Colombia Travel Advice
Security travel advice for Colombia
How safe is Colombia?
Threat level: High
The current travel advice for Colombia is to be extremely cautious and vigilant. Colombia is a very dangerous country to travel to, and unless you are taking your own security team or are a seasoned traveller, all non-essential travel is advised against to many parts of the country.
Intelligent Protection International Limited provides Executive Protection services in South and Latin America. If you are interested in these services, please visit: Bodyguards in Latin America.
Although the rate of kidnappings has dropped and the security situation in Colombia has improved, it is advised to remain vigilant throughout your stay. National parks, wildlife refuges, and city outskirts are often convenient hideouts for illegal groups and are best avoided. The tourist destinations of San Andrés Island, Providencia Island and Cartagena are more favourable places to visit in recent years, due to a higher police presence and generally safer environment.
On the 17th of January 2019, a vehicle drove into the Police Academy in Bogotá before the bomb inside the vehicle exploded, killing 21 people. Colombia blamed the attack on the left-wing National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel group.
On the 11th of April 2018, a bomb attack on a car in Urabá killed 8 policemen. The Gulf Clan, the biggest drug clan of Colombia, was blamed for the attack.
On the 17th of June 2017, three women were killed and 11 other people were injured in a bomb explosion that occurred in the Andino Shopping Centre in Bogota in the Zona Rosa area.
In January 2017, The National Liberation Army killed one soldier and injured many others in a mass attack.
Visitors to Colombia are strongly advised to ensure they have done their research and understand the risks of travelling to the country. The British FCO and US State Department both offer strong warnings against all but essential travel to the country.
Over and above threats from terrorism, visitors should be aware that Colombia has a very high rate of kidnappings each year. There are generally targeted attacks and not opportunistic. Foreigners can be targeted when they are perceived to be working for oil or mining-related companies, as these companies will often pay (rightly or wrongly) for the return of their employees.
There are demonstrations in the country that can turn violent, it is advised you avoid these at all costs. You should leave an area if large crowds of local citizens begin to form as they can escalate very quickly.
There is a very high threat of terrorist activity in Colombia. For some time FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional) have opposed the government and have been responsible for numerous shootings and bombings, carrying out criminal activities to fund their causes.
General crime in Colombia such as robberies and bag snatching is so high, it is almost not recordable. Colombia is a poor country with many social issues fuelled by the drugs trade, lack of investment in infrastructure and many years of political woes, such as its fight against terror.
As risk of theft is extreme, travellers are advised to carry few valuables when leaving their accommodation and leave important documents such as passports locked in a safe.
Colombia's International Relations
Colombia has worked towards creating diplomatic ties since the 1970s. It has Bilateral Trade Agreements with South Korea, Japan and China and works with the international community in its ongoing fight against its domestic terrorism and drug trafficking.
There are territorial disputes with Venezuela, Nicaragua and the USA. Tensions with Ecuador remain over the spill over of the leftist terrorist group FARC, however operations to combat the same group have increased relations with neighbouring countries, such as Panama, Peru and Brazil.
Travelling around Colombia
Visitors should ensure that they plan with great detail any trip around Colombia. Driving, especially outside of the city of Bogotá, is very dangerous. This is due to a combination of poor road conditions, reckless driving standards and the risk of car-jacking or hijacking. The general state and lack of adequate infrastructure means that it can take hours just to travel a few miles in some places. You should keep this in mind and leave yourself plenty of time to reach your destination. Roads are also subject to flooding and being washed away, which can lead to long diversions and lengthy delays.
The border crossing (Simon Bolivar bridge) from San Antonio del Táchira, Venezuela to Cucuta, Colombia, and the Paraguachón border crossing from the state of Zulia to the Colombian department of La Guajira has been closed until further notice.
It is advised that you arrange your trip to Colombia, so that your arrival to the country and travel to your final destination occur during daylight hours. The risk of running into trouble is significantly higher at night time, and it is recommended that you avoid this at all costs.
Earthquakes in Colombia
Colombia frequently suffer from earthquakes and can often be severe. Although there have not been any fatalities since 2008, the regular tremors damage infrastructure and cause disruption. You should ensure you know what to do if you are caught in an earthquake and monitor local news and weather reports.
Extreme weather in Colombia
Heavy rain also affects Colombia, particularly the east of the country. This can lead to flooding and landslides which can cause travel disruption and devastating damage. Keep up to date with weather forecasts and do not attempt to travel during long periods of rainfall.
Emergency services in Colombia:
Tourist Poice: 1337 4413
Metropolitan Poice: 112
GAULA (Kidnapping and Extortion Squad): 165
Traffic Poice: 127 or 3600 111
Fire emergency: 119 or 2175 300/2355 166
Medical emergency: 125
Medical emergency: 132 (Red Cross, 24 hour ambulance)
Religion: Christianity (Roman Catholic)
Time now in Bogota:
Consular information for Colombia
U.S. Embassy Bogotá
Calle 24 Bis No. 48-50,
Telephone: +57 1275 2000
British Embassy Bogotá
Carrera 9, No 76-49, Piso 8,
Edificio ING Barings,
Telephone: +57 1326 8300
Visa requirements for Colombia
Visitors to Colombia from most countries do not require a visa for stays of up to 90 days. This is to the discretion of the Colombian Immigration Authorities and you may be requested to provide evidence of onward travel, such as flight details. Further advice on visa requirements for Colombia can be found here: Visa advice Colombia
It is advised that visitors to Colombia are up-to-date with primary boosters, such as MMR. It is further recommended that most travellers get Tetanus and Hepatitis A vaccinations. You may also want to consider Yellow Fever vaccinations, as there is a risk of infection in some parts of the country. You should check with your local health professional prior to your departure, as the yellow fever vaccine is not suitable for all travellers or parts of Colombia.
Healthcare and Immunisations
There have been confirmed cases of the Zika virus and Dengue fever in Colombia and suitable precautions are advised. Both diseases are transmitted to humans by infected mosquito bites and whilst there are currently no vaccinations, prevention of bites can occur. This can be through the use of mosquito nets at night time and keeping your skin covered.
Personal hygiene must be paramount, the local water supply avoided at all costs and bottled water inspected prior to consumption. There have been a number of cases of bottled water being refilled with tap water and re-sold.
Private medical clinics in Colombia are very good, but travellers should ensure that they have the appropriate level of medical insurance to cover these. Medical facilities outside of the main cities and large towns can be very poor and unpredictable.