Colombia is an authentic travel destination that does not suffer from mass tourism like many Southeast Asian countries. The country has a lot to offer and it is still a relatively ”fresh” destination due to its past of internal armed conflicts and drug cartels. However, Colombia has made a big shift from its dark past and it offers a variety of places to visit from paradise beaches, deserts, jungles, and lost indigenous towns to snowy mountains. I found Colombia to be a relatively safe destination, as long as you take the normal precautions, avoid the ”red zones” and use common sense. Despite the ongoing high level of crime in the country, it is very unlikely for you to encounter any. Also, do not forget to check our post 10 Things To Do Before Traveling To Colombia.
Do not use your phone on the streets
Getting your mobile phone stolen while using it in the streets is the most common crime that occurs among tourists visiting Colombia (or any other country in the world). Especially avoid using it in crowded streets and cities like Bogotá and Medellín. Always make sure there are no other people around too closely when using your phone. Using your phone is relatively safe in public transportation, cafes, and restaurants.
Download an offline Google map of each city you are visiting
In order not to get lost, download the offline Google map to your phone so you can use it even without an internet connection. Downloading the offline Google map is very easy. Open Google Maps from your mobile phone (you should be logged in), click your initial from the upper right corner, and click ”offline maps”. Then, click ”select your own map” and choose the area you want to download. After you have successfully downloaded the map, you will be able to use it without an internet connection.
Avoid the dangerous areas
Each city in Colombia has its own safe and dangerous areas and research it always before your destination. If you’re staying in Medellín, you may decide to stay in El Poblado, which has many tourists. We made the mistake of staying in La Candelaria / El Centro because we did not know it was a sketchy area with many drug addicts and homeless people. If you’re in Bogota, you should stay in La Candelaria or Chapinero (there are also other good areas).
Don’t flex with expensive items and clothing
It’s not a good idea to look too rich while in Colombia. You should leave all your expensive bags, jewelry, etc. at home.
Use the official taxi or taxi apps
Indrive app is the best and most affordable way to travel in cities while in Colombia, and Uber is the more expensive option which is also good. If you’re visiting smaller cities where using the apps is not common (such as in Neiva), you may use the official, metered yellow taxi. However, getting a little bit scammed is quite common in these, so expect to pay a dollar or so more.
Have several bank cards, just in case
It is always a good idea to have more than 1 bank card while traveling to a foreign country. We personally have 2 debit cards and 1 credit card, and we keep them separated. Though it is very unlikely that you would get robbed, it is better safe than sorry.
Avoid going out at night or in the evening
Most crime occurs at night, so do not go out at late hours. We would generally not go out after 8 PM unless it is for the bus terminal by taxi (which is generally safe).
Learn about the common scams in Colombia
The most common scam you might encounter is the scamming taxi driver who overcharges you 20 cents more. However, there are more dangerous scams that everyone should learn about before traveling to Colombia. World Nomads includes the 9 common scams in Colombia, which include the fake police scam. In case this happens to you, do not give your passport (in fact, better if you keep it in your hotel) and request to solve the problem at the police station or hotel. There are also cases of men who have been victims of robbery after they have gone on a date with a woman from a dating app. Therefore, you may want to avoid such apps or be extremely careful.
Avoid using ATMs in the streets
To use the atm safely, you should use it in a bank, shopping mall, or huge stores such as the éxito. Using atm in the streets is not wise and there is an increased risk of getting robbed.
Do not use drugs or get drunk
Colombia is one of the last places where you should avoid using drugs or getting drunk, as there is a high risk of getting robbed or worse. Though Colombia is the country of (cheap) cocaine, does not mean you should even consider trying it! You do not want to have any issues with the police either.
Colombia is a relatively safe tourist destination as long as you follow the common precautions; do not go out at night, and avoid getting drunk, avoid dangerous areas, do not flash your expensive items and mobile phone. With common sense, you can have a wonderful and comfortable holiday in Colombia.