Travel Colombia: Is Colombia Safe?

Yes, Colombia is safe. Don’t let the Netflix series Narcos or the country’s violent past make you think this South American nation of over 50 million people is too dangerous to visit.

Colombian people are some of the friendliest you’ll come across, and their troubled past makes for a humble population who seem to appreciate living in a country with far less crime than 20 to 30+ years ago.

Genuine, Honest People

When traveling through Colombia, I encountered extremely genuine people who look out for one another. In fact, these two stories from my first day in Colombia should tell you a lot about what your experience might be like:

Immediately after arriving in the city of Buga, my travelling partner and I dropped our backpacks at the hotel and began exploring the area. It was a relatively lively town, with a lot of people at the main square.

We decided to use our Colombian money for the first time, stopping at a street vendor whose empanadas were calling our name. We asked for four (for reference, the exchange rate at the time was 10,000 Colombian pesos = $2.40 USD), and the man handed us our empanadas before we thought we heard him say “cuarenta” (40,000 pesos), a reasonable price for four empanadas (about $10). So, we handed him four 10,000 bills.

The man chuckled and took one of the 10,000 bills before handing us 6,000 in change.

He’d actually said “quatro” (4,000).

Rather than taking 10 times as much as we owed – and I honestly wouldn’t have blamed him – he saved us 36,000 pesos.

Later on, while starting a popular hike up the mountain that sat just next to the small city, a 50,000 Colombian bill ($12 USD) slipped out of my pocket, likely when pulling out my phone. I hadn’t noticed until about halfway through the hike. I figured it was gone for good – either it blew away in the wind or someone found it and it was their lucky day.

I was wrong.

About one hour later, while mesmerized at the view of the city from the top of the mountain, a man approached me and handed over the bill, asking if it was mine. He must have spotted it on the ground and seen me walking further ahead and assumed it was the clumsy gringo’s.

This is what I experienced in Colombia. Not once did I feel threatened, including while taking public transportation in Medellin, riding crowded buses in between cities, and walking through huge swaths of people in the incredibly unique Comuna Trece neighborhood of Medellin – a place I highly recommend visiting.

Areas to Avoid

Like most countries, there are parts of Colombia that are currently no-goes. Mainly around the borders – the remote areas near Panama, Ecuador, and Brazil and a more heavily populated border-region near Venezuela. However, those places aren’t necessarily prime destinations for visitors anyway. You won’t miss out by not being able to see those parts of the country.

Geographically, when people think Colombia, they think the Andes Mountains, lush greenery, and Caribbean beaches. They think of cities like Medellin, Bogota, Cali, and Cartagena.

Good news – you can explore all of these places without worrying more about your safety than you would in the average American city.

Crime Rates in Colombia Similar to Many American Cities

I don’t intend to scare readers by including the following in this article (reading about ‘homicide rates’ in an article about safety likely won’t ease your mind on first instinct), but the numbers are where the truth lies.

Here are the homicide rates per 10,000 people in four U.S. cities, with Colombia’s 2021 homicide rate included as well:

4.1 – New Orleans

3.8 – Cleveland

3.1 – Las Vegas

3.1 – Kansas City

2.7 – Colombia

I felt very secure traveling in Colombia, where the vast majority of violent crime is targeted, inter-gang-related, especially compared to the U.S. where random gun violence is at an all-time high.

Simple Tips to Ensure Your Safety While Traveling in Colombia

If walking around Medellin or Bogota, you should take all the precautions you would in any large metropolitan city in the U.S.

  • Know what neighborhood you’re in and where you’re headed.
  • Avoid neighborhoods notorious for high crime.
  • Don’t flaunt your most eye-catching jewelry.
  • Try not to walk alone at night in larger cities. The, villages, towns and small cities are typically fine.
  • When using your phone, be aware of your surroundings. I’d advise not to have it out at all when walking the streets at night, particularly in large cities.

These are five good tips that I feel are enough to keep you safe in Colombia. In reality, my largest safety concern was maybe two or three instances throughout my nine days in Colombia where I noticed someone take a glance down at my pockets, but it was never a real concern. After all, I was a tall gringo sticking out from most everyone else.

Will You Be Taken Advantage of or Scammed as a Foreigner in Colombia?

Although it depends on where you are, likely no. Being scammed is something most travelers will not have to worry about.

I mentioned to a Colombian that I hadn’t experienced any people trying to get an extra dollar out of me on my trip despite being an obvious American. He told me that taking advantage of foreigners doesn’t really exist in most of the country, especially in the inland areas including Medellin, Cali, and Bogota.

He did mention that it is very possible to happen along the more touristy areas on the coast though, particularly Cartagena, so that is something to keep in mind if you’re planning a trip to the beaches.

You may get concerned reactions, especially when telling people from a certain generation who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, that Colombia is where your next adventure awaits. While the stigma unfortunately hasn’t fully faded away, you can rest assured that – so long as you practice standard safety measures such as the ones listed above – you will feel safe and secure in Colombia.

Have questions about your travels to Colombia? Leave a comment below or reach out to me directly!

Leave a Reply