Co-founder of My Travel Risk
My Travel Risk is a web-based platform on which any traveller can find safety information and advice on any destination.
Keeping safe in Colombia
Being aware of these ten tips will go a long way to keeping you safe when you visit Colombia:
1. Know the emergency numbers
The general emergency number in Colombia is 123, which can be dialled free from a mobile phone. As Colombia is a Spanish speaking country, operators may not speak English. You may be better off calling your embassy or consulate (record their number before you travel). Also, have the contact details of your insurance provider on hand.
2. Get the right pre-travel medical care
Colombia is one of the countries that has been most affected by the Zika virus. This mosquito-borne ailment has been known to cause birth defects in children born to a mother infected with the virus. Pregnant women should reconsider their need to travel to the country at this time. Also, you should know that Colombia is listed as a yellow fever country, so you may need a vaccination before returning home. Other recommended vaccinations include hepatitis A, hepatitis B and typhoid, while malaria is a risk in most parts of the country.
3. Make safe arrangements
There have been cases of criminals targeting travellers leaving airports, especially after dark. Try book a flight that arrives during the day. Also book at least your first night’s accommodation in each area, so that you have an immediate place to go to when you first arrive in a new place.
4. Know which areas to avoid
The security situation in Colombia has improved significantly in recent years, but there are still areas of the country that should be avoided. This is due to the presence of the FARC and ELN militant groups, as well as criminal organisations. Areas that should be avoided include rural areas and smaller towns in the following departments: Antioquia, Arauca, Bolivar, Caqueta, Cauca, Cesar, Choco, Cordoba, Guaviare, Huila, La Guarija, Meta, Narino, Norte de Santander, Putumayo, Santander, Valle de Cauca, and Vichada.
5. Know the local laws
Most of the laws that you are familiar with at home (including the possession of drugs) are enforced in Colombia. In addition, you should not take photos of border crossings, airports and military/government buildings as it is illegal.
6. Identify possible scams
There are a number of scams in Colombia. One of the most common we hear about involves criminals impersonating police officers and stopping travellers before ‘confiscating’ money from them for a false reason. Do not respond to the instructions, appeals or advice given by complete strangers or people posing as police officers. When in doubt of the intentions of others, be polite and decline the offer or in the case of dubious police officers, ask to see photo ID, call a witness over or even ask to take yourself to a police station.
7. Avoid spiritual cleansings
‘Spiritual cleansing’ ceremonies offered by shamans and those masquerading as shamans are becoming increasingly popular with travellers. These services are not regulated and there have been serious illnesses and deaths reported following such ceremonies. It is best not to involve yourself in them.
8. Keep an eye on your food and drink
Drink spiking (as well as food and cigarette spiking) is a technique used by criminals in Colombia to incapacitate their victims. The drugs that are used often do not have a noticeable smell or taste. Do not leave food and drink unattended and politely decline any offer of a cigarette.
9. Be smart about what you carry around
Petty crime, such as mugging and pickpocketing, is common in towns and cities. We recommend only taking as much money with you as you’ll need for the day and always separately carrying a small amount as a decoy so that it can be handed over in the event of a mugging.
10. Be aware of the risk of express kidnapping
Express kidnapping is the short-term abduction of people with the objective of having them withdraw money from an ATM or taking their valuables. In Colombia, it is often initiated in unofficial or illegal taxis or near ATMs. To reduce the risk of being involved in this form of crime, only use legitimate taxi services (ideally organised through a hotel, tour operator or trusted contact) and only use ATMs during the day that are located in controlled spaces such as shopping centres or banks.