This is the first question on many travellers’ minds when considering a trip to Colombia. First and foremost, the security situation in Colombia has improved markedly over the last 10 years and the country is no longer deserving of its reputation. Alas reputations die hard, and you may find that your friends and family say “what?” when you tell them that you are thinking of coming to Colombia.
The military have succeeded in pushing FARC guerillas back into the most remote forests making the cities, most of the countryside and all the main trunk roads safe. The right wing paramilitary groups have laid down their weapons and now only exist in very small pockets in border regions far from tourist destinations.
Colombia is safer now than it has been during the last 60 years and you can commence your visit with an easy mind. Let the warmth and friendliness of the Colombian people turn their country’s reputation on its head.
Situation on the main roads
The police have a strong presence on all major trunk routes throughout the country, they may board your coach and undertake some security checks. Do not worry, you will always be treated with courtesy as a tourist, not to mention you may even have an opportunity to shoot a souvenir photo of yourself with Colombia’s armed military. Colombians are always keen to chat to tourists.
In cities you will no doubt notice that the driving standards fall way below those of European and North American cities. Take extreme caution when crossing the roads, even on designated crossings. Road traffic accidents are common in Colombia and although Colombia is often perceived as being dangerous for “other reasons,” probably the greatest danger that you will encounter is the risk of a road traffic accident.
One of the things you will notice in Colombia is the huge disparity between social stratas, especially in large cities such as Bogotá, Cartagena, Medellín and Cali. Because of this there is a degree of street crime. Normal large city precautions apply, be vigiliant in Colombia as you would be in London, Atlanta, Paris or any other large city. Do not show off expensive jewellery, cameras or cash. Be aware in busy areas as there may be pickpockets.
The principle of “safety in numbers” applies in Colombia as it does in any other country in the world. Stick to busy areas with lots of other people.
Most restaurants and bars in Colombia are safe, friendly & happy places. Colombians are peaceful and fun-loving people not renowned for their willingness to engage in bar brawls. Do not start arguments in bars, please leave any macho attitude that you have at home.
Do not leave your drinks or personal possessions unattended in a bar
In terms of tourism, Colombia has been in the dark for 60 years. It is perfectly normal for Colombians to come up to you, ask you where you are from, take an interest in you, want to chat to you and generally be friendly.
In Colombia you are far more likely to be scammed by “your own” than by a Colombian. We have seen the same Italian walking around La Candelaria for 5 years pretending to have lost his documents and needing cash to reach the Italian Embassy. Likewise the same American approaches tourists on Bogotá’s Avenida 19 claiming to need money because he lost 50,000 pesos on a buseta.
Such people don’t present a threat to you but make a living dishonestly by hoping to profit from your sympathy and empathy as another foreigner in Colombia.
Beware Europeans and North Americans that have incredible business ideas and all they need is your capital. If it were such a great idea then they would already have people tripping over themselves to fund their projects.
Occasionally someone claiming to be a Venezuelan tourist will approach you in a public space. If anyone introduces themselves as Venezuelan then simply walk away. We have nothing against the Venezuelans but such an approach is almost always the precursor to a “money checking scam” and a bogus policeman will arrive to relieve you of the contents of your wallet.
Obey the local laws
Easily the most dangerous places in Colombia are the prisons. Colombia has strict laws concerning the use and possession of drugs, the trafficking of children and sexual relations with minors. If you are thinking of coming to Colombia to engage in illegal or immoral activities then The Colombian Way politely requests that you stay where you are and do not visit Colombia.
Use of taxis
You can easily move around Colombian cities in taxis which are regulated, have meters so there is no haggling over prices, and are generally safe. All legitimate taxis have a technical sheet with a photograph of the driver and the technical revision history of the vehicle.
At night time for additional safety you may wish for your hotel to book your taxi for you from one of the established major taxi operating companies. Be aware that there are small surcharges added to taxi fares for a booked pick-up, public holidays and after 8pm at night.
Help and advice
On our references page, you can find reports from people that have travelled through Colombia with The Colombian Way. Advice is free, any questions you have before or during your visit we will be happy to answer. You can also follow our Facebook page and our blog for the latest news. We also recommend you check the travel advice pages of your own government.
Important phone numbers:
- Policia Nacional– 112
- General Emergency number (police, ambulance)– 123
- Gaula (special unit against kidnapping)– 147 and 165
- Cruz Roja (Red Cross) – 132
- Bomberos (Fire)– 119
- Policia Transito (responsible for the roads) – # 767