Columbia is an exotic South American destination and promises unspoiled beaches, high mountains and peaks of the Andes, dense Amazon rainforests filled with varied wildlife, mysterious architectural ruins, a large number of well preserved Spanish colonial towns, and a rich local cuisine. However, Columbia is also a country infamous for drug cartels, corruption, and kidnappings which scares many potential travelers. Here are the essential travel and safety tips to make your first visit to Columbia incredible and memorable:
Learn basic Spanish
Like most South American countries, locals in Columbia often do not speak English. To have an authentic travel experience and to communicate with others for safety purposes it is better to understand basics of Spanish language. Locals tend to be more friendly to visitors who try to learn their language and customs and often invite them into their homes.
Understand the different regions
Columbia is a vast country and each of the regions has particular characteristics which extend to cuisine, landscape, art forms etc. The regional people are identified by different names and if you know these names, it will be easier to make friends and get along with the locals.
Do not allude to the country’s drug trafficking history
Columbia’s drug trafficking history is a very sensitive subject and not a source of pride for most citizens. The local economy is trying to shed the bad reputation and reminding them about the history will certainly not go down well with most people.
Research whether an area is safe before planning your trip
While many parts of Columbia are now deemed safe to travel, some areas including Arauca, Choco, and Cauca are still considered unsafe. Larger cities like Bogota, Medellin, Cartagena as well as popular tourist destinations are extremely safe.
Be aware of your surroundings
Visitors should always be vigilant and aware of their surroundings while traveling. Common safety rules apply to Columbia just as they do to most other countries. Some of these rules include: being aware of pickpockets and bag snatchers if going to crowded areas, avoiding lonely streets and dark alleys at night, avoiding traveling alone in an unsafe area, not accepting drinks from strangers and so on.
Fly to farther cities rather than take the bus
Flying domestically within Columbia is not only safe but also cheap. Most long-distance bus journeys in Columbia are uncomfortable, bumpy, pass along mountainous roads and depending on routes can be unsafe especially for solo travelers. Flying is an easy way to save some time along the way.
Avoid peak holiday season
Peak holiday season including Christmas, New Year’s Eve and summer holidays are some of the worst times to visit the country. Most big cities including Cartagena have fully booked or uber-expensive hotels and hordes of visitors – not a very good combination! On the other hand, off-season travel lets visitors explore Columbia at a leisurely pace.