When I first told my family I was going to be spending three months in Colombia, their jaws dropped. “But Colombia is so dangerous!” While I understood their concerns, this sweeping statement didn’t entirely reflect the reality of travelling in this vibrant country.
There are plenty of safe places to travel in Colombia, you just need to find them. Failure to do so could lead to you becoming a victim of petty crime or if you get really unlucky – even worse.
To help kickstart your planning, I’ve put together this round-up of the safest cities in Colombia. This shortlist has been compiled using a range of reputable sources, plus my own experience from my time travelling the country. While nowhere is safe 100%, you’ll find the risks much lower in these places.
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8 Safest Places in Colombia
The idyllic coffee town of Jardín is somewhere that travellers often visit on a whim and then never want to leave. Famous for its colourful, colonial centre and excellent hiking opportunities, Jardín is the type of place where it is easy to feel at home.
The city is incredibly safe and there is a tight-knit community of locals who all congregate in the square to catch up with each other over a cup of tinto. It is very safe to walk around, both during the daytime and at night. While there are no particular risks associated with visiting Jardín, visitors should be aware that they may find stray dogs towards the outskirts of town which can be intimidating.
The TravelLadies app ranks Jardín as a safe place for solo female travellers in Colombia. There is a low risk of crime, both petty and violent. Owing to its mountain setting and its rainy weather, Jardín is at risk of landslides and flooding. The best time to visit is during the dry seasons, which fall from December to March and July to September.
“Out of all the places I visited in Colombia, Jardín was easily the place that I felt the safest. The centre has a really local feel about it and the people are friendly and helpful. When I couldn’t find my accommodation, a local offered to help me. People would walk around with their phones out and their backpacks planted firmly on their backs – a good sign in Colombia!”
Bucaramanga has been nicknamed the ‘City of Parks’. As a university city, it is famous for its upbeat student vibe. According to Numbeo, Bucaramanga scored high for its safety levels for walking alone during the daytime. However, it scored much lower when it comes to walking alone at night. Luckily, the city benefits from excellent public transport infrastructure and Uber is also available.
One of Colombia’s safest cities, Bucaramanga is generally a good destination for tourists. However, visitors are urged to avoid the comunas and base themselves in the Nuevo Sotomayor area. To blend in with the locals and avoid making yourself a target, you should keep your valuables hidden. Avoid wearing flip-flops and shorts – this makes you stand out as a tourist!
The US State Department advises that travellers should avoid the Colombia/Venezuela border. While not in a contentious area per se, Bucaramanga isn’t too far from less safe border areas so make sure you do your research before you head to your next destination.
When you visit Medellín today, you almost forget that this is the same city terrorised by Pablo Escobar’s bloodthirsty drug cartels just decades ago. Despite its grim history, Medellín is now a fine example of innovation and one of the safest cities in Colombia for travellers and digital nomads alike.
Travel Safe Abroad classifies Medellín as an overall medium-risk destination for tourists as petty crime can and does happen. While violence against tourists isn’t unheard of, it can usually be avoided by practising simple personal safety protocols and not flashing valuables. Don’t use drugs of any kind.
Numbeo ranks Medellín as safer than Las Vegas in the US and ranks the city highly when it comes to safety when walking during daylight hours. This extends to solo female travellers. All visitors should avoid walking alone at night and instead opt for a taxi or use a ride-share service.
Stick to the main tourist-friendly districts and your visit to Medellín is likely to be trouble-free. El Poblado is the most popular area but Laureles is also frequented by tourists. If you are visiting El Centro, it is wise to use a theft-proof backpack or stash cash in a money belt.
Also read: Is Medellín Safe?
Sitting at the heart of Colombia’s coffee region, Salento is famous for its world-class joe and otherworldly Cocora Valley. One of the most tourist-heavy destinations in Colombia, the area is popular but for good reason.
The frequency of tourists means that pickpocketing can happen so you should never leave your valuables unattended. Travel Ladies App says that while Salento is safe at night, you should avoid walking alone after dark and if you have to, stick to well-lit areas.
Trip Savvy says that tourists who stick to Colombia’s coffee region should have a trouble-free visit. However, most of the public transport in this region takes the form of taxi jeeps. These leave the centre of Salento for popular areas such as Cocora Valley and nearby Filandia. If the seats are taken, travellers will be expected to hang off the back of the jeep which naturally comes with risk. If this is something you don’t feel comfortable doing, wait for the next ride.
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Located in the Santander department, Barichara is sometimes called ‘the prettiest town in Colombia’. While there isn’t loads to do here, it is a wonderfully peaceful town, surrounded by beautiful nature.
The Travel Ladies App says that this is a safe place in Colombia for visitors, with well-lit streets and a good police presence. Hiking along the marked trails is perfectly safe and the locals are friendly and welcoming.
Only around 8,000 people live in Barichara, making it a very tight-knit community. This means that crime is kept low, as everyone knows everyone else. Although frequented by tourists, it is still somewhat off the beaten path, with many only visiting on a day trip – though this place deserves a much longer stop!
While Colombia as a whole isn’t recognised that highly on the Global Peace Index rankings, there are some areas in which it delivers. In particular, it scores well for political stability which has had a big impact on post-conflict destinations such as Minca.
This dreamy cloud forest of the Sierra Nevada mountains, just outside Santa Marta, was once a stronghold for paramilitaries. These days, it’s a popular spot for hiking enthusiasts, nature lovers and those seeking a little solitude and respite from the big city.
Community-based tourism initiatives have been cited as a good way to reduce rural and social inequalities in areas such as Minca, however, there needs to be more structured governance so that these kinds of strategies can fulfil their potential.
“With a huge backpacker community, epic hostels and loads of amazing scenery, Minca was one of the best places that I visited during my three months in Colombia. Nobody attempted to scam me while I was there (a welcome change to having spent a few days in Santa Marta previously) and I felt comfortable walking around after dark.”
According to the UK Foreign Travel Advice website, street crime is common in many of Colombia’s big cities, including those along the Caribbean coast. Mugging and pickpocketing can turn violent so it is always best to hand over any belongings without confrontation should the need arrive.
Despite the presence of street crime, Cartagena has a victimisation rate of 3.4% according to Statista, the best of any city in Colombia. While the outskirts of Cartagena can be a bit dodgy for travellers, the centre is considered to be very safe, particularly around Getsemani, The Walled City and Bocagrande.
The biggest threat to tourists in Cartagena is getting scammed. Overinflated prices, sometimes referred to as the Gringo tax, are very normal here and it is easy to end up paying well over the odds for a range of goods. Also, be wary of sitting down at a beach bar unless you are willing to pay for the chair itself!
Also read: Is Cartagena Safe?
The dusty beach town of Palomino is a backpacker mecca and one of the most popular destinations in Colombia for hippies and nomads. There has been a lot of investment in this small town and there are many expats here who have followed the sun to the coast.
Unfortunately, crime statistics on Palomino are difficult to find, making it hard to back up anecdotal experience. Many solo travellers report feeling very safe in town and enjoy being part of a large traveller scene.
While people often walk around Palomino at night, there is little street lighting so a torch is recommended. The main danger to those visiting Palomino comes from the rip tides which make swimming here unadvisable. If you want to swim, book a hostel with a swimming pool instead – there are plenty to choose from!
The tap water in Colombia varies and in Palomino, it’s not safe to drink without a water purifier. Make sure you are travelling with something like the Grayl Ultrapress or GeoPress to ensure that you don’t get sick. I spoke to a lot of backpackers who reported getting dodgy tummies after drinking the tap water – it isn’t worth the risk!
“Palomino is the perfect lazy beach town. I stayed for a couple of weeks and loved the chilled vibe. There is a huge backpacker crowd and everyone is up for a good time. During the time I spent there, I heard no horror stories and felt perfectly safe walking around – even after dark. There are a few stray dogs on the outskirts of town but there are a number of hardworking charities and organisations working to care for them, with the aim of eventually finding them a forever home.”
It is no secret that Colombia doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to safety. However, the country has made huge strides over recent years and is no longer the no-go zone that it once was when Pablo Escobar ruled the country.
Choose your lodgings wisely, use your common sense and make sure to check out some of the safest cities in Colombia and you should have a trouble-free visit to this wonderful country. With a vibrant culture, spectacular wildlife and some of the most friendly locals anywhere, a trip to Colombia will certainly be one that you’ll cherish.
What is the safest place in Colombia that you’ve visited? We’d love to hear your experiences!