However, the speed of this transformation means progress has been a little patchy. There are still dangerous pockets scattered throughout the city, and careless tourists can quickly find themselves in trouble.
Avoiding Street Crime in Bogota
Street crime is Bogota’s biggest problem. Pickpockets are common on crowded buses and on the TransMilenio, but can easily be avoided if you’re aware of the threat. Hold your bags close throughout the trip and keep a watchful eye on people around you. A wary tourist is an unwelcoming target.
Explore the city during the day, just don’t wander too far out of your depth. Muggings and armed robbery are a danger, especially after dark in known tourist areas like La Candelaria and near the Montserrate cable car.
Delightful areas are never too far from dodgy zones, and a two block detour can put you in danger. Talk to someone at your hotel about your plans for the day before you go out and they can recommend the best route.
As a general rule the north and east of the city are okay, but the further you head south the more risk you’ll find. The Plaza Bolivar is one attraction you wont want to wander too far from.
Safety in Ciudad Bolivar
The Ciudad Bolivar 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 a hillside development.
Crime near Cerro de Monteseratte
Cerro de Monteserrate is one of the most beautiful spots in Bogota. Because of the extraordinary view at sunset, visitors flock to catch the teleferico up in the afternoon and capture the city at sunset, heading back on the last cable cars around 7pm. It’s just a short walk back to La Candelaria, but it’s been the undoing of many tourists. Gangs of thieves know the descending tourists will have their cameras with them and stake out the surrounding streets.
One traveller had to cut his trip short after a gang of thieves shattered his kneecap in a robbery – just 50 metres from the well-guarded Montserrate teleferico. Even if you’re in a group you should always catch a cab back to your accommodation. Alternatively, hop into the free shuttle that leaves approximately every 15 minutes from the bottom of the teleférico to the Las Aguas TransMilenio station. The service runs from 5pm-11pm.
The weekend is safest time to scale the mountain. Many locals will head to the hilltop church for services, and the crowds provide a bit of security, although you should always be on the lookout for pickpockets.
You might want to walk up the hilltop, and many people make the little pilgrimage on weekends. Just keep in mind this track is notorious for muggings, and after heavy rain it’s not very safe.
Safety in La Candelaria
Thieves often lurk around the hostels in La Candelaria. It’s best to head out in a group, especially at night. All the hostels have security gates and most require someone to buzz you in from inside. Understaffing means you can be waiting around outside for a while, often with your back to the street, making you a vulnerable target.
Always keep an eye out when heading back to your accommodation, and beware of anyone hanging around the door.
Hotel and Hostel Security in Bogota
Being mindful of your accommodation’s security is especially important in light of recent events. In the past, there’s been a string of attacks on hostels, armed gangs have broken into tourist accommodation and violently attacked, robbed and even sexually assaulted guests.
There’s not a lot you can do to defend yourself against this sort of attack once the gang is inside, although cooperating with the bandits and handing over your stuff quickly is the best way to ensure your safety.
Instead, you should try and find a hostel that has a good security record and has introduced measures to combat this trend. Most of the attacks have occurred in La Candelaria, so it might be a good idea to look for accommodation further north. Zona Rosa and Usaquen have some good hotels and, although they’re a little pricier, they’re also right on top of the city’s best nightlife.
Keeping a Low Profile in Bogota
Avoiding dodgy areas will help minimise threat of being robbed, but even if you stick to the safest streets, some thugs will track tourists until they see an opportunity to attack. Thieves are all about risk versus reward. So, if you don’t look like an easy target, they won’t waste their time.
Don’t Dress Like a Flashy Tourist
The way you dress has a lot to do with it. Avoid obvious designer labels and don’t wear any flashy jewellery. Don’t make it obvious that you’re carrying a big expensive camera too much. If you do, you’re a prime target for thieves.
Always Look Like You Know Where You’re Going
Looking like a lost little lamb is a sure fire way to have bandits stalk you. Always have an idea of where you’re going and walk with purpose. If you’re lost, ask a local for directions rather than pulling out a giant map. Colombians are incredibly approachable and want to leave a good impression on tourists.
Be careful when withdrawing money. ATMs are hotspots for muggers, but also secuestro express(express kidnapping) attacks. Avoid using ATMs on the street if at all possible. Stick to machines inside shopping malls, or guarded ones in bank buildings. It’s best to visit ATMs during daytime. If you can find some friends to accompany you, that’s even better.
What Happens If I Get Robbed?
If you are robbed, hand over your stuff quickly. If you don’t, there’s a higher chance of a violent attack.
A dummy wallet with some old cards and a few notes can be a good way to placate muggers without leaving yourself strapped. Either way, you shouldn’t walk around with bundles of cash. Just take what you need for the day and leave the credit card locked up. If you’re carrying a bag, it’s best to throw it away from you and then make a break for it. The bandits will be much more interested in what you’re carrying than where you’re going.
Bogota at Night
There’s a big student community in Bogota, which means, a great nightlife scene. There are a few bars and clubs around La Candelaria, but the best spots are further north.
Parque 93, Zona T and the famous Zona Rosa make up a cosmopolitan centre, which are great for eating, drinking and dancing. Residential Usaquen, the city’s northernmost district, has some great restaurants and a more chilled out vibe. These spots are much more safe than La Candelaria, but you still need to be wary when you’re on the streets at night.
Getting home from a night out is the main focus. If you don’t mind the noise and you’re willing to spend a bit more for security and convenience, there are plenty of hotels around Zona Rosa.
If you’re staying in La Candelaria you’ll definitely need to take a taxi. Unless you’re with a few friends, hailing a cab on the street isn’t recommended. Bogota’s taxi system is generally reliable, but there are a few renegade drivers who spoil it for the rest. There have been a few incidents where drivers stop to let their armed chums into the cab, who then rob passengers blind or take them on a secuestro express tour of the city’s ATMs.
Ordering a radio taxi from one of the city’s reputable companies is the safest option. Get some numbers from staff at your accommodation before you head out and carry it with you. Or ask a bouncer to call a cab for you. Taxi Libre, Taxi Express, Radio Taxi and Taxi Real are all reliable companies. They’ll tack on a little surcharge, but at around 900 Colombian Pesos (US $0.50) it’s a small price to pay for safety.
Spiked Drinks in Bogota
Drink spiking is a highly publicised problem in Colombia, although it’s not the epidemic that stories might suggest.
Extracts from a plant known as borrachero are used to incapacitate unwitting tourists. Female travelers are always warned not to accept drinks, however it’s actually young men who are the principle targets of this tactic. Bogota’s beautiful women make for an enticing honey trap – but you should be wary of any new friends.
The odourless and tasteless drug can easily be mixed into drinks, but also laced through cigarettes and even gum. So, even if you’re traveling on a budget, it’s best to gently rebuff any generous offers.
There are even reports of women dusting their breasts with borrachero powder before shoving men’s heads into their intoxicating cleavage. It could be an urban myth, but you should still beware any overly amorous advances.
Transportation in Bogota
Getting around Bogota can be a little adventure of its own. With several competing modes of transport, the roads are quite chaotic, and finding the right service can take a little practice. But, aside from the occasional traffic jam and some death-defying drivers, it’s actually quite a treat to traverse the city.
The TransMilenio is one of the coolest ways to get from one spot to another. Instead of building an underground metro, the city of Bogota emulated that same system using buses. Dedicated lanes and sleek glass stations make for a very effective alternative.
Not all the services stop at every station, so it takes a bit of planning to work out your route. Each trip costs less than a dollar, and as long as you don’t leave the station, you can jump between buses as much as you like. The TransMilenio is notorious for pickpockets though, so make sure you don’t let go of your bags and keep an eye on your fellow passengers.
Privately owned buses run specific routes, with streets and neighbourhoods listed on cards in the front window. However, they don’t have specific stops, so you’ll have to wave them down like a cab. Don’t be shy or you’ll be standing there all day.
Colectivos work the same way, but these vans weave madly through traffic to get you there a close to the speed of light. Keen to run through their route as fast as possible, colectivo drivers will often set off as soon as your foot’s in the door, or on the street, so be careful when boarding and disembarking.
Political Violence in Bogota
The Colombian capital is at the centre of some very volatile politics. Unfortunately that means it can become a target for violent protest. The threat of terrorism has decreased in Bogota in recent years, but attacks do still occur. Car bombs have been detonated in the north of the capital in the past, and although tourists weren’t targeted or harmed, foreign interests have been the focus of attacks in the past.
Security levels in Colombia tend to change quickly so make sure you keep up to date with the news and any travel warnings. Avoid any public demonstrations or public protests as they have a tendency to turn ugly.
Bogota Warnings and Dangers
Known for fascinating colonial landmarks including a neoclassical performance hall, several museums and a church built in the 17th century, Bogota is an intriguing city to visit. When traveling in Bogota, follow these guidelines to protect yourself from potentially dangerous situations.
Stay on Guard Against Professional Pickpockets
Although you want to have fun when you are visiting Bogotá, the city is filled with pickpockets who know the tricks of the trade. The thieves excel at the craft and make their livings picking pockets. Beware of strangers who want to hug you as they may just want to pick your pockets. Protect your valuable items by keeping them in view.
Do not wear bags behind you. Instead, wear all items in the front. Buy pants or a jacket featuring an inside pocket in which to store your wallet, cell phone, camera, and extra cash, and keep valuables at home. Avoid wearing expensive necklaces and earrings in public. Do not give money to homeless people. Offer to buy them meals or nonalcoholic beverages, instead.
A Few Tips on How to Protect Your Health
Do not purchase food or a beverage from a street vendor. Vendors typically sell items that are not safe to eat or drink. Avoid drinking beverages containing ice because the ice is not made from bottled water. Never touch any animals because they may have not been vaccinated against rabies.
Before you travel to Bogotá, ask your doctor about getting the right vaccinations. Wash your vegetables and fruit with bottled water. When eating out, choose quality restaurants even if you need to pay more money for your meals. Note that it is difficult to locate doctors in Bogotá.
Refrain from Walking Without a Companion
If you plan to visit Bogotá, consider your option of bringing a friend or loved one with you. You are much safer when you walk with another trusted person.
Beware of Taxi Drivers who Want to Steal Your Money
If you want to take a taxi, call the company from your hotel room. Ask the hotel clerk for names of reputable taxi companies. Some illegitimate drivers will pick you up and try to rob you.
Editor’s note: The information contained on this page was compiled using real traveler reviews about areas to avoid in Bogotá.