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Safety in Colombia

Colombia is changing. People are fed up with the old druglords war, armed conflict, corruption and just want peace. The agreement with the FARC has been signed; there are negotiations with fellow revolutionaries from the ELN; president Santos even got the Nobel peace award. But of course you can't expect severe problems to disappear like snow from the sun. Beloved have been killed or disappeared; people were forced to leave their homes (desplazados, homeless families); there is still a huge gap between rich and many poor; corruption makes it worse.

The common image of Colombia in the world is: drugs, war, kidnapping, underdevelopment etc... As a tourist you hardly notice anything of this. 'The only real risk, is that you´ll want to stay!' Just about every Colombian realizes that tourism helps the country, IF it's not sex- or drug tourism. More than the average, Colombians love tourists, they like to talk with you, to warn you for places you better shouldn't go. Generally spoken, tourism in Colombia is less dangerous than some other Latin countries. There are some rules though you should respect:

  • 'No dar papaya' as colombians say, means: Don´t give an easy opportunity
  • Leave unnecessary luxury at home
  • Depending in the place you are, don't show your valuable stuff. Of course you may have a look at your computer or smartphone in your hotel, mall or restaurant but don't show it everywhere 
  • Don't EVER interfere with drug traffic
  • Don't travel to Venezuela or be near the frontier. That country is a mess right now and gangs cross the border
  • Take care of your luggage. In crowds - standing in bus-stops, busses or in the metro! - wear your small backpack in front
  • If you're sleeping at night busses, don't put your small bag/backpack where you won't notice if somebody takes it but keep contact. Best: use it like a pillow
  • Don't bother about your larger luggage in the trunk of the bus especially if you get tickets for each suitcase. Of course: don't lose your number... For the same reason: after the luggage belt in the airport, keep your luggage ticket with you till you past security. Use small padlocks
  • Also don't throw away the bill of the supermarket. When you leave the building, they might ask for it. This is to reduce shoplifting!
  • In dorms, keep your belongings safe as fellow travellers also might steal...
  • The most important rule (this is for all of South America): Don’t walk around alone at night, especially in the big cities! Always take a cab and preferably, by calling the taxi company
  • Highest alarm if you get dirty 'cause somebody does something clumsy and afterwards want to help you. This is a common trick!
  • Be careful with two people on a motorbike, they could rob you
  • If somebody claims to be a police officer who want's to see your belongings... Propose to walk to the nearest police station, check their badge # by calling 112
  • Don't take a taxi if someone already sits in the back
  • Prefer walking around with a copy of your passport (plasticize it)
  • Always have some small amount of money in your pocket; try to hide your main cash in various places. Be creative
  • Check if change has been given correct. Some bills look similar
  • Be aware that drinks given by a stranger may content Burundanga (scopolamine). This taste- and odor-free drug causes you to lose your freewill. 
  • You find the man or woman of your life? He/she might only want your money...
  • A bag protector alert can be useful. You can buy it online here. Other accessories: Traveler defense alarmMini mobile alert,  Electronic Defense WhistleAlarm Combo, ...
  • In Colombia you can buy a pepper spray or an electric teaser for your safety. Remember to check airplanes regulations