When planning my trip to Colombia my biggest fear as a solo female traveler was my safety. I’d heard all of the horror stories about the El Paseo Millonario taxi rides and pickpocketing. I’d also read plenty of blog posts saying there is nothing to worry about and how safe Bogota is. In my personal experience, Bogota is far from a safe city, but neither is New York City or any other big city! In this post, I am going to talk you through some of the safety issues and offer you some safety advice for Bogotá.
The biggest safety issues in Bogotá are:
- Street Crime (pickpocketing and bag theft)
- ATM theft
- Drink spiking
I have broken down each one and gone into as much detail as I can. While in Bogota I almost had my bag stolen (he did steal it but I ran down the street screaming and he gave it back to me!) and I did have my phone stolen. I also spent over 2 months living in La Candelaria in a pretty unsafe place. So I am speaking with some authority here!
Number 1 rule in Bogota. Do not get in a taxi on the street EVER! They are not safe. Best case is they will take you on a nice tour of the city that you didn’t ask for. Worst case you will experience the El Paseo Millonario ride. Now, these might not happen every day, but it happens enough for it to have a name… I personally know a couple this happened to and there were guns involved. They were held hostage at gunpoint for several hours and forced to withdraw large sums of money for ATMs all over the city.
If you need a taxi download the Tapsi and Easy Taxi apps and order one. It is the only safe way to get a taxi in Bogota.
Uber is another option, although it is illegal so be warned. The plus side is that because it is illegal the drivers drive really carefully. Always a bonus in Latin America!
Golden rule number 2 in Bogota. Never put anything in your pocket and wear your backpack as a front pack. I found out the hard way about this one. This is especially valid if you are traveling on the Transmiliniol system. In my time in Bogota, I used Transmilinio daily. I never put anything in my pockets EVER. Then one day I was tired and put my phone in my pocket in a rush to get n the packed bus. 5 minutes later it was gone. As easy as that!
Keep a tight hold on your things as opportunists are everywhere!
Golden rule number 3. Never leave anything anywhere. If you are in a cafe don’t put your phone on the table and don’t leave your bag on the floor. Either has it on your lap on attached o you in some way.
On my 3rd day in Bogota, I was having a coffee and reading my book in a coffee shop. My bag was on the floor. A guy walked in and stood by me for a few minutes, dropped his bag and picked mine up. I noticed as soon as he walked out as it felt a bit odd and when I looked down my bag was gone. So I ran out of the coffee shop screaming like a crazy person. There are police EVERYWHERE in La Candelaria so a western woman screaming draws the kind of attention this guy didn’t want. Lucky for me he dropped the bag on the street and ran off. I was very lucky!
Golden rule number 4 choose your ATM wisely. Due to the ATM charges I alwauys withdraw the maximum amount per transaction. Doing this on the street always makes me super nervous. Then walking home with a bag full of money isn’t ideal either. There are a few ways you can do this with less risk.
- Find an ATM inside a bank rather than one on the street.
- Don’t put all of your money together. I prefer to split my money up. I put a little in my purse, some in a pocket of my bag and then the largest amount I put in my bra. I always wear my leggings with a secret pocket to withdraw money too and use the pocket to keep my ATM card.
- Go straight back to your accommodation. Take the fastest route and don’t stop!
There is a well-known drug in Colombia called Borrachero. When drunk it pretty much turns you into a zombie! Be really careful with your drink when you are out drinking and don’t accept drinks from strangers.
These are the main general safety issues you need to be aware of. But there are some others which I have covered below:
La Candelaria might be safe during the day. But trust me it is not safe at night, I lived there for 2 months and I felt genuinely terrified walking home from work most evenings. There is a lot of street crime with people being mugged outside their hotels.
If you have a short time in Bogotá most people stay in La Candelaria because it’s the most convenient place to stay. But if you are staying longer than 2 days stay further north in the Parque 93, Zona T or the Zona Rosa area. They have better nightlife than Candelaria and are far safer. To get downtown for the ‘tourist attractions you will just need to get on the Transmiliniao or book a taxi.
Stay out of the South
There is no real reason to go any further south than Candelaria. So don’t. It isn’t safe and there is nothing to see anyway. It is a huge city with plenty of places to explore in the north!
Bogota has some amazing hikes. But they can be dangerous. Before you go on any of the hikes be sure to check with some locals about any issues. Or better yet hire a Colombian buddy to take you!
If you want to walk up Monserrate you should only do it when the police are there. It is a hotspot for muggings! The safest time to go is on a Sunday morning when the trail is packed with locals doing their Sunday pilgrimage. If you go during the week the best time to go is between 6-9am.
Keep a low profile and carry as little on you as possible
If you don’t want to draw attention dress down. Leave the flashy clothes and jewelry at home and try and blend in as much as you can. I’m 5”8ins with blond hair and blue eyes…so it is hard for me to blend in! I wore a hat a lot and dressed in dark clothes.
As Bogota is the capital city there are a lot of protests and political marches. I lost count of the amount I saw here during my time in the city. To avoid getting caught up in the politics avoid walking through any protests and marches. The best way to stay safe is to stay as far away from it as possible.
I wanted to write this post because I feel people, especially women traveling alone, should be as informed as they can be when traveling to Bogota. I read several misleading posts basically saying yea Bogota is totally safe don’t worry and it made me a little mad. Yes, they may not have had any issues personally. But Bogota is far from safe and it is misleading to say so!
That said I highly recommend spending a few days in Bogota. And so long as you are careful (and lucky) you shouldn’t have any problems. Just be aware of the dangers and stay cautious! Remember always listen to your gut, if it doesn’t feel right GET OUT.
Do you have longer in Bogotá? Take a read of my other guides here: