Apr 06

Is it Safe for Women to Travel in Colombia Alone?

Medellin Rooftop

This is a guest post written by US travel writer Kim Merritt…

“Are you crazy?”

That was the usual reaction after telling my family and friends I would be spending a month traveling through Colombia. But as a girl who almost always travels alone I’m used to people thinking I’m nuts.

“What if you get kidnapped?” “I have a friend whose bus was held up and everyone was robbed, one guy was even stabbed!” “Don’t get into any taxis, we don’t have enough money to pay your ransom.”

In a foolish attempt to ease their fears, I turned to the internet. Two thousand horror stories later I couldn’t help but wonder if I was being naive. Was Colombia really as dangerous as everyone thought? Or was this all just a lingering hangover from the Pablo Escobar days? I needed to find out for myself…

 

Medellin
Medellin selfie!

 

I learned all about the possible dangers and scams and was borderline crazy cautious once I arrived. But after thirty days of traveling alone from the Caribbean to the Amazon on planes, buses, taxis, vans, and boats, I’m happy to say that I left Colombia with all of my stuff, a ton of new friends, and zero stab wounds.

[Editor’s Note: the issue of solo female travel in Colombia has been raised recently by the ‘disappearance’ of Swedish solo female traveller Julia Wendt, who was declared missing by her family, who noted that Medellin is ‘not a nice city’ in the process – Julia turned out to be ‘meditating’ with no internet! YOU CAN READ OUR TAKE ON THIS CASE OF ‘MODERN MISSING TRAVELLER SYNDROME HERE…’]

It’s impossible not to notice the heavy military and police presence throughout the country. Groups of camouflaged men stand on street corners and roadside checkpoints clutching machine guns and grenade launchers. At first it was kind of intimidating to see so many young guys with such massive weaponry, but before long I was casually greeting them (okay, flirting with them) at every passing.

As cliched as it sounds, the Colombians I met were some of the warmest, most inviting people I’ve met in all of my travels. Not only were they proud to share their country’s history and culture, they also seemed genuinely welcoming and intrigued as to why a woman was out traveling on her own.

 

Colombian Man
A typically friendly Colombian Man

 

One evening I stopped by a pizza shop in Salento run by a young couple who were clearly drowning in takeout orders. Despite being ‘hangry’ I started conversing with a two-year-old while waiting to place my order. I’m usually painfully awkward with kids, but since we were both pretty much at the same level of Spanish, the conversation involved lots of shouting random nouns while pointing and making faces. Once her parents (who also spoke zero English) realized I was alone, they insisted I join them for a slice, and offered to walk me back to my hotel so that I wouldn’t be alone after dark.

At first I worried that stuttering my way through my high school level Spanish vocabulary would make me an easy target (as if my pasty skin and blondish hair didn’t already) but it ended up being a great way to learn the language. Everyone seemed open for a conversation, and unlike other countries where they’d switch to English the second they heard me struggle, Colombians were incredibly patient in teaching me. Sure they laughed when I messed up—like the time I tried to tell a woman I liked her shirt but ended up saying I liked her chest—but they’d always teach me the proper way to say whatever I was trying to say.

 

Bogota
Bogota

 

Another good thing about traveling alone in Colombia is that there are plenty of other travelers to meet and hang out with, but there aren’t so many that it feels touristy. In Medellín I met up with two other Americans to find the house where Pablo Escobar was killed. When we asked a guy on the train for directions I figured he’d shrug us off as some dumb American tourists trying to seek out the violent past that Colombians are trying to shake off. But he ended up taking us to the house and on a short walking tour around the neighborhood himself, telling us all kinds of stories about its history. I challenge anyone to get this kind of treatment from a stranger on a New York subway.

 

Pablo Escobar Guide
Our friendly Pablo Escobar Guide

 

Another concern for a lot of female travelers is street harassment. Maybe living in New York has desensitized me a bit, but aside from the occasional kissy noise this was a total non-issue for me in Colombia. It could also be that my language skills left me blissfully oblivious, or the fact that I’m older and no longer in my prime, but I dealt with more harassment on the streets of Manhattan in one day than I did during my entire month in Colombia.

Unfortunately I did meet a few people who’d been robbed, but the locals didn’t hesitate to swoop in and act like real life superheroes. A girl in Cartagena had her purse stolen from a restaurant in Plaza de la Trinidad after she pulled a rookie mistake and slung it over the back of her chair while eating. The staff quickly pulled up the surveillance video which led to an arrest just a few hours later when the thieves returned for another victim. One server explained his actions perfectly when he said “Colombia has come a long way and is just starting to gain a reputation as a tourist destination. We work way too hard to let one bad guy ruin that.”

 

Cocora Valley
In the Cocora Valley

 

I also saw a local man get robbed on a busy street in Bogotá. Just as quickly as it happened an entire city block of people started shouting while at least 20 men ran after the thief. They chased him right across the street where a police officer was waiting to tackle and arrest him. So while there were definitely acts of petty crime, they certainly weren’t targeted towards solo women.

It’s clear that there are still many problems throughout the developing country so it doesn’t hurt to be a little extra cautious. But as a woman traveling alone, I didn’t feel any less safe being a female in Colombia than I would in any other place I’m unfamiliar with. I’d definitely go back on my own – in fact I’m already planning my next trip!

 

Amazon
“The only risk is wanting to stay!”

 

Kim Merritt

 

20 thoughts on “Is it Safe for Women to Travel in Colombia Alone?

    Vicki Nivens on

    Hi.. I too am single and planning a trip to Cartagena solo! I love to fish and wanted to charter a boat to take me out fishing.. is it safe for a female to charter and fish alone? Great info btw.. I have never traveled alone, but feel the need to get out of my comfort zone!:)

    Reply

      Chris on

      Hi Vicki,

      Sorry for the late reply. It depends on what you mean by ‘charter’ really. Even though Cartagena is a safe enough city for travellers I wouldn’t recommend just walking down to the docks and asking a fisherman to take you out solo. I would get in touch with a company like ‘This is Cartagena’ and see if they can arrange a private or small group charter. Failing that you could always go and stay at a hostel on Isla Grande or the Rosario Islands and see if they have some spare fishing gear to take out on kayak.

      Reply

    Dayna on

    Planning a trip to Cartagena early next year. I’m bleach blonde and have been told to dye it brown…really….I’m a seasoned traveler and have seen may local blondes from Peru to Guatemala. I want to stay in the old city…any ideas. I too will be traveling alone..

    Reply

      Kim mattson on

      Hi Dayna! Stayed in the old city this past January. My daughter and I went. It was absolutely magical. We stayed at the Kartaxa. Perfect place. its close to a plaza and by staying in the walled city you can go out at night and walk everywhere. When I go back I’m staying there!! Don’t die your hair. Lol

      Reply

    Bridget on

    Hi Kim! I’m really grateful for your article because after reading tons of internet stories, I have begun to rethink my trip completely. I am a solo, 32 year-old woman with pretty good Spanish and aside from my being a giant, I think I’d mostly blend in with the locals (complexion/hair). I’m currently planning on starting my trip in Costa Rica, then taking a bus to Panama, before flying to Colombia. I was possibly thinking about continuing further south to Ecuador and Peru by bus. What are your thoughts about bus travel for a solo female in Colombia and further south? Is this something you have done previously?

    Reply

      Edwina on

      Hi Bridget,
      I’m a 28 year old Australian girl who is also travelling solo. I will soon be in Bogota in mid August. I’ve travelled alone through Africa before but never Central/South America.

      It’s a long shot, but if you want to meet up and do some travelling together let me know! I’m keen to do some hiking.

      If not, have a wonderful trip!

      Edwina

      Reply

        Mary on

        Hi Bridget and Edwina,
        I’m also a 35 y.o. female traveling solo to Colombia in mid-August. Planning to go to the Lost City and Cartagena for a bit after Bogota. I’d be happy to have travel companions if you’re interested!

        Reply

        Manny on

        He Edwina,

        I’m a New York Musician and I have work in panama, and am thinking of going to Medellin
        want to meet there?

        I’m trustworthy, nice considerate and talented.

        Manny

        Reply

    Vydalese on

    Hi, great article! I’m planning a solo volunteer trip to Bogota and really wanted to stay longer after the volunteer program ends. I’m a single woman in my late 30’s and would love to know your recommendation for the best city to stay/explore in that area. I didn’t know if I should stay in Bogota for an extra week or leave for another near by city(or cities) for a week.

    Reply

      Chris on

      Hi Vydalese,

      If your volunteer program is based in Bogota then it might be nice to get out for an extra week at the end and explore another city. After being in the Andes it might be nice to experience the Caribbean coast, a totally different side of Colombian life – I would recommend Cartagena if you’re a fan of culture and food etc or Santa Marta for the day-trips to national parks and nearby mountains.

      Reply

    Katherine on

    Thank you so much for this!
    I am actually planning on moving to Colombia later this year. I am Colombian myself but I have not been to Colombia in over 10 years, and I moved when I was 10, so I am not sure what to expect… Remembering the stories as a young girl got me quite hesitant about my decision… Although, every blog that I read says it is fine and because I’ve read so many good things about Colombia attracted me to wanting to go back there. I’ve been in the Netherlands for over 6 years and it is SO extremely safe that I can’t help but wonder what it will be like when I go to Colombia, even as a Colombian on her own. I am very nervous and excited about it.

    Reply

    Tiffany on

    Thank you for this article! I’ve also gotten comments about how crazy I am for going there by myself haha! I am going to Medellin for a week and I was wondering if you had any suggestions of places to stay and to visit during my stay. Also, should I be worried about the nightlife?

    Reply

      Chris on

      Hi Tiffany,

      I wouldn’t worry! You’ll be fine if you take normal precautions. Stay around the Poblado area and make time for a day-trip (or even an overnight stay) out to Guatape or Jardin. I wouldn’t worry about the nightlife either, you’ll meet great people at your hostel and you’ll feel more secure in a group I’m sure.

      Chris

      Reply

    Kristy on

    Thank you for this! I’ve been planning my solo trip and recently began questioning myself- as it sounds like you did about doing so in Colombia I have done other solo travels without issue. I’m really drawn to Colombia! I appreciate your post.

    Reply

    A on

    Great post! I’ve booked flights for late July – going on my own to Cartagena for a month but stopping for a day in Bogotà on my way there and back. I booked flights on a bit of a whim though and now I’m worried I’m the perfect target because I’m blonde & only 5ft! What do you think?!

    Reply

      Chris on

      Hi Ama,

      You’ll be fine, I’m sure! Travelling in Colombia is just like being in most places: take the basic precautions and be smart, and you’ll be ok. And a bit of basic Spanish never hurts! Especially in Cartagena which has a long history of tourism and a very well-developed infrastructure. People might look at you a bit more, but that’ll probably be about it! Have a great time and please get in touch if you have any other questions,

      Chris

      Reply

      Dayna on

      Don’t worry many Colombians are natural blondes.
      I’m going solo myself and I’m a female.

      Reply

    BALDUINO on

    Its really safe for women.you are mention in this post Is it Safe for Women to Travel in Colombia Alone? really good post about safety women..

    Reply

    Ligia on

    Ya its really safe for women.Because its very good palace.

    Reply

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