|Still current at: 07 January 2011
Updated: 23 December 2010
Safety and Security - Terrorism
Though the security situation in Colombia has improved considerably in recent years, the threat of terrorism is still high in many parts of the country. In Bogotá, where the threat has decreased in recent years, indiscriminate attacks targeting government buildings, embassies, public transport and areas frequented by foreigners do still occur. In many areas of Colombia, the security situation can change very quickly. In general, the more remote the area, the greater the potential threat to your safety.
British nationals in and around Bogotá are advised to be vigilant at all times and to monitor local news and this Travel Advice.
In northern Bogotá on 12 August 2010, a car bomb exploded near the studios of Caracol Radio Station. According to local news at least nine people were reported injured but there were no reports of any British nationals having been affected. No group or individual has yet claimed responsibility for the incident, but Colombian authorities have said that the attack bore the hallmarks of the Revolutionary Armed forces of Colombia (FARC). A previous bomb attack on a video rental store in north of Bogotá on 27 January 2009 killed two people and injured at least twenty others.
Attacks are not limited to Bogotá and although the terrorist threat in most urban areas is now relatively low, it is still very real. Major attacks have included:
See our Terrorism Abroad page.
Safety and Security - Security
We advise against all but essential travel to rural areas bordering Panama, Venezuela and Ecuador; the towns of Buenaventura and San José del Guaviare and the areas surrounding them; and to the Parque Nacional Natural de La Macarena in the department of Meta. These areas are particularly dangerous due to the significant presence of illegal armed groups and high levels of coca cultivation.
There are a number of illegal armed groups operating throughout Colombia. Because they are mobile there are many parts of the country where it is not possible to determine in advance whether they will be unsafe at a particular time. In general, the more remote the area the greater the threat to your safety. If it is essential that you travel to areas that are remote or reported to be dangerous, you are advised to seek professional security advice and make arrangements for your security throughout your visit. You should seek up-to-date advice from the local authorities before each stage of your journey. The Parque Nacional Tayrona is a popular tourist destination for Colombians and foreigners alike. You are advised only to visit beach areas and resorts you are reliably advised are safe and not to venture inland as illegal armed groups are active and drugs are grown and processed in the area.
The Pacific coast of Chocó is a popular eco-tourist destination, particularly for whale-watching. However, much of Chocó is remote and unsafe. On the coast, the town of Bahia Solano is considered less dangerous. If you intend to travel to this town, we recommend that you do so only by air and that you do not venture inland or along the coast out of town. Illegal armed groups and drugs traffickers are active in the area. Six tourists were kidnapped from Nuqui in January 2008, by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
In addition to the FARC, the ELN (National Liberation Army) is a major illegal armed group active in many parts of Colombia. A large number of armed criminal groups, many of them involved in the illegal drugs trade, have formed following the demobilisation of the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC). These include the ‘Aguilas Negras’ (Black Eagles).
Safety and Security - Crime
In Bogotá, where the threat has decreased in recent years, indiscriminate criminal attacks do still occur. A car bomb near the studios of Caracol radio station in northern Bogotá injured at least nine people, according to local news reports. A bomb attack on a video-rental store in the north of Bogotá in January 2009 killed two people and injured at least twenty others. You should be vigilant, particularly when visiting or staying in public places used by expatriates and foreign travellers, and in the vicinity of government buildings and military establishments.
Drugs, organised crime and terrorism are inextricably linked in Colombia. Control of the drugs trade is a major driver of much of the armed conflict. We advise against all but essential travel in areas of large-scale coca cultivation. In its June 2009 survey on coca cultivation in Colombia , the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported an 18% decline in the amount of coca cultivation in the country but identified areas of Colombia with potentially high levels of coca as including the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, areas of north-eastern Magdalena, south-western La Guajira, southern Cordoba, southern Bolívar, northern Antioquia, southern Meta, northern and central Guaviare, central Aranca, central Vichada, western Cauca, eastern and western Nariño, and western and northern Putumayo (see map on p.9 of the UNODC report.) There is a high risk to your personal safety in any area where coca, marijuana or opium poppies are intensively cultivated and a particularly high risk in the vicinity of cocaine processing labs.
Criminal violence is a serious problem in Colombia. Both Colombia’s illegal armed groups, and other criminal groups, are heavily involved in the drugs trade and in other serious crime including kidnapping (for ransom and for political purposes), money laundering and the running of extortion and prostitution rackets.
Kidnapping remains a serious problem. Whilst levels of kidnappings have fallen off dramatically since peaking in 2000, Colombia continues to have a high rate of kidnapping for ransom. 437 kidnappings were recorded in 2008 and 213 in 2009 (Source: Democratic Security Policy). Most foreign nationals are potential targets for kidnapping, including backpackers and those working for foreign organisations. There remains a significant risk of attack or kidnap in many more difficult parts of the country. In April 2008 a British national was kidnapped near Cali. He was held for almost one week before being rescued by the security forces. You should be aware that the long-standing policy of the British Government is not to make substantive concessions to hostage takers. The British Government considers that paying ransoms and releasing prisoners increases the risk of further hostage taking.
We currently advise against all but essential travel to the port of Buenaventura in the department of Valle de Cauca. Illegal armed groups and criminal gangs are very active in this notoriously violent Pacific coastal city.
We advise against all but essential to travel to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, including the ‘Lost City’. Armed groups are still active in this area, there is extensive cultivation of illegal drugs and the risk of kidnap remains high. While tour organisers may assure you that the trek to the ‘Lost City’ is safe, we do not believe it to be so. Armed groups are still active in parts of the Sierra Nevada, there is extensive cultivation of illegal drugs and the risk of kidnap remains high. Only visit beach areas and resorts you are reliably advised are safe and should not venture inland as illegal armed groups are active and drugs are grown and processed in the area.
British nationals travelling to the town of Santa Marta are advised to be cautious; two British nationals were robbed at gun point in broad daylight in Santa Marta on 14 August 2010.
If you plan to visit the archaeological park at San Agustín in the department of Huila you should enter and leave on the main road through Neiva and not by other routes.
There has been a marked increase in criminal activity in urban areas, including Bogotá. Common crimes such as mugging and pick pocketing are often accompanied by violence. Foreign visitors present a tempting target to thieves, pickpockets and drug traffickers. When walking in urban areas, avoid any unnecessary display of wealth; only use pre-booked taxis, where possible; be wary of unsolicited approaches from strangers. There have been several cases of assailants using drugs to subdue their intended victims. Drugs can be administered through food, drinks, needles, cigarettes, aerosols, powder, and have even been impregnated in ‘flyers’ handed out at traffic lights. These drugs can take effect extremely quickly, allowing an assailant to rob the victim and escape before the attack can be reported. It can take several days for the drug to wear off and the victim to recover. These attacks frequently occur on public transport. Never accept offers of food, drink or cigarettes from strangers – no matter how friendly or well dressed a person appears.
There have been reports, including in Bogotá, of bogus policemen approaching foreigners to ‘check’ documents or foreign currency.
Avoid unnecessary visits to deprived areas of all Colombian cities. In Bogotá, be vigilant in areas to the south of Candelaria and to the west of the airport road as these parts of the city are particularly dangerous. Homicide rates in the city of Cali are especially high. Be cautious on city streets, especially after dark.
Avoid, where possible, hailing taxis on the street but instead book them through hotels or by phoning a reputable taxi company. Be particularly vigilant when taking money out of cash dispensers.
See our Victims of Crime Abroad page.
Safety and Security - Local Travel
Safety and Security - Local Travel - Heavy rains in Colombia
Colombia has been suffering exceptionally heavy rains which have affected wide areas of the country. Travel has been severely affected in many areas, including at the international airport in Bogota. Many flights have been delayed, and or diverted to alternative airports. If you have any queries about your flight, please contact your tour operator or airline.
The government of Colombia has announced States of Emergencies in many states of Colombia. There have been landslides in many areas of the country, which have particularly affected shanty towns built on hillsides. Road conditions are treacherous and the rains have resulted in many reported deaths. We advise against unnecessary journeys. Travellers should monitor local media, and refer to this travel advice regularly for updates.
The security situation throughout Colombia is constantly changing. You could also be at serious risk in parts of the country not included in the list provided in the summary of this Travel Advice. You should review your security arrangements.
Colombia is affected by land mines and unexploded ordnance. Mined areas are frequently unmarked. Be aware of potential dangers when visiting remote locations or venturing off the main roads.
In much of rural Colombia the effective authority of the Colombian State is limited. The British Embassy’s ability to assist British nationals in trouble in these areas will often be similarly limited.
When travelling in Colombia's major cities, your greatest threat will be from common criminals. Take sensible precautions to avoid unnecessary risk. As well as Bogotá, important business centres include Medellín, Cali, Barranquilla, Bucaramanga and Cartagena. Cartagena is a popular tourist destination and venue for major conferences.
Safety and Security - Road Travel
To drive in Colombia, you will need to have a valid UK or other recognised driving licence and car insurance is compulsory. Road surfaces, including in large cities, are variable. Driving standards are low and traffic accidents are common. Avoid driving at night.
The risk of violence and kidnapping is higher in some rural areas, as is the threat of being caught in roadblocks set up by illegal armed groups. Main arterial roads are generally safe to travel on during daylight hours. Try to avoid all travel at night. We advise against hitchhiking in Colombia.
While we advise against travel to the rural areas of some departments through which the Pan-American Highway passes, the Highway itself is generally well guarded. See our Driving Abroad page.
Safety and Security - Rail Travel
There is no significant rail transport system in Colombia.
Safety and Security - Entering and Leaving Colombia
Most visitors enter or leave Colombia by air. The national carrier, Avianca, and other national airlines (the main ones are Satena and AeroRepublica) generally have good safety records. Air travel is a key mode of transport in the country, not least because of the risks involved in travel overland.
If entering or leaving Colombia by land from or to Venezuela, you should cross at Cucuta, and not at Arauja, or via Riohacha. If entering or leaving from or to Ecuador you should only to take the Pan-American Highway, and not stop en route between the border and Pasto. Some visitors arrive by sea through Caribbean ports. We advise against trying to cross between Panama and Colombia by land.
If crossing into Colombia from either Ecuador or Venezuela, ensure that you have your passport stamped by the immigration authorities on arrival in the country. Failure to do so may result in a fine. If the immigration office on the border is closed, seek assistance at the next nearest office of the Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad.
Airport tax for international departures for visitors who stay in Colombia for less than two months is US$30. For stays in excess of two months the tax is US$51. However, the charge depends on the type of visa with which you are issued. The Colombian Embassy in London (tel: 020 7 637 9893, e-mail email@example.com) can advise further.
Safety and Security - Political Situation
Colombia Country Profile
Avoid all dealings with illegal drugs. Colombian drug trafficking detection methods are sophisticated and anyone attempting to traffic drugs should expect to be arrested. Conviction leads to severe penalties. In recent months four British nationals have been arrested for trying to smuggle cocaine out of the country. You should pack your own luggage, and not carry items for other people.
Homosexuality is legal but not widely socially accepted, especially in rural areas.
Photography of military or strategic sites is not permitted.
It is a serious criminal offence to have sex with under age minors in Colombia and can result in long prison sentences.
See our Your Trip page.
British nationals may enter Colombia for up to 60 days as a visitor without a visa, however there is no unconditional right to do so. The decision on whether to permit entry and length of stay rests with the Immigration Officer on arrival.
You may be able to extend your stay up to a maximum of a further 120 days on application and payment of a fee at the immigration office of the Department of Administration and Security once in Colombia. As a visitor, you cannot remain in Colombia for more than 180 days in any twelve-month period. You should not outstay your visa.
Before any travel to Colombia, particularly for purposes other than tourism, contact the Colombian Embassy in London (see contact details above).
Your passport should have at least six months’ validity and you should have a valid return ticket with you.
Airport authorities have informed us that Yellow Fever vaccination certificates are only needed if you are planning to visit jungle areas of Colombia.
If you intend to travel on to neighbouring countries in Central and Latin America from Colombia, you may not be allowed to do so without production of a Yellow Fever Certificate. Confirm with the authorities of your next destination whether they require a certificate following your visit to Colombia. It is a requirement for all travellers from Colombia to Ecuador to be in possession of a valid Yellow Fever certificate.
Individuals leaving Colombia are only entitled to carry up to US$10,000 in cash. Anything in excess of this may be confiscated.
Children under the age of 18 years who have resident status in Colombia and who are travelling on a British passport require written permission whenever they leave the country without both parents. The non-accompanying parent(s) must write a letter giving permission for the child to leave Colombia. The letter must be authenticated by a notary or by a Colombian Consulate. The letter must mention the proposed destination, the purpose of the trip, the date of departure and the return date. More information about Colombian emigration requirements can be obtained from the Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS) or by contacting the Colombian Consulate-General in London (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Private medical facilities in Colombia are generally of good quality, but may be expensive. Medical facilities in many areas of rural Colombia are limited. Most medicines are generally available, but can be costly.
Yellow Fever, Malaria and Dengue Fever are common to Colombia.
Yellow Fever affects the Magdalena, Cesar, La Guajira, Atlantico, Santander, Norte de Santander and Amazona areas. There is a high incidence of malaria in lowland tropical areas, particularly in Chocó and north western Antioquia.
Dengue Fever is common to Latin America and the Caribbean and can occur throughout the year. In Colombia it is more common on the north Caribbean coast, particularly in Chocó, Antioquia, Córdoba, Sucre, Bolivar and Atlantico departments.
In the 2008 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic the UNAIDS/WHO Working Group estimated that around 160,000 adults aged 15 or over in Colombia were living with HIV; the prevalence rate was estimated at around 0.6% of the adult population. This compares to the prevalence rate in adults in the UK of around 0.2%. You should exercise normal precautions to avoid exposure to HIV/AIDS. See our HIV and AIDS page.
You should seek medical advice before travelling to Colombia and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up-to-date. For further information on vaccination requirements, health outbreaks and general disease protection and prevention you should visit the websites of the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) and NHS Scotland’s Fit for Travel or call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47.
Earthquakes occur regularly in Colombia. In the event of an earthquake you should monitor local media reports and follow the advice of the authorities.
There is a risk of floods and landslides after heavy rains throughout the Colombian Andes. Seek local advice before travelling on mountain roads after heavy rain.
On the Galeras Volcano in Nariño Department erupted. We advise against all travel to the department of Narino, and the city of Pasto and La Florida. If, against our advice, you are in the vicinity of the volcano, you should pay careful attention to all warnings issued and follow the advice of the local authorities. The current alert level has been set at Level 3.
Since November 2008, Cerro Machin in Tolima Department (approx 17km west of Ibague) has been showing signs of increased instability resulting in the evacuation of residents in the immediate vicinity. The alert level has been set at Level 3. Travellers to the area should pay careful attention to all warnings issued and follow the advice of the local authorities.
The Nevado del Huila volcano in the Parque de los Nevados (on the Huila/Cauca/Tolima boundary) erupted in November 2008, causing a mudslideIn June 2010, Colombia's Institute of Seismology increased the state of alert from Level 3 ( changes in volcanic activity) to Level 2 (probable eruption in days or weeks). We advise that all travel in the vicinity of the volcano should be avoided at the present time. You should pay careful attention to all warnings issued and follow the advice of the local authorities.
There are British Honorary Consulates in Cali, Cartagena and Medellín, which can provide consular assistance. Contact details can be found on the Embassy website.
Around 18,000 visits are made by British passport holders to Colombia every year (Source: Colombian State Security Department - DAS). Most visits are trouble-free. 18 British nationals required consular assistance in Colombia in the period 01 April 2009 – 31 March 2010 for the following types of incident; three deaths; five hospitalisations; five arrests, for a variety of offences. During this period assistance was also requested with regard to lost or stolen passports (43 cases).