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Minimizing Risks in Colombia

Over the years, Colombia’s public image has gone through drastic changes. Read the first two sentences of any government issued travel advisory about Colombia and you will see words like crime, terror, kidnapping, and high caution. These words are powerful and scary. And these words are the reason why your aunt might send you five articles about someone getting stabbed in Colombia when you tell her that you want to go. However, these words are missing key parts of the whole picture.

Colombia festive

Colombia is a country bursting with natural beauty, culture, and kind people. With over a million tourists a year, it’s hard to believe that it is truly as dangerous as it is sometimes described. Am I saying that these articles and travel advisories are full of lies, and should be hurled out the window? Am I suggesting that there is a zero percent chance of something bad happening in South America? Absolutely not. Traveling comes with risks, but you can explore Colombia as long as you practice caution.

In some ways, these fear inducing articles are good, because one of the most dangerous things you could ever do is become complacent. Always practice caution no matter how comfortable or safe you feel. Safety measures that you read online may seem like common sense now, but when you are in the moment and nothing bad has happened yet, it is all too easy to let your guard down. However, the biggest mistakes are always made when you do this.

Location, location, location

The name, Birmingham, Alabama, doesn’t really strike fear into the hearts of protective aunts around the world, nor are there one hundred and one articles written about why you will immediately burst into flames the moment you step foot into its city limits. But after doing some research, I realized the place I live, Birmingham, Alabama, has a crime and safety index that is comparable to Bogotá, Colombia.

Despite this, nothing has ever happened to me while living there. This is because there are good areas and bad areas in Birmingham, and the same goes for Colombia. There are some places in Birmingham, Alabama that I would never go, just like there are some places in Colombia where the chance of you being put in danger is very high. Generally, many of the more dangerous areas are along the borders that separate Colombia from their neighboring countries. Regardless, make sure you research the places you plan to stay.

Don’t be a Target

A lot of times criminals will target tourists because they believe that they are wealthy or gullible. Sometimes you can’t help but stick out when you’re visiting another country, but if you’re a giant white lady like me, you can at least be a giant white lady that isn’t wearing expensive jewelry and fanning herself with a one-hundred dollar bill. Here are some tips to help you blend in.

  • Use your phone in non-public areas. Try to plan out where you want to go before you leave so that you don’t need to use your GPS. If you need to use your phone, stop inside of a store somewhere, and be aware of your surroundings.
  • Before your trip, try to brush up on your Spanish. The more you are able to communicate with other people, the safer and easier things will be for you.
  • Only carry what you need for the amount of time you will be out. If you are carrying valuables, look into getting a money belt or an across the chest purse. Never put something important in your pocket.
  • In really crowded areas or busses, carry your bags in front of you. You might look weird, but it’s better than getting robbed.
  • Regardless of what you think about Colombia, this is not the place to do drugs. Also, never take drinks, food, or drugs offered to you by a stranger.
  • Only use ATMs during the day time.
  • If someone does try to mug you, don’t resist; your money is not worth your life!

Transportation

Most people in Colombia are kind and honest people, however, that doesn’t mean that some won’t try to take advantage of travelers. Watch out for these common scams.

  • Tours are a great way to visit an area safely and stress free. I would advise anyone to use tours when traveling in Colombia especially if you don’t speak Spanish that well and are not familiar with the country. However, do a lot of research on the tour company that you choose, because there is always the chance that it could be a scam. Colombitraveling is a safe and reputable company that is definitely worth booking with.
  • Make sure the ATM you use hasn’t been tampered with by checking for loose keys on the keypad.
  • Carry a copy of your passport and visa. There have been cases of police sometime trying to get bribes by harassing tourists and asking to see passports, knowing that they won’t have it.
  • Watch out for fake police. A lot of times, they will be dresses in regular clothes, but claim to be a police officer.
  • Always ask for and agree upon a price before receiving a service.

Before Your Trip

There are things you can do even before your trip to ensure that things go as smooth as possible.

  • Check with your insurance at home to make sure that you will be covered if you get sick or injured while out of your country. The last thing you want is a gigantic medical bill when you are already hurt. Also, consider purchasing a travelers insurance that covers things that your regular insurance doesn’t like emergency flights home.
  • If you are out one night and you don’t have wifi, you are going to quickly regret not having data or a SIM card if you have an emergency or you realize you have no way to call a taxi. That is why I would strongly recommend getting data that works internationally or purchasing an international SIM card before your trip.

Despite the safety precautions, the most important thing to remember is to enjoy Colombia, because there truly is a lot to enjoy.

 

Written by Dana