Is Colombia safe to travel to?

Dear Reader

My name is Frank and I run a travel agency based in Bogota, Colombia. If you have any feedback or suggestions, please write them in our comments section. Thank you and have a great trip to Colombia!

Colombia has come far from the notorious history of drug-cartels and trafficking to paramilitary conflicts and civil war that raged on for decades in the mid 1900’s. Today, Colombia enjoys the status of being one of the most exotic tourist destinations around the world and has witnessed a great surge in the number of foreign tourists since 2011.

Colombia is no longer the breeding grounds for violence

Up until the 1960’s Colombia was a regular Latin American country experiencing the average ratio of violence until the wave of crime and violence peaked in 1984, especially in relation to paramilitary rebels and leftist groups such as the FARC and the drug cartels. Nobody is a stranger to the drug lord Pablo Escobar, right? Thankfully, the government and FARC signed a peace accord in 2016, effectively ending the long and disrupting battle. But the burning question still remains: Is Colombia safe? We certainly think so! Read on to find out why Colombia is a beautiful and safe country that is worth visiting.

There’s a reason that Colombia is emerging as one the favorite tourist locations on the globe, especially in the past couple of years. The number of foreign visitors in Colombia doubled since 2011. Statistics indicate that over 3 million foreigners travel from around the world to visit this melting pot of cultures and ethnicities.

However, it is also worth noticing that the governments of countries such as the USA and Canada have issued travel warnings and advisories to those embarking on an expedition to Colombia; asking to ‘exercise increased caution’ during their travels. However, the good news is that the Government travel advisories have declared parts of Colombia to be safe and approved for travel: adding Santa Marta, Barranquilla, Bogota, Tunja, Bucaramanga, as well as the Coffee Zone departments of Quindio, Risaralda and Caldas to Cartagena and San Andres. According to the Crime Index of the countries in the world Colombia ranks at #35. This number is not too alarming since Colombia shares its borders with Venezuela and Ecuador and this is probably why state governments encourage travelers to exercise safety and caution. Ironically, in recent times, Colombia has been deemed safer than most states in the USA. The capital, Bogota is actually safer than Indianapolis, Indiana and was voted as one of the safest urban areas in South America. Don’t believe us? Ask Pope Francis – he paid a visit to the city in 2017!

Colombia has proudly seen a drastic improvement in the crime rates. The last 15 years have contributed to a 90 percent decrease in kidnapping! Secuestro Express no more! In 2017 the crime rate in Bogota was lower than that of Miami, Florida. Petty thefts occur in almost every city around the globe and Colombia is mostly guilty of scams, robberies and drunken fights. Homicide rate has also remarkably nose-dived.

Colombia is developing infrastructure and tourism industry

This gorgeous region continues to set unprecedented records for greater GDP and tourism is a huge part of this progress. In 2018 Colombia’s Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism (MinCIT) released figures that showed a visible increase in the number of foreign visitors that visited the country between January to May, 2018. According to the statistics the region witnessed an increase of 38.1%! Now that’s what you call progress! Passengers opting for Cruise ships make up for the majority of growth. According to the ministry, US$1.6 billion was generated during the first quarter of 2018 for the GDP, and 23% increase compared to the same period last year.

These figures are a testament to the fact that Colombia is no longer feared as the land oozing with drugs and crime; it is now the destination to millions of tourists every year. The best part about traveling to Colombia is the wide array of options available for transportation within the country. From luxurious cruise ships and boats to dainty buses, and private cars with chauffeurs to bicycle rentals, tourists can enjoy the luxury of indulging in a plethora of adventurous yet opulent ways of traversing around this magnificent country. Witness the glory of the Andean region via railways, buses and cars. Still a developing nation, Colombian government and tourism industry is tirelessly working to make the country a tourist heaven with increased facilities and better infrastructures. Increase in budget airlines and increased efficiency of major domestic airlines is making it easier to travel and visit the remote areas and villages that were previously virtually inaccessible by tourists.

It doesn’t matter if you want to play safe and your travel itinerary only includes the major cities of this country, you can still explore beyond your imagination. Medellin has witnessed the ultimate urban rejuvenation! The city was even named ‘The World’s Most Innovative City’ in 2013 and it went on to receive the prestigious accolade, the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize for urban development in 2016. It is home to galleries, art, gastronomy, a state-of-the-art metro system and contemporary structures that are worth gawking at! Bogotá, the hippie capital is where the fun lies! This emerging cultural destination is a magnificent center of great food, unforgettable music, thrilling dance and awe-inspiring art. The cultural richness and vibrancy of this city is reflected in the diverse age groups you will witness here. From starry-eyed people roaming the museums to giddy tourists’ salsa dancing at a local bar-Bogotá has something for everyone! A fan of architecture, history and pristine beaches bathed in gold? Cartagena is the place for you! Cartagena is located on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, allowing the locals and tourists alike to enjoy sunny, beach days, light salty breeze and the ocean beckoning them. This city is surely Colombia’s personal paradise that hosts lovers of history, relics and fun in the sun, all year round!

Security and safety for tourists in Colombia

The national police service and tourism industry is consistently endeavoring to make Colombia a safer place for tourists around the world. The national police work closely with the Ministry of commerce, industry and tourism to ensure maximum safety and security and to counteract crimes especially in tourist dense destinations. The police service in the capital, Bogotá, guarantees security throughout the city, not just downtown. The locals are just as safe as the tourists! Additionally, the police recognize the importance of technology and have taken measures to incorporate it for efficiency and increased security since the past 2 decades. Part of their crime management is a system of ‘hotspots’ or places that are breeding grounds for crimes. The police mark these areas and constantly patrol and supervise them.

Security apps and websites for maximum protection in Colombia

In this digital age of smartphones the Colombian security forces have ensured that tourists are safe at all times. A mobile application has been specifically curated to report crimes. Tourists can download the app ‘Polis Policia Nacional’ anywhere in Colombia. Moreover, the website ‘Denuncia’ has been designed for the same purpose too. Just visit www.adenunciar.policia.gov.co.  Unfortunately, the website currently only caters to Spanish speakers but will soon be translated in English too. The helpline number ‘123’ can also be dialed for emergencies. Tourists always can approach the nearest police officer for help or to report any crime. The police have also joined forces with the army to supervise and patrol remote areas and villages that the police might not frequently visit, ensuring overall maximum protection of not only the tourists but also the locals. Tourists must however ensure to not trust scammers that dress up as the police and looting money. Beware of spotting the official police uniform and badge of all officials before you hand over your savings to them.

Picture taken from: https://www.policia.gov.co

Risk of Zika in Colombia is almost nonexistent in the cities

Most tourists are concerned over the medical and health hazards that travelling to most Latin American countries exposes you at. The high risk of contracting Zika virus is a major fear. But fret not! The CDC actually places Bogota in the ‘minimal risk’ category and Medellin in the ‘low risk’ category in this regard. The high elevation levels ensure this. So put your fears aside. In fact, according to a report issued by the World Health Organization, the state of healthcare in Colombia is better than that in the USA. Say hello to a safe and healthy trip!

Solo female travelers in Colombia are safe

With the steady decline in kidnappings and homicide in the region, female solo travellers should definitely add Colombia to their list! The friendly locals, various transportation and accommodation options and a lifetime of adventure await your arrival! Unfortunately, females are always at a greater risk since patriarchy and female sexism know no borders so they must exercise extra caution by researching beforehand, asking locals, staying far away from dodgy places and opting for Uber and Airbnb rooms and hostels to be aware of the perils beforehand by reading reviews and making an informed choice. Ladies, pack your bags and embark on the greatest adventure of your life!

Types of crimes tourists can face

It is always better to be well informed about the cons along with the pros of visiting any country. No country or major city is completely crime-free. Petty thefts/robberies and scams occur in every part of the world, and they do so in Colombia too. The most common methods of theft include snatching your day pack, cell phone or camera, pick-pocketing, or taking advantage of a moment’s distraction to pick up your belongings and flee away. This country is a mixture of several cultures and people from various backgrounds thrive here. Pickpockets and scammers are a huge menace. Scammers and thieves usually operate in gangs and groups as they work to distract you by engaging you in a conversation or a smile while their partners loot your belongings. However, the crime rate has still decreased a lot and organized crime is no longer a threat. Drunken fights are an occurrence but that too happen all around the globe.

How to avoid crimes in Colombia and ensure a safe trip

We at Pelecanus Travel Agency strive to ensure maximum safety of our clients. We were fortunate to be able to indulge in a fruitful discussion with regard to security for tourists in a panel discussion that included two honorable members: the head tourist police at Bogota Policia Nacional Captain Arley Farigua and Prof. Dr. Hernando Zuleta who is the Director of economic development studies the University De Los Andes. They graciously agreed to educate us and our viewers about the interesting history and safety progress in Colombia. You can view our panel discussion here for further details:

Arley and Hernando provided us with several valuable pointers for foreign visitors that might come in handy in case of a crime or theft. Read on to learn some life saving hacks before you embark on a trip:

  • Plan your itinerary and do your research beforehand about all the cities and places you plan on covering. Ask locals and read travel advisories. This way tourist can avoid dangers and anticipate the security climate of the place beforehand.
  • Carry photocopies of your travel documents with you and keep the originals safe somewhere else. Tourists that lose their original passports or travel documents face unfavorable situations. It’s best to keep extra photocopies of all your important documents in case of emergencies.
  • Do not trust strangers! This holds true even as grownups. Locals or general people with ill intentions seek to prey on unsuspecting tourists to rob and drug them easily. Guard your belongings at all times, especially in crowded places because that’s mostly where scammers and pickpockets seem to lurk. Guard your drinks at all times to avoid being drugged and near accept any sort of food from strangers. Not even gum!
  • Tourists should avoid using public transport especially at night or in remote areas. They can either opt for Uber or the Easy Taxi app. Always book a taxi online or via phone. Do not get into random taxis on the streets or platforms. In case its becomes absolutely necessary for you to resort to a local taxi be sure to either click a picture of the number plate or note down and send the details to a friend. This way you can increase safety in an unknown setting.
  • It is best to avoid off-the-grid places such as the woods or remote towns. Backpackers’ especially tend to do a little extra exploring and wander into isolated areas alone. That might not be the brightest idea. Stay safe amidst public and avoid sketchier parts of an unknown city or town.
  • Do not carry excessive or expensive belongings and valuables such as jewelry, your Rolex or extra cash. As a general rule of thumb for tourists around the globe, it is never sane to carry your flashy belongings on trips. You cannot ensure not being robbed when you’re amongst millions of people with various socio-economic backgrounds. Please only carry the necessary and leave your valuable stuff back home.
  • Don’t carry your entire cash in one place. Make little rolls of small amounts of money and stash them in different places so you don’t lose all your money in case of a robbery.
  • Avoid drugs. Some seemingly harmless and fun drugs can turn out to be fatal and contribute to a bad experience or worst, death.

Last but not the least; take care of your belongings! Only you are responsible for the stuff you’re carrying.

What to do in case of a robbery?

Your best bet would be to stay calm and not make any sudden aggressive movements. Shout for help if possible.  It is likely that your robber will be carrying an armed weapon, please cooperate and hand over what they demand; people often act rashly and get hurt or worst, killed for pocket change. Do not try to run away, chase or physically fight the robbers in a heroic stunt. After the ordeal is over rush to get help, either use the online crime reporting portals or seek the help of the nearest officer.

Is the food and water safe to consume in Colombia?

The easiest way to get sick while travelling is via bad food or unclean water. Thankfully, tap water is perfectly safe to consume in major cities of Colombia. Colombia regulates and tests tap water for drinking quality in Bogota, Medellin, Cali, and Cartagena. You can easily hunt for tasty street food and fine dining especially in the major cities.

Some useful emergency contacts:

National Emergency Number: 123

List of Embassies in Colombia

All being said, we reiterate the statement that Colombia is a safe tourist destination. The rising number of tourists pouring in every year remains a testament to this fact. Plan your trip carefully and book with a safe travel agency to ensure maximum comfort and safety. We hope you have a wonderful trip in this country that is beyond magical and unforgettable!

Dear Reader

I hope this blog was useful and helped you a lot. We are more than happy organizing your trip to Colombia. If you require more information, just follow the following link to the main page www.pelecanus.com.co.

If you have feedback or suggestions on how to improve our blog, we would be very thankful if you leave a note below in our comment section.