Colombia used to be considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Rife with violence, even as late as 2002, it had one of the highest homicide rates in the world.
But today it’s another story. With a BOOMING tourism sector, Colombia is now a popular destination with glowing beaches, dense rainforests, momentous mountains, and rich history.
However, though the civil war ‘officially’ ended in 2016, drug trafficking and militias are still active. So is Colombia safe? Or just how dangerous is Colombia?
Don’t worry. The Broke Backpacker team LOVE this country, so with this guide for safe travel in Colombia, you’ll have an amazing time AND stay safe whilst doing it!
We’ll look at whether it’s safe to use the metro in Medellin (spoilers: YES), safety in remote areas, getting around Colombia safely, and everything else in between. We’ll even talk travel tips for female solo travelers.
Whether you’re thinking about backpacking through Colombia alone or long-term, or if you’re just worried about an upcoming two-week trip, it’s ok. I’ve got you! Here’s the full story: staying safe in Colombia goes like this.
There is no such thing as a perfect safety guide, and this article is no different. The question of “Is Colombia Safe?” will ALWAYS have a different answer depending on the parties involved. But this article is written for savvy travellers from the perspective of savvy travellers.
The information present in this safety guide was accurate at the time of writing, however, the world is a changeable place, now more than ever. Between the pandemic, cultural division, and click-bait media, it can be hard to maintain what is truth and what is sensationalism.
Here, you will find safety knowledge and advice for traveling Colombia. It won’t be down to the wire cutting edge info on the most current events, but it is layered in the expertise of veteran travellers. If you use our guide, do your own research, and practise common sense, you will have a safe trip to Colombia.
If you see any outdated information in this guide, help other travelers out and reach out in the comments below! We strive to provide the most relevant travel information on the web and always appreciate input from our readers (nicely, please!). Otherwise, thanks for your ear and stay safe!
It’s a wild world out there. But it’s damn special too. 🙂
Updated April 2023
- Is Colombia Safe to Visit Right Now?
- Safest Places in Colombia
- 19 Top Safety Tips for Traveling to Colombia
- Is Colombia safe to travel alone?
- Is Colombia safe for solo female travelers?
- Is Colombia Safe for Families?
- Getting Around Colombia Safely
- Scams in Colombia
- FAQs about Staying Safe in Colombia
- So, How Safe is Colombia?
Is Colombia Safe to Visit Right Now?
Yes! It absolutely is safe to travel to Colombia, today!
But let me flip that on its head too… Is it dangerous to backpack Colombia? Well… yes, it can be too. It makes a huge difference to know a few tips for staying safe in Colombia.
The truth is, most places in the world are dangerous in some form or another. Colombia has one of the fastest-growing tourist markets globally. It’s hard to argue with the millions of tourists who visit and leave totally unaffected.
Regardless of the status of travel advisories, Colombia is the new darling of South American travel. The country has been ‘rediscovered’ despite the misconception that it’s unsafe to visit Colombia.
You might think of Pablo Escobar and drug-related criminal activity, but today Colombia is becoming increasingly estranged from its violent past. Though not the safest place in the world, serious progress is happening.
So what do we have to consider with safety in Colombia? Crime rates remain relatively high but that’s mainly involving petty theft (mugging and pickpocketing) – so there are areas to avoid. Kidnappings and illegal armed groups are extremely rare now but are still a slight risk.
Landmines are an ongoing issue. Then there’s nature; earthquakes occur regularly, intense rains cause landslides, and there are dangerous critters lurking in the jungles. Needless to say, security situations can change pretty quickly.
However, that doesn’t keep the tourists away, nor backpackers, and it shouldn’t keep you away either. Tourism is BIG news here. Colombia is safe to visit these days with sensible heads on….
Stick to the main routes or go with a reputable tour company. If you’re visiting the Lost City, you have to book a tour. You may be backpacking, but sticking to the tourist routes is probably your safest bet right now.
Safest Places in Colombia
In Colombia, when choosing a city to visit or good hostels to stay in, research and caution are essential. You don’t want to end up in a sketchy area.
To help you out, here are some of the safest areas to visit in Colombia below.
Quick side note: all of these areas we’re going to list below can be dangerous if you act carelessly. To stay safe, stick to our safety tips and use your travel common sense.
Don’t let the news and prejudices about visiting Bogota and major cities stop you. They can all be visited safely.
- Cartagena – On Colombia’s Caribbean coast, it’s an old port city within a walled city. When visiting Cartagena, Bocagrande is the safest neighbourhood to stay in – home to gated communities and wealthy Colombians with CCTV cameras and security everywhere.
- Medellin – With Pablo Escobar gone, life in Medellin changed. Violent crime plummeted. In fact, Medellin is safer than many other major cities. Although some gangs still operate, tourists aren’t targeted: gang violence is typically inter-gang. One of the safest areas in Medellin is the Laureles Neighborhood.
- Minca – This little mountain town attracts floods of tourists. For that, you’re well protected and very few problems are reported.
- Eje Cafetero (The Coffee Region) – One of the most chill areas to stay in Colombia, you can explore beautiful, small towns and interact with friendly locals. Many towns are safe to walk around at night, too.
Dangerous Places in Colombia
We don’t necessarily align our thoughts with the US government, but this time we do and with good reason: I strongly recommend you take the advice. At present, the USA Government travel advice for Colombia restricts travel to these high-risk areas:
- Arauca, Cauca (excluding Popayán)
- Norte de Santander
- The Colombia-Venezuela border
There is absolutely no reason for tourists to visit these places anyway. Travel to Venezuela is an extremely bad idea in the current climate.
So yeah, not all places in Colombia are safe. Yet there are some places considered “unsafe” by some but can be visited safely – with extra precautions and vigilance. Here are some of those places:
- Cali (Santiago de Cali) – Cali is known to be Colombia’s most dangerous and violent city. You COULD visit it, but your overall safety will shoot up if you decide to stay away.
- Bogota – There are good reasons to visit the capital city but Bogota is not always safe. It’s got the second-highest crime rate in Colombia.
- Central Medellin – Medellin, in general, is a safe destination for travellers, but avoid central Medellin. This is where the vast majority of the problems are reported.
- Barranquilla – A super cool place to experience Carnival de Barranquilla, but a high crime rate for Colombia, in general.
It’s important to know that you CAN be safe in Colombia, but you need research. Basically, your general rule is, the more tourists, the less chance you have of encountering serious issues: the second rule is the more tourists, the more chance you have of petty issues. So decide your balance between major cities and small towns.
Avoid ANYWHERE at night (unless locals tell you otherwise) and always ask locals which areas you should avoid. A bit of caution goes a long way!
Most visits to Colombia are trouble-free. But knowing a few safety tips for Colombia really helps. Here are our top Colombia safety tips:
- Monitor local media – stay up to date with security issues and weather.
- Don’t look rich – ideal targets for potential thieves.
- Carry a decoy wallet – Have a few pesos in a crappy throwaway.
- Split your cash up – and hide it well. You DO NOT want to lose all your money at once.
- Say no to illegal cabs – no, no, no, no. Nope. Never a smart move.
- Don’t use ATMs after dark – thieves operate best at night and ATMs are the perfect spot.
- Carry a copy of your passport and visa – local cops don’t get paid a lot and can hassle tourists who don’t carry these.
- Learn some Spanish – this will get you far.
- Be aware of scams – more info on this to come.
- Be responsible with drugs – sensible head on at all times.
- Watch your belongings in crowds – an easy place for pickpockets.
- IF someone wants to rob you, don’t resist – your money, or your life, is not worth it.
- Go with a well-reviewed guides on treks – they know where to walk and will spot the venomous snakes that you’d step on.
- Know your limits – getting dead drunk, high, and exhausted isn’t a good idea.
- DON’T walk around at night – always get a cab.
- NEVER accept drinks or cigarettes from strangers – politely turn them down. Scopolamine spiking happens.
- Avoiding political protests and demonstrations – It’s not the time.
Safety tips for Colombia don’t vary much from anywhere else in the world. Staying safe isn’t too difficult. Traveling smart and trusting your instincts is key!
Yes, Colombia is safe to travel alone. However, that doesn’t mean you can wander around the country without a care in the world.
Here are a few travel safety tips for Colombia to keep in mind when you travel by yourself to Colombia.
- Meet other travelers – There’s safety in numbers. Plus, it’s the best way to beat the “solo traveling blues” and share travel tips.
- Read reviews – for staying in good hostels or going on organized tours.
- Blend in – Look at what other people are wearing. A singlet and short shorts isn’t always a good idea.
- The same goes for talking loudly – shouting around in English (or your native language) makes you stand out like a BEACON.
- Get some Spanish in your brain – If you’re lost, this will help you become un-lost. If you want to meet locals, this is how. Learning at least a little bit of Spanish goes very, very far.
- Trust your gut – If something doesn’t feel right, get out of there. Be smart, but also remember that Colombians are REALLY friendly in essence.
- Don’t listen to fear-mongering stories – Tourism is still in its infancy here meaning people are happy to see you and chat (which is why Spanish helps).
- Be aware of travel warnings – especially at border areas.
- Head out into nature, see the smaller towns, but stick to tourist areas where other backpackers are, and you’ll be fine.
I’m confident that Colombia is safe to travel alone. I know because I’ve done it and met many others who have too.
It’s not be the best place for a nervous first-time solo traveler, but if you’re smart and flexible, you’ll be better prepared for this amazing new experience and to be welcomed into a vibrant society!
Is Colombia safe for solo female travelers?
Well we’ve established that Colombia is safe for solo travelers. But when it comes to being a female solo traveler, there are always other things to consider – sad but true.
Everyone, regardless of gender, should be able to travel where they want. For that matter, a lot of women (despite audible concerns) travel to Colombia anyway.
It may not be the safest places in the world to visit for women traveling alone, but it shouldn’t be overlooked for women altogether. Many women do travel to Colombia alone, perfectly safely! Here are some things to know:
- Colombia is still a pretty macho society – Catcalls is still accepted behavior. Ignore it, walk by, and be confident. This is part of the culture and society you’re visiting and reacting won’t make your day any better.
- Dress according to the destination – Medellin = modern. Rural areas are not.
- Get a sim card – Keep in touch with people back home.
- Do your research – Are there security concerns? Is this hostel good for solo females?
- Don’t drink too much – Keep clear judgements.
- Remember: most of the violent crime you hear about is gang-related i.e. gangs attacking other gangs.
- Take taxis but DON’T hail one – Download a taxi app or get your hostel to call you one.
- Don’t leave your bag on the floor – even literally right next to you.
- Make a fuss – Shout and alert people nearby. This will likely spook any would-be thief. Ideally, get the attention of tourist police. Tourism is important for Colombia, and they want to make sure you don’t leave with any bad stories to take home with you.
- Try not to look lost – It’s a good way to look like a target.
Lastly, and most importantly, YOU CAN ALWAYS SAY NO.
Is Colombia Safe for Families?
Is it safe to go to Colombia with your kids? Maybe you’ve watched too much Narcos, but if you’re thinking this is a drug-riddled war-zone, you couldn’t be more wrong.
It’s not easy, but most definitely Colombia is safe to travel for families. For example, the UK’s advice for travel to Colombia has no overall restrictions.
All sorts of tourists are heading to check out the hidden-in-plain-sight gem that is Colombia. Everybody’s welcome and that goes for families too.
Colombia is a country on the up. The arts and literary scenes are flourishing, tourism is booming, and you’ll be happy to know that Colombian culture is family oriented. There’s you as an individual – and then there’s the family as a whole, which is usually the center of a Colombian person’s life.
On top of that, family-friendly activities and adventurous outdoor exploration abound. You can spend nights in a jungle treehouse, play around on beach havens, and trek through cloud forests, amongst other things.
Without a doubt, Colombia is safe for families to travel. Take all the usual precautions that you would when traveling with children (medication, snacks, first aid kit, etc. etc.) and you’ll all have an unforgettable time.
Getting Around Colombia Safely
Honestly, it’s not totally safe to drive in Colombia. Unless you’re a super-confident driver, it’s not worth the stress. If you’re planning on driving in Colombia, take extra precautions choosing your route.
Only take well-established routes between tourist areas. More rural areas put you at risk of being pulled over, questioned, or worse. Road conditions vary a lot.
Don’t drive at night. There are too many hidden hazards.
Traveling on public transport in Colombia is safer. Bus travel is your buddy in Colombia. Companies vary in levels of quality, so do your research.
Night buses are safe in Colombia. Though, comfort is a luxury here, especially traveling long-distance.
Colectivos (minibuses) or busetas (local buses) are used for short-distance travel. These are relatively safe AND cheap.
Other than the Medellin metro, there are no public trains in Colombia. Though there is the Turistren (yes, tourist train) between Bogota and Zipaquira. It’s safe to travel by train in Colombia this way.
When using taxis in Colombia, ONLY USE OFFICIAL TAXIS. Ask your accommodation where to find these. Illegal taxis are active and you don’t want to find out the consequences of using them.
Better yet, Uber is safe in Colombia. They’re much safer and cheaper than taxis. They also have local taxi apps which work great.
Bogota does not have a metro system. It does, however, have a good bus system called TransMilenio. Watch your belongings; crowded situations are perfect for pickpockets.
Air travel is safe and convenient in Colombia if you don’t mind the carbon footprint. Overall, and surprisingly, public transport is safe in Colombia.
Pro Safety Tip: Downloading an app called Tappsi is a good way to check taxis. You’ll know the car’s registration and driver’s ID and they’ll log the journey.
Scams in Colombia
So, unfortunately, scams do happen in Colombia and scammers target tourists. I wholeheartedly believe that most of them are not bad people: many are just less fortunate and scamming tourists is a quick fix for their situation.
Serious and violent crime is rare – express kidnappings, sexual assault, drug cartels, and murder shouldn’t scare you here, we want to avoid petty theft too. One of the best ways to avoid being scammed is to understand how they are practised. Here are some typical examples:
- The overpriced service – Ask for prices before you accept a service.
- Fake taxis – no, not that kind – actual fake taxis. Using them makes you vulnerable.
- The distraction techniques – “Look at this!”… then the pocket’s picked of unsuspecting victims. Ignore them.
- ‘Plain clothes police officers’ – These are people masquerading as police officers and after your money.
Generally, Colombias are super friendly. Sometimes it feels a bit eerie, especially in large cities. But really, most of the time they are just trying to be kind and inviting.
However, if someone is too close for comfort or it just feels weird, don’t feel bad for them to remove yourself from the situation. If someone is making you feel uncomfortable, don’t worry about making them uncomfortable. Your safety is always more important.
Getting Insured BEFORE Visiting Colombia
As soon as you know you’re heading to Colombia, prepare yourself with trusty travel insurance.
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FAQs about Staying Safe in Colombia
Here are some quick answers to common questions about safety in Colombia.
So, How Safe is Colombia?
Yes, Colombia is safe, but only if you take care.
It would be such a shame to miss out on Colombia because of scary stories that have come out of this country, based on an outdated reputation. Those days have largely passed. The incredible coffee, extremely friendly people, wild nature, epic major cities, mind-boggling landscapes and drastic beaches… how could you miss that?
Colombia still isn’t what we’d class as 100% safe. There are pickpockets, fraudulent taxis, occasional muggings, and people posing as local authorities. Be sensible, trust your gut, and monitor local media to help you avoid any danger.
Avoid anything political or security-related. Any isolated or deserted areas, you need not investigate. Respect local laws.
With this guide, you have an even safer destination. You now have a ton of travel tips with your safety in mind. Ultimately, most trips to Colombia are trouble-free, but stay clued up. With that, you’ll be less worried about potential dangers, and more interested in getting properly absorbed into this amazing country.
Remember the emergency number: 123. Get the number down of your embassy too.
Then get booking your tickets! You’ll probably find one of us here too…
Disclaimer: Safety conditions change all over the world on a daily basis. We do our best to advise but this info may already be out of date. Do your own research. Enjoy your travels!
Updated April 2023 by Laura Hall
And for transparency’s sake, please know that some of the links in our content are affiliate links. That means that if you book your accommodation, buy your gear, or sort your insurance through our link, we earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you). That said, we only link to the gear we trust and never recommend services we don’t believe are up to scratch. Again, thank you!