Colombia is an untamed beauty full of wonder. Two coastlines in different oceans, the glorious Amazon rainforest, the Guajira Desert, and more, come together to form the second most biodiverse country in the world.
This incredible country is known around the world for its delicious coffee and happens to be the leading source of emeralds. Its exotic fruit and magical orchids travel around the globe.
One of the few terrible things to come out of Colombia was Pablo Escobar and his cocaine culture. Boosting drug trafficking, violence, and death, El Patron gave Colombia a notoriety that still lingers in people’s minds today.
Now, the country is cleaning up its act, having made headway toward being safer for its people and those who visit. While there is still work to be done, Colombia is becoming one of the best places to visit in South America and is definitely worth the effort.
Why Visit Colombia?
There’s a lot to love about Colombia. Beautiful, bustling cities like Bogota, Cartagena, and Medellin have their history and allure while still embodying Colombian identity.
The Coffee Triangle, rich with farms and culture, is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Tatacoa Desert is an archaeological gold mine, while Tayrona National Natural Park offers you the chance to disappear into nature or simply recline on some of the most amazing beaches in South America.
Cuidad Perdida, the Lost City are ancient ruins older than Machu Picchu. Tucked away in the jungle, these remnants of an ancient people will take you into the past. Cano Cristales, the “River of Five Colors”, is a magical riverbed that changes color between July and November.
Is Colombia Dangerous?
Colombia has had a bad reputation because of its association with drugs, organized crime, civil unrest, and terrorism. In the last few years, the government has made a real effort to clean up the country.
Diplomacy and crackdowns on drugs and organized crime have all helped make the country safer for its people. Colombia isn’t perfect yet, but it’s on the way toward being a flawless destination.
While some areas are still risky for tourists, thanks to the government’s help and helpful resources, the best parts of this country are definitely safe for you to visit.
Dangerous Areas in Colombia
Straddling the Panamanian border, the Darien Gap is a section of dense and dangerous jungle. Many migrants have died trying to cross it on their journey to the US.
Fraught with drug traffickers, smugglers, rebels, and hostile tribes, this wild section of the country is a no-go for tourists. There is a high risk of violent crime, kidnapping, and terrorism here.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the jungle is teeming with venomous snakes and spiders. Alligators and spiked Chunga palms are ready to take chunks out of you, too.
This bustling city happens to be Colombia’s most vital port. Its position and natural resources have led to investments in Buenaventura to expand the port and its industries.
The city is a juxtaposition of beauty and terror. Beautiful beaches, architecture, and wonderful locals are all blurred by the exceeding violence, terrorism, unrest, and trafficking. The city is plagued with violent crime, gang wars, and enterprises.
There is a heavy military presence here due to authorities’ efforts to make the city secure. There are safer areas, but the chance of encountering trouble, even by mistake, is high. If you do choose to visit, practice extreme caution.
Is it Safe to Live in Colombia?
While the legacy of Pablo Escobar still casts a shadow over this country, the narrative is changing. Colombia is improving all the time, which is good news for both its citizens and visitors.
Peace deals and better international relations with the paramilitary group FARC, have had success in securing Colombia’s future. Increased police and military presence in problem areas help to curb the drug and human trade.
Now it’s safe to live here if you pick the right places. Most major cities are the best places to live in Colombia, offering modern amenities and exciting activities. If you do your homework, you’ll be able to make Colombia your home safely.
Safe Areas/Cities in Colombia
The city of Eternal Spring, Medellin, is a cosmopolitan hotspot. Once one of the most dangerous cities in the world and the home of Escobar, it has turned itself around to become one of the safest and most developed cities in Colombia.
Teeming with museums, parks, and stunning architecture, this city will keep you busy. Showcasing a variety of food, from rustic traditional to high-end gastronomic feasts, you’ll find it all.
Hidden in the lush Aburra Valley, the climate is pleasantly warm all year round. This enables tourists to comfortably marvel at the beautiful landscapes and gorgeous flowers this city is famous for.
Hidden in the Coffee Triangle, this tiny town is a wealth of historical charm and delicious eats, all in a quiet, verdant setting. Its remote location means it is very secure for tourists.
The Corco Valley is one of the most beautiful landscapes in the country, drawing visitors to horse ride and hike through its hills. There are also incredible jeep tours for those who want a faster ride.
Salento is famous for its coffee farms. The Arabica beans grown here are world-renowned. You can visit a farm or relax in one of the many cafes here over a cup of the fragrant brew.
Colombia’s sprawling capital is a mix of nature and new that reaches new heights, literally. This city is one of the highest cities in South America.
Bogota is a decoupage of different people, food, and culture, bringing you all the best things of Colombia. See Colombia’s historical heart at the many plazas, museums, parks, and holy sites in this city. The best food in the country can be found here, as well as a lively nightlife and shopping scene.
Tip: Take a private city tour of Monserrate, Gold, and Botero to make sure you see everything on offer here.
Warnings & Dangers in Colombia
Any trip can be risky if you don’t plan well and practice safe behavior. Colombia can be a wonderful and safe trip if you know what you’re in for.
Colombia’s drug problem has greatly diminished since its Narcos days, and crime is slowly reducing. There are still petty crimes and incidences of violence, terrorism, and kidnapping in some areas.
Because of the climate, there is a risk for vector-borne diseases like malaria, Zika, Dengue, and Chikungunya. Make sure you’re vaccinated for hepatitis A and B as well as Yellow Fever and Tetanus. Keep mosquito repellents on hand; you never know when those buzzing pests will strike.
Overall Travel Risk (6/10)
Crime used to be a significant issue and is still very present in Colombia. However, it’s perfectly safe for you to be in many areas. Petty crime is widespread, but violence is limited to certain parts of the country.
Organized crime pushes drugs, arms, and human trafficking. There are also armed groups who used to wreak havoc in this country, but the government has worked hard to bring this problem to heel.
Natural disasters are present here. Hurricane season runs from May to November, and there is a risk of heavy rainfall, which can result in landslides and flooding.
Colombia is also in an active volcanic zone, with at least one active volcano. It is also very earthquake-prone and exposed to tsunamis.
While crime has greatly lessened in Colombia, it’s not gone completely. Sticky-fingered thieves and sketchy gangsters still frequent some neighborhoods, robbing and terrorizing people.
Cases of assault, spiking of drinks, and kidnappings have taken root in some places, especially in gang turf.
Locals will advise you not to make yourself a target by blending in and not showing anything they would find appealing. If you are robbed, give up whatever they ask for. Fighting over your wallet could become a fight for your life. Avoid being alone, especially at night, and stick to populated areas.
Militant rebel groups in Colombia have been trying to take control for years. The National Liberation Army(ELN), the Gulf Clan, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia(FARC) have battled with authorities many times over the years.
These groups have committed acts of terrorism throughout the country. Bombings, attacks against civilians and infrastructure, kidnapping, and wars with military and police forces are all part of their repertoire.
The situation is improving, though. The government has brokered a peace deal with the FARC, which is still being implemented but is undoubtedly going in the right direction toward better security for Colombians.
Armed Gangs and Cartels
The Bandidas Criminales (BACRIM), as referred to by the government, are a group of gangs operating in Colombia. Each is independent, often creating allies or enemies amongst themselves.
These gangs are involved in drugs, extortion, kidnapping, and robbery. They are also the cause of a large part of the country’s violence, seeking to control the communities they operate in by recruiting children and bullying local leaders.
Their violence often spills over into civilian lives and causes harm. It is in your best interest to stay as far away from them and their areas of influence as you can.
Natural disasters are an occasional issue in Colombia. The country sits within the ring of fire, with Mount Ruiz being active again. It last erupted in the 80’s, causing severe damage.
Hurricanes plague Colombia between May and November. The area is also prone to heavy rainfall. These can cause flooding, landslides, and mudslides.
Colombia is at risk for earthquakes, with fault lines crossing multiple areas of the landscape. It is one of the most earthquake-prone countries in South America.
Keep updated on news and weather updates, and ensure you are familiar with safety procedures and responses during a natural disaster.
Tips for Staying Safe in Colombia
Here are our top tips to keep you safe in this beautiful country:
- “No dar papaya”. The common phrase “don’t give papaya” means not to give anyone a reason to target you. Don’t wear flashy things or call attention to yourself.
- Rideshare apps are illegal but are still used. The trick is to sit in front as if you’re riding with a friend.
- Never hail a taxi from the street. You never know who you’re getting into a car with. Use booked private taxis and shuttles for hotels.
- Don’t accept anything from strangers. Robberies and assaults can happen if you consume spiked food, drinks, cigarettes, or chewing gum. Be very careful, as you can get dosed with aerosol spray or paper leaflets.
- Learn some Spanish. English is not widely spoken in Colombia. It’s a good idea to learn some Spanish travel phrases to help you on your trip.
Is Colombia Safe? | Frequently Asked Questions
Is the Water Safe to Drink?
Colombia has safe drinking water for both locals and visitors. If you’re staying at a hotel, feel free to use the water from the tap.
However, this only holds for urban areas. Rural areas may not be safe to drink. A good strategy is to ask the locals if the water is safe to drink where you are or just carry purification tablets or a portable instant filter bottle with you.
Is It Safe to Use My Credit Card in Colombia?
Mostly, yes, but it’s a good idea to have cash as well. In major cities, you should be able to use your credit card easily, but carry some money for taxis, tips, small shops, or the odd snack. The less developed areas may not take cards either.
Only carry what you need. Only use ATMs during the day and in secure areas like banks, malls, or hotels, so you know they haven’t been tampered with.
Do I Have to Tip?
While it isn’t compulsory, it’s always good to reward good service, which is usually what you get in Colombia.
The standard 10% is a good way to go for restaurants. Some places will include a tip in your bill, but if you feel inclined, you can give more or less than stipulated. Don’t forget about service in your hotel rooms, porters, bellhops, taxi drivers, and other service-related employees. It’s always appreciated!
What Food and Drinks Should I Try in Colombia?
Colombian cuisine is both diverse and delicious. You won’t run out of things to try, and you’ll have some favorites.
Arepas, Bandeja Paisa (beans, rice, meat, avocados, eggs, bacon, and sausage), Empanadas, Tamales, and Sancocho, which is a traditional soup, are all must-haves when you want to try local food. Indulge in the amazing coffee as well as the exotic fruits like Gulupa and fruit juices that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.