When we told our friends and families that we would also be traveling to Colombia on our world tour of South America, there was amazement but also horror. Our parents naturally asked us:“Is Colombia safe? Don’t you have to be afraid of being robbed in Colombia? Don’t let the drugs get you down!”
The reputation that Colombia has in Europe in terms of safety during a trip is bad. The stories und movies surrounding Pablo Escobar and the FARC are probably to blame for the fact that Colombia tends to be avoided by many tourists as a travel destination in general.
In this report we want to explain once our feeling but also hard facts to take you so perhaps the fear to travel to Colombia. Because Colombia is definitely worth a trip and was actually even one of our highlights in Latin America.
“Don’t show your Papaya!” This phrase is one of the most important rules when it comes to your safety in Colombia. It means something like “Don’t show what you have!”. This basic rule should be followed in Colombia, especially at night and even in the good areas – but is generally valid for safety in all countries. So unpack valuables only when you need them and don’t wave money around. If you don’t stand out as a lucrative victim, you immediately reduce your security risk.
We spent a total of 4 weeks traveling through different regions in Colombia and came to love the country, the nature and the people in this great country. As far as we can tell, almost no one in Colombia is behind Pablo Escobar anymore – it’s a piece of history that people hate to look back on. The people of Colombia want to look forward and into the future and get rid of the annoying reputation as a country of narcos. So the first thing to note is that the security situation has improved significantly in recent years, since the time of the drug wars and the civil war.
How safe do you feel in Colombia?Our personal experience!
We’ve already walked through Kingston in Jamaica, been to Guatemala City, and also survived a night in San Pedro Sula well. We felt most uncomfortable during our trip on the streets of Kingston. The city is noisy, dirty and chaotic and the people are sometimes a bit rough and pushy. We had expected similar conditions in Colombia. In short, we were prepared for the worst.
From Panama, our journey continued to Cartagena. There we were very positively surprised how cordial many Colombians are. The usually rather rough and impersonal contact in Central America was like flown away. People suddenly took time for us again. You were no longer put under pressure when you tried to describe a problem to someone in their bad Spanish. Quite the opposite: people tried to help and to work together towards solving the problem or completing the sentence. The first impression of Colombia, was exactly what we had not expected. You can also find more about this in one or the other travelogue we wrote on the topic of Colombia.
Our route took us from Cartagena to Medellín and from there to the Colombian capital, Bogotá. In all three cities we tended to stay in good areas. Most of the accommodations for tourists in Colombian cities are also in the good areas. You have to search explicitly to find accommodation outside the pleasant tourist areas.
We followed some basic rules when we traveled through Colombia.
- “Don’t show your papaya!”
- Listen to what the locals tell you!
- Explore the cities during the day!
- Listen to your gut
With these principles we were able to move through Colombia without any problem. In doing so, we never encountered any situations in which we felt uncomfortable.
Of course, we don’t want to downplay the situation at all. There are slums where we would not want to walk around during the day or at night. There are many homeless people, including currently many refugees from Venezuela who lack everything. One guide reported that he has already had three bicycles stolen. At night, it is recommended to take an Uber for many routes – but this also applies to many countries in South America.
In some areas, former members of the cartels, FARC and co still hang around and continue their business there. The question is to what extent one comes into contact with this as a tourist and to which areas one plans to travel.
How dangerous is Colombia really?
To be able to answer this question we must fall back on Kriminal-Statisiken and Co. Of course, you will also find a source reference below, so you can make up your own mind about the security in Colombia.
Let’s take a look at homicides in Colombia in recent years. Homicides are defined as the intentional and unlawful killing of one person by another. Thus, this category includes murder and manslaughter.
Since 2005, this has been in sharp decline. While in 2005 there were 18,111 homicides, in 2016 there were only 12,402 registered homicides in Colombia.
This corresponds to 25.5 murders per year per 100,000 inhabitants. In comparison, we had a level of 1.2 intentional homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in Germany in 2016. If one looks here still at the homicide rate of Jamaica with 47.0 murders per 100,000 in 2016 the Caribbean island looks nevertheless immediately no longer so idyllic, or?
But security does not only mean to survive and of course we do not want to start from the extreme case. Therefore, we would like to look not only at the homicides in Colombia, but also at the crime in the form of burglaries that take place in Colombia. For this purpose, we will again refer to the Kriminalstatisik and include Germany and Jamaica in the comparison.
In total, 97 burglaries were registered per 100,000 inhabitants in 2016. Unfortunately, this figure has been steadily increasing in recent years. In 2005, only 50.2 burglaries per the same number of inhabitants had been registered. Germany had 528.5 burglaries per 100,000 inhabitants in 2016. Jamaica had only 45.6 burglaries per 100,000 population during the same period.
The comparatively immense number of burglaries in Germany compared to Jamaica and Colombia looks frightening at first. However, one must not forget that the number of registered incidents is always offset by an estimated number of unreported cases.We believe that this estimated number of unreported cases is considerably higher in Jamaica and Colombia. It is possible that many burglaries are simply not reported. An alternative explanation would be that the fences and barbed wires, as well as the surveillance cameras that are very present in both countries, are doing a good job after all. However, if one follows the official statistics, one would think that security is very very high in terms of burglaries in Colombia.
We think by these numbers you get a pretty good feeling if Colombia is really dangerous. In addition, we would like to mention again that we found Jamaica to be significantly scarier than Colombia. The main reason for this is the warm-hearted people in Colombia, who also talk openly with tourists about the problems of the country. Moreover, they always give honest and good tips.
What is Colombia doing to. Improve the Situation?
We have now traveled to many countries, but never experienced such a positive atmosphere as in Colombia. The government, the country and the inhabitants want to work on the security situation and are well on their way. We could feel this spirit most clearly in Comuna 13. Once one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the world, it is now just a neighborhood full of life, art and radiant people who are happy that the situation has improved. In addition, there are many political efforts towards peace and security in Colombia. An example of this is the peace negotiations with various rebel groups, which have tended to calm the general situation recently.
The changes of recent times have been achieved through innovation and new ways of the Colombian government. While it began with a massive bloody crackdown by the military and security forces, truly lasting improvements occurred primarily through structural change. Colombia was the first country ever to use cable cars for public transportation. This made it possible to connect entire neighborhoods to the city center quickly and easily. As a result, the unemployment rate was drastically reduced, especially in the slums and outlying districts. This is because people can now get to jobs in the economically strong center of Medellín more quickly.
Furthermore, we noticed very positively how the dealing with the legacy of Pablo Escobar is being handled. Here, too, the will for a sustainable peace process is evident. Many of the buildings have stood empty since the drug lord’s death. To prevent them from mutating into shrines and monuments for Netflix-loving tourists in the long run, most of them are now being demolished or given a new positive purpose. For example, the former self-built “prison” La Catedral has also become a retirement home for the needy.
On the streets in the cities you can find a lot of police, which provide law and order, especially in tourist places. There are also countless private security guards who stand guard in front of stores, in malls but also in underground garages. We felt very well taken care of by the security personnel and had few concerns about security in the areas where we were traveling at night (city center and tourist areas).
Which areas are in Colombia considered particularly dangerous?
Naturally, there are also areas in Colombia that you as a Tourist should not visit so carelessly. Here the foreign office has always the latest information.
Here’s the Foreign Office page (https://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/de/aussenpolitik/laender/kolumbien-node)