Is Colombia Safe to Travel in 2015?
Tayrona Park Colombia
Previously I wrote a post in 2014 about this same matter, and a lot has changed in the country since then. For one, a peace process that has taken more than 2 years is in place with on and off stop to the internal armed conflict. Recently, a border crisis has erupted between Colombia and Venezuela were thousands of Colombians living in Venezuela were forced out of their houses and displaced back into Colombia.
But although these conflicts and events generate tension between the population, Colombia remains a great and safe destination to travel. International travelers increase year y year as the phantom of what Colombia was in the 90´s fades from the world´s perception. Colombia is no longer the Drug Lord backyard as it was believed to be, drug dealers no longer rule like they presently do in Mexico.
Are the cities safe? Safer than most big metropolis like New York and Sao Paulo. Street muggers are rare now, but the heavy tourist areas like Cartagena remain the most prone to pick pockets.
Peace Process in Colombia
Are Tourist Safe from the Armed Conflict in Colombia?
Foreigners wanting to visit Colombia might be warned by their embassies about the guerrillas, paramilitaries, kidnappings and such. Here is the truth about all that in the present 2015:
Paramilitaries Do Not Exist Anymore
I have noticed in foreigner’s perception that they see paramilitaries as the evilest of all illegal armed forces, while the guerrillas carry an aura of “Robin Hood´s” fighting for the poor and equality. The paramilitaries were scary back in the day, they killed by the hundreds and would perform “social cleansing”, which is killing communists, whores, drug users and gays. This usually happened in faraway towns were the military had no authority.
The Paramilitaries are gone
Most people have trouble realizing that, mostly on the Venezuelan side that blames everything wrong in their country to Colombia´s paramilitaries. Back in 2002 or 2004 (can´t remember) the AUC, which was the united paramilitary groups, signed a peace treaty with the government and disarmed themselves.
The paramilitary leaders were imprisoned soon after and some were extradited to the United States for drug dealing. Many of the soldiers were given jobs with government programs, and yes, many others returned to form small groups of criminal organizations. But these are no longer paramilitary organizations as they do not fight the guerrilla for an extreme rightwing ideology, they focus on drug dealing and illegal money making.
These ex-paramilitary and ex-guerrilla formed organizations are called Bacrim. A word that means “emerging criminal gangs”.
Are the Bacrim a threat to tourists? No.
They do not kidnap people or blame foreigners for an “international takeover”. They exists on the country´s borders, deep jungles and places tourist never visit. They like to stay in the shadows to avoid calling the interest of the authorities.
The Guerrilla No Longer Kidnaps
While the paramilitaries were created by rich farm men to protect their lands and allowed tourism to flourish on the rural areas, the guerrillas possessed a hatred to Americans and anything that symbolized “capitalism” and “Imperialism”.
In the past they used to kidnap citizens and even some foreigners for political and financial means. Before the Peace Process with the government began, FARC, the most prominent guerrilla group (there are 2) pledged never to kidnap again. They released all of their political prisoners and captured soldiers.
Have foreigners been kidnaped in Colombia?
A couple have, but released in a matter of days. One of the most recent case was of two Canadian grown men who ventured into the tropical forest in a zone considered “Red”, and they were warned by the military on the road. But they ventured anyway into the jungle and encountered a guerrilla patrol, who kidnaped them under the presumption of considering them “spies of the CIA”.
They were soon released, but this process usually takes days, with the intervention of the Red Cross and ONG organizations that serve as mediators to coordinate a place and helicopter for the release of the prisoners.
So if a foreigner is kidnaped in Colombia, it probably was caused by a foolish mistake or misunderstanding. It rarely happens after 2012, and even before.
The Internal Conflict and How it Affects Tourism
Although there is an advanced Peace Process underway in Cuba, fighting in the country resumes sporadically. But it is mostly guerrilla factions attacking oil infrastructure or military patrols. Bombs in remote towns and cities seems to have stopped altogether.
Tourists can now visit more of the rural country than they could in the past. Most of the tourist attractions are completely safe to visit, even some deeper in the country side which locals dared not to go a few years back.
Monserrate Hill - Bogota
Is Bogota Safe to Visit?
Bogota is the capital and biggest city in Colombia. It is also one of the biggest in Latin America although not in the size of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janerio, Buenos Aires or Mexico City. Bogota is fairly safe to travel to, but as all big cities pick pockets and junkies pollute the streets at night. Probable the most dangerous city of all Colombia along with Cartagena, but still fairly safe compared to New York or Sao Paulo.
Stay away from these places in Bogota
Downtown. Downtown is the most enjoyable part of town for foreigners, especially during night time. It is a very fun place to visit with old colonial architecture and the best bars, night clubs and social interaction between the locals and foreigners. But do not wander around the perimeter as Bogota´s downtown area is surrounded by a dangerous slump. Street boys and junkies can always be seen on the far away corners, once you step into their territory you become their victim.
Cerro Monserrate side paths
Cerro Monserrate is a must visit tourist attraction in Bogota. A steep hill with a large Jesus Crist on top with a small community build at its highest peak. The hill is just on the base of Bogota downtown and surrounded by the slumps. The Cerro can be climbed using a train system or cable cars, but it can also be walked by stairs or using side paths. The area is huge and while the authorities guard pretty well the main path, the side paths that some people like to explore are the favorite place for muggers.
La Candelaria Travel Review
Cable Cars - Medellin
Is Medellin Safe to Visit?
Medellin is very safe to visit now days. Same rules of thumb apply to Medellin than t Bogota, be very careful on the downtown areas and do not walk out the nightlife blocks. I have done it and you can see the street boys and junkies begin to encircle you.
Metrocable and Arvi Park
The biggest tourist attraction in Medellin has become the Metrocable and Arvi Park. The Metrocable is a cable car that goes from the Metro all the up to what used to be the most secluded and dangerous slump in Medellin. The place is now peaceful and the local government has invested heavily in schools, homes, libraries and infrastructure to make Comuna 13 one of the best places to live.
Although the area around Metrocable has improved substantially, tourists can now walk out of the metro cable stations and walk around the slumps to their own risk. I have never walked around it, but a German friend did and said the people are very happy and safe to interact with. Poverty might be intimidating but that doesn´t mean they will attack the first nice looking fellow they see.
Still, if you are planning in venturing inside the slump I would recommend to do it with a tourist group that knows their way. The place in general might be safe, but gangs still exists.
Colonial City - Cartagena
Is Cartagena Safe to Visit?
Cartagena is one of the most touristic places in Colombia right by the Caribbean coast. Its colonial castles and pirate walls with cannons form the year 1600 are impressive and highly romantic by the sea side and hot Caribbean air. It is the romance city in the country.
The tourist area is where all the hotels and hostels are found, what can be considered the Bay Area in the United States. The place is very safe with a tourist police of its own. Blocks of colonial houses of all colors and museums, tourists can walk around freely and use the beaches.
The Colonial City
The Colonial City is this entire area enclosed for tourism with preserved colonial architecture. It is safe under its limits, but its perimeter is surrounded by the local slumps and extreme poverty. Cartagena has one of the biggest slumps in the country, and they prey on unwary tourists that roam too far away from the Colonial City. Cameras, cell phones and pocket money are their usual targets.
Cartagena Travel Tour
Is Colombia one of your future destinations?
Is Colombia one of your future destinations?
© 2015 David Trujillo Uribe