Vibrant, diverse and alluring, Colombia is a fascinating blend of history, culture and natural delights overflowing with glorious wonders for all travellers. Its story, beginning with indigenous people, dates back thousands of years with many settlers, civilisations and immigrants bringing their varied influences throughout its past.
Colombia has attracted huge fame for its coffee and music. Its natural beauty, stunning mountains, beaches and tropical rainforests are world-renowned. It has a rich cultural history and it is considered one of the most biodiverse countries in the world.
The only country in South America to have islands and coastlines on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, Colombia’s population exceeds 50 million people. The Caribbean Sea is to the north of the country and borders are shared with Panama, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela and Brazil. Further territories owned by Colombia are actually in the continent of North America.
Although it has at times had a reputation of being a riskier place to travel to than other countries, the vast majority of trips to Colombia are trouble-free.
Despite this, Colombia is still considered to have high-levels of crime, so it is important to be aware of your surroundings and take appropriate precautions.
It is, as always, vital that you receive the most up-to-date advice before booking to travel or arranging to visit certain parts of the country. Travellers should always ensure they are comfortable with the regions they will be visiting and what is involved in going to them.
Health Concerns in Colombia
Before travelling to Colombia, you must seek medical advice from your GP. They will be able to give you the very latest information and advise you on what vaccinations you may require. An appointment should be made at least eight weeks before your trip and further information can be found on the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) website.
If you are on long-term medication, clarification should be sought as to the legality of your medication in Colombia, and whether you will be able to acquire anything you need when in the country. It may otherwise be necessary to take plentiful supplies of medication with you, although it will be vital to check the limits of what you can and cannot take.
Travellers are always advised to be up to date with vaccinations before visiting a country and that is also the case for Colombia.
All travellers should be vaccinated against Hepatitis A, Tetanus and Typhoid before a visit to Colombia. For some people visiting certain regions, vaccinations against Rabies and Yellow Fever may be appropriate. Dengue fever and malaria are also present throughout the country, and there is a risk of Zika transmission, so all precautions should be taken against potential mosquito bites.
It is vitally important to have comprehensive insurance cover when travelling to Colombia. Medical facilities in the country vary widely in quality.
Public health facilities, particularly those in smaller cities or more rural regions, are generally poorly funded and badly-equipped. Services, including emergency attention can be unreliable and difficult to come-by in quieter areas, while public hospitals may lack the resources and supplies to treat some conditions.
In the larger cities, you are likely to find private health facilities which will offer good quality care even for more complex issues. However, not all insurance policies will cover such care, so you should be careful when making your choice.
Medication can generally be found in pharmacies in large cities, though more complex treatments may be unavailable in rural areas. Prescriptions may be required to attain certain forms of medicine.
Food and Water
Eating and trying local delicacies is a huge and important part of travelling somewhere new to many people. It does, however, bring risks and dangers with it. That is not a reason to miss out, though, and by following simple suggestions it is still possible to taste the delights that different countries have to offer.
Due to having had such a varied history and cultural influences affecting the country across the years, Colombia’s food has understandably developed a unique blend of recipes and flavours. Its biodiversity also means it has a stunning assortment of ingredients to choose from.
To make the very most of the delicious food that Colombia has to offer, it is important that you stay healthy. Following simple rules will help you to do so.
Eating in trustworthy restaurants, particularly those often frequented by tourists, reduces the risk of illness. Ensure food is well-cooked and you are happy with how you feel it has been prepared. Fruit, nuts and vegetables washed with treated water, or where you have removed a protective layering yourself are a good option. Treated dairy products should also be safe.
Undercooked and underprepared meat should be avoided at all costs. Uncovered or unwashed food, as well as food using raw ingredients are more likely to cause illness and should therefore be avoided. If you are in any doubt, it is best to move on and choose to eat something somewhere else.
Sometimes when you are abroad, it is tempting to eat the same food that locals do, particularly street food. If locals are choosing it, it is almost certainly delicious. However, as a tourist, you should show great caution here. The locals eating at such places are likely to have digestive systems used to eating from different conditions to a visitor.
A useful tip is to think about where many tourists are eating as the vendors are more used to serving food prepared in conditions more friendly to visitors. This means that you don’t miss out, while reducing the risk of catching something that could see you fall ill.
When it comes to water, tap water is only safe to drink in Bogota. In all other parts of the country, you should drink bottled water. Tap water should not be used for brushing your teeth or cleaning fruit and vegetables ready to eat, except for in Bogota.
Crime rates are a problem that Colombia are trying to tackle, though rates remain high despite improvements in security. Criminals linked with the drugs trade, including armed groups, carry out serious crimes in the country including kidnapping for political and ransoming purposes, money laundering and racketeering for extortion and prostitution.
In major cities, street crime remains a problem. Violent muggings and incidents of pickpocketing have occurred. To reduce the chances of becoming embroiled in an attack, you should stay vigilant and avoid more deprived areas of cities. Limiting the value of the possessions you are carrying and travelling during the day further reduce the chances of a robbery.
Taxis should only be used when pre-booked, and it is wise to seek advice from reputable locals, such as hotel staff, before making a booking. Fake police are known to operate in some cities to carry out scams on tourists. Short-term kidnappings, where people are taken while the criminals extract money from bank accounts, do occur and people have been seriously hurt and even killed after resisting such attacks.
It is considered very likely that terrorists will try and carry out attacks in Colombia. Drugs, organised crime and terrorism are inextricably linked in the country. Much of the terrorist threat within Colombia comes from the National Liberation Army (ELN), dissidents from demobilised guerrilla groups.
Attacks may occur with very little warning and may be indiscriminate. While tourists are not usually the intended targets, public areas and events may be targeted. You should always be vigilant and ready to follow the advice of local security forces.
Armed gangs are most likely to operate in areas significant to the drugs trade. It is vitally important that you research the areas you intend to travel to and take the advice of security personnel when you are in the country.
Family Travel Safety (Colombia with Kids)
Colombia has so much to offer people of all ages. From stunning beaches and wildlife, to fascinating history, culture and people, there are activities to appeal to everyone.
Popular options include holidays close to the Caribbean coast where snorkelling and scuba diving will gain the interest of young travellers, or more adventurous trips to some of the more rural areas or larger cities of Bogota and Medellin. Learning about Colombia’s coffee history on tours or visiting some of its most famous museums are captivating experiences for the whole family.
Colombia is a safe place to travel as a family, providing you take usual precautions that you would in Colombia as well as those you would expect when travelling anywhere with children.
Before you go, ensure that the whole family are up to date with vaccinations. Pack carefully, ensuring you have enough sun cream and that children have hats to protect their head and necks from too much sun exposure. Carefully consider the potential impact of altitude on the people in your travelling party, as well as factors such as travelling times.
If you are worried about taking care of the children while working out logistics, you could consider travelling with a tour company or a guide to reduce some of the stresses. This also allows you to concentrate your attention on the children rather than worrying about where to head next!
Family Travel Safety (Colombia for Women)
People’s individual experiences influence how they see a place and the safety of people travelling to it. The majority of people have a trouble-free trip to Colombia, and that includes female travellers and those travelling on their own.
A good way to avoid falling into a dangerous situation when travelling anywhere, though, is to be aware of things that may happen so that suitable precautions can be taken.
Female travellers should be aware of their surroundings and of their possessions, as pickpocketing is fairly common. Great care should be taken with valuables and it is sensible to only carry a small amount of money.
Colombia does still have a very machismo element to its society in some parts. This has its benefits to women in the chivalrous attitudes of some men, but an overflow of it can lead to cat-calling and unwanted attention that may be unfamiliar and uncomfortable to some women. Avoiding walking alone, at night or in certain areas of cities may help to limit experiences of this.
Drugs have been used to subdue and temporarily incapacitate unsuspecting victims. They are known to have been administered through food, drinks, cigarettes, aerosols and paper flyers. Criminals use this to leave their victims vulnerable to crimes including robbery and sexual assault. When in Colombia, you should never leave drinks or food unattended, or accept anything from strangers that could potentially be used in this way.
It is important to find balance in understanding the potential dangers for female travellers in Colombia. They are present, can be very serious and should therefore not be underestimated. However, it is also important to remember that the vast majority of people experience no troubles and leave only with incredible life-long memories. All usual precautions possible to protect yourself as a traveller should be taken.
Tips for Staying Safe in Colombia
Buy the Right Insurance
Always make sure you are covered for any specific activities that you are planning, or may end up doing, when on your travels. A wide range of insurance policies exist, but it is wise to make sure that you take out the most comprehensive cover you can.
In Colombia, it is also important to consider the level of medical care your policy will cover. Because the standard of healthcare varies greatly, it is worth ensuring that your policy will cover you for private healthcare and any treatment that you may require. This will give you peace of mind should something really unfortunate occur.
Learn the Language and Customs
Learning the language of the country that you are travelling to has so many benefits. It provides opportunities for you to engage with the culture and locals, as well as helping you to communicate in any necessary situations that may require a simple grasp of the language (for example, calling the emergency services).
Columbia is a country that due to past and present problems has some strict prohibitions, particularly surrounding drugs. This may cross over into medications that you may be taking to the country with you. It is important that you always know of any such prohibitions before travelling so that you can avoid any inadvertent offences.
Knowing of local customs not only allows you to strike up friendships, but also avoid causing offence by accident. As customs may be general across the country or specific in certain regions, it is worth the time reading up about them before you travel.
Be Vigilant at All Times
Remaining vigilant will help to ensure that your trip is remembered for wonderful reasons. Keep your possessions close and not on show, use reputable companies for activities, travel and eating and be wary of strangers approaching and offering to sell you things.
Colombia is a country with so much to offer, and it can be a safe place to travel as testified to by the majority of the near two million visitors it receives each year. But, as with anywhere around the world, it is safest when travellers take all the reasonable precautions they can.
If you’re travelling to Colombia, then stay safe and keep covered in the event of an accident by taking out a comprehensive travel insurance policy with Navigator Travel Insurance.