Anyone planning a trip to Colombia is likely to be met with the same question over and over again: "But isn't it dangerous?" And while parts of the country are certainly unfit for tourism due to the prevalence of kidnappings and other crime surrounding its notorious illegal drug industry, much of Colombia is perfectly safe to visit. The scandals that once fueled its nasty reputation are winding down. Cocaine is no longer a chief export. The South American oasis is becoming known for its coffee, diverse landscapes, and hospitality instead.
- Due to COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 4 Travel Health Notice for Colombia, and the U.S. Department of State has issued a Level 3 travel advisory, meaning "reconsider travel." International flights have resumed at some airports throughout the country and national stay-at-home orders have been lifted, but certain cities are under selective isolation and not all ground transportation is running.
- Prior to COVID-19, Colombia was under a Level 2 travel advisory, "exercise increased caution," due to crime and terrorism. "Violent crime, such as homicide, assault, and armed robbery, is common," the U.S. Department of State says. "Organized criminal activities, such as extortion, robbery, and kidnapping for ransom, are widespread."
Is Colombia Dangerous?
Certain parts of Colombia are dangerous. The U.S. Department of State warns against visiting Arauca, Cauca (except Popayan), Chocó (except Nuquí), Nariño, and Norte de Santander (except Cucuta) due to crime and terrorism. The government has signed a peace treaty with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), but some groups have refused to demobilize. Apart from those high-risk areas, though, Colombia is generally safe and, in fact, full of friendly people. In 2019, the country saw a record number of tourists—more than 4.5 million compared with .6 million in 2007—and before the pandemic, it expected another 6 million to visit in 2020. Anyone who sticks to the touristy areas (the Coffee Region, the Caribbean coast, heritage towns, etc.) isn't likely to run into any danger.
Is Colombia Safe for Solo Travelers?
Colombia is, for the most part, safe for solo travelers. As the crime statistics go down, the number of visitors wandering about alone goes up. The Culture Trip named Salento, Medellin, and San Gil as some of the country's current solo backpacker hotspots. Still, it's best to stick with a group as often as possible. Intrepid Travel says the infrastructure for tourists is "only getting better," and that tours and safe transportation options are now more abundant than ever. So long as you stick to the safe destinations and no dar papaya—"don't be stupid"—you'll doubtless return from a solo trip to Colombia unscathed.
Is Colombia Safe for Female Travelers?
Women are sometimes the targets of threats and physical attacks in Colombia as the country is not as progressive as, say, the U.S. with regards to women's rights. Although domestic violence is unlawful, it's still a common problem. Female travelers should be wary of traveling alone, especially in taxis or at night. They should avoid flaunting valuables that could call attention to robbers and carry only small amounts of money. There aren't necessarily certain clothes that will attract more male attention than others, but be aware that cat calling is common on the coast.
Safety Tips for LGBTQ+ Travelers
Colombia has some of the most progressive LGBTQ+ rights in Latin America. Homosexuality has been legal since 1981 and discrimination based on sexual orientation has been illegal since 2011. Still, many members of the LGBTQ+ community are killed and hundreds report cases of violence every year. Keep in mind that Colombia is a traditional, Catholic country and opinions about same-sex relationships are mixed. Be wary of showing public displays of affection. For a more gay-friendly atmosphere, stick to places like Medellin, Bogotá, and Cartagena, each with its own bustling LGBTQ+ scene.
Safety Tips for BIPOC Travelers
Colombians are about 34 percent white, 50 percent mestizo (combined European and Indigenous American descent), about 9 percent Black, and 4 percent Amerindian. Afro-Colombians face much discrimination, but the people who live and work in tourist-centric areas are generally more accepting. Travelers may want to avoid south Colombia during the Blacks and Whites' Carnival—January 5 and 6, respectively—when the locals paint their faces black or douse them in white talcum powder to "celebrate unity" in a way that could be perceived as insensitive.
Safety Tips for Travelers
As with travel anywhere, tourists should follow basic safety precautions when visiting Colombia.
- Register with your embassy or consulate before traveling to Colombia. This will help the authorities contact or locate you in the case of an emergency.
- Avoid looking too much like a tourist during your trip. Keep valuables like iPhones, cameras, and jewelry hidden away to avoid attracting attention from robbers and pickpockets. Keep bags wrapped around your body and closed on crowded public transportation. Better yet, invest in a money belt.
- If you must travel at night, always go by cab. You can easily locate one by the Tappsi or Cabify apps in most Colombian cities. Try also to avoid solo taxi rides.
- Always have a printed—maybe even laminated—and digital copy of your passport and any other travel documents with you.
- Don't take your eyes off your drink. While it seems obvious, Colombia has quite a bit of burundanga—a drug that causes submissiveness and obedience—going around.
- Avoid withdrawing money when alone and always check the ATMs for tampering before doing so. Only take out small amounts of money at a time to prevent large sums from getting lost or stolen.