Bogota DowntownI’ve been to Bogotá, Colombia quite a few times so far this year. Next week, I will go for my 10th time in 2011, so I feel that I can speak rather confidently about the question that seems to be on the forefront of most people’s minds when discussing this amazing city: Is it safe to travel to Bogotá?
We’ve all heard the rumors about Colombia; there is violence that rivals the Middle East, and a drug trade that rivals the South Bronx’, per square mile. Corruption seems to be the standard operating procedure. Bombs have been planted several times over the last few years. From the ultra-leftist FARC rebels to the über-right death squads. It certainly doesn’t sound very safe.

Frankly, there is no simple answer. Colombia is a pretty vast country, and it shouldn’t be generalized like a small neighborhood. Colombia has been working very hard over the last decade or so to erase the dreadful memory of their past. Colombia as a whole is by no means safe yet. However, if we break the country up into smaller regions and ask the same question about just Bogotá, the answer may appear more positive.

The largest city, and likewise the most visited, is Bogotá. Hosting 52.5% of the total yearly visitors to Colombia, the numbers should put you more at ease already. Bogotá is the capital of the country, situated way up in the mountains, and is the third highest capital city in the world, in terms of elevation. The city is about as big as New York City, and most parts are fairly safe. A traveler using appropriate caution and discretion like they would in most American cities will most likely not find trouble. No nighttime exploration into the city’s alleys and other seedy spots.

The main thing that can provoke violence in Bogotá, as well as in all other Colombian cities, is disparity in money earned. The city seems conspicuously black and white, as far as wealth goes; there is the middle and upper classes, and there appears to be a great gulf between them and the poor.  Bogotá has an abundance of homeless people, some of whom can be dangerous if you look vulnerable and like you may have something to offer of value. Again, common sense and a trustworthy sixth sense should see you through just fine.

The most important area to stay away from in Bogotá is the far-southern regions of the city. Downtown is where all the big buildings are, such as the Torre Colpatria, but anything more than 20 or 25 blocks further south could get you into trouble. The neighborhoods down there are quite dangerous, especially areas such as Ciudad Bolivar. As you go north of downtown, especially far north, there reside the wealthier people in much safer neighborhoods. Again, the black and white polarization appears. Also, as you are going north, you will see many picturesque shacks looking east that seem to be stacked on top of each other going up the mountains, similar to the favelas of Brazil. Though they look cute and quaint, I have gotten nothing but negative reviews, and most people tell me that if I want to live, I will keep off that mountain!

The Downtown area of Bogotá is very safe during the day, as it is the center of commerce, and quite a bustling little hub. However, the area becomes pretty deserted at night, especially after one. The only signs of life in the area are the holdouts at some of the seedier clubs and bars in the city. Prostitution finds a stronghold here at night.

Drugs do not appear to be a problem in this city any longer. Most of the Colombian drug operations take place well outside of city limits, near the Amazonian region and other rural hamlets. Purely for educational purposes, I asked around to see if I could locate cocaine or other various controlled substances. No one that I asked had any idea where to find these things, and I offended many of the people by simply asking. Colombians have a lot of national pride; it really hurts most of them to hear these accusations being resurrected long after the problem was widespread.

The general consensus of most people who visit Bogotá is that it is very safe. It is certainly not a utopian city rid of all earthly woes, but the city’s people and the warmth and friendliness amongst them, once experienced, will ease your fears and allow you to make up your mind like I did that Bogotá is indeed safe. If you just give the city a chance, it will more than likely surprise you and exceed your expectations.

5 COMMENTS

  1. I live here, and its safe. Dubai and asia and all that, they are DANGEROUS. Afghanistan, maybe. But this? Colombia, bogota is safe. Pickpockets,like USA. Robbery, yes but not BANKS or JEWERLY STORE. Usa, they rob a lot. They kill, a crazy man can enter a mall with a gun and… POW POW! Dead. But USA is very safe in some parts too, like HERE. They are the same, so people, we are brothers. Hahaha

  2. Hi there! Thanks for the advice! Me and my friend are traveling to Bogota for 5 days for Memorial Day weekend. We are two Chinese American females in our 20s, do you think just our appearances along will attract unwanted attention and set us as potential “targets” of robbery/theft?

    • Chloe, thanks for checking out the article! I don’t think you really have too much to worry about, but I’m about to let one of my good friends, Daniel, a native of Bogota, answer you further…

    • Some of the basic things would be to ALWAYS call a cab instead of hailing it from the street. There’s really no reason not to considering that; they only take 5-10 min to arrive and the extra charge is only about US $0.30. Also, when walking in a highly transited area, you should put your easy-to-pick pocket belongings in a safe part. For example, when I’m walking around La Zona Rosa, I always put my iPhone and wallet in the inside pocket of my jacket and even zip it up. This definitely applies to when you’re taking the Transmilenio/street bus.
      Looking for drugs might not be a good idea considering that you probably don’t even speak the language, so you might seem even more vulnerable.
      As Christian wrote in the article, the city is relatively safe, but everyone should always be alert to try to spot dangerous situations.
      In terms of attracting attention, it is possible you will, but not in any different way than a black guy would attract attention in china, for example. Maybe some people are gonna want to take a photo with you or something, but I really don’t think it’s gonna lead you to trouble. I mean, my girlfriend, who is blonde and has blue eyes, was all over the country with me 2 Christmas’ ago and nothing happened to her, so… draw your own conclusions!

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