Is It Safe to Travel to Colombia? Surely Yes - Here Are The Facts!
For many years, the South American nation of Colombia has had a reputation for not being the safest place to go on vacation. Even now, when people hear the word Colombia they associate it with drug cartels, guerilla warfare, kidnappings, and murder. Once this may have been true, but it certainly is not now. Times change and Colombia is firmly setting itself on the global map of places to see before one dies. And there are plenty of reasons to make the trip. It is a country world-renowned for its coffee and cuisine, it has natural scenery and beaches to die for, it is filled with amazing colonial history and architecture, and who can resist the vibrant nightlife its cities have to offer?
So if you are wondering if is it safe to travel to Colombia? read on and discover why you should definitely add this amazing country to your travel bucket list.
Colombia’s dark past
It was not so long ago that Colombia was considered to be the most violent and dangerous country in the entire world. The main reason behind this was drugs. The production of drugs, cocaine in particular, and drug trafficking became big business in the 1970s. As the demand for the drug grew, the country was involved in a number of conflicts with other countries, notably the USA, and internally between guerilla gangs. This led to a variety of other serious crimes, such as kidnapping, corruption, and even murder. While there are still issues with these problems in some parts of the country, there has been a massive decrease in incidents in the last ten years. In fact, statistics show that it is now much safer to travel to Colombia than some parts of the US; the murder rate in Colombian cities is lower than in some American cities.
The same goes for other types of violent crime; while Colombia’s cities were once well-known for this, it is now a fact that the capital Bogota is one of the safest urban areas in the whole of South America, and has a lower violent crime rate than Indianapolis. Drug production has also decreased by 60% and is now much lower than in neighboring Peru. When it comes to kidnappings, Colombia now reports approximately 250 per year, an extremely low figure when compared with the over 1,500 that Mexico reports. These changes are largely due to former President Alvaro Uribe along with fellow officials who wished to make Colombia a safer place both for its citizens and tourists. And they have certainly done a good job. So if anyone asks you is it safe to travel to Colombia, you now know that it is.
But you said there are still some issues with these sorts of crimes?
Of course, there are pockets of violence in some areas of the country; if you read your country’s foreign travel advice web pages, they will probably advise against travel in some parts of Colombia. But since 2016, peace has come to the country. This is due to a peace pact that was made between the Colombian government and the paramilitary group FARC; FARC agreed to hand in the majority of their remaining weapons, effectively ending a half-century-long war. Nowadays, you are more likely to be a victim of a petty crime rather than get caught up with something major like kidnapping or murder.
Is petty crime a big problem in Colombia?
Street crime, such as muggings, pickpocketing, and theft, can still be a problem in the major urban centers of Bogota, Medellin, Cartagena, and Cali. However, you could say exactly the same thing about any huge city in the world, including London, Paris, and Rome. Petty crime is an issue pretty much wherever you go, so there is no reason why this should put you off traveling to Colombia. The ways people steal in Colombia are also widely known, so there are things you can do to protect yourself.
For example, a common theft trick is to offer a visitor some food or drink. The food or drink item will have been spiked with a drug to make their victim drowsy, so they then can steal their belongings. There have also been instances of the drug scopolamine being used, which is known to cause loss of memory. It may seem like an obvious thing to say, but it is important not to accept any food or drink from a stranger to stop this from happening. Muggers have been known to pose as taxi drivers who then proceed to steal from their ‘clients’. A good way of getting around this is by using an official app like Uber where the drivers have been vetted. Uber is also a great way to avoid those pesky pickpockets in crowded train and bus stations.
The other ways robbers try to get cash and other items from tourists are fairly similar to those in other countries, such as distracting victims in crowded places while an accomplice takes items from your pockets. Common sense should be used whenever you are out and about. Be aware of your surroundings, especially if you are walking at night, separate your cash so you have some in various pockets, and do not leave your belongings unattended.
What about scams?
Unfortunately, scams are a common occurrence in Colombia. Aside from the (now low) risk of violent crime, scams are probably the biggest reason why many people still think if is it safe to travel to Colombia? However, although scams are prevalent, they are all generally well-known, so it is easy enough to plan ahead and prepare to be able to get around these scams in case you do happen to come across one.
A common scam that Colombia is famous for is that criminals will pose as police officers; they will then proceed to ask to check your documents or your cash to make sure they are not counterfeit. Some may even have a fake ID. The best way of dealing with this is to ask to go to the nearest police station. If they are genuine police officers, they will have no issue with doing this.
How is the political situation in Colombia?
Generally speaking, there have been many improvements over the last few years in regards to the political situation. However, occasionally there are local protests which, in rare cases, do become violent. While this might sound scary, there are a few countries where this has happened this century, for example in Bangkok, and as long as tourists stay well out of the demonstration zones nothing untoward should happen. Remember that these protests are connected to the political situation and therefore any violence that does occur is most likely not going to be directed at tourists, who have very little to do with the politics of the country.
Does Colombia have any problems with natural disasters?
Flooding and landslides are the most common natural disasters that occur in Colombia. These predominantly happen in the Colombian Andes, so if you are traveling to these areas, it is extremely important to keep an eye on weather reports, especially during the rainy seasons which occur between April to May and October to November. Thankfully, as you can see, these rainy seasons are very short, so they should not impact too many travelers’ vacation plans.
Earthquakes are also an issue in Colombia, occurring relatively frequently. There is no real way of telling whether an earthquake will happen while you are traveling there, so it is best just to follow local advice if and when it does. The risk of earthquakes should not put you off traveling to Colombia; there are many countries around the world where such events happen, such as Japan, Mexico, and Indonesia, and these countries still attract many visitors. The same can be said for the volcanic eruptions which sometimes occur.
Are there still issues with landmines?
Colombia is among the list of countries which have the highest number of landmines. They can be found in 31 of the 32 departments that make up the country. If you are sticking to the cities, this should not propose any kind of problem whatsoever. If you are planning on venturing into the countryside, it is best to get a local’s advice before you start exploring. Better still, it may be worth hiring a local guide so you can stick to the safe paths, or joining a local tour of the area that you want to visit.
Surely disease is something to worry about?
If you are still wondering if is it safe to travel to Colombia and are worried about health and disease, this is an area which should really not be an issue. It is a common misconception that traveling to any destination in South America puts you at risk of contracting Zika, probably due to the huge media coverage the disease has received in the past few years. It is actually highly unlikely that you would contract such as illness when traveling in Colombia. Bogota is considered to have minimal risk and Medellin low risk. This is largely due to many destinations in Colombia being at a high altitude. However, malaria is an issue in some areas outside of the major cities, as is dengue fever. Antimalarials are easily accessible in pharmacies around the country. There is not much to be done against dengue fever apart from avoiding getting bitten, so using a high-quality insect repellent is a must when out in the countryside.
Another misconception that people have about South American countries is that the water is not safe to drink. While this may be true of some of the countries, it is definitely not true of Colombia. The major cities all have a fantastic quality of tap water, Bogota and Medellin in particular, so you do not need to worry about buying bottled water. If you are traveling out into the countryside, the water quality does vary, so it may be better to stick with bottled water then, or alternatively, you can use a water purifier.
If you need any more convincing that your health is not at risk in Colombia, you will be pleased to know that medical tourism is on the rise here. Tens of thousands of people travel to Colombia every year to have various medical procedures done at a fraction of the cost of other countries such as the USA, which has helped boost its healthcare system. This surge in medical tourist numbers has attracted top-class doctors from around the world, meaning that standards have risen even further. Colombia’s state-of-the-art hospitals have fast become some of the most excellent in not South America but in the whole of the Americas. Many of the Colombian doctors train abroad and medical standards are incredibly high. In fact, according to the World Health Organisation, Colombia has far better health care than the USA and Canada, so if you are taken ill while traveling in Colombia, you can be sure that you will be in good hands.
Another great thing about traveling to Colombia is that there are no special vaccinations to have done before you set off on your trip there. All you need to do is make sure you are up-to-date on your standard vaccines and then you can be on your way.
Is it safe to travel to Colombia as a solo female traveler?
Many solo female travelers worry about safety when it comes to a new travel destination, so it should come as no surprise that many ask themselves the question if is it safe to travel to Colombia? especially when it has had such a reputation in the very recent past. However, lots of solo female travelers have expressed nothing but great things about traveling to Colombia.
It is a country with lots to make it an ideal place for women holidaying on their own: there is a whole host of fantastic accommodation options and transportation methods, plus the locals are extremely friendly and helpful, so there is no reason why taking a trip to Colombia should be any more dangerous for solo female travelers than any other destination. There may be some issues with catcalling and sexual harassment, but events like these can occur even in the most developed western countries such as the UK, the USA, and Scandinavia, so it certainly should not make a traveler say no to the question if is it safe to travel to Colombia? As long as the necessary precautions are taken that should be taken when traveling anywhere in the world, there is no need to worry.
Anything else that I need to consider?
If you are planning on getting off-the-beaten-track while you are in Colombia, you better be on the lookout. Not for guerillas or kidnappers, but for animals. The country has six species of snake along with hundreds of sub-species, of which there are a few which are highly venomous, such as the pit viper. Most of the spiders you may come across are harmless, although the black widow, brown recluse and banana spiders will give you a nasty bite if you annoy them. If you are traveling to the Pacific coast, watch out for the golden poison dart frog, the most venomous vertebrate in the world, which can kill up to 20 humans just by the touch of its skin.
Colombia has also been in the news in recent years for a huge increase in the number of an animal which should not even be in Colombia in the first place – the hippo. Originally, Pablo Escobar, the world-infamous Colombian drug lord, had four pet hippos kept in his private zoo. When Escobar died, the majority of his animals were relocated to other establishments, but the hippos were left to run free. There are now an estimated 50 of them living in the wild.
Of course, the likelihood of being attacked by a wild animal or bitten by a venomous reptile or arachnid is very low indeed. The main one to really look out for is the banana spider, which likes to get inside material such as clothes, tents, bedding, and shoes; if you are camping during your trip, make sure to shake everything out, just in case. As for the hippos, the statistics speak for themselves. While hippos are responsible for around 500 deaths per year in Africa, there have been none recorded in Colombia. It seems that they have become accustomed to the local population, with local people even going as far as calling them the ‘village pets’. Government officials wish to do something to try and move the population, but even if nothing gets done in the next few years, the chances are you will not come across one.
Is it safe to travel to Colombia? You bet it is!
Like with every country in the world, Colombia has had its problems. However, it has been working really hard to counteract these and to make it way safer for tourists to visit. Nowadays, the vast majority of travelers who make their way to this fabulous country do so without any issues whatsoever, and those who have been a comment on what a wonderful place it is.
Of course, there are things you should do to limit the chances of anything bad happening, but this is no different from taking the same precautions wherever you travel in the world. So if you are still thinking: is it safe to travel to Colombia? think about it no longer! Colombia is a fantastic country to visit so get planning now!