well informed beforehand whether it is safe. Get information from someone who knows the latest reports, such as military or ex-military personnel, or local police officials.
In short: read the Colombia travel advice and realize that even though all other tourists say it’s safe, traveling through red and orange areas may bring more risk. Even though the chances of something actually happening are low.
Drugs in Colombia
Then there is another form of crime and danger: drugs in Colombia. Unfortunately, Colombia is a country best known for drugs, but this is also perpetuated by tourists themselves.
Many travelers actually want to take drugs, and there are some who even want to visit a cocaine plantation. There are still many deaths today from drug-related violence, and this number will only increase as long as the production of cocaine, among other things, increases. And as long as there is demand, that production will continue.
Therefore, if you buy drugs as a tourist, you are not only putting your life at risk (drug-related murders occur regularly among tourists), but you are also contributing to perpetuating the problem. Advice: stay far away from drugs in Colombia.
Traveling off the beaten path in Colombia
To further complicate matters…. Many travelers do not want to travel off the beaten path because it would be more unsafe than the highlights Colombia. However, with increasing tourism, Colombians are beginning to understand more and more where tourists come and how to take advantage of them. Also pickpockets and robbers.
In places where there is no such tourism, there is also literally nothing for tourism and often very safe. Of course, it does depend on where you go off the beaten path. So, wanting to go by car from Salento to Caño Cristales is not a good idea and can even be very dangerous for several reasons. But driving through northern Cundinamarca, you can get lost all you want. So again, read up and know where you are.
I myself am a big fan of traveling off the beaten path (and also live off the tourist trail) and actually do little else. It is absolutely a fantastic experience. If you want to know what are fun (and safe) routes, check out these travel itineraries Colombia off the beaten track.
Traveling alone through Colombia
Many people have doubts about traveling to Colombia on their own. I can imagine that’s a little scary, but certainly if you follow the advice above, read up properly and use your common sense, there’s nothing to worry about.
Nowadays, there are many travelers, including women, who travel alone through Colombia and experience no problems at all. Colombians are very hospitable and helpful and will only welcome you with open arms. In addition, you will meet many travelers who also travel alone and connect easily.
Realize that you are in Colombia and not in Europe or USA. So don’t go walking alone through deserted streets, to areas where you don’t know the situation or take long walks through the jungle by yourself. Read up well in advance.
I myself also always do everything alone and even I sometimes go out for a weekend alone. In doing so, I never experience any problems, nor do I feel unsafe. However, I do adhere to the safety recommendations, so I am much more careful and aware of my surroundings and belongings than I am in, say, Amsterdam. If I don’t trust something I don’t do it, and when in doubt I always ask.
Travel advice Colombia | A safe stay in Colombia
With the above tips, you will have a safe and enjoyable stay in Colombia: read well, don’t give papaya, use common sense, stay out of dangerous areas, stay away from drugs, and seek advice when in doubt about a destination.
Also helpful: learn basic Spanish and dress like the locals do. And above all, enjoy this beautiful and special country! Colombia is an amazing country where you will just fall in love with. Like me… Remember these 10 biggest risks you face when traveling to Colombia!
Want to travel around Colombia? Find a complete overview of travel itineraries, destinations, practical tips, hotels and more: start here!