Is Colombia Safe?

Is Colombia safe? When I told my friends I’d be visiting Colombia, they asked me if I was out of my mind.

Colombia has a reputation for being a rough, wild, and lawless country. But this isn’t always true. While Colombia certainly has its issues (typically revolving around cartel violence, police corruption, and petty theft), there is still some security. And the Colombian government does seem to be trying to change its violent reputation as they crack down on crime against tourists.

Colombia certainly has a long way to go to reduce overall crime and violence, so you must be cautious, aware of your surroundings, and follow some basic street smarts to ensure safety and comfort.

But don’t worry; millions of tourists flock to Colombia yearly to enjoy the beautiful beaches, cheap resorts, or unique jungle treks. Most of these tourists enjoy their trip with no negative consequences, and love interacting with the locals, who are nothing but nice. And hopefully, with enough preparation, you can enjoy Colombia without setbacks. So let’s review some of the issues surrounding Colombia and answer the common question, is Colombia safe?

Make sure to also read my posts 29 Best Places To Visit In Colombia and A Great 2 Weeks In Colombia Itinerary.

Jardin is Colombia safe

What Are The Main Safety Issues In Colombia?

Firstly, most crimes against tourists in Colombia revolve around petty theft and robbery. The scary thing about a robbery in Colombia is the thief is often armed with either a knife or a gun. This can be jarring and traumatizing for travelers new to this level of aggression and violence.

The pandemic brought about a whole new set of troubles for Colombians. As the economy took a major hit, crime started to increase. Hopefully, this will decline once again as things start to balance out over time.

Secondly, Colombia is known as a haven for a specific type of tourist or expat – the ones who are seeking cheap party drugs and/or women for hire (particularly in major cities). Indulging in these during your travels may cause further complications if you aren’t careful where you go.

So let’s review some of the largest areas of concern while traveling in Colombia so you can be as prepared as possible! If you know what to expect, respond accordingly, and have an open mind, you will surely enjoy the endless beauty of Colombia and its unique culture!

I recommend getting a good travel insurance for your trip to Colombia. Check out my recommended travel insurance here.

You should also read my post Is Bogota Safe?

Ciudad Perdida trek is Colombia safe

Is Colombia Safe For Tourists?

Is Colombia safe for solo travelers?

Solo traveling is so much fun, as it gives you the freedom and independence to do all the activities you want to do. And you shouldn’t be concerned about a solo trip to Colombia; you’ll meet dozens of other solo travelers spread out throughout the country.

Hostels and hotels, transportation, and tourist spots are vast in this country, so it is a great place for solo traveling and meeting other like-minded travelers. If you don’t want to spend the entire trip alone, there are several things to do to make solid connections and friendships for the rest of your journey. Social hostels are among the best places to meet people, as they often host daily events and have a common area or bar for everyone to enjoy.

Another great way to meet other solo travelers is sign-up for a guided hike, trek, or tour. The best connections I’ve made while traveling were during guided tours. For example, the four-day trek to La Ciudad Perdida in Colombia is an excellent way to enjoy Colombian nature with fellow adventure-seekers.

If you are traveling in Colombia by yourself, write down all emergency contact numbers so that if something does happen, you can quickly contact a family or friend. You might also want to share your location/whereabouts with a close family member or friend.

I recommend getting a good travel insurance for your trip to Colombia. Check out my recommended travel insurance here.

You should also read my post The 30 Best Places To Travel Alone.

Cartagena is Colombia safe

Is Colombia safe for solo female travelers?

Unfortunately, women have more fears and threats when traveling than men. However, Colombia, on the whole, is safe for solo female travelers. You will meet a ton of other female travelers and possibly make lifelong connections.

Of course, you should still follow some simple safety guidelines while traveling solo in Colombia.

Most hostels provide all-female, all-male, and mixed dormitory options. If you’re uneasy about who you share a room with, go for the all-female dorms. All-female dorms tend to be quieter and cleaner compared to mixed dorms.

You can also look into booking private accommodation for your trip. Most hostels offer private rooms, though at a higher price. In a private room, you get all the benefits of a social hostel while maintaining your privacy. And there are plenty of budget friendly accommodation options in Colombia that are not hostels anyways.

If you plan to go out and party in Colombia, don’t let being a solo female traveler get you down! You can easily meet others who are ready for the exciting nightlife. And trust me, Colombian nightlife is of a whole different breed. You can network through your hostel or guided tours from the day and see what everyone else is up to for the evening. Going out in a group is always safer and often more fun, anyway.

I recommend getting a good travel insurance for your trip to Colombia. Check out my recommended travel insurance here.

Santa Marta Colombia is Colombia safe

Is Colombia safe for solo male travelers?

The question “is Colombia safe?” actually does apply to men too. Historically, women were always more of a target. However, Colombia is actually experiencing a rise in male-targeted robberies and druggings. With the rise of Tinder and other popular dating sites, some women in big cities are using these sites to exploit men just seeking a fun little fling.

So if you plan to travel to Colombia as a solo male traveler and want to date around, be careful who you meet. In Medellin, we heard several stories of men who went on a Tinder date, were drugged and robbed of everything.

You should also read my post Is Medellin Safe?

It might be wise to stick to organic encounters in Colombia. That being said, if really you want to try out the online dating scene, just be smart and insightful about who you are meeting up with.

things to do in Guatape

Is it safe to take a taxi in Colombia?

Street taxis are a hit or miss throughout Colombia, depending on the city and area you are in. Some parts of Colombia are known to have corrupt street taxis that significantly overcharge or try to extort foreign travelers.

It is best to take an Uber or other rideshare app (Didi is also very popular) whenever possible in major cities. Medellin and Cartagena have a reputation for unreliable and unfair street taxis. If you have to take a street taxi, make sure they use a meter.

If you speak Spanish, you can also ask the taxi driver for a rough estimate of what it should cost. This helps avoid any surprises with the final price.

On the other hand, smaller cities or towns have no issues with street taxis. I took taxis throughout Santa Marta and the surrounding towns and had only good experiences.

Throughout Colombia, airport taxis are generally deemed safe and trustworthy. So, those should be fine for flying into the country or a new destination. In general, asking your hostel or hotel to book a taxi means the taxi you’ll get is safe too.

where to stay in Cartagena

Safety on public transportation in Colombia

Public transportation is not always the most reliable and timely means of transportation throughout Colombia, but it is generally considered safe and very affordable. All major cities in Colombia have excellent metro stations that are clean and have access to all neighborhoods within the city. Public city buses are also cheap and can get you to most places you want to go.

Long-distance public transportation in Colombia can be a hit or miss. Buses tend to take much longer, so you must go into it expecting delays. You might also hear the occasional story of a bus hold-up.

Some buses are at risk of being held up by locals and robbed. While this does happen, it isn’t too common. Many travelers take buses all around Colombia with no problems. But it is something just to be aware of when booking your tickets.

We took several long-distance buses in Colombia, and nothing unusual happened, only bus delays and lots of traffic – and regular motion sickness as they drive like mad. So I wouldn’t count public buses out in fear of safety.

Tayrona National Park
Photo by pipojackman @shutterstock

Beach safety in Colombia

Colombia has some stunning beaches, but the same general rules apply while you are enjoying those beaches. You should always keep your belongings in sight and avoid bringing anything valuable to the beach.

When I go to the beach alone, I try to set up near a group of other travelers and ask them to keep an eye on my belongings while I swim. And when I go to the beach with others, we take turns swimming, so someone is always sitting with our stuff.

In addition to preventing minor theft, you want also to be careful of the tides. Many popular beaches, like most in Tayrona National Park and near Santa Marta, have extremely strong currents. You should watch for flags and only swim when it is deemed safe.

You should also read my posts A Guide To Visiting Tayrona National Park, Colombia and 15 Best Things To Do In Santa Marta Colombia.

Photo by Lwduyn @shutterstock

Food safety in Colombia

Most places that have an abundance of street food also have a risk of certain bacteria and viruses coming along with that food. Colombia is no exception. However, most of the popular street food in Colombia is heavily fried or overcooked, so it isn’t that common of an issue.

You should follow your gut when it comes to street food. I have had my fair share of food poisoning and traveler’s diarrhea in Bogotà, so I learned from experience. If the conditions look too questionable, you can pass for the next stand.

Also, be sure to rinse your fruits and vegetables with clean water. Most markets and food stands don’t wash their produce, so you’ll want to remove unwanted bacteria.

Finally, do not drink the water in Colombia unless specified otherwise. Some resorts or hotels may have a high-quality filtration system, but most don’t. Most of the public water is unsafe for drinking, so stick to bottled water during your trip or bring along a bottle with a filter if you want to be particularly environmentally friendly.

Don’t forget to read my post The Best Colombian Food To Try.

best places to stay in Cartagena is Colombia safe

Tips On Staying Safe In Colombia

Here are some helpful tips to follow while traveling around Colombia.

Be careful with your cash and bank cards

Avoid using ATMs off the street, especially in high tourist areas. This makes you a target for thieves and has a higher likelihood of having a card reader that can steal all your data. Instead, stick to ATMs inside banks or hotels. They have more security and privacy.

Try to avoid walking around with too much cash or too many cards. I always return to my hotel to hide my money in a safe and carry only what I need for the day.

I recommend getting a good travel insurance for your trip to Colombia. Check out my recommended travel insurance here.

Blend into local norms as much as possible

If you want to reduce your risk of robbery, you want to blend in as much as possible. For some people, this is easier than for others. But Colombia has such a diverse population that it might be hard to tell someone is a tourist until they speak. The only giveaway would be your clothes.

For example, in Medellin, men who wear shorts and flip-flops are looked down upon. If you wear shorts and flip-flops in Medellin, you might be a clear target for petty crimes. They are fine to wear in other cities like Cartagena, though.

Don’t forget to read my post 12 Best Things To Do In Medellín, Colombia.

Don’t flaunt your valuables

Similarly to blending in, you don’t want to flaunt your belongings. You should leave behind any expensive jewelry, watches, or other belongings that might make you stand out. These signs are something a thief would look for in a potential target.

I recommend getting a good travel insurance for your trip to Colombia. Check out my recommended travel insurance here.

where to stay in Bogota

Be aware of your surroundings

One of the most important things is being aware of your surroundings and the people around you. Your gut will tell you a lot of what you need to know. If you feel uneasy, follow your gut and get to a better environment.

One of the most common forms of theft in Colombia is cellphone robbery. This often happens when you are walking with your phone out, and a motorbike drives by and snatches your phone, or a guy runs by and takes it right from your hand.

These robbers specifically look for people who are not paying much attention, so you don’t see it coming. Avoid this by paying attention, and don’t have your phone out while walking.

taganga colombia

Consider a backup phone

Many travelers have a “backup phone” to avoid any threats or problems. A backup phone can be a cheap, low-quality phone that has the bare essentials on it. Or it can be an old phone that you aren’t too attached to.

I always travel with a backup phone. I have never had a phone stolen, but it provides some peace of mind. When I am in big, crowded cities, I leave my regular phone (with all my important information) hidden in my hotel or Airbnb and use my backup phone for day-to-day wanderings.

Limit alcohol consumption, especially if traveling solo

Unfortunately, alcohol does bring down your senses, making it hard to be aware of your surroundings. If you are out alone, it might also make you a target for those will ill intentions. The same applies to drugs consumption – it can get you in all sorts of trouble in Colombia.

On a similar note, you should avoid walking alone at night, especially down dark streets.

Of course, you can still enjoy the nightlife throughout Colombia. For younger travelers, hostel parties are the safest and easiest way to meet people. Going out with a larger group also provides more security.

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Is Colombia safe? Read this post to find out - via @clautavani

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