WanderingTrader

Is Colombia Dangerous? What’s it like Post Drug War?

 

The dangers in Colombia are very serious especially if you choose to ignore them.  The strides taken by the Colombian government and other parties have  been enormous in eradicating crime from city streets.  I can personally attest to the fact that Colombia is much safer in comparison to the drug war days.

While it is safer it is not 100% safe.  The drug trade is still there you just don’t see it or hear about it.  Corruption is still there you just don’t notice it.

Medellin welcome signs, pictures of medellin, medellin photos

Welcome to Medellin

There is a specific bus company in Colombia that everyone prefers to use since they have cameras recording everyone that gets on and off the bus.  They also have an additional GPS tracking feature so in the rare event that a bus is hijacked or robbed they are able to see where it is going.  What does that tell you about the security in the country?

Colombia is safe, but not United States Safe.

It is nowhere near as dangerous as other cities in Latin America (Buenos Aires for example), but you still have to take extra precautions to ensure that you do stay safe.  I don’t mean to scare you when I write about the things that have happened because in any big city things will always happen.

As recently as a month ago a friend was robbed in a taxi and roughly 3 months ago another friend was drugged and taken “for a ride”.

It’s not that these kinds of things happen every day but if you take the proper precautions then they are less likely to happen.  Colombia is becoming safer and safer by the day but there are always flare ups that will remind you that it isn’t as safe as you think.

I’ve listed a few things you want to keep in mind when traveling to the major cities in the country below:

colombia presidential complex, bogota presidents house, pictures of bogota

Picture of the Gates to the Presidential Complex in Bogota

**Warning**:  Do Not Travel near or around the coastal region of Turbo as that’s where you will find the paramilitaries and very dangerous people you don’t want to mess with.

Is Bogota dangerous:

Bogota is the most dangerous city on the tourist trail in my opinion, period.

This has been confirmed by talking to friends that have lived in Colombia for two years and experiencing the city myself.  I can tell you that Bogota is more dangerous than any other major city in the country.  Aside from being the largest city in the country by nearly double, corruption is rampant and its completely chaotic.

There have been news by ColombiaReports.com that hostels in the Candelario district have been completely taken over and robbed.  Inside job anyone? What did the police do when a girl stated she had an attempted rape in one of these hostels?  They sent her out of the country.

Some tips:

  • Be careful going out at night: only bring enough cash that you need and ID (not your passport)
  • Try to avoid the Candelario area for accommodation: there have been entire hostels that have been robbed
  • When going out at night go out in groups and never leave your drink
cali zoo, zoo in cali colombia, zoo cali colombia

The entrance to the Cali Zoo in Colombia

Is Cali dangerous:

The 2nd most dangerous city in Colombia.  The only reason I placed Bogota ahead of Cali is because Bogota is more than three times larger.  The crime rate is roughly the same and if you walk into an area you don’t want to be in, you will quickly be in a situation that you can’t get yourself out of.  A very popular reporter recently had to leave a country house near Cali, Colombia because he personally received a call from the FBI stating that there was going to be an attempt on his life.

Didn’t think kidnappings still happened in Colombia did you?

The most dangerous side of any city comes out at night.  Cali has a great advantage because it’s so much smaller and the nightlife is so big.  Many times you will be walking the streets and you will find a ton of people around you.  Make sure you use common sense and stay in groups and always watch your drink.  Only situation I had in Cali was a few run ins with taxi drivers.

A city I would recommend using extra caution is the pueblo of Popayan, ironically on the outskirts of Cali.  As stated by Adriaan of ColombiaReports.com, ” it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the country but the area around it is dodgy, so to be super safe you should take a plane”.

Cartagena, plaza de cartagena, cartagena plaza, pictures of Cartagena, Cartagena photos, main plaza cartagena, Plaza de la Aduana Cartagena

Plaza de la Aduana, Cartagena

Is Cartagena dangerous:

Cartagena may look dangerous but it’s bite is about as tough as a poodle. Don’t get me wrong if a poodle really wants to bite you it will take your arm off.  That means that if you walk away from the tourist area you’re going to find trouble.  Inside the old city walls you have nothing to worry about.  There are some areas that are dark and seem a bit off in the tourist area outside of the old city walls, but you don’t generally have to worry about any danger there.

There is a park in the center of the city that I would walk through every night that was extremely dark and there were some people trying to aggressively ask for money.  I was offered prostitutes and cocaine on the streets from very well mannered men that weren’t aggressive at all.  Just because its offered doesn’t mean it’s dangerous, keep walking from these situations and you will be fine. (Read about it here)

Is Medellin dangerous:

The lovely city of Medellin.  What can I say about this place? Its home.  I lived in Medellin for 4 months and fell in love with it.

Medellin will fool you into thinking that its safe, it’s what I call a false sense of security especially in the tourist areas.  Let your guard down and Medellin will swallow you up and spit you up faster than food poisoning everyone gets in India.  I walk around with my blackberry all the time and never had a problem.  I have been specifically trained after living in Buenos Aires to have eyes in the back of my head to make sure no one else is watching me.

In Medellin, just use common sense.  When you go out don’t leave your drink unattended.  If you are walking alone be extra mindful of your surroundings.  When you are in a taxi don’t flash your iphone and blackberry, sit behind the taxi driver instead so the taxi driver can’t see you.  You are always going to be watched especially if you look like a foreigner.

It’s a different story when someone is following you.  Pueblos around the city are safe.  Just pay extra attention and you will be alright.

49 Comments

  1. The country is in a state of war.  It will always be a dangerous place no matter how many times you hear a backpacker say “Its safe, I was there traveling and had no problems, felt safer there than I did walking down the street at home”.  Until the issues that are affecting the 50% of Paisas that are living below the poverty line are addressed in a sustainable and fair manner, the war will continue, the danger to visitors and Colombians will exist.  

    When you scrap away the surface of the cushy foreigners view on Colombia, you will see that yes it is a country full of wonderful, generous and warm people, but there are so many dark seedy shady corners where danger lurks.

    Great post man!!

    1. That is not true cities in Colombian are safe and far from the war, the problems of the country are mainly in the jungle and far from the cities, I’ve been in more dangerous places in the U.S and I have seen way more drug dealers in other countries than in Colombia

      1. Utter nonsense in the comment above. As of 2017, Colombia is by far the most dangerous country I have ever been, and I’ve been to thirty countries. People who tell you it’s safe are lying. Colombian cities like Cartagena, Medellin, have a small area where foreigners can be relatively safe, but leave that area and you will see what the real Colombia is like. Downtown Medellin for example, becomes deserted between 6-8 pm, and turns into an vicious ghetto of junkies, pimps, prostitutes, beggars and robbers. People smoking crack in front of police officers. This is in 2017, not the 80’s. I really like Colombia, but the tolerance to crime is incredible. Stay in the little tourist ghetto and yes it is safe, Colombia is not.

  2. The biggest regret I have about my trip to South America in 2010 was that I didn’t get as far north as Colombia.  Having heard backpackers rave about it and other travel bloggers basing themselves in Medelin, I won’t make the same mistake the next time I’m on the continent.

  3. I think cities like Medellin and Bogotá are just perfect. It is just like every single city in the world. There are some areas from the city you should never ever go to. I’ve lived in Medellin for 2 years and living in El Poblado, Laureles, Sabaneta and Envigado has been quite perfects sectors to live in.

  4. Hi! I’m from Colombia and i have been traveling the world the last couple of years. I know Colombia doesn’t have the best reputation.. but i can tell you too that Colombia is not what you hear everywhere. It makes me sad when people say they are not coming to Colombia because its dangerous..well i have to tell you there are places in the world more dangerous than Colombia. Every trip you take is a risk, you never know what will happen right? and when you visit Colombia or any other country you just have to use your common sense to avoid bad situations. People don’t know the gorgeous place they are missing.. and if you don’t go there, you are never going to know about it! And sure.. believe me, i don’t blame you if you don’t want to go to Colombia base of what you hear… because i have been expose to the same comments and i have been pushing my own friends to go there… (my home!) and see with their own eyes how is… and that has been difficult. I just want to encourage people to go.. to visit our wonderful country, meet locals and learn from them.. but overall i just want people to know by themselves than Colombia is a beautiful place than they shouldn’t miss 🙂

  5. when i was in medellin i walked on the streets with my ipad taking pictures and nothing ever happen. i did get looks like ” hes a foreigner” buut thats all i mean i never went to crowded places in the center of medellin bcause theres a lot of homeless and my common sense told me not the expose my ipad that way.

    1. There is a false sense of security there Daniel but you can get in trouble very quickly if you dont watch out for yourself. Most tourists stay in Poblado and dont venture out but there are places that are very dangerous that you dont want to be in

  6. Two tourists have been robbed and murdered within six days in Colombia. The first was a Spanish national in Barranquilla, and the other a young British man in Medellín.

    http://www.colombiareports.com/colombia-news/news/14757-british-man-shot-and-killed-in-medellin.html
    http://www.colombiareports.com/colombia-news/news/14680-spanish-tourist-murdered-in-barranquilla.html

    I am sorry for the deaths, but I think both were killed because they made the rookie mistake of looking rich in public. The key is to always like a bit like a bum in Colombia.

    1. Juana many people get killed around the world but tourists, especially American tourists, do not act smart then they travel overseas. An example would be the secret service scandal. Tourists go out, get drunk, and then get lost trying to get home. These are why most of these things happen

      1. I’m sorry but you can’t justify murder as being the victims fault for getting drunk and wandering slightly array. Surely this means the place is unsafe? If a slight error in judgement can lead to you being robbed or murdered or at high risk of this on a regular basis then the city is unsafe

  7. I have been travelling and living in Latinamerica for the last 5 years and can tell that Colombia is one of the safest countries in the region, plus it has the most welcoming people. Let´s think about this statement:
    – Colombia has 5 cities over 1,000.000 inhabitants. Big cities means bigger probabilities of having problems with thefh. However all the big cities are and fell saffer than other big cities of the surounding area like Quito, Guayaquil, Caracas, etc.
    – Which are the borders of Colombia? In Colombia you can only visit 1/3 of the country as the other 2/3 are no-law, guerrilla, paramilitary or jungle areas. These areas don´t have good links by roads nor are prepare for turism. That means that you won´t probably have visited them if having the option.
    – The Colombian government is spending a lot of money in security and that can be seen in almost every city or village in Colombia with many military and police presence.
    – The 1/3 touristy region is really quiet and extremely nice. You have everything that will look for in a country like this; jungle, white sandy beaches, colonial cities, party, volcanoes, archeological sites, indigenous cultures, etc, etc.
    – You cannot forget that Colombia is Latinamerica and that the wealth distribution is completely unfair. Latinamericans are not really used to see ipads, srl cameras,etc and that kind of devices can feed a poor family for months. So be a little bit smart.
    – Pros of having this problem (at least there is one positive thing for turism) is that big companies are afraid to enter Colombia and even more to enter areas not totally clean. That´s why Colombia is grenner and nicer than their neighbours.

  8. been traveling in colombia since late 70s and i can tell you yes it is dangerous but no more so than any other place. in fact the only place i have ever been robbed in all my traveling was in south carolina here in the usa. out of all my traveling over the years colombia is my favorite place to visit. it has mountains, beaches beautiful coffe country and the people areSO NICE and friendly. colombia truly has something for everyone. before you make a judgement on this place go visit yourself and you will se it is GREAT. last but not least the women from colombia are the most beautiful in the world !!

  9. You people are crazy, I have a house in Medellin and I travel there often for business, I am Latino, speak Spanish and fit in, this country has nice people but many bad people also, gangs on motorcycles follow tourist and locals also, no respect for the law or police, if a crime happens nothing is done, people yelling all night, fights, shootings. It is a standing joke how the stupid gringos come here and don’t speak Spanish and just because someone smiles at them they think they fit in even if they don’t understand what people are saying about them, a few times I had to tell stupid Americans that bad people were talking about robbing them, there are many dangers here, you people that go there to back pack around the country are like puppies in a lion’s den just waiting to get eaten. Stupid, Stupid, Stupid!!!!

    1. Joe Hi I was born in Brooklyn new York I have lived there all my life I was brought up believing everyone has a right to there own opinion. I hear what your saying and I agree with you to a point. Take me for instance I have been sheltered all my life until recently. I have done a lot of international traveling. It would be nice to know the languages of the countries that I have traveled to but I don’t. I might be a little naïve but why can’t we all just treat people with respect. I work hard to make a living as I am sure you do. Foreigners from all countries come to America to live here does that mean they should not because they are from other countries. Just to close my statement I do not totally agree with your statement

  10. I have been traveling to colombia since 2006 and have spend my years living a little in each city. I have never been robbed or molested by the ladrones , I have been in gurella and paramilitary held territories, lost in the mountian of medellin once. The only trouble i got into in colombia in my 7 pico years was with Das / women / and the natural beauty. I have been to other countries but something about colombia calls me even when i am in my office job in NYC homedepot.

    Colombia is just for me a raw fact of life I love to know and explore and enjoy . I had to get lost here for 7 years to mind myself . I will always be thankful to this country even though I am a gringo jajaja .

    I speak girngo spanish but the women were the first to protect me when i found myself in a bad situation (taxisitas ect…)

  11. LOL wow im half colombian and I used to live in bogota in the 90’s when i was 8 years old our driver wanted to kidnap me so we left right away back to spain.

    I actually have been wanting to go to back because it is such a beatiful country thinking it
    was safe now but after reading this I will stick with brasil.

  12. this article is absurd – Bogota the most dangerous place? Cali is way, way more sketchy than Bogota. and Medellin too. and when was the last time a tourist had an issue in the area around popayan? do some freaking research.

    1. Actually Gallo part of the research was brought out by one of the leading reporters in Colombia. I wouldn’t post anything if I didn’t really believe it. You can’t really get in trouble in Medellin unless you go to where the trouble it. Hostels are not getting robbed at gunpoint in Medellin or Cali. Sorry but I would not consider Medellin to be very dangerous nor Cali either.

  13. “Hostels are not getting robbed at gunpoint in Medellin or Cali. ”

    much worse things are happening in these cities. I think you’re being too subjetive / anechdotical and missing the big picture … and the reality, that Bogotá is much safer than these cities in many aspects, as stats and indexes show. medellín or cali can be safer for you but Bogota is safer for most of its inhabitants than Medellin or Cali, considering they don’t have to deal with drug cartels and other bands on a daily basis, as a lot of people in said cities does.

    1. The drug cartels and dangers are in the barrios up in the mountains. Things like that don’t happen in the main middle class neighborhoods of Medellin. Im sorry but I still disagree. Bogota and Cali are more dangerous than Medellin

  14. so you are saying that these barrios aren’t part of Medellín or Cali? or that the people in these neighbourhoods don’t matter or aren’t part of the city?

    “Bogota and Cali are more dangerous than Medellin”

    Cali yes, Bogota, no. your opinion can’t deny facts and crime stats in which Medellin scores much worse than Bogota in most aspects.

  15. Take a low profile and be a good boy…..meaning don’t use illegal substances and stay away from bad girls. Those ones are not only friends with only good people as you can guess. I knew some foreigners living in somewhat poor barrios in Medellin without having any problems.

    Remember there are lots of foreigners living and working in Colombia so things are not so bad.

  16. Yep, like any big city, the ones in Colombia can be dangerous. But put things in the proper perspective. I don’t go wandering Compton, California by taking a leisurely stroll up Crenshaw Blvd in the DAYTIME, kiddies. Got on the WRONG subway train in New York City and came up the stairs in HARLEM, only to find I was the ONLY white guy as far as the eye could see. Ever been to North Miami? LOL Take my advice, avoid it at ALL COSTS. Had lunch in Comuna 13 in Medellin, about sunset we heard gunshots and were told 3 bangers had been killed about 1/8 mile further up the mountain. Soldiers everywhere in that poor area. Nonetheless, the Colombians are arguably the friendliest people in South America, especially considering the violent history of their country. I love it there. Retiring there very soon. Roll the dice, experience the world kiddies. I live in a small town in Ohio, last week the lady who runs the donut shop was stabbed and robbed. I am not gonna stick my head in the sand, life is too damn short. Colombia is beautiful and so are the people. I can take a little danger now and then………………

  17. why don’t you write about some of the dangerous cities in the united states ,places where if you go in ,maybe you won’t come out alive, or places where you could be kill on the spot just by the color of your skin! ….maybe colombia is not so bad after all…. come here and see the real colombia ,if you do make sure you hang out in the proper places ,not the prostitution bars …

  18. my kids ,my wife and i been here for the past 4months.we have gonne to a lot of places in our (4by 4) ,and have NOT run in to any trouble at all,people are friendly and lots of nice places to see.in a few months we go back to canada with lots of great memories and pictures to share with family, friends, and few ignorant people . while traveling anywhere in the world always use common sence……….cheers!

  19. Just got back to england from colombia.
    Not once did I feel unsafe or threatened. I went to cartagena, manizales, Armenia,Periera and bogota by car. I am a 6ft tall white Englishman so I stood out.NOT ONCE did I have any problems.
    When I was getting fuel for the car,booking into hotels, going to shops or buying from street traders I was treated with respect, the people were only ever polite, helpful and always smiling.Even in the middle of nowhere when I stopped the car for whatever reason I never had any problems.
    The only problem was getting used to people being so nice and helpful. Go to a supermarket and the staff are almost falling over themselves to help you. ( the complete opposite to England).
    My advice would be to stop listening to all the doomsayers and just go there. It is a stunning place with the nicest people you will ever meet. Been to 24 countries to date (4 in Central America, 2 in the south) and colombia is the best country I have been to. Going back soon and I cannot wait.
    Was In spain last year and some asshole broke into my car and stole everything ( including my £1000 mountain bike. My own stupidity, thought it would be safe in Spain! ).
    Just go there. Just use a little bit of common sense like you would in any country.

  20. everything is relative I suppose.. you seem to think from your comment, that the USA is the ‘safest’ country on earth? Or?

    USA is relatively safe but not England,Japan, Canada or Western Europe safe. especially in certain areas of some large cities . Compare Candelaria to South Central or East L.A. or Bed-Stuy NYC ?

    Colombia may be somewhat more dangerous but certainly not Somalia or Sierra Leone – dangerous

    1. USA is relatively safe I would agree Kevin and I would say that places like Canada and Japan are way more safe than the United States. There are some places in the US where if you take the wrong turn you would be in very big trouble.

  21. My wife is from Colombia and I’ve traveled there a lot the last few years and also hope to retire somewhere there on the north coast one day.
    Colombians are some of the most genuinely nice and happy people I’ve ever met and I’ve traveled many places around the world. I think someone said something calls them back whenever they leave and I agree..its a feeling I get when I step off the plane or the sound of cumbia music and the smell of Colombia food wafting through the air that makes me feel calm and happy.

  22. When visiting Bogota, DO NOT stay in La Candelaria where most hostals are
    located. I being Colombian find it VERY IRONIC that most foreigners stay in La
    Candelaria.There are many nice neighborhoods to stay in that feel a lot safer at night. DO NOT stay in
    the center or South of the city, The center/La Candelaria is an interesting area to visit during
    the day, cultural events, bohemian, etc. I spend a lot of time there for events but it gets dodgy/sketchy
    late at night. At night, many junkies from the crime pockets start wandering into the center of the city. I often see clean-looking Colombians rushing to get out of La Candelaria late at night to avoid getting robbed while foreigners who stick-out like sore thumbs are staying there. What the hell!? As I
    mentioned, there are many nice neighborhoods to stay in. Try Airbnb, etc.
    Colombians are extremely friendly and will give you tips about places to
    visit, there are also beautiful suburban/country-side areas outside of Bogota that many Bogota-residents frequent. Go to language exchange groups and get info from locals, but don´t stay in La Candelaria. I am a local and I´m telling you this with all honesty, I´m just trying to save some face and doing what I can so that people visitng my country enjoy it, so stop staying in the dodgiest areas of the city you crazy tourists! Also, I´ve been showing foreigners around the city and taking them to gorgeous natural areas and smaller towns outside of the city as a part-time gig that is more of a hobby to me. I do this at an extremely economic rate where you get a personalized tour with me and my sister which is way, way more affordable than what a tour company would charge. I lived in the United States but returned to Colombia recently, it is definitely a country worth visiting, there are awesome places to see, it is a very diverse country and it is a shame that many people who come visit miss-out on many incredible locations and events just due to lack of information. If you would like any tips on your visit to Colombia, I´ll be glad to offer my feedback even if you´re not interested in having me show you around. I can be contacted at: ad_hhe@yahoo.com My name is Andres Duran,

  23. Haha, I’m sorry, but what do you mean by “not United States” safe? You mean that country where recently almost every month you turn on the news and there’s been a shooting in some public place like schools, movie theaters, government buildings? The place where I got robbed twice in two of its largest cities? I have lived in Bogota 2 years and I have never been robbed or felt unsafe. What is with all these “is Colombia safe?” Posts? It is safe. Like in any country you must use common sense if you are a foreigner and you must stay away from areas where you think it could be unsafe. This should be advice for any large city you visit anywhere in the world. The United States is not a safe country LOL I don’t know why Americans think that. Ridiculous

    1. Convenient to hear all the skewed media stories isn’t Laura? Did you know that in Detroit it takes police over 50 minutes to arrive after you call them? Did you also know that Chicago a person is MURDERED every 19 hours. EVERY 19 HOURS. Chicago is a way more dangerous city than Medellin will ever be and that comes from people that have grown up in Chicago and live here in Medellin.

  24. Hi My name is Dragan and I’m Serbian but My wife is Colombian… in 2,3 months I supposed to travel to Cali w/ her to settle down for an year and then to move on to Cartagena. I have no idea what to expect.
    I see them as country where are tons drugs violence and murders from whole world (not attention to insult or disrespect)
    But again according to history of P.Escobar and Hollywood movies where are all Colombia is consists of cartels and gangs. I’m very skeptic about my safety…

    Thank You very much for this post

    Best regards…

    Dragan Loncarevic

    1. It is not safe for sure, but it is possible to live if you are not walking on the streets after 20:00, even better do not walk on the streets at all, use your car or taxi. It is better to get taxi by calling taxi company ( they will give you a vehicle registration plate number, if the number is different – do not take it). After withdrawing money from ATM check that nobody follows you, withdraw money only inside the mall. Be especially careful at December – a lot of robberies going on, it does matter which neighborhood you are in. I myself was robbed once, my friend also was robbed and wounded in a knife attack (all was in Medellin Poblado) , also another guy was drugged 2 times by burundanga.
      When i was in taxi i saw a girl getting robbed on the street – it was about 16:00 very close to Santa Fe mall in Poblado Medellin – supposedly safe place . One girl i know went to the downtown in Medellin to shop (she is local), next day she was found naked without any money and things she bought – at least she was alive . All this happened in 3 years. So you have to be very careful. Again it is possible to live in Colombia, great people, great climate, just use common sense – crime exists in Colombia. Generally if Colombia had no crime – it would be a paradise. My most dangerous cities are Bogota, then Cali, then Barranquilla. Medellin is much better then any of them in all aspects.

  25. After reading this article (blog) about several Clolombian places, here is some personal insight. I would agree, Bogota is on the dangerous side for a big city. You have to wear your backpacks in front of you to protect your stuff when on buses. And, when walking through major squares or streets, there is just this feeling that you could be attacked, kind of strange, but you need eyes all over. Wish it was different, but it’s not. Cartagena is pretty mellow. They have some slums north and east , but, if you support the people in some way, they are not that bad. Santa Marta is fine. Barranquilla is fine. Been to many cities, and only had issues in Bogota. Overall, Colombia is nice place to visit, not at war, just need common sense.

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