By Scott Sherwood
Photography by Scott Sherwood
Travelers returning from the exotically-diverse nation of Colombia typically face questions about whether it is a safe destination. Let it be known that – yes – many areas of Colombia are safe for travel … with a big but. Practical safety considerations are essential in order to enjoy all the wonders that Colombia offers.
First, some perspective. Since 2002, both kidnappings and terrorist attacks in Colombia have fallen 91 percent, while homicides have dropped 45 percent. As a result of Colombia’s nationwide efforts to improve security, travel on its roads has doubled since 2000, tourism has doubled since 2004 and foreign direct investment has skyrocketed. (See the US State Department’s background note on Colombia).
These days, travel in Colombia is popular with backpackers, cruise ship patrons and those looking for luxury. No matter your preference, all travelers’ safety concerns can be efficiently answered by securing the services of a local, well-established, multilingual, tour operator such as ColombiaDirect or SeeColombia, who provide diverse travel itineraries throughout the country.
Photography by Scott Sherwood
Where to Stay
On your first trip, consider well-traveled urban tourist destinations such as Cartegena, Medellin and Bogota. There are also rural areas that cater to tourists such as Santa Marta and San Andrés.
You will also benefit from an established hotel with a helpful 24-hour staff as a secure and reliable base for your excursions. For hotels in Cartegena, the ultimate in security was provided to President Barack Obama at the waterfront Hilton Hotel. An alternative is the intimate oasis called Tcherassi, a colonial mansion turned boutique hotel, located in the historic city center.
In Medellin – the City of Eternal Spring – rest easy in the upscale Poblado district at the Hotel Park 10, with its old-fashioned decorum, courteous staff and parks and restaurants within walking distance. And in sprawling Bogota, several franchises with state-of-the-art security preparedness in place include the JW Marriott or the new Sonesta Hotel.
Getting There and Getting Around
Before you depart, check in with your embassy in Colombia. The US Department of State’s webpage about Colombia includes cautionary information about safety.
Since Colombia is the fourth-largest country in South America (440,000 square miles — about the size of California and Texas combined), fly between destinations. Domestic flights are abundant. Travel by vehicle is often arduous, and sometimes dangerous, in remote areas.
Take note that you must have a return or onward ticket to prove an intention to leave the country within 90 days. Scan important documents with a list of all reference information, then email them to yourself. If something unfortunate happens, all you will need is internet access and a printer to start the recovery process.
While You’re There
Do not trust a person claiming to be a plainclothes policeman, even if identification is offered. Also, if a stranger offers you drinks, cigarettes, gum or other items, be aware those items may be spiked with a colorless, odorless derivative of the hypnotic drug scopolamine (buruganda), which creates significant disorientation during subsequent robberies or other crimes.
For those tourists who have greater personal concerns – or may be on a more prolonged business trip – medical evacuation and kidnapping insurance can be obtained, as well as safety companies that provide protective services.
Whether you go as a tourist or business investor, be mindful that Colombia is struggling to improve its great economic disparities. Therefore, cautionary common sense will help you to appreciate and enjoy all that the modern Colombia offers to the first-time or return visitor.