Last Updated on May 5, 2022 by Nellie Huang
Is Colombia safe to travel in 2022? In this post, I discuss the dangers of Colombia and how safe it is to travel Colombia, amidst the pandemic and nationwide protests.
For years, Colombia was a name associated with drug cartels, bombings, and kidnappings. In the 1980s and 90s, it was a country drowning in violence due to the intertwined civil military conflict and international drug war. Back then, it was considered one of the most dangerous places in the world.
But today’s Colombia is no longer the same country. It has worked hard to shed that image and cleaned up the streets that used to be ridden with violence. Few countries in Latin America or elsewhere have done more to turn things around than Colombia.
As I learned from my recent trip to Colombia, the country has definitely gotten its act together and it is dramatically safer than it once was. Problems remain, of course. Street crime is still an issue, and recent nationwide protests that turned deadly are once again making us question, “Is Colombia safe to travel?”.
Table of Contents
- Is Colombia Safe to Travel in 2022?
- Colombia Travel Restrictions
- Traveling Colombia During the Pandemic
- Travel Insurance in Colombia
- Current COVID Measures in Colombia
- Where to Get PCR Tests in Colombia
- Travel Safety in Colombia: The History
- 2021 Colombian Protests
- My Personal Experience of Traveling Colombia
- Is Colombia Safe for Solo Female Travelers?
- Should You Travel Colombia Independently or Book a Tour?
- Where is Safe to Travel in Colombia?
- Colombia Travel Advice from the Government
- Dangers of Colombia
- Political Protests and Riots
- Guerrilla & Paramilitary Activity
- Kidnappings in Colombia
- Theft & Robbery
- Drug Tourism
- How to Stay Safe in Colombia
- Further Reading on Colombia
Is Colombia Safe to Travel in 2022?
Whether it’s safe to travel Colombia depends on when and where you’re traveling. It’s a complex question, but I’ll break down the subject to discuss the dangers of Colombia in details. In this article, I’ll share my experience on what it’s like to travel Colombia during the pandemic.
Colombia Travel Restrictions
Colombia no longer requires a negative coronavirus test from travelers entering the country by air. Anyone is welcomed to travel to Colombia.
As of 20 June 2021, Colombia has confirmed more than 4 million cases of Covid-19 and 100,580 deaths. Since 3 June, Colombia has eased several lockdown measures even though it is still fighting a third peak in the pandemic, which has been aggravated by a month of crowded antigovernment street protests.
Traveling Colombia During the Pandemic
- All international travelers are allowed to enter Colombia without a PCR test. The only exception: Travelers arriving from India must present a negative COVID-19 PCR test result taken no more than 96 hours before departure. They must also self-isolate for 14 days, and may be subject to an additional PCR test within 24 hours after arrival.
- Everyone who enters Colombia still has to do the Check-Mig registration 24 hours before your flight here: migracioncolombia.gov.co.
- If you are traveling to the interior of the country, you do not need to present your negative PCR test nor download the CoronApp mobile application.
- Colombia has also reopened its land borders with Panama, Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil.
- Check the Colombia tourism board’s website for up-to-date info on COVID19 travel restrictions.
Travel Insurance in Colombia
I always recommend travelers to buy travel insurance, whether you’re traveling for a year or a week. It is particularly important have travel insurance that covers COVID-19 if you’re traveling during the pandemic.
Safety Wing is the most popular travel insurance company for COVID19-coverage. I use their Nomad Insurance plan, which covers COVID-19 as any other illness as long as it was not contracted before your coverage start date. Refer to my travel insurance guide for more details.
Current COVID Measures in Colombia
Masks are mandatory and must be worn at all times in Colombia. Everyone is good at following the rule (except tourists) and there are police officers stationed at airports and bus stations to make sure people follow the rules. Restaurants, shops and hotels are all open for business.
During my trip to Colombia last month (April-May 2021), the government imposed strict lockdowns only on weekends, starting at 8pm on Thursday and ending at 5am on Monday. Many roads were closed and museums were shut due to the nationwide protests (more on that below).
Since 8 June 2021, the nightly curfews have been lifted in most major cities, including Bogota, Medellin and Cali. Be sure to check for local restrictions at each part of Colombia you’re visiting, as measures imposed by regional authorities may differ.
Where to Get PCR Tests in Colombia
For those who need a PCR test in Colombia to fly home, the most reliable lab is Synlab at the Bogota International Airport (outside the arrivals hall). The results for the PCR test are delivered within 24 hours and the test costs 250,000 COP ($68). Click here to book an appointment on their website.
Travel Safety in Colombia: The History
During the 1970s and 1980s, Colombian democracy came under attack from the Medellín and Cali drug cartels. Traffickers hired assassins to kill leftist politicians and their supporters. They bombed dozens of buildings in Bogotá and Medellín and even planted a bomb in an Avianca plane that exploded mid-air, killing all 107 persons onboard.
At the start of the 1990s, drug production grew despite the death of Pablo Escobar. Countrywide attacks by the FARC and ELN guerilla groups also increased, alongside corruption, making it difficult to solve the country’s problems.
Eventually, a peace accord in 2016 between FARC and the government ended a 52-year armed conflict and brought an initial decline in violence. As a result, the country is dramatically safer than it once was and many previously no-go areas are now safe for travel.
2021 Colombian Protests
Since 2019, anti-government protests have surged across Colombia as the people show their discontent over corruption, inequality, and possible reforms.
On 28 April 2021 (when I was in Colombia), over 200,000 people took to the streets all over the country to protest against a controversial fiscal reform introduced by President Ivan Duque. Duque has withdrawn the proposed reform, but popular anger has only kept growing — fueled in part by the government’s iron-fisted response to protests.
Videos of anti-riot policemen using tear gas and batons against protesters have gone viral on social media, spreading beyond big cities and across the country. A month on, 59 people have died and over 2300 injured in the protests (although human rights group say the actual numbers are higher).
My Personal Experience of Traveling Colombia
I traveled solo around Colombia in April-May 2021, from Cartagena to Medellin, Guatape, Manizales, Jardin and Bogota. There were curfews on weekends mainly in the cities, so I adjusted my Colombia itinerary and went to Jardin in the Coffee Triangle for the weekend.
The nationwide protests broke out on my third day in Colombia, which was something I didn’t expect. I was in Cartagena when it started, but the protests there were relatively small and peaceful. When I got to Medellin, the protests had become massive and roadblocks were making it hard to get around. Sadly I couldn’t visit Salento and Cocora Valley as a result as there was no way to get there.
Honestly, it was stressful at that point in time as I didn’t know where to go to avoid the demonstrations that were a potential danger. I ended up heading back to Medellin, but I kept myself informed to make sure I wouldn’t be caught in a protest. Riot police were everywhere, many museums were closed and even boarded up to avoid being looted and vandalized.
I recommend waiting for the demonstrations to fizzle out before you travel to Colombia, though BBC reckons it will take awhile. To get up-to-date info, follow the hashtags #SOSColombia and #Colombiaprotests on social media to see footage from the ground.
Is Colombia Safe for Solo Female Travelers?
Despite the stressful moments, I really enjoyed traveling solo in Colombia as I felt a strong connection with the Colombians. I met so many warm and friendly locals, who were more than happy to share their story — even the sad stories about their tragic past.
Perhaps because I speak Spanish fluently, I connected with many Colombians and felt safe and at ease because of them. Like the Uber driver in Bogota who shared all about his childhood growing up in tumultuous times; the young man I met on a cable car in Medellin who told me where to find the best food in town; and the kind lady at my hotel in Jardin who walked with me to the bus station at 4am!
I didn’t encounter any sexual harassment, hassling (only in Cartagena and it wasn’t extreme) or negative incidents. I made sure not to carry too much cash with me and kept my passport in the hotel’s safe. You do need to be on the alert though, as theft and scams are common.
Should You Travel Colombia Independently or Book a Tour?
This really depends on how much travel experience you have, whether you’re traveling solo, and whether you speak the language. I traveled independently on this trip to Colombia and found it easy and fun to travel solo here.
In general, Colombia is an easy place to travel — the tourist trail is well marked, domestic flights are super cheap and easy, and it’s easy to meet other travelers. Many Colombians speak English, especially in Cartagena and Medellin.
If it’s your first time traveling or your first trip to South America, it might be wise to book a group tour such as this 9-day Colombia trip or this 14-day trip that includes the Lost City trek. You’ll get to travel with like-minded people and experience Colombia through a knowledgable local guide.
Alternatively, you can travel independently and join free walking tours in each destination (like I did). They give great insights to a city, and they’re a great way to meet other travelers. You just need to tip the guide (usually around US$10/person). One of the best tours I did was with Real City Tours in Medellin — Julio was incredibly knowledgable and engaging, and I felt like I learned so much on the walk with him.
Where is Safe to Travel in Colombia?
Many parts of Colombia are declared safe and approved for travel by governments: including Medellin, Bogota, Santa Marta, Barranquilla, as well as the Coffee Zone departments of Quindio, Risaralda and Caldas, Cartagena and San Andres.
Neo-paramilitary groups involved in drug trafficking are still present in Colombia and FARC dissidents remain in some jungle areas in the west of the country, specifically the remote areas bordering Venezuela and chunks of the Amazon region.
The US department of state advises against ALL travel to Arauca, Cauca (except Popayán), Chocó (except Nuquí), Nariño, and Norte de Santander (except Cúcuta) departments because of the risk of kidnap or being caught in the crossfire of a drug war.
Colombia Travel Advice from the Government
These days, many countries’ travel advisories warns against any travel to Colombia. I suggest taking these advice with a pinch of salt, but it’s still wise to keep yourself updated of latest safety warnings.
- US Department of State – Colombia Safety Warning
- UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office Travel advice for Colombia
- Government of Canada – Colombia travel advisory
- Australia DFAT Smart Traveller – Colombia Travel Advice
- New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade – Safe Travel
Dangers of Colombia
To pretend that present day Colombia is perfect would be naive and ignorant. There is a long road ahead for Colombia, and there’s still a great deal of political unrest in the country now. Stay vigilant and be aware of these dangers in Colombia:
Political Protests and Riots
As mentioned, the country has been wrecked with civil unrest since 2019. A national walkout in November turned violent, with several hundred protestors and police officers injured.
Once again in 2021, Colombians took to the streets in protest of the tax reform proposed by the government amidst the pandemic. Anti-riot policemen are using tear gas and batons against protesters and over 59 people have died, with 2300 injured. Major roads and public transportation are being disrupted during the protests, making it difficult to travel around Colombia during this period in time.
A month on, the protests still aren’t about to fizzle out. Make sure to keep yourself informed on the latest happenings if you do decide to travel to Colombia.
Guerrilla & Paramilitary Activity
Despite the peace deal between the government and FARC, there remain isolated pockets of guerrilla activity in remote parts of Colombia, with dissident FARC soldiers yet to disarm.
There are also neo-paramilitary groups who have extended their operations around the country following the withdrawal of the FARC, and whose areas of influence are more difficult to identify. Try to stick on the tourist trail when in Colombia and avoid going off the beaten track.
Kidnappings in Colombia
The border araes with Ecuador and Venezuela are dangerous, and there is risk of kidnap or being caught in the crossfire of a drug war. The number of kidnappings is down hugely from its peak in 2000, but it’s a threat that occasionally exists.
Theft & Robbery
Theft is the most common danger in Colombia for travelers, especially in large cities. Many travelers get pickpocketed or having their phone or camera snatched from them. There are also stories about taxi robberies, where taxi drivers bring friends along with them on the ride who will force you into an ATM and make you withdraw cash out for them.
Try to avoid carrying lots of cash and wearing valuables. If you do encounter robbers, it is best to give them what they want and don’t try to escape or struggle. People have been murdered for pocket change.
Today, Colombia is still the world’s biggest cocaine producer. I’ve heard that many people offer cocaine on the streets or in bars (though I never encountered that personally). It’s illegal to buy or sell drugs in any quantity in Colombia. Please don’t be stupid enough to get high on the streets as that’ll make you an easy target.
There have also been reports of drugs being planted on travelers. Always refuse if a stranger at an airport asks you to watch their bags or take their luggage on board.
How to Stay Safe in Colombia
Colombians will be the first to tell you, “No des papaya”. The phrase literally translates to “Don’t give papaya”, but it means to not give anyone a reason to steal from you.
Stay vigilant and avoid dangling your camera around your neck or your phone in the open. If you can, leave your money and valuables somewhere safe before walking the streets. Here are more tips on staying safe in Colombia.
- Don’t wear expensive jewelry or dress like you’re a Kardashian.
- Only carry enough money for the day, leave your passport and credit cards in your hotel’s safe.
- Many bloggers advise against using your camera or phone to take photos — I disagree. Many guides I spoke to also said that it’s fine to take photos with your SLR or use the GPS with your phone. Just make sure you keep them right after using them, don’t hang your camera around your neck, or simply slip your phone into an open pocket.
- Don’t do drugs or get silly drunk — it makes you an easy target.
- Avoid taking buses at night as the roads can be dangerous.
- Try to stay on the well trodden path or at least have company if you’re going way off the trail.
- Dress normally in big cities as you would at home, in t-shirt and jeans. Sometimes I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb in my hiking pants and quick-dry shirt.
- Most of the rural areas and villages are very safe and there’s nothing to worry about. You just need to be more careful in the big cities and mainly the centro or downtown areas.
- Keep yourself up-to-date with latest happenings in Colombia before your trip and while you’re there.
Further Reading on Colombia
I hope my article has given you enough information to decide for yourself if it’s safe to travel Colombia. Safety in Colombia has improved so much in the past 20 years, and Colombians are more than eager to welcome you to their country. Colombia is one of the most beautiful countries in the world so definitely don’t miss it!
If you’re planning to travel Colombia, check out other articles I’ve written on Colombia:
- Colombia Itinerary: A Detailed Guide for 10 Days in Colombia
- 33 Cool Things to Do in Cartagena
- Where to Stay in Cartagena
- Exploring Cocora Valley in Colombia
- Jardin: The Cutest Coffee Town in Colombia
- 22 Best Things to Do in Medellin
- Bogota Travel Guide
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