When I planned for my trip to Colombia, the greatest amount of research I did was trying to get an answer to the question – is Colombia safe? I never felt threatened during my two weeks in the country, but two events occurred while I was there that influenced my attitude on the safety of the country and safety everywhere.
Fellow travel blogger robbed in Salento
I got a Facebook message from a fellow travel blogger while I was traveling concerned about my safety and informed me that another travel blogger had been robbed at gunpoint at a relatively safe part of the country near Salento. Apparently a gang of bandits held up the bus and she lost everything she had. When you are a nomadic blogger, that means your whole livelihood.
Paris, November 13th
The day before I was leaving Colombia, I noticed on Facebook a note from a friend living in Paris that she was fine and appreciated the concern. I knew right away something awful had gone down, so I turned on CNN and saw the horrific news coming from the terrorist attacks in Paris, France. Several months later it is now Belgium after incidents in Mali, Tunisia, and the Ivory Coast. It makes one wonder, is anywhere safe?
Never declare a place safe
My recommendation for travel bloggers and any traveler is never to declare a place 100% safe. One of my favorite places to travel is Southeast Asia. I had a female reader inquire about the safety of Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. I replied I thought it was completely safe even for a solo female traveler.
During her trip she had someone on a moto bike drive by and try to snatch her camera that was strapped around her shoulder. She was dragged on the pavement before managing to free herself suffering some scrapes and bruises in the process. The same thing happened to a Facebook friend of mine in Cambodia. I still feel these two countries are really safe, but I will never put myself out on a limb like that again. I almost felt responsible.
It is not that I am advocating paranoia. I just think when giving someone travel advice on personal safety that you have to be careful and give a more balance opinion based on your experience. I would recommend saying “I never felt threatened, but you should always be aware of your surroundings.” I would also recommend people do their own research before deciding on visiting a place to make sure they are comfortable.
Is Colombia safe
Back to the Colombia though. I spent several days in Bogota, several days in Leticia along the Amazon, and the Caribbean coast from Tayrona to Santa Marta to Cartagena. I felt very safe in these locations. I know Bogota can be kind of sketchy, but I was staying with local friends, so I felt very safe with them. They drove me through a notorious slum, but we were in a taxi, so there was no danger.
I did have some trouble with the language. If you are nervous about not speaking English and not being understood, then Colombia may not be the country for you. In the major tourist areas many people speak English, but if you get off the beaten path it will be more difficult. A few easy things like ordering a drink and giving directions to a cab driver were difficult. In this discussion of safety, I am not talking about the language barrier. Knowing the language can make you safer, and it is always better to know as much as possible of the local language, but it is not necessary to become fluent in Spanish just to be safe in Colombia.
Is anywhere safe?
With the rise of IS terrorism and just plain wackos shooting up schools, movie theaters, and the work place it begs the question if anywhere is safe? The answer is no, at least not 100%. If is kind of funny to me how in America we hear news about mass shootings almost monthly in our public places and gun crimes daily, yet many people fear traveling to third world countries where the most that is likely to happen to you is being scammed or ripped off.
If you are ripped off in Colombia at least you can make sense of being a victim. Someone targeted you because they believe you are rich and they are poor and they want some of what you have. People who are victims or the people who grieve for the victims of senseless bombings or shootings can never have that closure as they can never wrap their heads around the randomness of being in the wrong place when a demented person with a warped ideology decides to act.
Safety is mainly good or bad luck
You can follow all the good travel advice and still have something bad happen to you. You can try to blend in, not wear a fanny pack, not wear expensive jewelry, be fluent in Spanish, smile on command, always be aware of your surroundings, follow your gut, don’t accept candy from strangers, know all the names of the soccer players on the Colombia national team, and all the other pertinent advice and still have something bad happen to you if you run into the wrong person at the wrong time. Concurrently, you can do everything wrong and wind up completely unscathed.
Just like something good or bad can happen to you when you walk down the street of your hometown or in the safest place in your own country. The only place that is totally safe is your home and even that is not a 100% guarantee. So you might as well travel to Colombia or anywhere. Pick your destination and go.
I feel it is safe to travel to Colombia
I am going to break my own rule here and declare Colombia safe. Actually, I am declaring no place safe except for your couch, but who wants to spend the rest of their life there. Since no place is safe, you might as well go to Colombia and
Experience the country with most species of birds of any country in the world
You might as well go see the Amazon and swim with dolphins
You might as well walk through the Old City of Cartagena
You might as cool off in a cascading waterfall surrounded by jungle
You might as well lounge in a hammock as the Caribbean sea crashes on to the shore in front of you
You might as well adventure on in Colombia.
The goal of Traveling Ted is to inspire people to outdoor adventure travel and then provide tips on where and how to go. If you liked this post then sign up for the email newsletter. Notifications are sent out once or twice a month with what is new with Traveling Ted’s adventures. There is no spam and email information will not be shared. Other e-follow options include Facebook (click on the like box to the right) or twitter (click on the pretty bird on the rainbow above).
So well said. No place is safe, even home. In fact, I feel more unsafe at home than I do in a foreign place sometimes. I agree that we can’t declare a place safe, but we can share our experiences and encourage people to travel if there’s something they want to see or do. I think that it’s tough because everything is based on the experiences we had. For me, India felt completely safe, even as a female solo traveler, but that doesn’t mean that everyone’s experience will be the same.
Erin Marie Musich recently posted..Attending an Indian Wedding
Great that you had such a positive and safe experience in India.
Very well put, Ted. I like what you wrote about Americans being afraid to travel abroad but tolerate all the gun violence in our country. Am I nervous about taking the kids to Europe this summer, especially after the recent attacks in Brussels? Of course. But is it going to stop me from seeing and showing them the world? Absolutely not.
There is always a risk no matter where you go.
What a great read my friend! You’ve certainly given us a lot to think about and how to reduce some of the risks at least. I feel terrible for some of the colleagues you’ve mentioned above but at least you’ve made us all aware of potential dangers that can be avoided and some that cannot.
Many dangers are unfortunately out of our control no matter if we walk our dog at home or travel, so we might as well travel 🙂
I think it’s important to always be aware of your surrounds, especially in a new place. But it’s important to not be paranoid, you’ll miss out on so much! Great post, would love to visit Columbia someday soon
You are definitely correct. One needs to find balance between carelessness and paranoia when assessing the safety risk no matter where you are.
Very well written! I’m asking the same question about safety before travelling to Colombia. I agree with you, everyone has to be careful where ever you are. I was robbed in Paris, after this occurrence I take care everywhere with much more attention, even in destinations declared as “safe”.
Thank you Neva,
Unfortunately, these days you have to ask that question when going to the cinema, going to a bar, and even just walking down the street. I feel I am just as safe in Colombia as I am anywhere in America. You can never be 100% sure of safety. All you can do is minimize risks by not going to dangerous places.