It’s one of the most oft-asked and oft-Googled topics for people interested in Colombia travel: just how safe is Colombia?
Once seen as dangerous and not suitable for tourists, Colombia was labelled the murder capital of the world in times gone by. However, the negative image of the country as a place which is synonymous with violence is one which is stuck largely in the past. Over the last two decades, Colombia has undergone something of a renaissance and it now blossoms with culture, natural beauty, plentiful economic opportunities and pretty much everything a tourist could hope for.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Colombia had fewer tourists per capita than any other Latin American country. In fact, only 70,000 foreign tourists visited the country in 1998. Compare that with the figure of four million in 2012 and there is little doubt that things have changed drastically. This is largely down to the policies of former president Alvaro Uribe who dissolved many of the country’s drug cartels.
The Colombia Tourist Board’s former slogan, ‘the only risk is wanting to stay’, acknowledges the country’s turbulent past and highlights the new feeling of hope and optimism that defines the tourist industry here. Colombia now has a lower murder rate than Washington DC and, aside from the plethora of outstandingly beautiful and culturally vibrant places to visit, the country is filled to the brim with incredibly friendly people who are keen to throw off the shackles of Colombia’s poor reputation and show the world that the future is bright, safe and full of opportunity.
Of course it’s not all a bed of roses and visitors to the country should not be naïve about the situation. Get too comfortable and you may find yourself in a sticky situation. It’s as simple as having your wits about you and acknowledging that, as with any country, there are still some risks and areas that you simply shouldn’t visit.
There are, obviously, a few small precautions that you should take to ensure you have a trouble-free time in Colombia. Take these into account, and you will be sure to have an exciting and awe-inspiring trip in this beautiful country. Firstly, avoid walking anywhere at night, it’s simply not worth the risk, especially as taxis are so cheap. If you are getting a taxi at night, however, try whenever possible to call one from one of the many reliable and efficient companies rather than getting one on the street.
Be sensible with your belongings. In Colombia they advise you not to dar papaya, which has nothing to do with handing out pieces of fruit. It basically means that you shouldn’t give people any reason or encouragement to take advantage of you. Don’t, for example, walk down the street talking English on a brand new iPhone. Don’t pull out massive wads of cash when waiting for the bus. Just use some common sense and you should be fine.
You should also try to learn some Spanish. Even if it is a few basic phrases, Colombians react incredibly well to foreigners trying to communicate with them in Spanish and they really appreciate the effort. Colombians are also indispensable as a source of local knowledge – they can give you priceless advice about places you plan to visit, safety tips and recommendations.
Finally and most importantly, be aware but don’t be paranoid. Colombia is an incredible country that has been through some hard times. Not everyone is to be trusted but the majority of people are friendly, helpful and interested so don’t miss out on the opportunity to make some great friends.