In the second part of the series, Solo Female Travel Colombia, five women from Germany, Croatia, Switzerland, Australia and Canada reveal their experience of security and safety travelling solo through Colombia.
If you have not yet met these women in the first blog, please see Solo Female Travel Colombia: Meet The Women.
Solo Female Travel Colombia: Safety
Wherever you travel, it’s always wise to be across the safety aspects of your destination and be pre-warned about any security issues. Travellers should weigh up – the safe, and not so safe – places to venture. When it comes to Colombia, there still exists the ‘elephant in the room!’
“How safe is it…really?”
In this blog, you’ll hear from five solo females travellers from around the world, who discuss the reality of safety, travelling Colombia solo.
Solo Female Travel Colombia Safety – Let’s hear what they have to say!
Did many people advise you not to go to Colombia before you departed? What did people say? Did you have preconceptions about the country?
Leonie: Everyone in Germany tells you not to go (because it is too dangerous). Everyone you meet while travelling tells you to go no matter what – because it is the most beautiful, most diversified country with the nicest people. So I did have prejudices to start… well until I met the first person that told me otherwise and I decided to form my own opinion on that matter. And now I know better than to ever listen again to anyone’s opinion on a place that they haven’t actually ever been to. I should have known before and still feel stupid for ever even considering they were right.
Ivana: Many people told me that I am crazy for going so far and alone. Of course I went anyway. People told me I would either get shot or kidnapped. Colombia is not the safest country that I have visited, especially when you see 7 police officers securing one park where children play and elderly eat ice cream in an area of Cali. But it is different. And I like different. Different is a challenge.
Anita: Not necessarily as I have been to other dangerous places (in the perception of people) before. I’d been to Iran, the West Bank and India before Colombia (on my own or Iran with a female friend) and in Nigeria and Sudan for work. I think my environment got used to me travelling to places that are considered by many as “dangerous.” Also, my family have friends from Colombia, who live in Switzerland, which helped too.
Jenny: Half half.
People think it’s still the drug capital of the world and have fears around violence and the guerrilla. People that have been, rave about it. They say there is great scuba diving and beaches; it’s really pretty and super fun.
I have travelled so much that I go with an open mind but aware of my surroundings and tread carefully until I am sure of what I’m dealing with.
Amal: Yes, including my family. They would tell me: you are so stubborn, you need to hit the wall and then you will learn what life is really about. Or, I am so worried that something bad will happen to you. However, I did get some positive comments from people who’ve been in Colombia. I read a lot before going and I knew how to “dress” in Medellin for example. Girls in Medellin dress conservatively with Jeans and T-shirts. Wearing flip-flops and shorts just shows that you are a tourist. I tried to blend in as much as possible in order to avoid any problem.
How did you feel security wise? With locals, other travellers, police and military?
Leonie: I felt secure almost all the time. There are a few rules you just have to follow. Like: Don’t go out at night by yourself as a girl (or as a guy for that matter), don’t go to beaches at night in general, don’t walk around looking rich. If you follow your common sense and your guts you will be fine. Or very unlucky. Locals are not mean or criminal people. They are just poorer than you are and you just have to keep that in mind. Police and military can be corrupt but I never had any bad experience concerning that. I didn’t have any bad experience at all security wise: I was never robbed, threatened or whatever else comes to your mind.
Ivana: My Colombian friend Alvaro did one interesting thing to “break” any fear of Colombians, that the media has put on them. He left me in a touristy area, but in the middle of nowhere and gave me instructions on how to get back to him. “You need to do it. You need to get to know the people,” he said and disappeared. It took me more than two hours and I was afraid at first, as everyone was looking at me, gringa in shorts, with sunglasses and white shirt with the sign “Cambodia” on it. I took a look around the park where he left me and spotted two guys who seemed the most badass. So I sat next to them. My heart was pounding as if on steroids. They looked at me and after a few seconds of observing, I received a warm smile. Bingo! The rest is history. I was strolling around narrow and wide Colombian streets like Indiana Jones’s daughter. “Hola guapa”, “Hermosa, como estas” I would get from men on the streets and I would reply with a smile. I ate in a family restaurant. I met a woman who travelled to Eastern Europe in her youth and even remembered some words. I sat next to a woman selling Colombian tropical fruits and chatted with her daughter. After almost three hours my friend met me. “Oh, you’re still alive?” he joked. “I almost got killed,” I joked back, feeling happy that he did what he did.
Anita: 100% yes
Jenny: Very secure overall with getting around and locals looking out for me. There were a lot of Military in the Palomino reserve which made me acutely aware of our proximity to the border with Venezuela. Very odd to be in bikinis next to a man with a machine gun!
Amal: Yes, the old city in Cartagena has 2000 police people patrolling the historic centre at all times. Seeing them everywhere really reassured me. Locals were very nice in all the places I visited so yes I was happy to see that it was actually way safer than I’d expected.
No Dar Papaya is a Colombian expression, which means that if you do not want anything happening to you, don’t put yourself in a position where you become vulnerable to be taken advantage of.
For example, don’t walk with your iphone 7 while visiting or walking around. There are people in Colombia that do not have food therefore for them that phone is an opportunity to feed their family or themselves. So I was mindful of that.
Did you ever feel threatened or really afraid on your trip? What was that situation and where?
Leonie: I never felt really threatened just a little uncomfortable one time or another (like when I went to Las Lajas, a city close to the Ecuadorian border).
Ivana: I felt threatened only once, in a taxi on my way from a hostel in Bogota to the airport. The driver was a young man with strange questions such as “How old are you?” “Are you healthy?” and “Aren’t you afraid of traveling alone?” My palms started to sweat, as I was getting more and more nervous. I saw myself in the scenario of a horror movie “Hostel 3.” So, what did I do? I became loud. Aggressive. I was shouting and didn’t stop talking so at the end I made him much more scared than he made me. Knowledge of Spanish language helped me a lot in that situation. He was probably just curious but these weird questions felt very uncomfortable.
Jenny: No. I don’t wear expensive jewellery or clothes and I take basically no possessions of value, so I was relaxed in terms of my things. My life was not at risk during my time in Colombia – as far as I know. I think tourists are protected by locals and police without our knowing however. I felt very safe.
Amal: No never!