Is Colombia Safe for Seniors?
Whether you are drawn by its beguiling coastlines, untamed jungle or monumental parks, Colombia is guaranteed to dazzle. After years of association with armed conflict and drug cartels, this country has moved well beyond those dark decades, emerging from that chapter of its history as one of South America´s most thrilling and welcoming destinations. If your children are grown and you are retired or working part-time, you just might have time to explore the world. With careful planning and an understanding of potential risks, older travellers can stay healthy and safe on their travels.
The safety of a destination can be subjective and depends on a variety of factors. While Colombia has made significant progress in improving safety in recent years, there are still areas where safety can be a concern, particularly in remote and rural areas.
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So, is Colombia really safe for senior travellers? The short answer is yes, provided you use common sense and stay away from known risky areas.
Gone are the days of Pablo Escobar, who terrorized Colombia with armed shootings and gang violence. Despite what you may read or see, Colombia now is a relaxed place waiting to be explored. There is a saying here no dar papaya, which literally means Do not give papaya. In other words, do not have something sweet on display – a phone, computer, watch, etc. that would make you a target. In reality, this is true for anywhere in the world.
Many seniors, particularly retirees, are packing their bags to go explore what other parts of the world have to offer. Here is some additional safety advice to help keep senior travellers safe and sound:
Your personal safety begins before you leave your home.
Research before you travel as to when is the best time to go. It is usually safer and less stressful to travel when the crowds are not at their greatest and the weather is not too extreme. With regard to Colombia, the best times to avoid if possible are the Christmas holidays and the Holy Week around Easter.
One of the biggest mistakes travellers make is not doing their homework, particularly on areas to avoid, cultural sensitivities and health concerns. Nowadays there is a wealth of information available online, so take advantage and learn as much as possible.
Besides planning all the places you are going to see, research the current political climate and local laws and customs. Also, look into visa and vaccination requirements, current travel warnings and alerts, health precautions and risky areas for tourists. Guidebooks, travel blogs, forums, and online resources such as Facebook and Expat Groups, are great places to start.
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Have copies of all your prescriptions and take a full supply of necessary medication with you, even for non-prescription meds. Additional supplies are a good idea to have in the event you encounter delays. Be sure not to pack medication in checked luggage.
When booking your flights request necessary airport services like a wheelchair or electric cart. Do not leave that until you arrive at the airport. Reserve the aisle seat for flights or save up and go for premium seats.
Likewise, with your accommodations, make sure they are easy to access and have everything you need. If it is difficult for you to go up and down stairs, is there an elevator? Request a room on the ground floor for ease of entry. Will you have to walk up or down a steep hill after a long day of exploring?
Try to learn a few key phrases in Spanish before travelling. This will be of great help and will impress the locals.
Keep comfort in mind at all times. Pack light as it is easier to get around when you have less to carry and you will also have fewer things to keep an eye on.
If you have limited mobility, consider booking tours and excursions through a company, such as BnbColombia Tours that specializes in activities for older travellers. That way, you’ll travel with people who understand your needs. A group with a responsible tour leader can make all the difference.
Once in Colombia, enjoy yourself, but do also take heed.
Unless you are moving to a new location, do not have all your cash and cards on your person. Instead, keep enough cash at hand to get through the day, plus one credit card. Everything else ought to be in your guesthouse safety box. Should you be pickpocketed, which is common in many parts of the world, you will be relieved that all is not lost. If by chance you have to take everything with you, separate your money and do not have it all in one place.
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Choose your ground transportation with care
Rip-offs can happen anytime, anywhere, so here are some more tips:
- Have a taxi stand or hotel call you for a ride. It is not a good idea to hail one on the street. A restaurant manager or business owner can call one for you. From the airport use an official taxi or better still avail of private transport with BnbColombia.com
- Be informed. Make sure you know the general route to your destination and have an idea of the cost.
- Do not make additional stops. If the driver wants to make another stop on the way, tell them that it is not acceptable. Only use licensed taxis, not piratas (pirate).
- Use small bills to pay. Save small bills for payment so you do not lose out when the driver “doesn’t have change.” In most Colombian cities, but not in the smaller pueblos (towns), hail riding services are commonly used. Be aware though that you might have to pay cash rather than have the fare charged to your card. The usual security benefits of using an App. apply. The most popular ones are Uber, Cabify, InDriver and Didi. Not all are available in every city.
Colombia, although rarely hazardous, does have creative scam artists. These are easily avoided if you know what to look for and use common sense.
- As in any other major city, be careful of your surroundings, especially at night. Villains tend to work in groups, usually near tourist centres.
- Do not accept food or drinks from strangers, especially in bars and clubs and most certainly if you are meeting someone through a Dating App.
- Crooks will sometimes pose as undercover police officers and ask to inspect your money to see if it is counterfeit. Do not give it to them, even if they present you with a police ID (which will be false) and offer to give you a receipt for your money.
- Be careful in crowded areas Thieves will often distract you while accomplices help themselves to your hard-earned cash. When drawing funds from a bank machine only use one in a secure area and never in the street.
Know the local emergency telephone numbers:
National Emergency number: 123
Tourist Police: (1) 337 4413
US Embassy Bogotá: +57 1 275 2000
British Embassy Bogotá: +57 (1) 601 326 8300
French Embassy Bogotá: +57 (1) 638 1400
*Working out the budget for your travels to Colombia? Then be sure to check out our article on the costs of a package tour to Colombia, and our article on how much money you’ll need while traveling through Colombia.
Still, have questions about visiting Colombia?
Ask someone who lives there. Talk with a BnbColombia.com Destination Expert by making an appointment here.
They can answer any questions you may have and design a fantastic Colombian Tour just for you.