Bogotá, Colombia’s vibrant capital city, hums with life. A convergence point of contemporary and ancestral cultures, the city promises its visitors a taste of all that is great about Colombia: from cumbia to coffee. Bogotá’s cobblestone streets, colorful colonial buildings and striking position at 2,600 meters above sea level make it a truly memorable place to visit. But is Bogotá safe?
Colombia has a poor reputation when it comes to safety. The latest Global Peace Index ranked Colombia 144th out of 164 countries, citing high levels of access to weapons, homicides, internal conflict, and displaced people. However, Bogotá is actually one of South America’s safest urban areas. This isn’t to say that visitors don’t come under any harm, and it’s still highly important to remain vigilant and exercise caution when visiting Bogotá. But with a violent crime rate lower than that of Indianapolis, Bogotá isn’t so much more dangerous than any large US city.
Join us as we break down everything you need to know to stay safe in Bogotá, one of Colombia’s most interesting cities.
Is Bogotá safe right now?
Decades of civil war between Colombia’s government and the FARC rebels meant that the country was historically a fairly dangerous place to visit. But following the settling of this dispute in 2016, Colombia has opened up to tourists like never before, becoming a much safer place to visit.
Bogotá now has a great infrastructure for tourists, with plenty of safe accommodation options, a higher police presence, secure transport systems, and tourism operators to help visitors make the most of the city. However, crime is still a problem in the city. According to Numbeo, Bogotá has a high crime rate of 77.92, with pickpocketing and muggings a particular concern for tourists. There are numerous ways to protect yourself from this type of crime – from wearing money belts under your clothing when out and about, to keeping all valuables locked away in a safe.
Protests pose another safety threat to tourists in Bogotá. A series of ongoing protests against increased taxes, corruption, and health care reform shook the country in 2021. These demonstrations often turned violent due to clashes between protestors and the police, causing widespread disruption in Bogotá. While the country has largely overcome this wave of protests, strikes do sometimes occur. It’s important to avoid areas of town where protests are taking place.
Is Bogotá safe for tourists?
Bogotá is generally safe for tourists, so long as visitors exercise due caution. As we mentioned before, petty street crime is probably the largest threat to tourists in Bogotá. Tourists can quickly become easy targets if they wander into the wrong neighborhood or behave in an inconspicuous manner.
Pickpockets are common in crowded areas and on public transport, but they’re easily avoided if you’re aware of the threat – it’s really important to remain vigilant of your belongings at all times. The local expression “no dar papaya” loosely translates to “don’t make yourself a target”. Don’t leave your bag unattended in shops, or under tables in bars and restaurants; don’t walk around with an expensive camera around your neck, or money visibly on your person, and avoid wearing rucksacks on your back. Keeping your possessions locked away in a safe at your accommodation is a good idea, it’s especially important not to take your passport out and about with you.
It’s also important to understand which areas of the city to avoid. As a general rule, the north and east of the city are safe for tourists, but the further you head south the more risk you’ll find. The residential area of Ciudad Bolivar in the south should be avoided completely. Not only is there a high risk of robbery, but torrential rain can lead to flooding in crowded shanty towns, especially on a hillside development.
Safe, tourist zones and dangerous districts can be just a few blocks apart, so it’s best to stick to the popular tourist areas and not wander too far off the well-trodden path. Talk to someone at your hostel about your plans for the day before you go out and they can recommend the best route. Or, join a walking tour for safety in numbers. That being said, popular tourist areas of the city, including La Candelaria can become dangerous after dark. Avoiding heading out by oneself, as well as always having an idea of the direction you are heading in is important for avoiding muggings and armed robberies.
Is it safe to live in Bogotá?
In general, it’s safe to live in Bogotá. Many expats enjoy the best of what the city has to offer without coming to any harm. But the same petty crime that afflicts tourists can affect expats if they don’t exercise similar precautions. Numbeo finds that there’s a high rate of property crimes such as vandalism and theft at 70.10, so opting to live in a house or apartment with security systems and gates is very important.
Most expats and digital nomads opt to live in the smaller neighborhoods of Parque 93, Chapinero Alto, Los Rosales, Cedritos, and Usaquén. Condos here are typically newer and feature strong security systems such as underground parking and video security.
Is Bogotá safe at night?
Bogotá is much less safe by night than it is in the day. While it’s considered moderately safe to walk by oneself during the day – 48.52 on Numbeo – this figure drops to the low safety level of 20.01 after dark. Avoiding unlit areas after dark is essential in order to avoid falling prey to opportunistic thieves.
As a general rule, try not to walk alone at night, particularly in non-tourist areas. If in doubt, hop in a yellow registered taxi – they’re inexpensive in Cartagena and a much safer option than wandering the streets by oneself. Similarly, if you’re wanting to go out partying, it’s important to not get too inebriated. Always try to go home as part of a group, and make sure your friends don’t get left behind.
Is public transport safe in Bogotá?
As such a large and sprawling city, Bogotá can be fairly intimidating when you first arrive. However, due to recent updates to the public transport system, it’s fairly easy to get around the city. There are a number of transport options to safely get around the city. The Transmilenio (Bogota’s Bus Rapid Transit System) and busetas (local buses) are cheap and reliable. However, pickpocketing can be rife on these networks so it’s always recommended to keep an eye on your possessions. There have also been some reports of public transport systems in Bogotá being less safe for women, so solo female travelers may want to consider taking a taxi rather than venturing out on public transport.
By night, it’s safer to get around by taxi. Official, registered yellow taxis are inexpensive and ubiquitous. Be sure to agree on a rate before you set off. Some drivers—as is the case all around the world—will overcharge those unfamiliar with the city. You can also rely on Uber, but be sure to check the registration plate matches the car that you ordered.
Is it safe to walk alone in Bogotá?
During the day it is moderately safe to walk by oneself in Bogotá, providing you stick to the well-trodden tourist locations and take care not to attract attention to yourself by wearing flashy jewelry and flashing the cash. Still, it’s not recommended to wander into the deprived areas and informal settlements to the South of the city at any time of the day. By night, it’s best to stick to well-lit areas and take taxis rather than walk. Even some of the popular tourist areas, such as La Candelaria, can become dangerous.
Make sure you speak to local people to get the most up-to-date safety information on the area that you are planning to visit.
Is it safe to drink tap water in Bogotá?
The tap water in Bogotá is safe to drink. There’s a common misunderstanding that drinking tap water in Colombia will make you sick, but the majority of travelers that visit the city drink the tap water without a problem.
Top 7 Bogotá safety tips
In summary, Bogotá is not without its dangers. But every year, tourists and digital nomads from around the world enjoy the hustle and bustle of this vibrant South American city without coming in harm’s way. It’s always important to use a bit of common sense and take some fairly obvious precautions. Here’s a list of seven useful tips to make sure you have a safe and worry-free trip to Bogotá.
- Speak to locals. People with local knowledge are always the best-placed to offer up to date and accurate safety advice. Seek advice from your hotel or hostel owner about the areas of the city to steer clear of.
- Keep your valuables out of sight. This one is fairly obvious, but it’s so important that it’s worth repeating. Don’t draw attention to yourself by wearing flashy jewelry (even if it’s not expensive jewelry), using smartphones, tablets, or expensive-looking cameras in plain view of others, or carrying large amounts of cash. Be conscious of the way you carry your possessions, too. For example, don’t walk around with your smartphone in your back pocket, or use a bag without a secure zip.
- When hailing a taxi, always look for registered yellow taxi cabs. Agree a fair with the driver before setting off. Similarly, when hailing an Uber be sure that the car matches the description of the vehicle on your app.
- Avoid unlit areas at night, particularly if you’re by yourself. Walking in unlit alleyways, or unfamiliar neighborhoods outside of the tourist zones could make you vulnerable to muggings. If you find yourself in trouble, draw attention to the situation by yelling ‘fuego’ (fire in Spanish).
- If you’re mugged, don’t resist. While no one wants to lose their possessions, it’s always the safer option than risking angering a potentially-armed criminal. Simply hand over what they are requesting, and try to stay calm. Once you’re safely out of the situation, head to the local police station.
- Don’t buy drugs. Tourists that seek out drugs make themselves extremely vulnerable. You don’t want to be implicated in potentially violent situations, nor extorted by the police.
- Avoid the informal settlements and deprived areas in the south of the city. As a tourist, you can’t guarantee your safety in these parts of town. They are best avoided unless you are accompanied by someone who knows their way around.