3 Things You MUST Know Before You Step Foot In Colombia

Dear Traveler,

It is with a sober heart and a stern head that I write you this message, in light of the homicide of another American tourist in the Poblado neighborhood (the wealthiest part) of Medellin, Colombia.

There needs to be more travel writers who, from time to time, write a realistic account of a place…

Not an account which fits into an over-arching PR scheme to market a city.

Not a story which would attract more eyeballs and therefore sponsors by travel industry corporate partners.

Not a post which is designed to get the most Facebook likes or tweets.

There needs to be sober, realistic, boots on the ground sharing of how a place actually is.

I am here to tell you that Colombia (particularly Medellin) is NOT LIKE ANY OTHER CITY.

It is not like Orlando, Florida. It is not like Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It is not like San Diego, California.

And it is hand-waving dismissals of the ilk ‘it could happen anywhere’ (which, by the way, require no thought or experience) that keep you from an accurate picture of what goes on.

Always seek a more accurate picture, my friends.

With that in mind, you need to be aware of several things here.

1 – If you are ever robbed or mugged, DO NOT RESIST.

I know it is hard to take this to heart in the heat of the moment, but you must do this.

Your life is at stake, and whatever possessions you have on you at the time ARE NOT WORTH IT.

There is a subculture of violence bred by drug-dealing gangs that grew in the Pablo Escobar days and still (yes, still) run large parts of the city. They will stab or shoot in the blink of an eye, at a hint of resistance. It is nothing for them to do.

It is an unpleasant underbelly of the city that still exists. You won’t hear about it on tech-magazines who cover Medellin as the ‘Silicon Valley of South America’. You probably won’t even hear it from the Mayor’s office of Medellin.

It’s part of the hush-hush fear that keeps the criminal world strong.

Please listen to this. The vast majority of the homicides of foreigners in Medellin have been in some way related to resisting robbery. DO NOT DO THIS.

Let them have what they want. You will shake it off and will get on with your life.

2 – Minimize what you have on you at any one time.

I have written before of how to minimize your theft exposure by limiting what you are carrying with you.

Colombia is the type of place where if you wear (or carry) expensive things, you will attract attention. Do not wear fancy watches or fancy jewelry out in the open. You want to fly below the radar.

Do not carry large amounts of cash with you.

Do not carry your passport with you. Carry a paper copy of it instead.

Do not carry an expensive smartphone that you are not willing to give up. (You could buy travel insurance or carry a cheaper phone with you.)

If you follow these things, they lower the amount that a thief would take if they find you.

And, more importantly, they lower your attachment to your possessions and make you more likely not to resist the robbery.

This is what you want.

3 – Always be aware of your surroundings.

When I am in Latin America, I leave a HUGE gap between me and any suspicious characters. I will literally cross to the other side of the street if I do not like the appearance of someone in my path.

I keep the gap around 30 feet. I know for a fact this has prevented me from getting robbed once, and it probably has done that even more times than I want to know.

Do not walk through empty parks at night, no matter how pleasant looking the park.

Parks are ideal places for thugs to hide an ambush. I have lost count of the number of people I’ve heard of who have been robbed in a park at night.

(If any of you in Medellin are reading this– I have heard of numerous people getting robbed in the small park beside the church near the Exito Poblado, going down the hill toward Patio Bonito. Why people continue to walk through that park is beyond me.)

Always watch your back when you go to the ATM… And go to the ATM inside of malls and big stores– not by the street.

Don’t go to places at night by yourself.

It is unwise to accept drinks from strangers.

Always be aware of the environment you find yourself in.

These tips apply to any visitor coming to Colombia.

Now, Colombia has a lot to offer– it is not just crimes and gangs. I am still a huge fan over-all (you can see my other writings about the country on this site).

But you need to practice these things when you visit. They should be your modus operandi.

Until next time-

  • Jonathan

    Why isn’t this underworld talked about? Are they taking measures to prevent these crazies from doing this stuff?

    I hate the idea of not defending myself from people who don’t care about you… damn.

  • Benkos Maury González

    As colombia the only thing I can say is that you are right, but if you’re a foreigner it gets even worse if you people think we are exotic, we think the same also we think you may have dollars on you (robber’s mind). Well if you have a good accent you can pass as a paisa. In the other hand this is a semi to lax contry in a lot regards and hell there’s a lot of beautiful women but be wary here there’s a culture of be beautiful ,don’t study and get a rich or not husband, that’s why even if there are a lot of beauties you have to discard a lot to get a great and intelligent woman. Medellin is one of the best cities in the country but yes has large history of criminality, yes thay can kill you if you ressist, in Bogotá get worse they can kill you in the spot after sight, you hit first ask later. One have be wary almost all the time, but well there’s a lot of good people but in case of robbery don’t count on anybody not even the police. In part that’s why I love Barranquilla (where I live) even though is not as big, economically good, educated and the the freaking hot it’s a lot calmier thay don’t steal as much (but always be on guard) and there’s lot of beauties of all kinds whites, brunettes and ebonies, nah in conclusion the only thing good in the country are the women and the sights in some places the rest is so-so. Damn I need to travel…

  • FromFarAverageJoe

    Do you have any recommendations about Apartments . I have been livng in South East Asia for a few years. In countries like Thailand or Vietnam you could live in single rooms in guesthouses and stay under 300 Dollar a month for the rent. Food is dirt cheap too. Could you make a cost breakdown for Colombia ?