vast majority of Colombia is perfectly safe to visit. Colombia is 3
times the size of Germany, twice the size of Spain, about 40% larger
than France, almost 5 times the size of both Britain and Ecuador and 15
times as large as Panama (according to Wikipedia). Small pockets of
Colombia have guerilla problems. However, you wouldn't say "I'm not
visiting England because I'm worried about the Northern Irish
terrorists" because people would think you were mad. Likewise, you'd be
considered way too overly paranoid if you said "I'm not going to Spain
on holiday because I'm afraid of those Basque (ETA) separatists. In
fact I'll avoid Southern France too". [I don't make this comparisons to trivialize Colombia's problems - merely to make a point].
It's equally irrational to not want to visit Colombia because of
similar fears. The problem for Colombia's tourism industry is the
mis-representation of the country in the international media. You
can read about how Colombia's image is slowly changing for the better
on this recent (Nov 2011) BBC News article.
you know that Mexico, Brazil, Ecuador and Venezuela all have higher
kidnapping rates than Colombia? Probably not - read about kidnapping statistics in Colombia at this link and you'll see that the risk is minimal.
Anyone that tells you not to travel to Colombia for safety reasons is
very mis-informed. Colombia is a massive country, and massive sections
of it don't see any trouble and haven't done so for many years. Most of
Colombia is perfectly safe to visit, though admittedly some parts are
not particularly safe to visit. It's easy to get paranoid and not want
to visit in the first place, while on the other hand so much of the
country is so peaceful that it can be easy to be foolish when you are
there and travel to places that you really shouldn't be travelling to.
Visit the safe areas, and steer clear of the less safe ones and you'll
almost certainly have no problems whatsover. If you're at all
concerned, you could always consider arranging an organized tour.
was a dangerous country in the 1980's and 90's and still suffers from
that bad reputation. Most of the press and media have not bothered to
report that nowadays (I'm editing this page in 2010) it's very
different, and a lot safer. Major cities such as Bogota, Medellin, Cali
and Cartagena are considered relatively (by Latin American standards)
safe today. Kidnappings in the big cities are very rare these days.
Check out the UK FCO website
for authoritative advice on staying safe in Colombia. The FCO suggest
that we avoid all the border areas with Ecuador, Venezuela and Panama
(unless entering by major highway), in addition to avoiding the Ciudad
Perdida trek and visiting much of the Pacific coast. The regions that
are dangerous are the remote, off the beaten track rural destinations
where coca is grown (see final section). Almost everywhere else is
deemed fine to visit. And this is being overly cautious.
Is bus travel safe in Colombia?
it is, as long as you're not travelling through any "red zones". Routes
between major cities such as Bogota, Cali and Medellin are all safe.
Most of the major highways are perfectly safe. The overland highway
from Cali to Ecuador is not the safest route, and night buses have been
robbed there from time to time. If you do take this route it's best to
do this during the day rather than at night (indeed it's safest to
travel during the day everywhere in Colombia, indeed everywhere in
Latin America). The military and police are present along all major
roads, but more so during weekends and holiday periods, and as such
it's safer to travel during these times.
Is Colombia safe for travel for a solo (female) traveller?
it is. Just be sensible as you would be in any developing country.
Don't visit the red / dangerous zones. It's advisable to speak at least
some Spanish if you're travelling on your own. There's lots of Spanish
schools in Colombia where you can study for a week or two to pick up
the language if you don't speak Spanish.
Where are the Dangerous or Red Zones?
FCO website (see earlier link) suggests that anywhere that illicit
drugs are cultivated in Colombia is a dangerous zone. To get to any of
these areas, you'll have to go way off the beaten track and avoid
everyones local advice to get there - you're extremely unlikely to just
stumble across a coca field. So forgot about that point.
relevant is to pay attention to where the red zones (or "war" zones)
are. You'll know about it if you go anywhere near a red zone as the
place will be full of the military, and you'll be told you shouldn't be
there. Colombia has military checkpoints everywhere. Much of the
Pacific coast is a red zone. The area bordering Panama is a red zone.
Parts of the areas bordering Ecuador and Venezuela are red zones (that
doesn't mean your shouldn't cross over the borders by frequently used
land routes though). The area around San Jose del Guaviare and parts of
Meta department are also red zones. If one wanted to generalise, you'd
say "border areas and parts of Eastern Colombia are less safe than the
rest of the country".
On a more positive note
about everyone who travels to Colombia for the first time realizes what
an amazing country it is and how totally unwarranted it's bad
reputation is. Ask anyone who has been and they will tell you this.
Many people imagine Colombia to be a poor, developing country - in
fact, on the surface at least, Colombia appears just as advanced and
modern as Brazil (or parts of Brazil!), Chile or Panama. Other
countries in Latin America lag way way behind in terms of development.
Colombia is a very pleasant surprise to almost everyone. And the world
will learn so in the not too distant future. Visit Colombia before the
secret's really out.......