Last updated on November 11th, 2023 at 12:14 pm
Hello! I’m Frank, and I manage a travel agency in Bogotá, Colombia. Discover the transformation of Colombia and its current status as a tourist destination in this updated article.
The Remarkable Transformation of Colombia
Colombia’s transformation from a conflict-ridden nation to a vibrant tourist destination is a testament to its resilience and reform.
Historical Context and Challenges
- Era of Conflict: The peak of violence in the 1980s and 1990s, driven by drug cartels and guerrilla warfare, placed Colombia among the countries with the highest rates of kidnappings and homicides globally.
- Kidnapping Statistics: In the early 2000s, Colombia experienced one of the world’s highest kidnapping rates, with thousands of cases annually, significantly impacting its global perception.
Turning the Tide
- Reduction in Violent Crimes: With the government’s efforts and the 2016 peace accord, there was a dramatic decrease in violent crimes. For instance, the number of kidnappings dropped from over 3,000 annually at its peak to around 200 cases by 2020.
- Homicide Rate Decline: Similarly, the homicide rate saw a significant decline. From being one of the world’s highest, Colombia’s homicide rate fell by over 50% in the two decades following the early 2000s.
Economic and Social Progress
- Economic Growth: Post-conflict, Colombia’s economy showed resilience, with GDP growth reflecting diversification and increased foreign investment.
- Boost in Tourism: The number of foreign visitors nearly doubled from 2011 to 2024, a clear indicator of the world’s renewed trust in Colombia’s safety and appeal.
Surge in Tourism
- Increased Safety Measures: Alongside economic growth, there was a concerted effort to enhance safety for tourists. Major cities like Bogotá and Medellín, once hotspots for crime, are now celebrated for their culture and safety.
Safety in Colombia: A New Era
Colombia’s safety improvements are evident in global rankings and comparative statistics, reflecting a significant shift from its past.
Comparative Safety Analysis
- Global Peace Index: According to the 2024 Global Peace Index, Colombia has climbed several ranks, indicating a marked improvement in societal safety and security. Global Peace Index 2024
- Homicide Rate Comparison: With a homicide rate of approximately 25 per 100,000 inhabitants, Colombia’s current rate is lower than Brazil (around 27.4 per 100,000) and Mexico (about 29 per 100,000), and closer to South Africa’s rate (around 33 per 100,000). UNODC Homicide Statistics
- Comparison with Touristic Countries: Compared to Thailand (rate of 3.2 per 100,000) or the Philippines (rate of 6.4 per 100,000), Colombia shows a higher rate, but it’s important to note the significant improvement over the past decade. World Bank Open Data
- US Comparison: Major Colombian cities now show comparable or better safety statistics than some US cities. For example, Bogotá’s rate is similar to New Orleans (around 40 per 100,000). FBI Uniform Crime Reporting
Current Risks for Tourists
- Petty Crime: In areas like La Candelaria in Bogotá, petty crimes occur at rates comparable to popular European tourist cities like Rome or Barcelona. Colombian National Police Report
- Scams: Taxi and currency exchange scams in Colombia are similar to those reported in tourist-centric cities like Bangkok or Istanbul.
- Regional Safety Variability: Rural areas near the Venezuelan border may have higher risks, comparable to border areas in other countries like Thailand and Myanmar.
- Health and Environmental Risks: Health risks like dengue in tropical areas of Colombia are manageable, similar to risks in countries like Vietnam or Brazil. CDC Travel Health Notices
- Sex Tourism: In cities like Medellin and Cartagena crimes related to sex tourism are more frequent. Especially the use of narcotic drugs lead to the death of sex tourists frequently.
- Violent crimes: Many violent crimes in Colombia are conducted in connection with drug trafficking and gang violence. Also there are hot spots in remote areas. Tourists are usually not involved.
Safety Measures and Advice
- Tourist Police Presence: Enhanced police presence in tourist areas is similar to measures taken in cities like Paris or New York.
- Staying Informed: For the latest travel advisories, refer to US State Department or UK Foreign Office.
- Engaging Local Expertise: Seeking advice from local travel agencies can offer insights akin to local guidance in countries like Italy or Japan.
Colombia’s Tourism and Infrastructure
Colombia has seen remarkable progress in its tourism sector and infrastructure, making it an increasingly popular destination for international visitors.
Growth in Tourism
- Tourist Arrival Statistics: According to Colombia’s Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Tourism, the number of international tourists reached a new high in 2024, with over 6 million visitors, doubling the figures from a decade ago. Colombian Ministry of Tourism Statistics
- Diverse Tourist Demographics: The demographics of tourists have diversified, with a significant increase in visitors from North America, Europe, and Asia, reflecting Colombia’s global appeal. World Tourism Organization Report
- Transportation Improvements: Significant investments in transportation infrastructure, including the expansion of El Dorado International Airport in Bogotá and the modernization of port facilities in Cartagena, have enhanced accessibility and convenience for tourists.
- Hotel and Accommodation Growth: The hotel sector has seen robust growth, with international chains expanding their presence in major cities and tourist spots, offering a range of options from luxury to budget-friendly accommodations.
Cultural and Natural Attractions
- World Heritage Sites: Colombia boasts several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the historic port city of Cartagena, the Coffee Cultural Landscape, and the pre-Columbian archaeological site of San Agustín, attracting culturally inclined tourists. UNESCO World Heritage List
- Biodiversity and Ecotourism: Recognized as one of the most biodiverse countries, Colombia offers unique ecotourism experiences in the Amazon rainforest, Andean mountains, and along its Caribbean and Pacific coasts.
Safety and Accessibility
- Tourist Safety Initiatives: The government has implemented targeted safety initiatives in tourist areas, enhancing the overall experience for visitors. This includes improved policing and the development of tourist information centers.
- Accessibility and Inclusivity: Efforts to make tourist sites more accessible and inclusive for all types of travelers, including those with disabilities, have been a key focus, ensuring a welcoming environment for everyone.
Staying Safe in Colombia
Staying informed and taking simple precautions can greatly enhance your safety while traveling in Colombia.
Practical Safety Advice
- Stay Informed: Regularly check travel advisories from reliable sources like the US State Department and UK Foreign Travel Advice for the latest information.
- Avoid High-Risk Areas: Be cautious in rural areas, especially near borders. Urban areas like Cali and certain parts of Bogotá may require extra vigilance after dark.
Preventive Behaviors for Tourists
- Blend In: Try not to stand out as a tourist. Dress like the locals and be discreet with expensive cameras or jewelry.
- Stay Alert in Crowds: Pickpocketing can occur in crowded places. Keep your belongings secure and be aware of your surroundings.
- Use Reliable Transportation: Use recommended taxi services or ride-hailing apps like Uber or DiDi. Avoid unmarked taxis.
- Avoid Unknown Territories: It’s advisable to stay within well-known and well-traveled areas, especially for tourists. Venturing into unfamiliar or less frequented areas can increase risks, as these places may have different safety conditions.
My Experience with Safety in Colombia
- Vaccinations and Health Precautions: Follow health guidelines such as getting recommended vaccinations and using mosquito repellent in tropical areas. Check the CDC’s Traveler’s Health page for Colombia for more information.
- Altitude Sickness: In high-altitude areas like Bogotá, take time to acclimatize and stay hydrated.
Emergency Contacts and Resources
- National Emergency Number: Dial 123 for emergencies in Colombia.
- Tourist Police: Contact the tourist police for any travel-related issues. Colombian National Police
- Local Embassies and Consulates: Keep the contact details of your country’s embassy or consulate. List of Foreign Embassies in Colombia
- Medical Emergencies: For medical assistance, Clinica del Country in Bogotá and Medellín’s Hospital Pablo Tobón Uribe are reputable facilities.
- Local SIM Card: Consider purchasing a local SIM card for easy communication and access to maps and emergency information.
- Inform Others of Your Itinerary: Let family or friends know your travel plans and check in regularly.
Planning Your Colombian Adventure
Colombia is a safe and captivating destination, with each year attracting more visitors. For a memorable experience, consider planning your trip with a reputable travel agency. Explore Colombia’s most popular destinations through our comprehensive travel guides.
Further Reading and Resources: