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Safety in Colombia


The security situation in the country is generally safe. However, there are areas where it is more “fluid” and others that remain in the red zone of the nation’s civil war. These include parts of the Pacific coast, Río Magdalena valley, Norte Santander, the Llanos and the interior (southern and eastern) jungles. We have, as much as possible, pointed these out in the text. At the time our correspondents went to places, it was safe to do so. If you are considering going off the beaten track or into one of the problematic zones, check the news and other websites and ask for local advice.


Colombia is an earthquake-prone country. Also, its Pacific coast has experienced tsunamis; move to higher ground as fast as possible. In the event of these or other type of natural disaster, follow authorities’ instructions.



In more mundane matters, here are a few suggestions for your personal safety:


Do not accept food, drink, cigarettes or other items from strangers, especially on buses. They may be drugged and you’ll wake up days later without a memory or belongings. These drugs have no taste or smell, and are fine enough to be blown into your face. Also watch your drink in nightclubs, that it doesn’t get drugged.


Do not carry a package for another person, as it might contain drugs. Be polite to any approaching police office. However, beware of police officers searching you and planting drugs. Get a trustworthy witness, especially if they raid your room. Such incidences have been reported on the Caribbean coast, San Andrés and other popular foreigner destinations. Ignore any offers of drugs in the street, as the “dealer” might be setting you up to be arrested.


There are no plainclothes cops in Colombia. Ignore any person coming up to you who claims to be one, and demands to see your passport and sufficient funds. Often the “cop” will ask the same of another “foreigner” (an accomplice). Another common ploy to relieve travelers of their belongings is to distract their attention: spritzing mustard, shampoo, excrement or other goo on the victim and offer to clean it up (while cleaning out pockets), or a soccer ball innocently hitting your leg.


Use locally produced shoulder bags so you blend in more, wearing the strap across the chest. Day and fanny packs attract thieves. In bus terminals and airports, keep a close eye on your baggage, especially at holiday times. Always keep an arm or leg through the strap. Arrive to your destination during daylight.


Make a photocopy of the front (information) page of your passport to carry with you around town and to use when buying bus tickets. This will save headaches in having to spell your "weird" name to the ticket seller, and you won't have to dig out your valuable document in public. Also scan the information pages of your passport and e-mail them to yourself. This can help speed a replacement if your passport gets lost or stolen.


Wear a money belt under your beltline, with the opening against your skin. Preferably use one with two compartments (one for passport, credit cards, etc.; the other for cash, travelers checks) to more evenly distribute the bulk across your midriff. On trips through iffy parts of the country, distribute money around your body (in your shoe; in hidden pocket pinned or sewn into the inside of clothes; elastic bandage pouches used above the elbow or below the knee).


When day tripping, carry only what you need. Leave all valuables at your hotel. When depositing valuables in your accommodation's safe, make an inventory of your possessions. Leave one copy with what you're depositing and keep another copy for yourself. Check the contents when you pick the items back up.


Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Colombia: Pacific Coast Highlights, Getting Around, Highlights of Southern Colombia, When to Go, Safety, Capitanejo Safety, Ecotourism in Colombia, Holidays and Festivals, Colombia Maps and Pamplona Holidays and Fiestas.

By Lorraine Caputo

Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...

28 Sep 2011

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