Safety in Colombia...
How safe is traveling in Colombia?
While I was was traveling across the country to cross land border with Ecuador (probably one of the most dangerous traveling itinerary fpor this part of the world), I gathered plenty information on safety level from local people, taxi drivers and backpackers’ experience. You’ll find some realistic stories in this article about unpleasant side of traveling in Colombia. But what I want to say here is that a lot has improved in Colombia over last few years. It’s much safer now to travel freely throughout the country.
Safe traveling in Colombia depends strictly on a region
Is it safe to travel around Colombia? This questions is in everyone’s mind who’s planning to travel across any country in South America. That was my concern as well…
Everyone who traveled actross Asia might have a totally different view about the world after friendly and totally safe Asian environment. So what people do first before traveling is checking government websites and travel advise. Gosshh, I haven’t seen so many travel warnings since a long time.
Polish, US and UK government websites clearly stated that travel across Colombia is not advised. I’m going to give you an example why you should not always follow government websites directions.
While I was traveling across south-east Asia I was planning to fly to Philipines at some stage. I went online to search for a travel advice and guess what – alerts and warnings on Polish websites to avoid traveling to Philipines due to increased terrorist risk. Ok, so I didn’t fly. Over the next couple of weeks I met a lot of backpackers flying back from Philipines and said nothing has been going on there. They traveled the country and said there was a very small case that raised people attention around safety but the scale was so small that it had no impact on the general safety.
Generally Colombia is safe but you just have to be more careful while traveling between regions/cities. It’s very likely you’ll get robbed at some stage. It’s very common! I’d say 50% of people we met in Colombia were robbed, including us in Ecuador. But what’s positive they will steal your wallet or small belongings, but they won’t hurt you. So don’t overthink, as it’s just money! As far as they won’t do you harm it is something you can survive in one piece.
Pickpocketing in Colombia
Traveling Colombia you must remember the biggest risk is that you could stay without your money, phone or your bellongins. Try to keep your cards separate from your wallet, or at least in two different places.
Always keep 50-100$ separately in your luggage together with 2x copies of your passport. I saw few girls keeping them in socks while weraing shoes, which is a quite smart idea.
In case you are robbed you will always have small money for a taxi or to live the next 3-4 days. We were robbed in a public bus in Quito (Equador). They are magicians! You won’t even have a clue when and how it happens! They will get your wallet whenever you have it and you won’t even notice.
Avoid night buses!
Rule No. 1 of safe traveling in Colombia – You should absolutely avoid night buses especially on certain routs in south of the country! The buses still get highjacked nowadays! And it’s not a joke.
Night buses are still regularly highjacked on routes: Pappayan – Pasto and Cali – Pasto. Check flights instead. Maybe they are not too cheap, but think what’s better, staying safe or get into troubles.
We bought tickets couple days before the flight and they were 100 Euro/each. I guess they are much cheaper if you book in advance. I remember checking flight between Bogota and Catagena two months in advance and it was only 40 Euro/per person.
Day buses on these routs are safer but there’s always a risk of highjacking. Although nowadays it happens very rarely at daytime. Two years ago it was still highly dangerous to travel even during a day, but a lot has changed over last few years.
The best source of information are local preople and taxi drivers. Kidnappings happen from time to time. They are very likely to happen to Americans. We heard really unpleasant stories. They kidnapped a guy and forced him to withdraw money from the ATM. They drugged him and abused, he landed in a jail for 24h and only then, without a single belonging, was deported from the country.
Really felt for this guy reading this story online…
Never travel to Florencia in Colombia!
One taxi drivers shared with us story about past situation in Colombia, how far from safe place was Bogota. We asked about routs Cali-Popayan and further to the south as we deadly wanted to travel to Las Lajas Sanctuary near Ecuadorian border.
There’s certainly lots of places in Colombia you won’t be allowed to travel. Districs which are covered with dense jungle are cartels teritoties. It is strickly forbidden to travel to some parts of the west coast of the country e.g. Buenaventura or Tumaco.
Florencia is probably the most dangerous city nowadays (October 2018)! Even locals cannot live safely. The whole length of the border with Ecuador is a dangerous area – the only acceptable road and land board crossing is Ipiales. But even there you cannot be fully safe. One couple told us they were robbed there and what’s worse police wasn’t very helpful.
Taxis in Bogota
One of the best sourse of information are taxi drivers. Yet in 2016 it was dangerous to drive through the city even for locals. Buses from Pasto were regurlary highjacked even day time.
What does it mean for the bus and passengers to be highjacked? It is usually stopped in the middle of the road, robbers get into a bus with guns to take your belongins. If they find bank cards they might take you to the ATM and you’ll be forced to withdraw all the money. If you don’t cooperate they might even drug you to brake your will.
Safety rules in Colombia:
- Use only yellow cabs!
- Always ask to use a taxi metre.
- Do not share taxis with people you don’t know. It happens somebody asking to share a taxi has an agreement with the driver and you might land in a place that is not necessary your destination.
- It is adviced not to drive to a cash machine with the driver. You might be taken to a place and loose all your money shortly after. Cash machines – always use the one in the bank! Gangs used to install card scanning in some cash machines.
- Be prepared some of the taxi drivers might cheat on you on the way from the airport. Same fare to the airport cost much cheaper. An averidge 10 km taxi fare, Monday – Friday day time cost about 12000 COP.
Traveling from Bogota to Armenia
Buy ticket in advance in the bus station. We booked a night bus with Flota Magdalena. This was the most exclusive bus I have ever traveled with!! Ticket price was 55 000 COP. The bus was almost empty. Bus leaves from Salitra Termianl in Bogota on time and there are 3 buses a day. Usually it’s not possible to get a ticket from the bus driver in all buses traveling long distances. Highly reccomend!
Domestic flights in Colombia
We’ve booked few flights in Colombia and Ecuador, not only because of the safety but also because of luck of time for traveling long distances by bus.
It’s absolutely the safest way of traveling anywhere in the world and most expensive at the same time. My advise never talk to a police dog at the airports. I did and shortly after the dog started sniffing our luggage and an armed police officer had us investigating in the middle of the airport. I can’t describe how afraid I was, even when there was no reason for us to be. But how can you tell what’s in their minds? Last thing I needed is to be searched in an isolated room by a Colombian police forces!
Safe traveling in Colombia isn’t that hard, but you must remember of several things. I hope my experience will help you in that 🙂
Safety on the border between Colombia and Ecuador – all you need to know and hot to get to Las Lajas Sanctuary you’ll find here.