Colombia: Is it safe to travel there yet?

This post was originally titled “Colombia: Travel is safer now than ever” and…

I was going to say kidnappings were a tool of the 1980’s and 1990’s but a quick Google search revealed that 18 foreigners have been kidnapped as of now in 2013. Still a tool.

I was going to say that generally rebel groups like the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) or ELN (National Liberation Army) only kidnap politicians and foreign workers in Colombia working for large companies but six travelers, like myself, were kidnapped in the Sierras on their way to visit the archeological site “Ciudad Perdida” last month. I visited this site myself in Colombia and was oblivious to the danger.

I was going to say that drug related crime is down in Colombia since Pablo Escobar was killed and many of the cocaleros moved on to Central America. Wrong again.  The ELN has actually increased their use of violence in order to procure more land for growing coca and forcing poor farmers into indentured servitude. They also are responsible for kidnapping the 6 travelers I mentioned above.

What the hell was Hilary Clinton talking about when she said Medellin is an example of security? Oh, because she partied there while the secret service had her back. Lucky for her the secret service agents assigned to her were not chasing prostitutes or she could have been a victim of the drug gangs that continue to plague Medellin, Antioqua. The murder rate in 2013 is expected to rise there.

My argument for traveling to Colombia is falling apart.

My original piece was going to start with something like…

“It’s true that not every Colombian is drug trafficker, member of the FARC, or guerilla…

Colombians are probably the most pleasant and friendly peoples in the Americas. Most folks are up for a chat and often go out of their way to help out a stranger. If you speak Spanish you will get a lot of practice in Colombia.  Even if you speak a little Spanish people are patient willing to hear you out which is not always the case in other countries. People in Colombia look out for each other. They want their cocaine dusted history to be over with and move on.

In rural Colombia, like most rural areas, poverty is higher than average.  Warnings will have you believe that poor people in the country are waiting to rob you. This is not the case. As a young French traveler said to me recently, “poverty brings solidarity”. I think he nailed it. People with less need each other more than the wealthy. I feel like people in rural areas are proud to have you in their place and want you to share in that.

My first piece of advice is use common sense when you are traveling in Colombia. Be extra cautious in cities at night. Keep a low profile (not easy for tall white people but at least be quiet and respectful). Second, don’t get kidnapped.

Some may ask whether it’s amoral to visit Colombia, as if you would be supporting the drug industry.  The answer is NO. If anything you are helping local economies by injecting dollars.  You will see the poverty in all places and you will see people working every angle to make money whether it’s the daily job, juggling in front of traffic at stop lights, selling cold drinks or toilet seats. If you don’t buy cocaine, you don’t support the industry. Only rich Colombians and tourists use it.  The rest would rather it never existed.

Is it safe to travel in Colombia? Well, it’s certainly safer than it was but you need to watch your step. I am a bit of an optimist when it comes to human nature.  This was not always the case but after doing a fair amount of globetrotting I have concluded that most people are good.

People are people everywhere you go. They have families, friends, lives, and dreams. Colombian people are no different.

I would go back and have recommended travel to Colombia to others. If you travel to Colombia from the USA, I think you will be very surprised at how many Americans travel Colombia.

I have written about my incredible experiences in Colombia here and there will be more to come.  You can find more about our tours to Colombia on my website.

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29 thoughts on “Colombia: Is it safe to travel there yet?

  1. I am sure it is an amazing country, if it wasn’t for the problems. One of the worlds biggest problems: economic disparity increases. We needs not only to fight poverty, but to fight the increasing numbers that gets too rich and too greedy. Not exactly easy, so needs to read some blogs to lift the spirit… 😉

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  2. Hey, it’s great to see some nuance in this subject. I was just up there in July, and came in with the government driven impression that Colombia was basically completely innocuous. As you mentioned, though, it’s still a country that’s very much in the middle of the war (e.g. it hosts the largest number of internally displaced people in the world), but if you’re an intelligent traveler, there’s still tons to see and do. Cartagena really blew me away, and it’s definitely on my list to return to some day.

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    • Hey thanks for the comment. I really wanted to write an article that said go and don’t worry. That’s what I always do in my travels but the truths in Colombia are too strong to hide. I guess I have been fortunate to have never had a bad experience on the road. I am also a probability guy, I am fully aware that it is more dangerous to drive my truck to work than it is to travel in Colombia. I too will go back to Colombia.

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  3. I didn’t feel any danger in Colombia and I’m a blond finnish girl, but Venezuela is a chaos! As is Rio De Janeiro. I dont know where did this people get kidnapped, but I think you can avoid those areas wich are under control of guerillas.

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    • They were kidnapped on a trail from Taganga next to Santa Marta. Yes, I am sure being blond in Colombia makes things both really easy and maybe really gets too much attention too! When I was in northern Colombia it was hard to tell who controlled what areas. Everyone had a different story. It was like asking directions, everyone gives you a different answer and yo try to work your way to the center of their answers. Cheers and safe travels, always!

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  4. We visited Colombia in 2008 and had a great time backpacking from Cartagena to Ecuador. Friendly people and no bad experiences! I believe in taking precaution, but not to have fear limit your travels. Great post!

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  5. When you first posted this, it was gone and I figured something came up that you felt needed editing. Glad it’s back. 🙂

    Thank you for your honesty and optimism!

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    • Glad we reconnected. I don’t know what happened to it on that first try. The original, which I had been writing over the last two months, was basically the second half of what you see here with all of my misconceptions removed. I had never considered publishing the first version once I did some checking. Colombia feels totally safe to me. I love it there.

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  6. Great article, one of the best I’ve read regarding traveling to Colombia. I was born there and went back in 2007 to Cartagena & Medellín. At no time did I feel in danger just the usual whistles when I was by myself (they mysteriously disappeared when I was with any of my male friends). We stayed in the cities (with the exception of going to El Totoumo mud bath) and you just need to use common sense as one should when you are in my city, Chicago. We (the Americans) debated whether we should tell others how great it is in Colombia because we didn’t want a wave of Americans going there and turning it into Disneyland. 😉

    If you don’t mind I would like to share your section on traveling to Colombia to a group I am apart of.

    Thanks!

    p.s. Thanks for stopping by Alicia Tastes Life hope you can enjoy some of my travel posts.

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    • Hi Alicia,

      Let me first say thank you for the compliment and taking time to tell me a bit about your experience. I can say that I was a bit uncomfortable writing an article that would discourage people from going to such a great place. Uncomfortable because I have made friends there that I would not want to offend and tourism really helps the little people. Ha, but I don’t think it will be like Disney any time soon and I hope it never is. This is the tragedy of travel in some ways. We, the people that get there first, want cultures to be preserved and the innocence that comes from ignorance to be there but at the same time we open minded people want equality for everyone. This is a hard irony for me. I could obviously talk at length about this subject…but please share this with your group in Chicago or whomever. I am always interested in other perspectives.

      Take care and keep in touch

      Ps I just went to your site and recall trying to post there a while back but was unable, fyi.

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  7. I agree. It’s still dangerous here. People who have lived here all of our lives, like me, tend to forget that. But when I really think about it, everyone is cautious, we just don’t notice because it’s the default setting.

    A couple of years ago I helped a group of foreginers that were on a medical mission. I remember little things like having to keep telling some of them not to just step out of the hotel at 10 pm to talk on their phones outside. It’s good that they felt safe but you still have to be careful and pay attention to your surroundings a lot.

    Things are more dangerous day to day than some realize. Living in the city, kidnapping is not much of a problem, but general crime like armed robbery is.

    I have a laptop and I’m usually very paranoid about having it in my bag. I’d rather leave it at home, but sometimes I need it at university. It’s not rare to hear some student got almost stabbed when a thief tried to take their cell phone, which in most cases isn’t even a smart phone.

    This is what locals have to deal with, so I think if the thieves see a person that looks foreign they may think they probably carry even more valuables.

    I wish it wasn’t this way, and I don’t mean to scare you, visitors are most likely going to be safe but they have to be very mindful of everything around them.

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    • Thanks for sharing that. I wish it were different there too and only felt uncomfortable late at night in Bogota. I would return to Colombia in a second. I hope the default settings get modified just for the sake of the people living there.

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  8. Good stuff, Mike. I recently wrote about Colombia, and found Medellin to be very safe, as long as you do a little research and apply common sense. I also found the citizens to be super hospitable, and eager to dispel their cartel-dominated global image. I was pretty convinced, so it’s sad to see all your crime reports. Super interesting though!

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  11. united states wanted to visit and remembered violence in their cities during the 1980s and 1990s, said no worse now in the 2013 that does not happen, and I remembered the greatest attacker of that country their food cademas having the highest number of global obesity , I remembered that I visit if I can die for fat saturation in veins, heart attack, I remembered that if I’m on a bus and leave my backpack on the ground, will say that terrorist are so paranoid, I remembered that for leave my country Colombia where we are the country numeor Promote variety of fruits, more vegetables Dining sintericas those north of the country, frefiero being kidnapped by the elders of my beautiful country and we love to hear, not see how the elderly are treated in the U.S., to tell my mom I love you in the mensa, and do not write in Facebook I love you mama, for dinner and not talk to them as in the U.S., these things and more I prefer to travel within my country Colombia .

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    • Jorge,
      I love traveling in your country. The people are wonderful. I understand the history with the US is very ugly as it is with many countrys. I feel that maybe this post upset you and I apologize if it does. I would also prefer to travel in your country than in the US.

      Saludos
      Mike

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