Safety in Colombia

The death of Pablo Escobar by Botero.

If you ask anybody in Europe about Colombia, the first things that usually pops into their mind are : Drugs, kidnapping, corruption, murder... They will eventually also mention good coffee and pretty women.

Decades of drugs traffic domination has embedded the country with a reputation that will take a long time to get rid off. But the terrible years are over now: The big drug barons are dead, corruption is getting much better and there is a real effort from the population & politicians to pretend to a safer life and show their country to the world in a new light.

After weeks of traveling all around the country, we never had a single problem, the people are absolutely lovely and very friendly, they always try to help us and are very keen on introducing us to the best of their beautiful country.

BUT BE WARNED!

You are traveling in a poor country and some people don't have enough to eat. They will often have nothing to lose to feed their families and survive. So be prudent: Always stay aware of what's and who's surrounding you and keep common sense to avoid trouble.

Here is a simple rule that our friend Vinciane (she has been living as an expat in Colombia for 15 years) told us the 1st day we arrived :

=> ALWAYS CONSIDER THE WORST TO GET ONLY THE BEST.

I think it resumes perfectly the right attitude. We heard many stories of travelers who got in trouble, they were always related to drugs, alcohol, prostitution or simple lack of common sense.

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Here are a few tips to help you get only the best out of Colombia!
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1. No dar la Papaya

=> literally "don't give a papaya" (the tropical fruit). A Colombian expression that means "don't show off, or don’t put yourself in a position where you become vulnerable to be taken advantage of", a general rule that will work for any trip and should be the first thing of common sense of any traveler.

It's very likely that you are going to be spotted right away with your backpack, shorts & white skins so por favor, avoid the big camera pending of your neck, gold chains & noisy attitudes, this is just asking for it! Try to blend in: Observe the locals, how they behave, how they dress & do the same!

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2. Get advice & always listen to the locals

=> They have been through it for many years & many of them have at least once been confronted to a security issue (like all of us in European or American cities), so listen to their advice: Where avoiding to go, what not to do, how to behave.

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3. Go out in groups

=> Most of the problems happen to individuals or couples, so make some friends! People that you will meet at the hostel or ideally locals, they are much more likely to spot danger than foreigners. Colombians are usually very protective with foreigners and it's going to be a great dynamic for your activity!

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4. NEVER EVER get drunk or under the influence of any drug in unknown territory

=> Most of the aggression stories we heard happened to drunks or out of their heads travelers. It's very likely that you will enjoy the effect of Aguardiente and strong local beer at some point, and quickly find yourself in a state that will get spotted by "professionals". Watch your glasses in clubs (especially those with loads of super hot girls on their own), we heard about some stories of spiked drinks that would get you either asleep for 48 hours or in a strange generous state.

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5. Take Taxis at night

=> Most problems happen at night, it's best if you avoid walking in the dark especially in quiet streets. It's best to order taxis from hotels or doors of your flat rather then take them in the street, as the Taxi number will be recorded.

When in the taxi, close all doors, this is what locals do: It will show to the driver that you are aware of the customs and he will be less likely to overprice you.

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6. Learn basic (or ideally advanced) Spanish

=> Communication is the key, you will always be much more able to get out of tricky situation if you can assess it and understand precisely what's going on.

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7. Carry the minimum

=> Try to calculate the amount of money you need for your activity, don't take cards, jewellery, or cameras, especially at night. If any problem arise, just empty your pockets & hand over everything, never try to argue or resist, you will always have more to lose than your aggressor!

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8. Spot the danger & avoid it

=> Let's say you are in Cartagena, walking around, dazzled by the beauty of the old town and inadvertently find yourself in a dark street with a few guys sleeping on the pavement. Well, turn around! Another example: you are just off a bus with all your stuff, big backpack, with no clue where your hostel is. 2 guys talk to you and offer to show you the way, they walk with you asking questions. Well, just tell them that your are fine and don't need anything. If they insist, just turn around and get back to a busy place.

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9. Always keep your luggage or bags with you and at sight

=> You will have to handle it in buses or planes. So, separate all of the precious things in a hand luggage that you always have with you. There are unfortunately still quite a few robberies in the street or losses in transport (especially in cheap airlines).

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AND TO FINISH...

=> Don't be paranoid! If you respect those rules it's very unlikely that anything will happen to you, so no need to be scared or over precocious, it will just ruin your trip. Just be natural and keep your eyes open!

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  • Guest (Geert Theisen)

    Interesting, but I have to clarify that Colombia is not poor, Colombia is part of the CIVETS group of six leading emerging markets. Today there are many successful companies created by Colombian entrepreneurs, Avianca, Argos, Bancolombia, Grupo SURA and many more companies, today Colombia is one of the countries that more is creating new millionaires in the world and in recent times Colombia has created millionaires quicker than Brazil and Mexico. Colombia has a large young population ready to start business and develop their country.

    Colombia is the third-largest economy in the region, home to nearly 50 million consumers and a rising middle class with significant economic mobility. With gross-domestic product growth over the past four years estimated at close to 5 percent and the lowest inflation in decades, Colombia — soon to become a member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development — has fast become a major regional power.

    A simple example illustrates the vibrancy of the Colombian market. As a result of rising available income, more than a third of Colombian households own a pet. The pet-care market is estimated to grow at 13 percent per year; according to industry data, the market for pet foods grew from $68 million in 2008 to $400 million in 2013.

    Colombia is Florida’s second-largest trade partner globally. Since 2003, foreign direct investment in Colombia has increased sevenfold. The Colombian stock exchange climbed from 1,000 points at its creation in July 2001 to over 7,300 points by November 2008. The potential of Colombia is huge and I am sure that a future will be a economic power.

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Bogotá is now the safest city in Colombia - about 700% safer than Caracas, well done Bogotá!

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