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How to Travel Colombia Safely: The A-to-Z on A-to-B

ViaHero · October 18, 2018

With a cultural hub at every turn, Colombia is quickly becoming dream travel destination. Long gone are the days of Pablo Escobar—crime is at an all-time low and Colombia’s brand new 4th Generation Infrastructure Plan has made cross-country travel safer than ever. Journeying anywhere requires being attentive to safety-related issues, and Colombia has a few travel specifics to keep in mind—but with armed with a little knowledge, you’ll be ready to take on Colombia in no time. Once you’ve learned all there is about traveling in Colombia, message us to tailor your trip to personalized perfection.

Want to make the most out of your trip? Tap into our network of local travel planners—Heroes—who build unique, locally-curated trip plans, designed just for you. Get started.

Colombia’s roads are safer than ever

Colombia’s new 4th Generation Infrastructure Plan is funneling more money than ever towards internal transportation, ensuring that the nation’s roads are safe, regulated, and well-traveled. Why is this so great? It means trotting across Colombia is a breeze! Backpackers, solo female travelers, and sightseers of all stripes can now add road safety to the list of ways Colombia is safer than ever.

Yes, solo female travelers can enjoy Colombia!

While exploring Colombia is a bucket-list trip for many, safety is sure to be on the brain. Your first question might be: is Colombia safe for women traveling alone? The answer: for sure! For the most part, locals are warm and willing to help travelers, especially women. On the flip side, there are always exceptions—some women report being cat-called and feeling generally unsafe while in South America. To that end, being smart and savvy is the best way to ensure your adventure will run smoothly. Following general travel advice is a good start—don’t flash valuables, keep an eye on your drink, etc. Another tip? Connect with other solo female travelers! Being open and friendly is a great way to make new friends as you travel across Colombia. For more about traveling alone as a woman throughout Colombia, connect with one of our local travel experts.

Tighten your straps: Colombia is a backpacker’s dream

Backpacking across Colombia is undoubtedly one of the most incredible experiences a traveler can have. It’s an inexpensive country filled with mouth-watering eats, unbelievable places to stay, and endless fun. Because of the new roadways, seeing the entire country by bus is feasible—and completely worth it. Forget the dangers of hitchhiking; Colombia’s buses have you covered!

Travel like a local

There are two major forms of long-range transportation used by the majority of Colombians: buses and domestic flights. Luckily, both of these modes of travel are cost-effective, simple, and safe! Once you get to your destination, taxis and car services like Uber are safe and easy choices to get around. And since Colombia is home to so many different types of adventures, you’ll definitely want to be up to speed on how to get where you’re going. To really travel like a local, you’ll want to pick up some key Spanish phrases, which one of our Colombian Heroes can help you out with.

Overnight buses are perfectly safe—but don’t expect much leg room!

Barring a few sketchy locales discussed below (none of which are serviced by reputable bus companies anyway) busing throughout Colombia is safe and easy—even for families! To that end, there are a few things you should consider when taking long-haul buses in Colombia.

Top Tips on Seeing Colombia by Bus

  • Pack a picnic—but nothing too smelly! Long bus rides don’t stop often, and they don’t always stop at meal times. There is nothing worse than being hangry on an overnight bus.
  • Keep all your valuables with you in the cabin of the bus, just in case. While the luggage compartment should be locked while the bus is stopped, it can’t hurt to avoid the risk of theft altogether.
  • Have your passport readily available at all times. Colombian police often stop buses and cars to check IDs and make sure everyone is where they belong. Stay calm and be patient, and soon you’ll be on your way!

There are a few "adventure roads" that simply aren't worth it

Traveling across Colombia by bus has become increasingly safe, particularly since the implementation of the 2016 FARC ceasefire brought an end to Colombia’s long-running civil war. So whether you’re traveling in a colectivo (a shared minibus or van) or a coach/tour bus, it’s highly unlikely you’ll encounter any issues. Road crime is more likely to occur in the middle of nowhere—i.e., on desolate highways between minor towns than on major routes between large cities. So unless you're purposefully traveling one of these sketchy routes for the "cool story", there's almost no reason you would ever find youself on one of these: Colombia's roads to avoid.

Colombia's Roads to Avoid:

  • The infamous Darien Gap should be avoided if you’re driving across the Pan-American highway. This strip of swampy marsh and dense jungle between Colombia and Panama has no roadways, and the only way to get through is by boat. This no man’s land is notorious for guerrilla patrols and drug smuggling across the border. Case in point? Don’t bother. If you need to pass through this area, you’re better off flying.
  • The “Trampolin Del Diablo” is a single lane highway that passes near Colombia’s Ecuadorian border. Literally translating to “the devil’s trampoline,” this tiny mountain road is frighteningly twisty, foggy, and perilous. There’s no real reason for a traveler to take this highway, except for “the experience”. Again, don’t bother—either fly through this area or take another route.
  • The Canon de Chicamocha runs through the Chicamocha National Park in northern Colombia, and is well-known for its dangerous hairpin turns and steep elevations. While the road itself is not necessarily dangerous, drivers can be careless and whip through turns without attention to other drivers.
  • Nevado del Ruiz is a volcano sitting almost 20,000 feet above sea level. This extreme height and change in elevation can cause icy roads and winter conditions, and again, might as well be avoided.

The best mode of transportation for popular Colombian travel routes:

  • Medellin to Cartagena: Fly! Otherwise, it’s a 12-hour bus ride.
  • Bogota to Medellin: Dealer’s choice! The bus ride is about 7 hours, the flight is only about an hour.
  • Cartagena to Santa Marta: Take the bus, as it’s only about 4 hours.
  • Bogota to the Pacific Coast: Take a bus, unless you’re visiting one of the surrounding islands, in which case taking a boat or flight is the best mode of transport.
  • Medellin to the Pacific Coast: The same as visiting from Bogota to the Pacific coast.
  • Bogota to Cartagena: Definitely fly, unless you can handle a 17-hour bus ride.
  • Anywhere to and from the Amazon region: Fly out of the Alfredo Vásquez Cobo International Airport in Leticia. Since the Amazon region of Colombia doesn’t have too many roads, your best bet is a short flight to and from the area.

Carsick at the thought of a long bus ride? Domestic flights are just as easy

Taking a domestic flight across Colombia is short and sweet: most flights are under two hours, and getting to and from local airports is only a taxi ride away. Air travel standards have increased dramatically in the past 20 years, particularly following the increase in tourism in Colombia. Plane travel is, overall, safe. Even better? Plane travel is cheap. Some budget airlines include Avianca, LATAM, Viva Colombia, and —an airline owned by European budget airline Ryanair. Talk to one of our local Colombian travel experts to find out tricks and tips for navigating Colombia’s airports, and ensure your trip is smooth sailing—or should we say, smooth flying.

To find out more about traveling across Colombia, chat with one of our Colombian travel Heroes to personalize your adventure, or message us directly.  And before your trip, make sure to check out:

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