When you hear Colombia, you might think of drug cartels, civil unrest, and rampant crime. But is this the Colombia that exists today?
I think it is important to note that questioning the safety of an entire country is generally too broad of a question. However, Colombia has a reputation that it is trying to shake. Therefore, I find it prudent to point out that Colombia, as a whole, has come a long way since the days of Pablo Escobar. In 2016, The Colombian government and FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) rebels signed a peace deal after which, according to the OSAC, “attacks committed by [FARC} as an organization stopped almost entirely.”
While there are still some areas of Colombia where travel is not advised, the US State Department now advises that US Citizens exercise Level 2 Caution in most parts of Colombia. In order to give you an idea of the relative safety of a “Level 2 Caution Country”, other countries with Level 2 Caution at the time of this writing are Spain, the United Kingdom, France, Denmark, The Philippines and The Bahamas just to name a few.
A good practice when determining the safety of a solo travel destination is to begin by looking at the country as a whole, and then taking a closer look at the cities you wish to visit. Checking out the country information on the US State Department’s website is a great place to start. Then, move to the Overseas Security Advisory Council for city-specific information.
Safety in Cartagena de Indias
Cartagena is a lively, colorful Colombian city located right on the Caribbean Sea. A city full of culture and history, Cartagena is sure to captivate many who enter its fortified, Old City walls. Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez was particularly infatuated with Cartagena, and a stroll between Spanish-colonial buildings, painted in bright Pantone colors and draped with budding flora will show you why. Cartagena is a place where Latin American culture meets the Caribbean. It’s a city like no other, though some have compared it’s walled city to the New Orleans French Quarter due to its old-world charm. A place for both fun and relaxation, Cartagena is a place worth considering adding to your bucket list.
If you’re still leery about the idea of visiting this Colombian city, consider viewing the 2019 Crime and Safety Report for Cartagena from the US State Department’s OSAC. This report details exactly what kind of dangers travelers should be aware of in Cartagena.
Current crime trends indicate that violent crime in the whole of Colombia has decreased dramatically in recent years. The idea that all Colombian cities are riddled with drug cartels and violent criminals is simply an unfounded fear; however, petty crime does still exist in Cartagena de Indias.
The OSAC states, “Cartagena shares many of the same crime problems that plague large cities around the world.” This means that street crimes like robberies, muggings, credit card theft and cell phone theft are indeed a possibility. If you’ve ever been to New York City, Paris, London, Rome or essentially any other major city around the world, you have likely already faced these threats. If you live in a big city, you might face them every day.
The times when tourist get themselves into trouble in Cartagena is when they display their wealth. There is a Colombian phrase, “No dar papaya”, “Don’t give papaya”, that essentially means: don’t give people a reason to rob you. Keep your expensive jewelry at home, don’t flash your valuables around or otherwise make it obvious that you have in your possession something worth stealing. From what I have read, petty theft is more of a problem in some of the other Colombian cities like Bogotá and Medellín, but “No dar papaya” is certainly a good rule to keep in mind when in Cartagena.
Do Not Engage With Street Scammers
Street vendors, performers, merchants and, unfortunately, scammers are abundant in Cartagena. As someone who has frequented and lived in the city of New Orleans, a city no stranger to these kinds of patrons, I can tell you that the best way to avoid them is to not engage. Sometimes, “No,” is not enough, and the best method is to simply avoid eye contact. Avoid participating in any of the games or gimmicks, as any “free” gift, entertainment or service will likely not end up being free. Most of the street vendors you will encounter, be it in Cartagena, New Orleans or New York, are not ill-intentioned, but you should use your discretion and be smart about who you choose to deal with.
Overall, Is Cartagena a Safe Solo Travel Destination?
Truth be told, Cartagena, Colombia is no more dangerous than any other major city. In fact, I might venture to say it is safer than many of the more frequented tourist destinations across the globe. We at Astrid Solo Travel Advisor believe so deeply in Cartagena as a very safe and inviting solo travel destination, that we are hosting some of our first AstridTravel Club trips in this vibrant and culturally-rich city. Cartagena is a beautiful, unique, exciting place. Don’t let fear keep you away from this captivating Colombian city!
Author: Madeline Freret
Madeline joined the Astrid Solo Travel Advisor team as a Content and Digital Marketing Manager in 2018. She believes that traveling is an essential aspect of life that allows you to see yourself, other people, places and things in a new light. She is passionate about trying new things, having a curious mind and seeking joy wherever she goes. To read more about her and each one of our Solo Travel Advisors, head over to the About page!
Author: Astrid Clements
Astrid Solo Travel Advisor CEO and founder, Astrid, has spent over 40 years traveling around the world. She is passionate about embracing the world’s diverse cultures and sharing with others the global need and personal benefit of cultural literacy. Her focus is on affordable luxury travel that is both substantive and fun! To read more about her and each one of our Solo Travel Advisors, head over to the About page!