16 March 2016
Is Colombia safe?
Colombia gets a bad rap when it comes to safety. Imagines of malicious men exchanging gunfire, mounds of cocaine and innocent people being kidnapped are often associated with this South American country. Thanks to movies and popular television shows like Narcos on Netflix, Colombia has had a hard time shaking the ugly mark narco-terrorist left during the ‘80s and ‘90s.
There’s no denying Colombia’s tumultuous past, but travelers should recognize that safety conditions have greatly improved in the last decade.
While crime has greatly subsided, it’s still probably not a good idea to prance down the street at night adorned in jewelry while waving wads of cash around, but you could have guessed that.
No dar papaya is a popular phrase in Colombia. It translates to “don’t give a papaya.” In other words, don’t give someone the opportunity to take advantage of you, like prancing down the street waving cash in the air. The saying might teeter on the edge of victim-blaming, but Colombians generally have this kind of attitude when it comes to crime and safety.
So what can visitors do to make sure they’re not giving out papayas? For starters, recognize that the crime in the major Colombian cities such as Bogotá, Medellin and Calí is similar to the crime and safety issues many big cities face. This mainly includes crimes of opportunity like a thief snatching a purse from a café table, pick-pocketing and muggings. With this in mind, it’s not smart to flash a lot of cash around in public, walk around late at night or momentarily leave your belongings.
All this cautionary advice probably isn’t doing a good job of painting Colombia a rosier color. Let’s put it this way, just like every city no matter the country, there are bad areas and there are good areas. In certain parts of Bogotá, families and even single women can be spotted walking around at night. They do not hastily rush into their homes once the sun goes down nor do they clutch their bags in fear of who could be lurking in the shadows. In general, people tend to keep to themselves and mind their own business on the streets of major cities.
With all that being said, many Colombians would advise visitors against walking late at night. They will also be the first ones to tell you to be careful and remain alert while exploring major cities, but many don’t follow their own advice. On any given day, people can be spotted walking down a street listening to music or sending a message on an expensive smartphone. Purses and bags are not always wrapped around the owner’s body satchel-style. And many times, wallets can be spotted peeking out of people’s pockets while they ride the crowded buses. The saying “do as I say, not as I do” comes to mind here.
Travelers coming to Colombia can have a wonderful time here without constantly being worried about safety. However, it’s important to remember not to take unnecessary risks, and as Mom always says “make smart choices.”
About the author:
Anneliese Delgado is an American writer living in Bogotá. Her mother is from the United States and her father is from Venezuela, giving her the unique opportunity to blend in on the streets of Colombia, while still viewing the country from the eyes of an outsider. When she’s not writing, she’s playing soccer, wandering around stores with no intention on buying anything and binge-watching Netflix. You can read more about her adventures on her blog at abroadincolombia.com.