Planning a trip to Colombia but wondering if Bogota is safe? While there are tons of reasons why you should visit the country between the food, the history, and the rich culture to name a few, if your knowledge of Colombia comes mostly from Hollywood films and Netflix originals (you know what I’m talking about), then I completely understand your concern.
The truth is, Bogotá, along with the rest of Colombia, WAS indeed one of the most dangerous places to visit once upon a time. In recent years, though, Colombian tourism has grown steadily, and this is no doubt affected by the improvements in safety and security.
In general, Bogotá can be just as safe as the next city, so long as you stay vigilant, and exercise common sense. In fact, there are plenty of reasons to put Bogotá on top of your Colombia itinerary.
If you’re planning on exploring Bogotá anytime soon, continue reading for a more specific rundown of what you need to know to stay safe in Colombia’s capital.
Quick Answer: Is Bogotá Safe?
YES it is! In June 2016, a ceasefire was signed by the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). This made history, as the civil war that lasted more than 50 years was effectively brought to a close.
Now, in 2021:
- Bogotá even ranks lower than some American cities when it comes to violent crime;
- Most of the capital’s petty crimes, such as the occasional pickpocketing, can be easily avoided by keeping your valuables secure; and
- The fact that 56% of Colombia’s tourists visit Bogotá, is a testament to how safe it has become in recent years.
Overall, your safety largely depends on how careful and responsible you are during your visit. While cocaine and drugs don’t circulate as widely as they used to, the cartels and their products still exist. Don’t look for drugs, don’t buy them, don’t use them, and you’re practically safe from the risk of drug-related violence.
Safety in Bogotá, Colombia: What You Should Know
Bogotá, as well as the rest of Colombia, is well aware of the reputation they’ve built up in the last 50 or so years. This is why they’ve made an active effort to revitalize tourism through safer streets; even coming up with an official tourist police force to encourage visitors.
Similar to most countries, violent crimes almost always occur in the outskirts of urban areas. Bogotá, being the capital of Colombia, also serves as a hub for its financial institutions and business centers. This means the area is regularly patrolled by law enforcers, making it that much safer.
Most of the crimes that do occur in Bogotá involve petty theft and scams. These situations, however, can be easily avoided with these best practices:
- Never carry all of your cash in one pocket, wallet, or compartment — spreading them around your person is safer just in case you encounter the occasional pickpocket or the rare mugger
- Never use or display expensive electronics, gadgets, and jewellery in public — by doing so, you are tempting would-be criminals by making yourself an easy target
- Regardless of your gender, never accept drinks from strangers — spiking drinks is a common modus here, so watch out
- When riding crowded buses, or walking in crowded places, hold your bags close, feel your pockets often, and keep a watchful eye — pickpockets take advantage of such situations since they can easily blend in with the rest of the population after committing the crime
- Avoid poorly lit and unfamiliar places at night — you should do your exploring during the day, when it’s much safer. You can also ask the staff at your hostel about areas you should avoid
- Avoid withdrawing money from ATMs on the street, especially at night — If you need to withdraw cash, go for the ATMs inside malls, or inside bank buildings. It’s also safer if you can have some people accompany you
If you have the budget for it, I’d recommend getting travel insurance just to be extra safe. In general, you are safe in Bogotá so long as you actively keep out of trouble, and exercise vigilance, especially in public places.
Travel Insurance while in Bogota
For some peace of mind on your Bogota adventures, purchase travel insurance beforehand. Accidents happen, no matter how cautious you are, so it’s a good idea to be covered in case of a mishap. We recommend World Nomads or SafetyWing, depending on the type of traveler you are.
At the moment, we are preferring Safety Wing as they have better Covid-19 coverage.
Is Bogotá Safe Right Now?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 cases in Colombia are still high as of July 2021, so it is advised that travellers be fully-vaccinated first before they visit Bogotá. Aspiring visitors can check Colombia Travel for COVID-19 case, and travel requirement updates.
Some airlines are already operating limited routes going to, and from, Colombia. While Colombia currently does not require inbound international travellers to present a negative COVID-19 test result, you still need to fill out the Check-Mig form from the Colombia Migration website. This form must be accomplished at least 24 hours prior to your flight to Colombia. Upon arriving, travellers are no longer required to quarantine.
If you are travelling from the United States, it is best to check the U.S Embassy in Colombia website for the most recent updates.
Even if you are fully vaccinated, you are still advised to wear face masks that cover your nose and mouth, practice social distancing of at least 6 feet, and wash your hands with soap often. When leaving your hostel, make sure to also bring hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol solution.
April 2021 Protests
As of April 2021, protests against a new tax have evolved into a mass movement against far-right President Duque and his administration. The protestors demand action against the economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic (which has caused 40% of the Colombian population to fall under the poverty line) and the severe police oppression. It is hard to predict what course these protests will take in the next couple of months.
As a tourist, you should avoid getting caught up in the middle of a demonstration, especially since the police are using brute force to break up the protestors and many have died already. Roadblocks and buses that are not running are another possibility when you’re travelling to or from Bogotá in these times. Always make sure to check in with your hostel to catch up on the most recent situation.
Safest Areas in Bogotá (And Areas to Avoid)
For most travellers and locals, the easiest candidate for “safest place in Bogotá” is Zona T, aka Zona Rosa. It has everything you’d want from a modern city. Big shopping malls, trendy shops and restaurants, and the finest nightclubs for everyone looking to unwind after a full day of exploring. For those visiting Colombia with kids, it’s also one of the most practical places to stay in.
This place hosts several hotels and hostels at different price points, so regardless of your budget, you’re sure to find suitable accommodation here. Being an important economic hub for both locals and tourists, Bogotá’s government makes a concerted effort to keep this densely populated area safe through sufficient police coverage.
La Candelaria, also known as Old Town, is another great place to explore in Bogotá. As far as architecture and culture goes, it sits in the middle of the completely urbanized Zona Rosa, and the more traditional, rural towns in Colombia. Colonial architecture, and smaller, bohemian restaurants and cafés are scattered in the Old Town, along with more affordable accommodation options.
During the day, La Candelaria is relatively safe. At night, however, it’s not as safe as Zona T, so it’s advised to do your exploring under cover of light.
In a country with a unique culture, Chapinero still manages to stand out. Here, you can watch plays at the Teatro Libre de Bogotá, watch a football game at the El Campín stadium, or shop at the Centro Comercial Andino. Chapinero is also known as the country’s LGBTQ capital. It houses the famous Theatron De Pelicula, a MASSIVE nightclub with a total of five floors that cater specifically to the LGBTQ community.
Chapinero is generally safe during the day, and the busier places at night are also relatively safe. However, it’s best to avoid poorly lit areas and isolated corners after dark.
Is Bogotá Safe for Solo Travelers?
Unless you’re walking into an active war zone (which Bogotá isn’t), solo travelling is generally safe. By being responsible and looking out for yourself, you can have a blast travelling solo in Bogotá.
As you tour Bogotá, you may even meet other solo travellers, or get “adopted” by other travelling groups. On top of making new friends, remember that there is safety in numbers!
Below are a few tips to stay safe when exploring Bogotá solo.
TRY not to look like a tourist
Making it obvious that you’re not from around Bogotá makes you an attractive target for criminals. Even if you’re not of Hispanic descent, the way you dress and conduct yourself makes a huge difference. Avoid standing around and looking confused; this is very different from standing and intently admiring certain views and attractions. If you’re walking, walk with intent. Don’t shuffle around, constantly changing directions.
When stepping out, jeans, a shirt, and close-toed shoes are a good combination. Most tourists, especially those that come from colder places, tend to wear “tropical” clothing such as shorts, and flip-flops. Try not to look like most tourists.
Take an Uber instead of local taxis
If you have bad luck, a cab driver may only charge you with a small “gringo tax” (a practice where local cab drivers overcharge unknowing tourists). If you have terrible luck, the cab driver, halfway through your ride, may have his associates jump in the cab with some knives or a gun. They will then take you on an ATM tour and intimidate you into emptying your bank account.
If you have good luck, you can probably get to where you’re trying to go without much issue.
Don’t get me wrong… there are good, honest cab drivers in Bogotá, but there are also scammers, and criminals. It’s much safer to take an Uber instead of flagging down a local taxi.
Watch out for fake cops
There’s a modus in Bogotá where a “police officer” will ask to check your money for apparent counterfeits. If this happens, don’t give in to their request, and ask them to take you to the nearest police station instead. This is often enough to dissuade impostors from furthering their ruse.
Do not accept drinks (or food) from random strangers, regardless if you’re a man or a woman, lest you become a zombie!
To be fair, that was only a slight exaggeration. Be wary of drinks, food, or other ingestibles offered by strangers, since Colombian criminals are fond of a drug called scopolamine. Known by street names such as “the devil’s breath,” and “burundanga,” scopolamine is tasteless and odorless, and it renders anyone who takes enough of it helpless and dazed.
On top of walking around in a zombie-like state, victims also fail to remember anything from the time the drug takes effect, and they become more open to suggestions; some recorded instances had people giving up their bank codes, car keys… and some even go as far as carrying out errands for the criminals!
Is Bogotá Safe for Female Travelers?
Bogotá is perfectly safe for female travellers, so long as they exercise basic safety habits. Of course, there are a few things you need to keep in mind as a female traveller in Bogotá, but as long as you’re reasonably careful, there’s really not much to worry about.
Here are some basic safety tips for female travellers interested in visiting Bogotá.
Just ignore catcallers
Similar to basically everywhere else, catcalling is still a thing that happens in Bogotá. Don’t let it ruin your day and simply ignore catcallers. Eventually, they’ll feel silly for even starting and will just stop on their own.
Pick accommodations with good security
While it’s tempting to cheap out on accommodations in order to have a bigger budget exploring the city, you should never put your safety at risk. Pick a place with good security, surveillance, and 24/7 assistance, even if they tend to be more expensive than simpler accommodations.
Stay inside the city, especially when it gets dark
The center of the city where most people stay is the safest part of Bogotá. This is especially important when night comes, since the outskirts are not as well patrolled and monitored as the capital. You can assume that well-lit, populated places are safer than isolated corners outside the city proper.
Stay away from drugs
Drug-related violence can be the worst kind… but they are also easily avoided. Don’t take any chances and don’t break the law. Doing so, especially in a foreign country, can be QUITE problematic.
Ditch the flashy jewelry for a simpler get-up
Wearing sparkly accessories can turn you into an enticing target for pickpockets and other criminals. Go for simple and functional e.g. jeans, a shirt, and some sneakers, and you’ll fit in with the locals better.
Is Bogotá Safe for Families?
Ensuring the safety of your family in Bogotá is largely similar to our safety tips for solo and female travellers, albeit with a few adjustments. Here are some tips to keeping your family safe in Bogotá
Keep a watchful eye on your kids, especially when navigating crowds
Kidnapping in Bogotá has been greatly reduced in the past decade, but that doesn’t mean you can afford to be too lax. Make sure your children are always in sight, and when walking through dense crowds, ensure that you’re holding onto them.
Tell your kids not to use their cellphones out in the open
It’s no secret that kids and adolescents like to use their cell phones. Be it for updating their social media accounts, or taking pictures (you are on holiday, after all). However, you should caution them not to use their cellphones too openly since it is one of the most stolen items in Bogotá.
When pocketing their phones, ensure that they are also tightly secured, and hard to reach undetected. If there is a risk of struggle and detection, criminals are less likely to try something.
If a family member is stepping out on their own, keep in contact
If someone in the family wants to go exploring solo, tell them to provide regular updates, or install a GPS tracker app, so you’re always aware of their location for safety purposes.
Advise family not to bring all of their valuables when leaving the hotel
While staying vigilant can greatly reduce the likelihood of being robbed or getting mugged, it’s still better not to carry all of your valuables when leaving your accommodations. This way, if you’re REALLY unlucky, you’re still left with some money and other items to take home.
Tell everyone not to bring their actual passport when stepping out
Instead, bring a copy of your passport along with another valid ID. Losing your passport in your home country is bad, but losing it in foreign lands is even worse.
During a mugging or a robbery, advise your family to give up their belongings without a struggle
No matter the monetary cost of your items, they are not worth a life. In the unfortunate instance of a mugging or robbery, do not struggle or resist. The sooner you hand over your belongings, the safer you’ll be.
Bogotá, like any other country, has two sides. The beauty of history and culture, and the ugly reality of crime. However, with a little know-how and a bit of common sense, you’ll enjoy Bogotá and its wonders, all while keeping safe.
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