Colombia is one of the most popular countries in South America for backpackers and leisure travelers. In 2018, the destination saw over three million visitors — three times as many as there were a decade ago!
Over the past few decades, Colombia has been working hard to dispel the violent image it earned thanks to the drug cartels that once ravaged the country.
Violent crimes that were once common here, such as murder and kidnapping, are no longer everyday concerns for travelers. Kidnapping has declined 92% and homicides are down by 50% over the past two decades.
Slowly but surely, conditions in Colombia are improving for locals and tourists alike. However, the question still remains: Is Colombia really safe?
You can’t get complacent in Colombia. Once you do, bad things happen. You have to stay vigilant. In this post, we will be sharing a few safety tips useful when visiting Colombia.
1. Stay somewhere with 24-hour security – You always want someone around in case you need assistance. Most hostels and hotels have security cameras or guards. If you don’t feel safe somewhere, don’t hesitate to move on. This way you always have someone to talk to in case something goes wrong.
2. Don’t flash your belongings while you’re out and about – Keep your phone out of sight, and don’t wear any jewellery or watches. If you need to use your phone, do it inside and not out on the street. This is where people get in the most trouble. This is how I got into trouble. Put everything away so you don’t stand out.
3. Don’t travel alone at night – Try to go out with other travelers if you’re going out at night. If you do plan to go out alone or party late, be sure to take an Uber home or have someone call you a cab. Don’t walk alone really late at night.
4. Learn some basic Spanish – Even just a few phrases can help you in an emergency. Download Spanish on Google Translator so you have it offline as well, just in case.
5. Download an offline map of the city – Having a map will be helpful in case you get lost and need to guide yourself (or a taxi driver) back to your accommodation. If you use your phone at night, be sure to not use it out in the streets.
6. Don’t do drugs – The drugs cartels have crippled this country. Don’t support them by buying drugs. Locals don’t like it because drugs have so devasted the country and doing it just further cripples the country. It’s really disrespectful. Additionally, getting involved with drugs here increases your chances of getting into trouble. Also, doing drugs here is illegal, and you don’t want to end up in a Colombian prison.
7. Keep your valuables separate – Never carry all of them together. When you’re going out for the day, leave some credit cards and cash in locked in your accommodation. That way, if you lose your wallet, you’ll still have cash and cards back at your hostel. Also keep some emergency funds in your main backpack too, just in case.
8. If the worst happens, just give the attacker your stuff – Handing over your things is much better than risking the alternative (trust me). If you have travel insurance, you’ll be able to get reimbursed (just be sure to save all of your receipts).
9 . Download the Prey app to your phone and laptop – If either device gets stolen, for a small fee you’ll be able to track it and remotely turn on your camera to photograph the thief (you can also wipe the data and message the thief too). The app is free to download and only costs $5 USD for additional support should you get robbed.
10. Buy travel insurance – If something does go wrong, you want to be sure you’re covered and someone has your back. Travel insurance can help you find medical treatment and give you money to buy replacements for what was stolen. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, especially in a country where petty crime is still a problem.
Colombia is safe for solo travelers. While petty crime is still a problem, as long as you don’t flaunt your valuables, you’ll likely not run into any problems. When you go out, only take what you need for the day and leave your other valuables in your hostel or hotel room.
If you’re not feeling comfortable, try to meet other travelers so you can explore together. That way you’ll never be alone and will avoid being a target for pickpockets and petty criminals.