I’ve been to Colombia and it’s important to read between the lines when people say Colombia is safe or Colombia is not safe.
If you stick to the rich areas that are guarded day and night by men with machine guns like Bogota’s Zona Rosa/T or Medallins’ Poblado, it’s as safe as any US city. No problem at all. I would not sweat it one bit. But guess what? it’s also just as boring. I do not what to pay $400 for a plane ticket and $100/night for hotel to see what Hugo Boss store looks like in Bogota. It’s all the same. What is the point.
It’s when you venture out from the small rich enclaves that things get interesting – and also dangerous, particularly if it’s close to sunset and if you are alone. Lots of perfectly fine neighborhoods turn pretty ugly after sunset. Centro and Candelaria in Bogota seem perfectly fine during the day, but you better watch your back at night.
People are completely confused about crime rates in US and elsewhere. In the US, most of the violence is drug gang and acquaintances killing each other over drug deals. If you are not in that business, you might get caught in the cross fire but that is just bad luck. In contrast, in Colombia YOU are the rich target desperate poor people want to rob. I live in a pretty sketchy area of Washington, DC and it is NOTHING compared to even semi-good areas of Bogota/Medallin – and I never even ventured out to the bad/poor areas.
…And yes, I did end up fighting, running, and almost getting stabbed to death in Bogota.
Colombia is worth checking out, and I think I will go there again to check out some things I missed. But I have two big reservations about it;
1. Cost. Hotels (and hostels) are very expensive. If you want a clean, modern looking room with modern looking bathroom (but nothing fancy) in a safe neighborhood, it will cost you $100+. That is a lot, IMO. More expensive than USA.
2. Stress. Security is on everyone’s mind when they are in <snip>. That is a fact. Colombian women are afraid to take taxis and walk alone after dark, and depending on the neighborhood, so are the men. People literally stay over night at each other’s places so that they don’t have to make their trip home at night. Houses in the city are build like fortresses/jails. Hostels have intricate buzzer, double door, and camera security systems – and when I was there, one was forcefully invaded by a group of armed men and everyone robbed. That should tell you something. This is not like SE Asia where you can basically relax everywhere you are and act stupid and still be safe. In SE Asia, you might get taken advantage of by being overcharged for drinks or taxi, but in Bogota you are more likely to get robbed at knifepoint or worse.
It is true that Colombia is a LOT better than 15 years ago, but that doesn’t make it good. It is also true what one person said above that Colombia gets a bad rep. compared to other big cities in Latin America. There are definitely worse big cities in Latin America than big Colombian cities. BUT… that is more of a testament of how ghetto Latin America is – not how safe Colombia is.
Advice: If you have traveled to other Latin American cities, or to Africa, you should have no reservations about Colombia. If you have only been to EU, US, Asia… it will be a big change safety-wise. Start by staying in the expensive areas and slowly feel your way around… the key word being ‘slowly’ and carefully.