How to Travel to Colombia Safely

How to Travel to Colombia Safely
You may be drawn to Columbia for the amazing diversity of the region---to experience the rainforests, Andes mountains or Caribbean Sea coast. Larger cities have made steps toward reducing crime (Cali and Buenaventura are exceptions), but common crime is significant both in cities and in the countryside. Visitors to Columbia still face the possible risk of kidnapping, robbery or violence. Narco-terrorists and guerrilla groups operate in the country---kidnappings to obtain ransom or media attention are not unheard of. That said, many people travel to Colombia without incident. Stay abreast of local developments in the region you wish to visit, and follow a few basic guidelines to protect yourself once you're in the country.
 

Instructions

Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

Travel

Step 1
Keep up with the U.S. Department of State's Travel Warnings. Check the State Department's website (see References) before booking travel to get an understanding of which areas of the country are most troubled by violence and kidnappings. Avoid traveling to these regions or book tours through reputable outfitters, as traveling solo without a guide is often more dangerous in these scenarios. The U.S. Department of State offers travel alert updates by phone at (888) 407-4747.
Step 2
Enter the country through an official border crossing. Verify that any transportation you use will cross into Columbia in this manner. Travel by air is the recommended method of entering the country.

Be cautious when leaving the airport. Take only official taxis. Try to collect your things and exit the airport in the most efficient and calm manner possible to avoid drawing unnecessary attention to yourself. On occasion, robbers have followed tourists traveling from the airport to their hotel in order to victimize them along the way.
Step 3
Register with the U.S. Embassy in Colombia. You may do this in person at an embassy office---there's one in Bogota, a typical point of entry for most travelers---or online: https://www.embassy-worldwide.com/embassy/u-s-embassy-in-bogota-colombia/ . Registering will ensure that your trip is on record with the embassy; it will be easier for the embassy to relay safety warnings to you while you're in the country and the information may help to locate you quicker if something should happen to you on your trip.
Step 4
Avoid taking buses between cities, especially on routes that travel through troubled regions. Within cities, call for taxi service. This creates a record of your request and decreases the chance that you will be robbed by your driver. Taxis hailed from the street may be part of a conspiracy. In these robberies, an unexpected stop allows co-conspirators to enter the cab to rob and or kidnap the victim.

Activities

Step 1
Exercise street smarts. Robberies at ATMs are common. Use ATMs in well-trafficked, but protected, spots (malls are a good choice). Be aware that a number of scams are perpetrated at street level. These include persons who identify themselves as police and ask to examine valuables or money to check if they are counterfeit. The victims are then robbed.
Step 2
Hike in large groups. Robberies occasionally occur on secluded hiking trails, but are less likely to occur if you're traveling as part of a group, especially one led by a local who has an ear to the ground regarding problems on a specific trail. If you want extra piece of mind you can inquire about hiring private security to accompany your party.
Step 3
Do not consume food, drinks, snacks, cigarettes or gum that are not your own, and which are offered to you in a public setting. Do not leave items you plan to consume unattended. Criminals slip drugs into these items in order to render victims helpless to robberies and sexual assaults.
Step 4
Don't stray too far off the beaten track. According to the United Kingdom's Foreign & Commonwealth Office, more than 700 people were killed by landmines in 2008. Stay on marked trails and heed locals' warnings.
Step 5
Don't take for granted the safety of a major monument. Always double check the safety of routes to and from all attractions. For example, in late 2009, unrest in the region around an archaeological site at San Agustín prompted warnings in most travel guidebooks; the U.K.'s Foreign & Commonwealth Office strongly suggested that travelers only use one route---the main road through Neiva---to reach the park.
 

Tips & Warnings

To alert police, call for an ambulance or report a fire within Columbia, call 123. Be aware that the operator will not speak English.
 
Report crime immediately to the police and the embassy (including stolen passports). The embassy staff is equipped to help you through any emergency situation, including locating medical care.
 
Register with the U.S. Embassy in Colombia. You may do this in person at an embassy office---there's one in Bogota, a typical point of entry for most travelers---or online: https://www.embassy-worldwide.com/embassy/u-s-embassy-in-bogota-colombia/
 
Do not resist if you are mugged. Hand over your valuables and cooperate if you are taken to an ATM to withdraw cash. The threat of violence is too great to worry about your possessions.

Article Written By Alice Moon

Alice Moon is a freelance writer with more than 10 years of experience. She was chosen as a Smithsonian Institute intern, working for the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and has traveled throughout Asia. Moon holds a Bachelor of Science in political science from Ball State University.

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