Let’s be perfectly honest here: “is Colombia safe to travel alone” is a loaded question, and there is not one universal “yes” or “no.” Colombia is safer if you travel smart, unsafe if you travel stupid, and bad things can happen even if you follow all of the best advice to the letter. But does that mean you should avoid this country altogether?
We believe the answer is a resounding NO. Solo travel in Colombia alone will still be an extremely enriching experience, and it should be enthusiastically included on your someday travel list. But there’s a reason we say “someday,” – if you plan to got to Colombia solo, we would recommend this country for experienced travelers, meaning you’re accustomed to being alone on the road, you know how to follow your instincts, you know yourself and have developed some skills for solo travel, and your reflexes are good when it comes to being on your guard and protecting your belongings.
Below are a few tips for doing Colombia solo – they are largely universal, but will still be invaluable to remember when trekking out on your first Colombia trip:
- Meet other people: staying in groups is the best possible way to avoid isolation (making you susceptible to robbery and assault). Feel encouraged to step out of your comfort zone to introduce yourself to other travelers. These can be people from your hostel, people you met on the plane flying in with similar travel plans, or even a group you overhear talking – if you walk up, explain your situation, and ask to join them where they’re going, more often than not you’ll be welcomed with open arms.
- Watch your belongings and yourself: This is always travel tip numero uno. Don’t set your bag down. Divide your cash into multiple pockets and only take as much as you need for the day. Keep everything out of your back pockets. Only use ATMs indoors, at banks, and during the day. Be vigilant. Etc etc etc.
- Blend. In. If you’re of a different ethnicity than the local population, you’ll already stand out a bit. However, if you make a conscious effort to dress like the locals, you’ll at least not stand out as much, and you’ll also be less of a target for mugging because robbers might assume you’re more savvy. Look around and be a copycat, and pro tip: DO NOT wear shorts and flip-flops. This is basically a tourist uniform.
- Learn some Spanish: especially if you’re alone, this will be invaluable if you need to get yourself out of a tight spot. Even just a few words may be enough to get a local to like you and offer kind assistance. Come prepared with a phrase book and memorize any phrases you think you might use both in normal scenarios, and those where you need to ask for help.
- Get a SIM card: There’s a local company called Claro with good coverage. You’ll need to bring your passport, and this will allow you to use the internet and hail Ubers. Which reminds us-
- Use Uber. Even locals consider it the safest option, and if you’re alone, even better.
- Avoid remote areas. We’re not saying to avoid the countryside completely, as it has a lot to offer in terms of beautiful scenery and culture. However, it is in remote border regions that paramilitary rebel groups like FARC still operate, despite 2016 peace deals. Check out the US State Department’s Travel Advisory on Colombia for up-to-date information on what areas to avoid.
Is Medellin safe to travel alone?
We get it – Pablo Escobar, cocaine trade, “most dangerous city in the world.” Poor old Medellin has had its fair share of criticism over the years (and based on statistics from the 90’s and early 2000’s, most of that criticism is indeed warranted).
Nowadays, Medellin can be considered a major cultural center and one of the safer cities in the whole country, if you follow the usual precautions and stay out of sticky situations. Besides using your common sense with your belongings to avoid pickpockets (especially on the metro), and watching your back to avoid muggers, you’ll want to research neighborhoods ahead of time to know where to be extra cautious. La Candelaria (el centro) is the most dangerous area in the city, and Popular, Santa Cruz, Manrique, San Javier and 12 de Octubre should generally be avoided by tourists.
Is Colombia Safe for Solo Female Travelers?
Keeping the theme of honesty: women who are traveling alone need to play by a different set of rules. But the odds are you already knew that if you’re reading this. It is unfortunately true that women must exercise increased caution when traveling alone in Colombia, but the good news is that if you remember the basics, you’ll already be safer.
We’re going to emphasize again – Colombia should not be your first solo trip. Get a few easier countries under your belt and get to know yourself better as a traveler before you move South. When you’re ready, listen to all of the tips mentioned above, and heed this advice for solo female travel in Colombia:
Copy the fashion: This is especially important to not stand out from the crowd. The cities dress modern, the countryside dresses modest and covered. Do as the locals do. When in doubt, dress modestly.
Do your research: Which neighborhoods are known to be dangerous? What are the local emergency numbers? What is Spanish for “I need help”? (necesito ayuda). Which hostels have the best reviews and female dorms, and how do I get there from the airport? Know as much as you possibly can about the city you’re traveling to so you have the practical information in your head.
Be extra careful about drinking: in addition to the usual precautions about imbibing, there are two things to keep in mind. First, because of the high altitude in much of the country, you will get drunk faster. Drink slower and less than you normally would in order to keep your good judgement. In addition, it is not uncommon for predators in Colombia to use disabling drugs to rob or assault travelers and women. Always watch your drink, and do not accept drinks from strangers.
Groups, as much as possible: this is especially important for women. If you want to take a daytrip outside the city, find other people to go with, and never walk alone at night. Ever.
Use Uber, and don’t take buses at night: Uber is considered very safe, and it is recommended above all taxi use, which always run the risk of being sketchy. Don’t take the bus at night, as there is no way to do so without putting yourself in a compromising and vulnerable position. If you can, try to fly for long-distance overland travel, as long land trips can be unpredictable in terms of safety.
Ignore them: We’re talking about street harassers, and also anybody giving you any kind of unwanted attention. You are not obligated to be nice to anyone, and if someone is making you uncomfortable, trust your instincts, and run.
We understand the task of keeping oneself safe can be daunting, but in the ongoing work that is keeping oneself safe, developing instincts and skills to fall back on is the first step – which you have already taken!