From cumbia to coffee, Bogotá promises visitors a taste of all that is great about Colombia. It’s often the first port of call for travelers to this enthralling corner of South America; a capital that thrums with life, allures with colorful colonial buildings, and takes the breath away with its location some 2,600 meters above sea level. But is Bogotá, Colombia, safe?
That’s what this guide is here to find out. Here, we’ll dig into the stats to see the risks and dangers that travelers might face when they come this way. It will outline the safety of the town generally, the crime rates, and what the public transport system is like.
Overall, we’d say that Bogota is considered a safe place to travel and is actually up there with the safer urban spaces in South America. However, Colombia is known for its high levels of violent and cartel-related crime, so there are some things to know before you jet over and touch down. Let’s begin…
Is Bogotá safe for travelers in 2023?
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. Naturally, that’s really improved the state of affairs in the capital, which is now among the most-visited major cities in the whole region.
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. Most pointedly, the murder rate here is far lower than the national average, reaching an incidence of under 10 per 100,000 head of population in 2021. Compare that to some US cities and you’re likely to be pretty surprised – St. Louis, Baltimore, New Orleans, Detroit, and a whole host of others are between four and five times worse!
What’s key here is that Bogota has come a long, long way since the heyday of the cartels that once run Colombia during the age of a certain Pablo Escobar. Take the rate of kidnappings in the city – that’s dropped a whopping 92% in the last 20 years. This is not the city to be feared that it once was.
Of course, crime is still a problem. According to Numbeo, Bogotá has a high crime rate of 77.92, with pickpocketing and muggings a particular concern for tourists. The rate of armed robberies in the city has also been on the up in recent years, hitting a high in 2019 before dropping again largely due to the pandemic.
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.
Petty theft in Bogota
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 here. Travelers 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”.
So, 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 also a good idea. And it’s especially important not to take your passport out and about with you.
Bogota neighborhood guide – safe areas
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 hillside developments.
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 (70.10/100). That’s why we would reccomend opting to live in a house or apartment with security systems and gates is very important.
Most expats and digital nomads choose 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. Many will even come with 24/7 security on the door, though that’s likely to cost a little more in rent.
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 Bogotá Airport safe?
Bogotá Airport – the El Dorado International Airport – is now the largest airport in the whole of Colombia and the second-largest airport in the whole of South America. It’s a major arrival point for travelers looking to explore the country and the Andes, which is why it underwent a major refurbishment in 2007. That saw the arrival of a fantastic new terminal and many new facilities and now the complex is in line with most major international hubs, complete with shopping concourses and restaurants.
Bogota Airport is considered very safe for travelers and can even be used for extended periods on changeover flights.
Is it safe to drink tap water in Bogotá?
The official line on this is yes, the tap water in Bogota is safe. However, the locals will often tell you that even they don’t think it’s the tastiest urban water supply in the world. That’s why a lot of people here drink mainly bottled water. The other risk comes from contaminated water tanks. These are the main water supply for the poorer barrio areas of the city. You don’t often get them in major hotel chains, but they could be used in smaller B&Bs.
To be on the safe side, we’d probably recommend steering clear of drinking water from the taps in Bogota, and around Colombia generally. Most people say it’s not so bad that you have to worry about keeping your mouth shut in the shower and things. The good news is that bottled water is widely available from grocery stores and hotel shops. It usually costs around $0.70-0.90 a pop.
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 into harm’s way. It’s always important to use a bit of common sense and take some fairly obvious precautions. Here are 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.
Is Bogotá safe – our conclusion
Generally speaking, Bogota is safe. For a city that was once considered to be among the most dangerous on the planet, the capital of Colombia has come a very long way in the last two decades or so. Crime rates have plummeted over 90% in some categories, and the town now has official crime stats that make it WAY safer than a whole range of US cities on paper.
More than that, there have been significant improvements to the infrastructure of Bogota over the years. Today, it’s safer and easier to get around the town using public transport than it ever was, and many even say that the water supply is potable and good for human consumption.
That doesn’t mean that you can waltz over to the metropolis in the Andes without a worry in the world. There are still some key things you’ll need to watch out for. Petty theft is increasingly common in the tourist areas of Bogota, for example, you’ll have to be wary going out at night, and there are certain areas that we’d totally avoid (particularly on the south side of the city).