18 November 2009

Is it safe to travel to Colombia?

I've been in Colombia for around two weeks now and I am happy to say it is one of my favorite countries in South America. However, unfortunately the department of foreign affairs of many countries is actively discouraging travel to this beautiful country, stating that it is dangerous.

  • We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Colombia because of the high threat of terrorism and criminal activity. Terrorist, insurgent and paramilitary groups are active throughout Colombia and there is a high risk of kidnapping, including of foreigners.
  • Government buildings, public transport, and commercial and entertainment centres are potential targets for terrorist attacks. Places frequented by foreigners could also be targeted.
  • Colombia has one of the highest rates of kidnapping in the world. Foreigners, including children, have been kidnapped and murdered.
  • Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.
Advice for Colombia overall: High degree of caution.
Advice for the cities of Cali and Popayan (to which I have already been): Reconsider your need to travel.

But after being here for over 2 weeks I can confirm that there is little to fear. I feel much safer here than I have in many other cities and countries. I am particularly surprised as to how many police and military there are on the streets. In Bogota there were at least a pair of police-officers on every street corner in the centre. Incredible!

For example, while I was in town the other day an incident (of which I don't know the details) took place nearby. Suddenly I saw police numerous running towards the suspicious man from every direction, as if he was a magnet. I didn't get a good look at the suspect because he was being escorted away by 11 police officers!

Furthermore, bag searches are a regularity everywhere: official buildings, public buildings, random searches on the street, which include a thorough frisking for guns, knives or anything else suspicious. Even I have been approached by police on the street for a random bag search - but I probably look more suspicious than real criminals at the moment.

Of course there are some dangers, but that is no different to any other country. Just don't be so foolish to wonder into the slums and dark, deserted streets at night... they belong to the thieves, criminals and drug-dealers. And don't go wondering deep into the jungle... it belongs to the guerrillas and the paramilitary. Nevertheless, I feel extremely safe here.

Furthermore, Colombia is more developed and organised than many South American countries, with: good roads; eduction regarding littering and water wastage; recycling; and best of all, when you are driving through the countryside, the mountains are actually green - unlike the brown, cindered appearance of uncontrolled burning and land-clearing.

Anyone who has been to Colombia knows that it is an fantastic place. The tourism slogan for Colombia is: El riesgo es que te quieras quedar ("The risk is that you will want to stay"). I think the slogan is very accurate .

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Related Posts

- Police in Peru
- The mysterious fruits of Colombia
- Having fun with Colombian fruit


  1. El riesgo es que te quieras quedar.

    I love that. :)

  2. I have a friend from Buenos Aires who's vacationing in Colombia right now. All she's done is rave non-stop about Bogotá. I'm glad you're enjoying the country too, Ara. ¡Que la pases bien!

  3. I'm glad you're enjoying Colombia. I recently returned from Honduras, which is suffering from a similar travel advisory. The restaurants, beaches and hotels are completely empty, and as a result, a lot of people are being laid off, which is unfortunate, because there is nothing unsafe about traveling there. It's so important that you've brought this to light because Colombia has such a bad rep in the media.

  4. I can attest, this is my fifth time in Colombia and now I finally live here. Truly love this country and never want to leave. Best of luck man and please let me know how Córdoba (Montería, Moñitos and Isla Fuerte) treated you.

  5. I'm really glad to hear that, JoAnna! I'm planning to pass through Honduras over the next month and I have been fishing for news away from the packaged terror broadcast over the regular channels. :) Is there anywhere in particular you suggest I should go?

    Kevin - Montería was good, but Moñitos and Isla Fuerte were really, really great!! I'm going to post photos soon. The people are REALLY friendly and it was a true taste of Caribbean Colombia. I'm telling people that they should go there. Thanks for the advice, brother. :D

  6. Stefan10:39

    Ara, I think one of the reasons our government discourages travel to Colombia so vigorously is purely the stigma seemingly attached to the name, primarily with regards to drugs. Cocaine, heroin and marijuana for example, to my knowledge, are legalised to a degree and controlled... which is apparantly not compatible with Australian cultural standards... or at least that's the way our government sees it so they will do everything they possibly can to stigmatise the hell out of it. We've all heard stories about Colombia, about drugs and kidnappings and murders and corruption, which may have once been the case but from all recent accounts, it seems they've since cleaned up their act. This is not the first time I have heard good things about the country and I hope that with time and a few loud voices the stigma will be totally dissolved. Enjoy!

  7. I completely agree with you Stefan! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. :)

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  13. Anonymous01:35

    I served in the US Special Forces up until 2002. For years we were in Colombia training the local army and then going after the FARC rebels. This is a story that has NEVER been told. Brave Americans and Colombians fought side by side against an enemy that was South America's verision of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Car bombs, beheadings, landmines and assasinations were the norm for the past 30 years!!!!!!!!!!!!! It is the longest war fought in modern history! But no one in the US even noticed. I was wonded in action, but got no medal, no recognition, not even "veteran" status because our war was not classified as a war. I watched many brave Colombians fight and die with no memorial to follow. So what was their rewar? What was mine? Now when I travel there, I dine, I dance salsa (with my Colombian wife), I shop and I live completely free of the worries and hassles of life. Colombia is one of the safest countries in the world. Like any country there are "bad parts of town" and areas of the jungle to avoid, but in the US you can now be killed randomly by some psycho at the movie theater, your school, or your local coffee shop. But Colomibia is FREE and SAFE! It is the center for mendical inginuity and business! This is because Colombia chose a REAL LEADER like Uribe and EMBRACED democracy. It EMBRACED freedom. AND IT FOUGHT FOR IT! Colombia is the greatest model of what it looks like when the people stand up to terrorism and Americans provide the support. America with always be first in my mind, but Colombia will always have my heart. De Opresso Liber!

    1. Thank you for sharing your story and perspective! :)