Is it safe to visit Colombia or will you be kidnapped?
More and more people are traveling to Colombia, and yet we hear a lot of scary stories. It’s normal to wonder.
Yes, it is safe to travel to Colombia. But like in many South American countries, there are some common-sense rules to follow.
When I arrived in Colombia in 2015, I was terrified. Then I fell in love with the country. I learned a lot from my mistakes. Through this guide, you will be able to:
- Reassured your relatives and gave them a clear explanation of the situation in Colombia
- Learn from my experience to avoid trouble and travel more smoothly
Let’s go amigo!
👉 You want to know more about Colombia ? Answer your questions about safety, budget, accommodations and transportation? Find where to travel and book the best experiences? Read our Colombia Travel tips.
Make the best decisions for your trip to Colombia
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Coronavirus in Colombia
There are no more restrictions to enter Colombia concerning COVID-19. Another great tool is this one.
Getting into Colombia
- Fill out your Check Mig: This is an online form that you must fill out 48 hours to 1 hour before flying. It is mandatory.
Once inside Colombia
- No more protocols.
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Why Colombia is safe in 2023
I won’t tell you that Colombia is an all-happy and lovey-dovey world. Let’s have a closer look at the actual situation to decide if Colombia is dangerous for tourism or not.
1# Drug lords have less power
Nowadays, there is still an important drug issue in Colombia (it’s also the case for every country on earth). However, drug empires like the Cartel de Medellin or de Cali have been disbanded. And no future drug organization will be able to face the actual government. Paramilitaries and illegal groups are hidden in remote areas (far from the tourist areas) to continue their drug business.
However, there is still a lot of corruption.
2# Colombia Peace Agreement
In December 2016, the government signed a peace agreement with the FARC. Those have laid down arms, and they are authorized to create a political party.
There are still some rebels scattered in the deepest corners of Colombia, but they focus on specific areas far away from the military presence.
Some minor negotiations are still going on with the ELN.
None of the illegal armed groups are active in the entire national territory. They covered specific areas considered strategic for cocaine production and trafficking abroad (borders).
In other words, they are in places where nobody wants to go. Don’t travel along the borders (Except Capurgana, Sapzurro, and Leticia). Here is the simple rule of thumb:
If there is a tourist attraction (for Colombians or foreigners), you can move there without any concern. Otherwise, don’t. Why would you like to get there anyway?
Source: Gov UK
3# A strong military presence
I know it can be scary to arrive in a country where militaries are very present. You’re immediately thinking Oh.. It has to be dangerous here.
But it’s actually quite the opposite.
For a short period of time (1995 – 2003), many roads were controlled by FARC. Colombians and foreigners had to take flights if they wanted to move around in the country.
After 2003, the government (with the help of the United States) declared war on the illegal armed groups and secured the roads in Colombia.
Nowadays, Militaries are usually there to reassure inhabitants and foreigners. Don’t hesitate to speak with them if you’re looking for information. Don’t be scared 😉
Also, it’s totally safe to take night buses to travel to Colombia. Don’t hesitate to use them. It’s the optimal way to explore the country for tourists.
4# Colombia becomes trendy
The number of visits went from 1 000 000 in 2007 to more than 3 000 000 in 2017, and for the last three years, Colombia’s tourism growth is superior by 10%.
Everyone in Colombia is aware that tourism will play an essential role in the growth of their economy and the stability of their country. Also, it creates job opportunities where it would be hard to live otherwise.
Because of that, the government cares a lot about its safety reputation on an international scale. I’m not saying you will be protected against any petty theft. But nobody will jump on you to put you in the trunk of his car.
I asked the question Did you enjoy your trip to Colombia through an anonymous survey.
I’ve got 44 YES and 1 NO. I think you might agree that it’s hard to do better 😉
Thanks to all the information above, I personally consider Colombia safe to travel to.
Why is Colombia NOT safe in 2023
Ok, we have proved that you won’t be killed by an AK-47 or kidnapped by a bearded man under cocaine. Unfortunately, there are still many points to improve in Colombia. Here are some important points to know about Colombia’s security concerns:
- Some Colombians are very creative in setting up scams. You have to be on your guard.
- Prostitution is legal, and it is easy to get cocaine in tourist places. Many tourists visit Colombia for the wrong reasons.
- The current government does not respect its commitments to illegal armed groups. There are tensions in isolated areas.
- There are important strikes because the Colombian people want a change.
- Social leaders are being assassinated by armed groups, drug traffickers, or corrupt politicians. These are areas where there is no military presence.
Don’t be scared. I will now explain to you how to travel safely in Colombia. You will see, it’s simple.
Our Colombia safety advice
If you travel to South America, your iPhone —I know you love it more than your boyfriend— is worth more than 4 times the minimum monthly wage.
Petty thefts are the main problem in South America, and the best way to avoid them is to No Dar Papaya. It’s a Colombian saying which means Don’t give them the opportunity. In other words, play low profile.
Unfortunately, it can happen to everyone, even if you take all the precautions. So, don’t come without travel insurance.
If you are a digital nomad, then you are going to LOVE Safetywing. They offer practical and affordable travel insurance.
1# Be more cautious in major cities
There is a large social gap between poor and rich people in major cities like Medellin and Bogota. According to their wealth, inhabitants live in different Estratos (from 1 to 6), 6 being the best. And the level of safety differs a lot between these areas.
So, yes, you can live and enjoy the biggest cities in Colombia. However, you have to be more vigilant.
👉 Discover our favorite Colombian cities.
2# Take a taxi/Uber at night
When the party is over, don’t try to walk back to your hotel. You might cross an unsafe district without knowing it – Invisible borders. And I don’t think you want to be alone in a dark alley at 4 am.
Taxis are cheap. Use them.
3# Be careful with your phone
During the day, don’t be scared to take pictures if you see that other people are doing the same. But once the job is done, put it back in your bag or your FRONT pocket.
4# Don’t go out with your credit card and gold watch
At night, let your valuables in your room and bring some cash instead of your credit card. If by misfortune someone wants to rob you, you will lose Colombian Pesos only.
Also, don’t use ATM at night.
5# Carry a photocopy of your passport
A photocopy is sufficient in the case of police control. It is even better if you can photocopy your entry stamp. You will need it to get to nightclubs.
6# Don’t let your glass unattended
There is a drug called Scopolamine, or Devil’s breath, that turns you into an obedient zombie. You will give your credit card number and your phone and you won’t remember anything. It’s pretty scary.
7# Be careful with hot girls in luxury clubs
It can be a hooker. Moreover, some of them steal from their clients after sex. Don’t hesitate to ask her about her work. This will keep you out of trouble. Do it politely so you don’t get slapped. Prostitutes rarely speak English well.
8# Fake Tinder profiles
Scammers love to hunt down horny men on Tinder. If you see more of her body than her face in the photo, it’s probably a trap. Always meet in a public place.
9# Don’t hail a taxi at night
Use Beat or Uber instead of a taxi after a party. They will pick you up in front of the club, and they already know your address. You don’t have to communicate in drunk Spanish. It will be easier. Moreover, some scrupulous fake taxi drivers can try to rob you, especially if you’re drunk. Learn about Secuestro Expresso.
10# Official cab service
In the airports, there are counters where you can ask for a cab. Give your address and they will assign you a cab. These are the official prices.
11# Keep your valuables in your little bag
Whether you take a cab, bus, or plane, always keep your valuable belongings (passport, camera, computer) with you. Don’t put it in the trunk, under your seat, or over your head.
12# Lower the withdrawal/payment limits of your credit card
Only a few banks let you do that. And it’s too bad because it’s great!
If you’ve got a mobile bank like N26, you can change the different limits of your credit card in 5 sec. Therefore, thieves can’t make a huge withdrawal in case of robbery.
13# In case of robbery
Do not resist. If you want to play it smart, hide your money in a belt and keep just a few bills in your wallet. That’s what you’ll give if you’re robbed.
14# Scams to avoid
Some scrupulous Colombians have an incredible imagination to find ways to rob tourists. Be aware of their tricks, and you will travel safer in Colombia.
- They use Scopolamine to drug you and turn you into a nice zombie.
- A fake policeman officer asks you to check your bills and gives you a receipt in exchange.
- A true Policeman officer finds drugs on you and asks for a bribe.
- A fake taxi driver sequesters you with his friends, and they drive you to a different ATM to empty your bank account (Bogota).
- They exchange your real bill with a fake one while they look for change.
- A hot girl comes back with you to your apartment and calls her friends to rob you. Work also with Tinder.
- The classical Gringo tax if you don’t ask for the price before buying anything.
- Skilled Pick-Pocket. Don’t put stuff in your back pockets.
- They give you back the wrong change – Sometimes, it’s an honest mistake.
15# Don’t be a flashy Gringo
No need to dye your head if you have blonde hair. But avoid wearing shorts, tank tops, and flip-flops in the big cities (except on the coast).
If you are lost, don’t take out an A3 map on the street while walking. You can ask Colombians for directions. They are friendly and love to help —even if they sometimes give you the wrong directions.
Is Colombia safe for … Q&A
Now you must be a little worried. That’s fine. My goal is to put you on your guard.
Now, you don’t have to become paranoid. In five years, I’ve only had one phone stolen. This is not a good feeling. But you get over it.
Do you still have questions? You don’t know yet if it is safe to visit Colombia?
This section may answer your doubts.
Is Colombia safe for Solo Travelers?
I traveled for many months alone in Colombia, and it went very well. You can easily meet other travelers in hostels and Couchsurfing meetings. Yes, Colombia is safe for solo travelers.
Is Colombia safe for Solo Female Travelers?
I met many women traveling alone in Colombia, especially from France and Germany. Yes, female travelers need to be more on guard because some men are idiots. You'll get whistled at in the street.
Colombians have a macho culture, but it's in the way that they don't do much at home.
However, they always act like gentlemen when talking to a girl (from my experience). Don't be shocked if they ask you to dance. This is part of Colombian culture. Both women and men are tactile.
In short, yes, a solo female traveler can visit Colombia.
Is Colombia safe for families?
There are many amusement parks for children. Choose towns and nature to avoid the chaos of the major cities. Also, Colombians love to travel with their families too. Yes, Colombia is a safe country for families. They'll have a great time there!
Are Colombian taxis safe?
Apart from Bogota, you will usually pay a fair price. In major cities, they've got the taximeter. If it's not the case, ask for the price before getting in.
In Bogota, they use a taximeter with points. Then, they need to convert them into COP. Tell them to press the button to get the price in pesos.
At night, in large cities, it's safer than you order a taxi from an App like Easytaxi or ask restaurants/hotels to call one.
Is public transportation in Colombia safe?
Yes, it's safe to use public transportation in Colombia. Still, avoid using them in the evening after 9 pm.
Night buses are the best way to travel through the country, and the roads are safe. However, many drivers believe they are the new Mickael Schumacher. It can be a bit scary at first.
Can I use UBER in Colombia?
Yes, you can use Uber or Beat in Colombia.
These two applications are considered illegal, but everyone uses them. The driver will ask you to sit in the front seat to make it look like you are buddies. If there is a control, you will have to take another taxi. No fine.
I don't recommend it to go to the airport because you can miss your plane in case of police control.
They have a bad relationship with cab drivers. Avoid giving him an appointment in front of them.
Is it safe to drive in Colombia?
Colombians drive fast and without respecting traffic. You have to accept this chaos in order to navigate the streets of the major cities. Rent a car at the airport outside the city. It will be easier in the countryside.
There have always been problems on the roads (illegal roadblocks, bad conditions). Stay in the tourist areas and don't drive at night.
It can be a good idea to rent a car in the coffee area, in Antioquia, Boyaca, or around Bogotá.
Is it safe to travel to Colombia's countryside?
Except in Taganga, I've never felt unsafe in the countryside of Colombia while traveling alone. Most of the time, the inhabitants were joyful and curious to know more about me.
Everyone knows everyone, and there are fewer occasions for tourists to be drunk in the streets. Don't be scared to travel out of the traditional gringo trail and visit places like Capurgana or Jardin.
As I said previously, you should avoid traveling to places where nobody goes.
Is Medellin Safe to travel for tourists?
In my opinion, Medellin is one of the safest big cities in Colombia. Travelers like to go out in El Poblado or Laureles district. And many ex-pats live in Envigado.
I wouldn't recommend hanging out near the center at night. Take a cab if you need to get there.
Because many foreigners like to spend their money in expensive bars of Poblado, there are more problems with drugs, hookers, and Scopolamine. However, it's safe to walk around as long as the clubs are open.
Also, don't hesitate to use the metro – Exception maybe for the last ones.
Don't give Papaya, and you should be able to travel safely in Medellin.
Is Bogota Safe to travel for tourists?
Bogota is also safe to visit, but some district areas are dodgy at night.
La Candelaria is the old city center of Bogota. During the day, many students and officials walk through the streets. But after 9 pm, most of the restaurants close, and the streets become empty and badly lit.
Moreover, there are many poor districts around la Candelaria. Be always on your guard for petty thefts.
Above Avenida El Dorado, there are wealthier districts.
Here is a list of the safest ones if you wanna look for accommodations in Bogota.
+ Chapinero Alto
+ Zona G
+ Quinta Camacho
+ El Retiro
+ Zona T (Zona rosa) – It's the party district. You can safely walk around at night but take a uber when you go back home.
+ Chico Norte
Is Cali Safe to travel for tourists?
Cali has a bad safety reputation among travelers, especially at night.
The city is poorer than its sibling, but it's not a reason to avoid it.
Avoid the east side of Cali and book your accommodations in one of the following districts: San Antonio, San Fernando (Parque del Perro), Granada (Zona Rosa – Party district), or El Peñon.
You won't get into any trouble once you're in clubs. The most interesting within the city of Cali is the nightlife. Learn Salsa!
Note: There are many hostels and backpackers in San Antonio. It attracts thieves. Be careful at night after 10 pm.
Is Cartagena Safe to travel for tourists?
You don't have to walk large distances when staying in Cartagena as all the interesting sights are nearby.
The old city center is a safe area, and Getsemani is the “party graffiti district” where travelers like to hang out at night. Be a bit cautious after 10 pm as the area around Getsemani isn't 100% safe.
Boca Grande is also another wealthy and safe district where you can wander without any worries during the day. But I found this area pretty useless.
Find out all our Cartagena Safety Tips.
Is Santa Marta Safe to travel for tourists?
I'm not a big fan of the atmosphere in Santa Marta. It's fine to walk in the city center during the day, but I recommend taking a cab at night. Also, don't venture too far from Parque Los Novios.
Can you eat Colombian Street Food?
Yes! Don't hesitate to try the street food! However, as in every country, avoid stands where the meat doesn't look fresh – or surrounded by flies.
Travelers with sensitive stomachs may need a few days to adjust.
Can you drink tap water?
You can drink tap water in the biggest cities apart maybe from Cartagena and Santa Marta. I also never had problems eating fruits and vegetables or drinking delicious juices.
Can you consume drugs in Colombia?
No, you can't. If a policeman catches you with drugs, he can expulse you from Colombia. Although he would probably ask for a bribe.
Don't use or ask for cocaine in Colombia – or any other part of the world. This white shite powder brought enough blood to the hands of the consumers.
Countries like Colombia suffer from the vices of wealthier countries. Be smarter than that.
Watch this video to better understand why cocaine is a scourge for Colombia.
A bit of Colombia History
No, you can’t. If a policeman catches you with drugs, he can expulse you from Colombia. Although he would probably ask for a bribe.
I don’t have problems with weed, Mdma, or LSD. But don’t do cocaine in Colombia – or any other parts of the world. This white shite powder brought enough blood to the hands of the consumers.
Countries like Colombia suffer from the vices of wealthier countries. Be smarter than that. Watch the video below to get a better understanding of the situation.
In this last section, I want to help you reassure your loved ones.
You will be able to understand why Colombia was such a dangerous country.
1# Colombia was not safe in the ’90s
Since its creation, the republic of Colombia didn’t enjoy much of an economic stability environment. There have been many conflicts between the Liberal and the Conservative parties. The rivalry was so tense that Colombia experienced ten years of the civil war called “Violencia” between 1948 and 1958.
Then, because of many problems of corruption and social inequalities, extreme left wings like M-19, FARC, and ELN took up arms to protest against the government during the ’70s.
Simultaneously, Pablo Escobar started his cocaine venture in the jungle.
You can understand why it was totally fucked up.
Also, you have to realize we were in the ’80s. There was still the Cold War between the United States and the URSS to compete for who had the biggest one. And Americans were hunting communists like the Salem witches. They didn’t want to let Colombia into the hands of the RED.
With their help, the Colombian government armed paramilitaries to attack the communists.
Then Pablo became a bomb addict to protest against the extradition. And he was also fighting with the Cartel de Cali to maintain his Cocaine business.
Yes, Colombia was a big mess.
2# Everyone was fighting against everyone
And as you can see in the diagram above, everyone was fighting with everyone. Colombia wasn’t safe to travel in the ’80s
Then Pablo died in 1993. It didn’t improve the situation in Colombia, but at least the bombs stopped. However, the commerce of Cocaine and Diamonds was (and still is) too lucrative. Drug Cartels, paramilitaries, and left wings weren’t willing to stop.
But the situation improved progressively since the early 2000s thanks to an important military presence, many government actions, and the Colombian people’s will. It’s now safe to travel to Colombia.
In 2023, it’s safe to travel to Colombia
The situation in Colombia has changed a lot in the last 20 years. Efforts are made to increase the dialogue with the last illegal armed groups and improve the country’s stability.
Thanks to viral word of mouth from travelers, Colombia becomes more and more trendy since 2007 (from 1 000 0000 to 3 500 000). It brings new income for Colombian families in remote areas.
I know it takes time for people to change their opinion about any societal subject. But I have good hope they realize soon that Colombia is changing.
Still, there are many things to improve in the country. And, like any country in South America, you should be more cautious.
In the end, most of the problems happen to tourists who look for drugs, hookers, or who are too drunk to walk straight.
Don’t give papaya, and everything will be fine 😉
Is it safe to travel to Colombia in 2023? I say: YES. And you, what’s your feeling about it?
The 8 best experiences you shouldn’t miss
The best tours from Leticia (Colombian Amazon)
The best La Guajira Tours (biggest Colombian desert)
Visit Caño Cristales (the most beautiful river worldwide)
Explore San José del Guaviare (an off-the-beaten-path destination)
1 or 2-day rafting trips around Medellín
Breathtaking treks in Los Nevados National Park
Are Americans allowed to visit now !?
Yes, there are flights to Colombia! However, you won’t be able to dance salsa or visit a National Park (still closed until further notice).
Is an old iPhone safe to take? Like an iPhone 5 or 6/6s? They are about the same price used on eBay as cheap new android phones so my loss wouldn’t be any different, but is having any iPhone a much bigger risk?
No, don’t worry. Actually, many Colombians also have an iPhone. The general idea is to keep it in your front pocket (never the back pocket) and be cautious when you use it in big cities. 🙂
Good article, but a PCR test alone will get you sent out of the country. I know from experience. 🙂
Hi Shane, Thanks for passing by. Could you tell us more about your experience? Do you mean that a PCR test wasn’t enough to enter Colombia?
I’ve traveled a lot of the world and in every country there’s an “avoid this place.” Usually, it’s really overblown and I’ve never had a problem…. in Columbia this place to avoid seems to be CALI… is it really that bad and should I avoid it in Dec 2022?
Hi Lance. Personally, I love Cali. However, it is true that it is a city that you can avoid if you don’t like to dance salsa. The city has no real tourist interest (except for the surrounding nature)