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Some countries just have bad rep –  and Colombia is (unfortunately) one of them. Here’s my honest account of solo female travel in Colombia and some tips for solo travel in Colombia.

I wasn’t supposed to travel to Colombia solo. But, that’s a whole other story (and certainly not mine to share). 

So, when I found myself in LAX about to board the flight, I felt something I hadn’t felt in a while: nervous. 

It was the first time in a while, I realised, that I’d been truly alone. After more than two months of travelling the relatively comfortable roads of the USA with a number of my nearest and dearest, I was about to board a flight to a completely unfamiliar land.

 

 

 

And, due to last minute events – that undoubtedly contributed to my mood – I was travelling to Colombia alone.

It didn’t help that I’d been frantically texting a couple of friends who’d been there. While I anxiously awaited their replies, I’d Google my greatest fears (never a good idea!).

But, as I sat on the second flight and watched the sunset over some of my upcoming destinations – Guatemala, El Salvador and finally Nicaragua – I felt a new sense of adventure.

The fear was still there, but love was brewing.

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Colombia safety tips for travellers
 

 

Solo travel in Colombia – is it safe?

Despite the more positive end to the flight, I didn’t arrive without my reservations.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt half as nervous about a trip as I did this one – and certainly not to the point of almost cancelling it!

All I can say is: I’m so glad I didn’t.

I survived my solo trip to Colombia with no incident other than a few cuts and bruises. (Hiking in South America always seems to end painfully for me… but that’s also another story.)

While I stayed perfectly safe through my Colombia trip, I’m not going to sugarcoat things and pretend I didn’t feel uncomfortable. 

I’m also not going to pretend I didn’t meet travellers who weren’t so lucky – I did. 

In fact, I probably met more people travelling in Colombia who had been robbed than those who hadn’t. Interestingly, though, most of them weren’t travelling Colombia alone. 

 

 

 

So, is it safe to travel solo in Colombia? 

In my experience, it’s no less safe than travelling in a group. Perhaps it even makes you LESS of a target. 

But that’s just my experience. And the experiences of other travellers I met were very different to my own.

As always, nobody can predict what will happen when you’re travelling. That’s why it’s important to arrive clued up (see my tips below!) and – I can’t stress this enough! – get adequate travel insurance.


I used World Nomads for my solo trip to Colombia because they were AMAZING when I needed to claim after an accident in Peru. They also cover more than most insurers, meaning I could travel with complete peace of mind. Click here to see the full list of activities they cover or click here to get a free, 30-second quote now.


Solo female travel in Colombia 

Of course, we can’t ignore the fact that I’m of a certain gender… the one that people usually worry about.

I usually try to avoid terms like “female travel”, but (sadly) it does still make for a totally difference travel experience in many places. 

So, how did my gender affect my solo travel in Colombia?

In all honesty, I don’t think I ever felt unsafe because I’m a woman.

I spent most of my time around men – often just the two of us – and never once were they anything but gentlemen.

I found myself alone in back rooms with men, deep in the forest with men and alone in a car with men. Not once did I feel like they treated me any differently because I was a woman. 

And you know what? That’s actually pretty refreshing! Well done, Colombia.
 

 

A woman in a turquoise top and straw hat buying empanadas in Cartagena, Colombia
The one downside of travelling alone in Colombia: I don’t have any photos of myself!

Tips for travelling alone in Colombia 

There’s something I really want to stress right now: my positive experience doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take your safety seriously.

I was FAR more cautious in Colombia than I have been anywhere else. But I’m a pretty cautious traveller in most places (except maybe Japan... because Japan is SO crazy safe!).

 

 

 

Even though I was being ultra conscious of my safety in Colombia, it didn’t affect my travels much.

I still walked the streets with £3500 of camera gear around my neck. I entered the homes of strangers. I walked windy country roads alone, joined only by the occasional moped or car (who totally could have kidnapped me).

But, for all the things I did do, there were a lot of things I avoided.


A woman buying snacks at a stand in Cartagena Colombia


Here are my tips for travelling alone in Colombia:

Suss out a town before taking your valuables

Even if you’re on a speedy tour of Colombia, try to get a feel for each place before you do anything else. 

I would ALWAYS leave my camera in the hotel until I’d walked around a little – perhaps looking for a café or just getting my bearings. 

Once I felt comfortable, I would take my camera out.

 

 

 

Ask the locals

Nobody knows a place better than the people who live there. 

The locals were completely invaluable in my solo trip to Colombia – perhaps more so than anywhere else I’ve ever been!

Colombians are super friendly and they (mostly) want to look out for tourists. With the horrible reputation Colombia has, it’s their best chances of turning a new page and changing how they are perceived in the world. 

What I found in Colombia were endless friendly faces who were willing to give me the straight-up advice I needed to hear.


Free walking tour in Cartagena Colombia
A free walking tour is a great way to take photos with greater peace of mind

Join a tour to take photos

Even though I took my camera with me about half of the time (against the advice of friends who have travelled Colombia), I was VERY careful about getting it out.

I found joining walking tours was a great way to feel more comfortable with snapping all the photos I wanted. I still kept my wits about me, but I didn’t feel half as vulnerable in a group of people flashing their phones and cameras around.

The bonus was that I got to learn about the places I was in and meet other solo travellers, too!

 

 

 

Take a spare phone with you

I probably met more people who had had their phones stolen than people who hadn’t. Sadly, it’s just how it easy. 

Even though violent crime in Colombia has dropped dramatically, there are still opportunists in every city. 

Don’t make it easy for them. Or, as the locals would say, don’t “give papaya” (more on that later!). 

It would be hard to travel Colombia without a phone, so pack a spare one and consider using it as your main phone. If it’s your only camera, consider investing in a compact travel camera for the trip (this is my favourite one for backpackers).


A street in the Colombian pueblo of Filandia


Choose clothes with zipped pockets

The more you can spread your valuables out, the lower your chances of losing everything. 

Ideally, you wouldn’t carry any valuables, but you’re going to need cash, a phone and your hotel key at the very least.

Wearing clothes with zipped pockets means you can spread everything out. It also means potential thieves don’t know which pocket to pick!

 

 

 

Carry a padlock

I used to travel with a padlock – and then I stopped because they’re heavy and I never used it! 

And then, for some reason, I bought one in Colombia. It cost 7,000 COP (less than $2 USD) and it turned out to be a great purchase. 

The same day, I visited a beach and decided to go snorkelling. And, with a padlock to lock all my things away while I did, it meant I could go and enjoy the experience!

Padlocks are pretty easy to buy in Colombia, but you might need to ask a local where to buy one. It’s unlikely they’ll know the English though, so go prepared with the Spanish (“un candero”).


TRAVEL TIP: A combination lock like this one is the hardest type to pick (plus you don’t need to worry about losing the keys!)


Invest in a secure bag

If you don’t already have one, now is the time to invest in a secure day bag! 

PacSafe sell a range of anti-theft bags that are perfect for making your valuables harder to access.

A cross-body bag like this one is ideal.

Trust your gut

My number one tip for life in general, but especially for travel… always listen to your instincts. They’re there for a reason!

 

 

 

Don’t go out alone at night

One piece of advice I kept hearing when I told people about my solo trip to Colombia was to avoid going out alone at night.

Honestly, it’s not something I would usually do and didn’t even consider.

The one way it did affect me was that I always made sure to leave enough time for dinner. If I was eating solo, I’d head out at least an hour before sunset so I could enjoy a leisurely meal and still be back before dark. 


Arepas with queso in Cartagena Colombia
Early dinner = good light for photos!

Book cars privately

One of my main rules for travelling in South America is that I never, ever take roadside taxis. 

On this solo trip, I took an airport taxi once because I had no other option – and it was the one time someone tried to rip me off. Luckily, I stood my ground and he gave up, but it scared me for a minute or two.

Every other time, I booked private transfers from the airport. I used a couple of services and my favourite by far was Impulse Travel. They have a website, but I found even better deals through GetYourGuide.

Here are their transfer services from the most popular airports:


Get help from your hostel or hotel

Colombia isn’t the kind of country where you can find everything (although I’m trying to make it more accessible with my Colombia blog posts!). 

The best way to organise most things in Colombia is through word of mouth, and a great starting place is your hostel.

I stayed at Selina and they were always happy to help! I even Whatsapp messaged one of the locations before arriving, and they helped me figure out something I’d spent too long Googling. 

 

 

 

Dress like the locals

One of the best ways to stay safe in any country is to try to look like you belong there.

While you might not be able to pass as a Colombian – especially if you don’t speak Spanish! – you can at least aim for “expat”. 

Colombia has lots of expats, so try to copy what they wear and how they behave as much as possible. That usually means jeans, a tank top and running shoes.


The Colombia uniform: a cute top, skinny jeans and somewhat colourful Nike running shoes.


Use airport ATMs

You’re going to need cash in Colombia (preferably in change!). While you could turn up with a bunch of cash, I wouldn’t recommend it. Instead, it’s better to withdraw it as and when you need it so you’re minimising your risks. 

You’ll often get more Pesos for your home currency by using a travel debit or credit card that gives you a good exchange rate, too! 

Taking out money in Colombia isn’t always easy. though. ATM’s can be scarce as best and scary at worst. The lines are often long and it’s hard not to feel extra vulnerable when the lurkers know you’ve just withdrawn some shiny notes.

On the locals’ advice, I avoided withdrawing money from ATM’s in the streets in Colombia. Going into a bank is a great way around that, but I managed to use the airport ATM’s when I was flying between destinations, taking out enough money for each leg of my trip as I went.

If you can use the airport ATM’s like I did, it’s much easier and doesn’t cost anymore.

 

 

 

Memorise directions

It’s best to avoid taking your phone out in the street in Colombia. Roadside theft is pretty common, just as it is in many European cities (it felt like home!). 

If you need to check your phone at any point, head into a hostel, shop or restaurant to do so. They won’t mind at all – they would rather you were safe!

Find company when you can

One thing I always avoided in Colombia was walking in deserted areas. If there was noone else around, I would wait until a group of travellers or locals walked past and stick pretty close to them. 

I might have done that completely unnecessarily, but it definitely made me feel less vulnerable.


A man stepping out of his door in Cartagena Colombia
Most of the locals will greet you with smiles, kindness and open arms.

How I felt as a female travelling solo in Colombia – regional breakdown

Safety in Colombia tends to get lumped into one bag but the way I felt varied as much as the regions I visited. 

I chose to split my time between three completely different parts of Colombia: the cities, the coast and the mountains. And, as you might expect, they all felt completely different! As in, am I in a different country? different.

It’s not possible to talk about solo travel in Colombia and safety without breaking it down by region. So, here’s my own experience of each:

 

 

 

Cities

Like many countries, the cities were definitely where I felt most on edge. It’s also where I took the most precautions and left my camera gear behind at the hotel. 

In the cities, I made sure to never take street taxis, always be aware of my surroundings and never walk down alleyways or empty streets.

It’s also important to avoid certain neighbourhoods, unless you’re on a guided tour. Again, you can easily ask the locals which areas are best avoided!

Out of the two big cities I visited – Medellin and Bogota – I wouldn’t say I felt safer in either. Like many cities, there were areas where I felt safe and areas where I wouldn’t dare to take out my phone or camera.


View of Medellin Colombia
Taken from my room in Medellin… my spying point.

My most Googled query so far this year: Is Medellin safe for solo travellers?

My solo travels in Colombia started in Medellin – AKA the place I was most worried about.

Medellin is a SUPER popular digital nomad destination, but that didn’t mean it was safe. It was also the place that I’d heard the most horror stories about.

When I arrived (at 11pm!) though, I realised my fears weren’t entirely founded. I spotted man walking around on his phone. A girl with her bag swinging from her shoulder. My taxi driver happily using his phone and leaving the car running while he got out.

At the very least, I realised the neighbourhood in which I stayed wasn’t the least safe I’ve ever felt in a new city.

 

 

 

When I got to my accommodation, I also had a window room. That meant I could lookout to see what everyone was wearing and how they were behaving – something I hadn’t thought of before but will definitely do again!

I saw people running, headphones in, and people on their phones at the side of the road. As I walked around that morning, I saw more headphones in, people FaceTiming in the street, and a backpack left on a table.

While I didn’t let my guard down, I realised I didn’t need to fear for my life every time I stepped outside – something you might believe if you read everything online!


Street in Cartagena Colombia
In Cartagena I felt safe taking street photos, but in Bogota I didn’t even take my camera out.

My trip ended with my second most Googled query: Is Bogota safe?

I felt surprisingly relaxed when I arrived in Bogota. It certainly didn’t look like a dangerous city. Or maybe I was just more accustomed to Colombian culture after 10 days of solo travel. 

And then the local I was walking with said something that reminded me not to get complacent: 

“Do you know what giving papaya means? Those guys are giving papaya.”

It was a phrase I’d heard repeatedly throughout my Colombia travels. Giving papaya essentially means ‘making it easy for someone to do something’. It’s often used to describe when people are making a thief’s job easy – as was the case here.

Now that a Bogota native had presented me with a real life example, I realised it was easier to “give papaya” than I’d imagined. When I heard the phrase, I imagined careless tourists leaving their phones on the table while they ate, taking their attention from their wallet or walking around with valuables clearly on display.

 

 

 

These guys were doing none of the above. Their crime?

“They just look like really obvious tourists. You shouldn’t do that here.”

There was no mistaking that these guys were tourists, but it occurred to me that they weren’t obviously making themselves a target.

Some of them were wearing shorts. There were a couple of Hawaiian shirts (which, let’s face it, don’t belong in any city). But, other than that,the only clue that gave them away was the fact they were speaking English.

And, at that moment, I realised that giving papaya is easier than I thought – and I was grateful for all the extra precautions I’d taken.


A woman making arepas in Cartagena Colombia
I even had the guts to ask the locals if I could photograph them in Cartagena.

The Coast

During my few days in Cartagena and the nearby Caribbean coast, I felt much safer than I’d expected.

Like Medellin, I’d heard too many horror stories before I arrived. On the first day, I anxiously walked down the street to get food, freaking out the entire time. 

But I needn’t have worried. I found Cartagena so touristy that it was hard to feel particularly unsafe. At least not more than you would in any tourist-y city

 

 

 

It’s not without its issues, of course. But with everybody dressed like a tourist, waving cameras around and relaxing into the Caribbean vibe, I fitted in easily. 

That’s not to say everybody had the same experience. I met several people who had their phones stolen in Barranquilla, another popular town further up the coast. I also met people who had had their possessions stolen at the beach – something that didn’t surprise, given how on edge I felt while I was there.

That said, Cartagena was the one place where I felt comfortable walking short distances at night. And that meant it was the one place where I got to enjoy a little of the Colombian nightlife!


Filandia Colombia
In the coffee region, I felt safe in both the towns and the more isolated areas.

The countryside

This was where I felt the safest of all. I spent several days in the eje cafetero as well as an entire day exploring Guatapé.

The thing they had in common were the sleepy small towns, most of which has some of the prettiest architecture and the friendliest locals. 

These pueblos were where I felt safest during my entire Colombia trip. I walked around freely, camera in hand and less fear in my heart.

The only one where I felt a little uneasy was Salento, the most popular pueblo in the coffee triangle. I ended up cutting my day trip there short because I loved the lesser known town where I was staying, Filandia, much more.

 

 

During my time in the coffee region, I took more photos than anywhere! Only one local advised me to leave the camera behind, and it was for a hike that he wasn’t overly familiar with. 

I guess my time there was the most relaxed but it was also where I took the most “risks”. I hopped in cars with strangers, followed men I’d just met into the forest and even walked down country roads for 30 minutes by myself.

That’s not to say I recommend you do the same, but I definitely felt much more at ease in the countryside.


A solo female traveller at Colombia's Cocora Valley
My only photo of myself – taken by an Irish guy who asked me to take his photo first!

So, is Colombia safe to travel alone?

Colombia, like anywhere, isn’t without its risks. But I think they get overplayed and over-exaggerated a lot.

If you’ve been hesitating about booking a trip to Colombia because of safety concerns, please don’t let that put you off. 

While I met plenty of travellers who had had bad experiences, I also met many who hadn’t – myself included! 

 

 

 

At the end of the day, you can get robbed, stabbed or kidnapped anywhere in the world. As long as your smart and take extra precautions, there’s no reason why anything would happen to you in Colombia.

Just make sure you don’t travel without good travel insurance! I use and recommend World Nomads because their claims process is easy peasy and they cover lots of events that other insurers won’t. You can click here to get a free, 30-second quote for your trip.


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15 ways to stay safe in Colombia