The enduringly negative international reputation of Colombia’s security environment is, for foreign visitors at least, undeserved. If you're just involved in the usual sort of tourist activities you're unlikely to experience any serious problems during your stay in the country.
Should you face any difficulties at all, these are far more likely to be related to petty crime, rather than to have anything to do with the violence which some associate with the country. To minimize the risk of falling victim to any adverse incident during your stay, there are a number of common sense precautions which you can take:
As with travel to any destination, there are parts of the country and its cities which are significantly more secure than others. If you plan on visiting a particularly remote or unusual destination, it is worth first checking with locals as to the security situation before traveling. If strongly advised by locals against travel there, it is prudent to heed these warnings.
As with any destination, there are parts of the country and its cities which are significantly more secure than others
In some remote rural areas, and inner city ghettos, criminal and/or armed groups are operational. Getting entangled with one of these groups is almost certain not to end well. That said, most foreign tourists will not visit, or even traverse, such parts of Colombia, though they may do so briefly if they come into the country via one of the less frequented land-border crossings.
2. Trust your instincts.
While you should not be paranoid about interactions with strangers in Colombia, it makes sense to trust your instincts. If somebody approaches you and behaves in a way which makes you feel uncomfortable or concerned for your security, then the wisest course of action is to seek to end the interaction as soon as possible. Hailing a cab to take you to another part of the city can be a useful way of putting an end to any unwanted attentions.
In many tourist destinations you will be able to walk around at night without any problem
3. Minimize the amount you walk at night.
In many tourist destinations, in the more affluent parts of Medellín and Bogota, and particularly inside the walled city of Cartagena you will be able to walk around at night without any problem. In areas you are not familiar with however, you may wish to avoid this, particularly if you are by yourself. Taxis are a very cheap way of getting around and provide a handy alternative to walking. Calling a cab is generally safer than hailing one off the street as a record is kept of the driver, number plate and pick up point.
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4. Don’t make yourself a target.
Potential thieves will assume most tourists are very wealthy and if you wish to avoid being targeted it is wise to not provide them with proof to back up this theory. The best way to do this is to avoid ostentatious displays of wealth, for example, avoid carrying around large bundles of bills, using new smartphones in downtown locations, or wearing obvious, flashy jewelry.
5. If you are mugged, don’t resist.
If the worst happens and you are robbed, the wisest course of action is to hand over your valuables without resistance. Most thieves are only interested in your money, but by showing defiance you may provoke them to anger, or even violence.
6. Don’t drink to excess.
You are more likely to be targeted by criminals, and less likely to be able to react sensibly to any potential dangers, if excessively drunk. Buying illegal drugs is also a good way to set yourself up for trouble; travelers doing so make themselves highly vulnerable to extortive payment demands, either by the local police, or those selling the drugs (or the two working in tandem).
One last tip...
A final piece of advice is to try and learn at least some basic Spanish. Should you get yourself into any potentially tricky situation during your stay, you will be far more likely to avoid any difficulties and work your way out of the problem with broken Spanish, than if limited to communicating in English. Aside from the potential security benefits, it will also undoubtedly allow you to interact more with locals and get greater enjoyment out of your trip overall.