Staying Safe in Colombia

Need to know safety tips for Colombia

Graffiti mural in the El Poblado neighborhood of Medellin Colombia

A man sitting on a curb next to his motorcycle in front of a beautiful graffiti mural in the El Poblado neighborhood of Medellin, Colombia.

Colombia can be a dangerous place just like New York City but with a few safety tips you shouldn’t have any problems staying safe in Colombia. I spent six months traveling Colombia without problems. Below, we compiled a list of suggestions to follow while in Colombia.

Keep a Low Profile (No Dar Papaya)

Keep a low profile or as Colombians call it (No dar papaya). Don’t wear flashy jewelry, don’t pull out large amounts of cash in the street and don’t rent a mansion and show everyone where you live. It’s okay to bring a camera and use your cell phone for pictures but only take them out for the pictures and then put them away. Only carry cash you need for the day and leave your credit and bank cards at home in a locked safe. It’s also a good idea to make a copy of your passport to carry in public (leave the real passport in a safe with your other valuable items). You can rent a car or motorcycle if you want but I’d advise to take taxis, the bus or Uber because it’s very cheap and draws less attention. Staying safe in Colombia is easy if you know what to do!

Don’t Go Out Alone At Night

If you’re with a group of people in a safe neighborhood it’s okay to go out at night to have a good time but never go out alone at night unless you know the area. If you do go out alone don’t carry any valuables. It’s not an extreme danger to take a brief walk at night or hang out in a park but you have to know the neighborhoods and people in the area. Remember, Colombia is a third world country and has a lot of poverty, there are homeless people who dig through the trash and teens who need food, they will rob you if you’re in a dark area with no cameras. Generally speaking, I haven’t had any problems but there were a few times in the evening I saw people following me and sizing up my phone. Just be cautious.

Don’t Leave Your Drink Unattended

It’s rare, but there have been cases of tourists being drugged with burundanga (also known as dragons breath), a drug that can make you very submissive, confused and obedient to suggestion. Again, it’s a rare occurrence but if your in a night club, bar or place where a lot of different people like to party, keep an eye on your drink (this occurrence is more prevalent in big cities like Bogota, Medellin and Cali).

Be Aware Of Police Imposters

I have never seen a police imposter but they exist. This is a typical scam in Colombia where people will act like the police and ask to inspect your money. After inspecting your money they will claim it is counterfeit and will confiscate it. Real police will never ask to inspect your money.

Check Travel Advisories

Always check travel advisories before going to Colombia and check weekly while in the country. The US embassy in Colombia is a good place to start. If you are from another country, feel free to check your own countries embassy website. Embassy websites will usually have a travel advisory threat level and also specifics on which areas of the country to avoid (currently, the US embassy advises against travel to Aruca, Cauca (except Popayan), Chocó (except Nuquí), Nariño, and Norte de Santander (except Cucuta) departments due to crime and terrorism. You can also check with travel.state.gov for additional safety information regarding travel to Colombia.

Check Travel Health Notices

Before going to Colombia do some research on current health conditions in the country. The CDC website includes information regarding current outbreaks in the country (like the dengue virus) and also recommends certain vaccines and medicines. They also provide common health and safety tips like how to prevent bug bites and if the water is okay to drink in the region. If your planning on travel to Colombia make sure you practice due diligence.

Learn Some Basic Spanish

You don’t have to speak Spanish to visit Colombia but it helps a lot! It’s very important to know basic Spanish (things like hello, good afternoon, where is the bathroom, how much, help and phrases of this nature). It’s also good to develop friendships with locals who know the area and can help translate if needed. In some bigger cities like Medellin a lot of people speak English but in other cities like Pereira almost no one speaks English. Make it a priority to learn some basic Spanish. Apps like Duolingo can help with this. Staying safe in Colombia might be easier if you know Spanish.

Don’t Resist

Medellin Barrio

When traveling abroad it is always wise to consider safety and study the area you are going to visit. The above image is a photo of a barrio in Medellin, Colombia.

If someone tries to rob you in Colombia, don’t resist! People who steal in Colombia will stab you if you resist, it’s better to give them what you have (hence the reason for only carrying what you need on your person). If you give them something 99% of the time they will leave peacefully (side note: stealing is highly frowned on in Colombia and police and the public will give heavy penalty to thieves but if it’s in a dark alley and no one is around it’s best to give the thieves what they want). I have never been robbed in Colombia but I know people who have and usually they were alone at night.

Watch Your Surroundings

Most people in Colombia are good wholesome folks but there are bad apples like anywhere else in the world. Make sure to watch your surroundings just like you would in New York City. Don’t walk down the street staring at your phone. If you suspect someone is watching or following you, keep an eye on them and go to a safe area with a lot of people. Staying safe in Colombia is sometimes just common sense.

Stay Away From Bad Neighborhoods

Every city has no go zones, places foreigners should not travel. Neighborhoods with a high prevalence of drugs, prostitution, burglary and violence should be avoided. Some people in Colombia literally have nothing and would jump at the opportunity to rob a gringo. Also, like any other country, Colombia has gangs and narco traffickers. Don’t walk into the jungle or an unknown neighborhood without prior knowledge of the area from a trusted local.

I’m not trying to scare you, Colombia is a beautiful & welcoming country. These are just some tips to keep you safe while abroad. Basically, just use common sense. Staying safe in Colombia is easy. If you have any questions, feel free to email us!

 

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