Is Bogota Safe Right Now? 11 Tips for Travelers
When people hear that I’ve traveled to Colombia many times, they ask me, is Colombia safe to travel to?
I've taken multiple trips to Bogota, Medellin, Cartagena, and the Colombian island of San Andres. I found them all safer than their reputations make them out to be.
I just had a fantastic trip to Bogota, so here is what you need to know about safety in Bogota.
Is Bogota Safe Right Now?
Traveling to Bogota is safe, but you should stick to the right neighborhoods and use heightened safety precautions just like you would in New York or London. While Colombia has a poor reputation for security, my wife and I felt perfectly safe traveling with our three-year-old. We had a female driver named Sandra, who assured us that wherever we visited was safe.
Petty theft, pickpocketing, and muggings do happen to tourists in Colombia, but with basic safety precautions, travelers can avoid them. The Colombian expression you’ll hear frequently is “no dar la papaya” which basically means, don’t show your valuables.
The rule of thumb in any big city should be to keep fancy jewelry at home, carry your bag in front of you in crowded places, don't hang an expensive camera around your neck, and if you take your phone out, take a quick photo and put it away. Keep your eyes and ears open, and don’t wear headphones in the street.
There was a significant police presence in Bogota and a lot of security guards with dogs, which I found reassuring. Look out for the "CAI" booths throughout the city where the police are stationed. I brought my daughter to the playground each morning and was happy to see one of these booths just a stone's throw away.
What neighborhoods are safe to travel to in Bogota?
In general, the northern part of Bogota is known as the safe area, while the south is known for not being safe. The neighborhoods with the best reputation for safety are:
- Zona T / Zona Rosa- an upscale area with shopping and nightlife
- Usaquén- another upscale area
- Chapinero- a bohemian area with great food
- Teusaquillo- a financial area with lots of green spaces
- Candelaria- the cultural center of Bogota, but be careful at night
What activities are safe in Bogota? What should I do while in Bogota?
Our favorite activity in Bogota was visiting La Candelaria, the cultural and historic hub of the city. Colonial architecture makes me feel like I went back in time. We went to La Candelaria on a Sunday, and the narrow sidewalks were sprawling with Colombian people enjoying the day. I don't love crowds, and pushing a stroller through cobblestone streets was a bit stressful. Our driver advised us to carry our bags in front of us.
We loved hanging out in Plaza Chorro de Quevedo, but I didn't let my eye off my daughter for a second. Here, we saw street performers, storytellers, street vendors, and local artisans. “El Chorro” was the birthplace of Bogota, and there are many little cafes where you can sit outside and people-watch.
My wife loves to shop, and the prices in Colombia are very affordable for high-quality goods. Colombia is known for fashion, and they take their malls seriously. I’m not a mall person, but visiting them is an excellent way to see what life is like while traveling to a new country. If you want to see upscale Bogota, visit El Andino.
Bogota also has excellent markets with varying safety profiles, so ask around. Sandra kept pushing us to go to the flea market on Sunday. She also offered to bring us to buy leather and emeralds, but she said we needed to be more careful if we went to the neighborhoods where we could get the best prices.
I took my daughter solo up Monserrate and was pleased she had no issue with the altitude. She loved visiting "Virgin Mary's Castle," as she called the Sanctuary of Monserrate church. We felt very safe the whole time. We rode the funicular up and the gondola down. The well-trafficked trail is safe as long as you go at a time when other people will be hiking. They say the trail is well marked, but people do get lost in the jungle if they venture off it.
We are not religious, but my daughter loves visiting churches. We entered several beautiful cathedrals, including the Cathedral Metropolitan Basilica of Bogotá in Plaza de Bolivar, Iglesia de San Francisco, and Our Lady of Candelaria. Churches are a great place to step out of the crowds for solace in a big city like Bogota.
There are also a bunch of museums to visit in Bogota, including the Botero Museum, Museo de Oro (Gold Museum), and the National Museum. I also would have loved to see the Botanical Gardens.
Next time I come, I will be sure to get outside of Bogota and visit el Catedral de Sal in Zipaquirá, La Chorrera Waterfall, Laguna de Guatavita (Lake Guatavita), and the colonial town of Villa de Leyva.
What is the safest way to get around Bogota?
I felt safe walking during the day in Bogota, especially in Zona T, Zona Rosa, El Andino, and the upscale areas where we stayed in Bogota. Be vigilant in the crowds of La Canalderia, Plaza Bolivar, and Plaza Chorro de Quevedo.
Public transportation is available in Bogota via the TransMilenio bus system, but I’ve heard mixed reviews on safety.
We drove around with our driver, Sandra, in a "placa blanca," a basic white sedan we arranged with our hotel. I don’t mind throwing my kid in the back of a taxi for short rides, but I prefer to spend the money on a driver who waits for us with our car seat. If you want to spend on luxuries, Colombia is a great place to do it. Sandra drove us one day from 9:30 am to 6:30 pm for less than $100.
Be careful in taxis and always negotiate your price before you get in. Uber is a better option for safety.
Should I be concerned with the altitude when traveling to Bogota?
The main thing that people struggle with in Bogota is the altitude. Bogota sits at 8,660 feet (2,640 meters). While Bogota sits lower than Quito, Cusco, and La Paz, it is significantly higher than Denver. I exercised each day I was there and felt more out of breath than usual.
I trained with a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt while I was there and admittedly felt like puking :)
I recommend getting acclimated for a day or two before engaging in vigorous exercise, especially if you plan to hike Cerro Monserratte at 10,341 feet (3,152 meters).
If you really want to experience altitude, I’d suggest going to Peru’s Rainbow Mountains where I’ve hiked to 17,060 feet (5,200 meters).
Are there natural disasters in Bogota?
Earthquakes occasionally occur in Bogota, but the risk profile for hurricanes and volcanic eruptions is low.
One nice thing about Bogota is that because of the altitude, you don’t have to worry about mosquito-borne viruses like dengue, malaria, and yellow fever, like you do in other parts of Colombia.
Is there ever political unrest in Bogota?
Colombia's history and political landscape are complicated, so it's not uncommon for there to be a good protest. Protesting in Latin America is quite common. My rule of thumb is if I see people rallying or marching, I turn around and go in the other direction. While it can be interesting to see what people are protesting about or striking for, any type of civil unrest can turn violent, no matter where you are.
Because of the dicey relationship with guerrilla groups in the country, there is a risk of terrorism, but it's not one that I'd be overly concerned about. I feel that the threat of terrorism in Colombia is much lower than in Paris, Washington D.C., Madrid, etc. You can read more about this conflict from the US Department of State, but most of what you will read about happens deep in the interior of Colombia.
Do I have to worry about cartels, gangs, etc. in Colombia?
People forget that the events depicted in shows like Narcos happened 30+ years ago. In short, you shouldn't have to worry about these things in the main tourist areas of Bogota. As an aside, in Medellín, I visited Comuna 13, a neighborhood known for narco-trafficking, and the locals told me that it's now one of the safest places you can be in all of Colombia.
Again, as a good traveler, look confident and keep your head on a swivel.
If you are going to Bogota for sex tourism or to do cheap drugs, you are asking for trouble. Reconsider your life decisions.
Is the nightlife safe for travelers in Bogota?
As a traveler you should use heightened awareness in places like La Candelaria or Parque 93 at night. What does this mean?
- Don't get too drunk.
- Use the buddy system, especially if you are a solo female traveler.
- Take an Uber wherever you go. They are a lot safer than taxis.
- Don't accept drinks from strangers; bottled beer is the safest drink you can order. Watch the bartender open it.
Should you travel to Bogota?
I couldn't recommend traveling to the country of Colombia more!
Colombia has a vibrant culture, and I found Bogota to be one of the most authentic places I've visited in Colombia. Unlike Medellin and Cartagena de Indias, I only saw a few international tourists in Bogota. I like feeling off the beaten path, so this was a massive plus.
Further reading: 15 Dos and Don'ts While Traveling in Medellin, Colombia
If your time in Colombia is limited, prioritize Medellin, Cartagena, and Santa Marta, especially if you are looking for warm, sunny weather. You can expect it to be cool, cloudy, and sometimes rainy in Bogota.
The safety advice I’d give about traveling to these cities would be very similar to what I say here about Bogota.
I loved my time as a digital nomad in Medellín.
Should I buy travel insurance in Colombia?
Things can go wrong anywhere in the world, so I always suggest buying travel insurance to protect you from trip interruptions, lost or stolen luggage, and medical expenses.
The first time I was in Medellin, I had food poisoning, and a doctor needed to make a house call. Although the doctor’s visit and the drugs she prescribed me were affordable, it’s nice to be reimbursed for unforeseen circumstances.
Are group trips to Colombia safe?
Traveling in a group is the safest way to travel. There is always strength in numbers, and even better when you have a local guide paid to bring you to the safest off-the-beaten-path locations. You can think of your guide as a local friend who accompanies and looks out for you.
Under30Experiences runs group trips for young people ages 21-35 to Colombia. You'll visit Medellin, Cartagena, Santa Marta, and Tayrona National Park deep in the jungle. I helped handpick this itinerary, so I highly recommend you come make friends and see the world!