Violent crime and gang activity is common.
‘Express kidnapping’ also occurs. Criminals abduct people and force them to withdraw funds from ATMs before releasing them. The victim may be held overnight so that a second withdrawal can be made the next day. There have been incidents where those who have resisted have been killed or injured. Hailing taxis on the street can make you vulnerable to this threat. Use a phone dispatch service or taxi service app to book a licensed taxi. Ask for help from staff at hotels, restaurants or entertainment venues.
Hikers are sometimes robbed at gunpoint, including when hiking on trails in and around Bogotá. Reduce your risk by hiring a reputable, experienced tour guide.
Always be alert to your own safety and security. If you suspect criminals have drugged you or your fellow travellers, get urgent medical help.
Criminals also target foreign citizens and tourists using popular dating applications and websites, particularly in larger cities such as Bogotá, Cali, Medellín and Cartagena.
If you travel to remote areas, travel with recognised tour operators and arrange for your security throughout your visit. Look for up-to-date advice from the local authorities before each stage of your journey. Be aware that mobile and internet connections in rural areas are often limited.
The towns of Bahía Solano, Nuquí and Capurganá in Chocó are popular eco-tourism destinations. However, most of Chocó department is remote. Illegal armed groups are active and involved in the drug trade throughout the department, particularly near the border with Panama. If you travel to these towns, only do so by air and don’t travel inland or along the coast out of town.
If you travel to Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City) in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, you should do this as part of an organised tour. If you travel to Parque Nacional Tayrona, don’t venture inland. Stick to designated paths, beach areas and resorts.
The tourist site of Caño Cristales is located in the Department of Meta, in the Parque Nacional Natural de la Macarena. If you are travelling to Caño Cristales, only do so with a reputable tour company, and travel by air to and from the town of La Macarena.
If travelling in La Guajira, avoid the area close to the border with Venezuela. Be aware that medical services are limited. Hire the services of a reputable tour company. Be ready for high temperatures, scarce potable water and food (bring enough water and food).
When travelling to the archaeological park at San Agustin in the department of Huila, only enter and leave the park on the main road through Popayán or Neiva.
Drug-related criminal activity also creates danger in places where cultivation, processing and transport occur. There is evidence of high levels of coca cultivation and related criminal activity in the following Departments in Colombia:
- Norte de Santander
- northern Antioquia and
- southern Bolivar
It also creates increased danger in:
- regions within 20km of the Venezuelan and Ecuadorian borders
- the port cities of Buenaventura, Turbo and Tumaco
- the Darién Gap (Panamanian border)
There is a risk to your safety in any area where coca, marijuana or opium poppies are cultivated and near cocaine processing labs. In these areas, criminal groups attack, extort, kidnap, detonate car bombs and damage infrastructure.
Don’t take risks or make yourself a target for criminals. To protect yourself from violent crime:
- avoid travelling at night
- fly into Colombia during the day if possible
- keep vehicle doors locked, windows up and valuables out of sight, even while moving
- stay in reputable accommodation with good security
- try not to travel by road in rural areas (fly instead)
- be careful when travelling alone, or travelling in or near tugurios (slums)
- use ATMs inside banks, shopping centres or other public locations during business hours and avoid using ATMs on the street
- avoid walking alone in isolated or deserted areas
Criminals in Colombia are increasingly using drugs to subdue their victims. This may include using scopolamine or similar drugs that temporarily incapacitate the victim. Robberies and assaults occur after victims accept spiked food, drinks, cigarettes or chewing gum. Thieves also administer these drugs by aerosol spray or paper handouts.
These drugs can cause serious medical problems, including loss of consciousness and memory loss. Unsuspecting victims become disoriented quickly and are vulnerable to robbery, sexual assault and other crimes. Hotspots include nightclubs, bars, restaurants, public buses and city streets, where criminals usually target people that are alone. Exercise caution when being approached by a stranger.
Always check that your drink has been opened or prepared in front of you. Avoid leaving food or drinks unattended, and don’t accept anything from strangers.
Petty crime, such as pickpocketing and bag snatching, is also common, particularly in larger cities such as Bogota, Cali, Medellin and Cartagena. This includes in major tourist areas, near hotels and at the airport in Bogotá. Don’t carry large amounts of money or wear valuable watches or jewellery. Avoid using your mobile phone, cameras and other electronic equipment in the street. Avoid deprived areas of the cities. Tourists have been robbed at gunpoint.
Organised criminals operate in urban areas, including Bogotá and Medellín.
Criminals pose as police officers in Bogotá and popular tourist towns to conduct scams (asking to verify documents or foreign currency). People have reported harassment, theft and extortion. If approached, ask to be escorted to the nearest CAI (‘Centro de Atención Inmediata’) – the local police station.
Ensure that your personal belongings, including your passport and other travel documents, are secure at all times. Always keep photocopies of these documents with you, as local authorities often conduct identity checks.
Be alert on public transport. Don’t leave your luggage unattended, in overhead bins or under the seat on buses, as they could be stolen while you’re not watching or asleep.
Card overcharging is common. Be careful in popular tourist areas, where scammers target tourists by charging them elevated prices for services, food and drink. Ask for a printed price list before ordering, and check for any unauthorised transactions on your account statements. Pay careful attention when your cards are being handled by others and cover the keypad with one hand when entering your PIN.
Smash-and-grab attacks are common. Thieves snatch items from cars stopped at traffic lights. Keep vehicle doors locked, windows up and valuables out of sight, even when moving. Be alert to threats, including when stopped in traffic.
Take only the cash you need for the day and don’t carry unnecessary valuables.
Ayahuasca or yage tourism
Ayahuasca or yage tourism is a growing industry, especially in the jungle regions of Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. Shamans perform psychedelic rituals of spiritual cleansing with this traditional plant.
Yage is not illegal in Colombia, but its consumption is not regulated, and its interaction with existing medical conditions is not well understood.
Most facilities lack basic first aid or emergency plans for people who suffer physical or mental health effects after ceremonies. Participants report symptoms from being more alert but lacking control to amnesia. Effects could also include severe vomiting and diarrhoea.
Ceremonies often occur in remote areas with no access to medical or mental health resources and limited communication with local authorities.
Some participants have also been assaulted and robbed.
If you decide to take part in ayahuasca tourism:
- research potential ayahuasca tour operators before signing up
- avoid participating in ayahuasca rituals without a trusted friend present
- check if any existing medical condition may be aggravated by the use of ayahuasca
- check if your travel insurance covers health effects due to this type of experience
You may be at risk of cyber-based threats during overseas travel to any country. Digital identity theft is a growing concern. Your devices and personal data can be compromised, especially if you’re connecting to Wi-Fi, using or connecting to shared or public computers, or to Bluetooth.
Social media can also be risky in destinations where there are social or political tensions, or laws that may seem unreasonable by Australian standards. Travellers have been arrested for things they have said on social media. Don’t comment on local or political events on your social media.
Cyber security when travelling overseas