Bogota is one of Colombia’s most exciting cities. It has incredible street art, fascinating museums, beautiful architecture, and epic nightlife. But unfortunately, like many large cities in South America, it also has a reputation for being dangerous. So if you’re planning a visit — especially as a solo female traveler — you’d be right to be concerned about safety in Bogota.
The risks and horror stories about violent crime could easily convince you to stay away from Bogota entirely. Knife-point muggings. Taxi robberies and express kidnappings. Terrorist bombings. Stolen luggage on public buses. The list goes on and on.
I’m not going to lie — before my trip to Bogota, I was terrified that I’d get mugged. I spent hours doing paranoid Googling, looking at crime maps, booking a hostel in one neighborhood only to cancel it and rebook somewhere else, and trying to decide if certain key attractions were worth the risk.
But in the end, I had a totally stress-free trip. In fact, Bogota ended up being one of my favorite stops in Colombia. This shows that with a little common sense and a few extra precautions, you can enjoy your time in this city without putting yourself at risk. In this post, I’ll go through my top tips for staying safe in Bogota — without hiding in your hostel the whole time you’re there!
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- 1 1. Take your safety in Bogota seriously — follow local advice
- 2 2. Know your neighborhoods
- 3 3. Don’t be a victim of El Paseo Millonario – Hail taxis through an app
- 4 4. Climb Monserrate on a Sunday morning
- 5 5. Watch your belongings on the Transmilenio
- 6 6. Don’t flash valuables (and keep your phone hidden)
- 7 7. Be careful with ATMs and carry some dummy cash
- 8 8. Keep an eye on your food and drink
- 9 9. Don’t be so nervous about Bogota safety issues you skip enjoying the city
- 10 Is Bogota safe for solo female travelers?
1. Take your safety in Bogota seriously — follow local advice
This is the most important and easiest thing you can do to protect yourself in Bogota. Before I get into the more specific tips, I want to name how important it is to ask locals about the current safety situation and listen to what they tell you.
The security situation in Bogota is constantly evolving. For example, after years of relative peace, ELN rebels bombed a police academy at the beginning of this year. But many neighborhoods have never been safer. Your guidebook — and even the Internet — won’t be able to keep up with the changing situation.
The only ones who will know if you can safely walk to the bar around the corner, or use a particular public bus without getting pick-pocketed, are the people who live and work here. So before you wander around on your own, ask your hostel about security. Ask restaurant staff about safety in the area. And ask students in line at the Transmilenio stations how to protect your belongings. (To ask in Spanish, say “es segura?”)
And after you ask about Bogota safety — listen to what they tell you. If the waiter at a restaurant tells you to take a cab home, do it. It would be silly to laugh off their advice and do what you wanted to do in the first place.
Just to be clear about how important it is to listen: When I stayed in La Candelaria, I asked if it was safe to walk somewhere for dinner. The staff said yes, but pointed me to a handful of restaurants nearby, and advised to be back by 8 pm. I followed their advice and was fine. But another guest decided to walk three blocks further — and got mugged walking back. It didn’t look like a big deal on the map, but those extra couple blocks were filled with blind alleys where muggers could easily hide.
2. Know your neighborhoods
Bogota is a huge city with an enormous diversity of neighborhoods, from high-end nightlife districts to poor barrios. Your safety varies tremendously depending on where you are in the city.
Generally, northern Bogota is pretty safe. This includes the Zona Rosa/Zona T nightlife district and the bohemian restaurant/bar/artist neighborhood of Chapinero, and extends all the way to the airport. In these areas, you can safely walk after dark and even into the late-night hours.
The downtown area is very block-by-block. If you stick to the busy streets it’s fine, but you should avoid side roads and anywhere near construction sites and parks.
Further south, La Candelaria is the colonial neighborhood. It’s generally safe during the day — although it has some dodgy areas and its safety is largely due to a very noticeable and invasive police presence. But it’s quite risky to walk around at night. You should take taxis after 6 pm. Anything south of La Candelaria is a no-go area day and night.
When deciding where to stay in Bogota, keep security in mind. La Candelaria is the most convenient neighborhood to the major attractions. But you’ll need to take taxis to go out after dark. Chapinero is a better choice if you want to explore the food and drinking scenes without risking your safety in Bogota or shelling out for a cab every night.
3. Don’t be a victim of El Paseo Millonario – Hail taxis through an app
The Paseo Millonario — or “Millionaire Ride” in English — is one of Bogota’s most infamous crimes. It’s where your taxi driver decides to squeeze as much extra cash out of you as possible. At a minimum, this involves taking a radically longer route than you had planned, driving up your bill. But in many cases it involves the taxi driver pulling a weapon on you and taking you on a tour of the city’s ATMs, where they force you to withdraw your daily maximum and hand it over.
So to protect your safety in Bogota Colombia, one of the most important steps to take is never, ever hail a taxi on the street. Instead, use secure taxi apps on your phone to call licensed cabs and register with the company.
Most locals in Bogota use the app Tappsi. When your driver arrives, they’ll ask you for a clave (key) — it’s the last two numbers of the phone you used to order the cab. This ensures the driver registers you as a passenger.
Unfortunately Tappsi is not available on iPhones, so the best alternative is Uber. Technically it’s illegal — but pretty much everyone ignores this. Your driver may ask you to sit in the front seat so you look like a friend. And because they don’t want to get caught, they’ll drive extra-safely.
If you can’t use a phone app, you can always ask your hostel to call a cab for you. Most restaurants and bars can do this as well. You’ll pay a small surcharge.
The taxis at the airport and bus station are safe, provided you use the formal taxi lines. Don’t ever accept a ride from a random driver inside the arrivals halls.
4. Climb Monserrate on a Sunday morning
Monserrate is the most iconic place in Bogota. The mountain is a landmark you can use to orient yourself from anywhere in the city. And the church at the top is an important pilgrimage site offering incredible views across the metro area. This makes it among the most popular Bogota attractions.
However, despite significant improvements in recent years, safety at Monserrate remains a problem. Knife-point muggings are alarmingly common on both the deserted road leading up to the entrance and the hiking trail itself.
Easily the best way to ensure your safety in Bogota while visiting Monserrate is to go on a Sunday morning. At this time, what feels like the entire city of Bogota comes out to take the cable car to the top or hike up. The sheer number of people in the area ensures that you’ll be safe.
Even on a Sunday, visitor numbers drop dramatically starting around 1 pm. After this time, walking back to the city center would no longer be safe. So you’ll need to start much earlier in order to be back well before 1.
If you can’t visit on a Sunday, it’s even more important to go early. You’re generally fine visiting on weekdays if you start the trip around 8 or 9 am. Going later than that would be taking a risk.
Visiting Monserrate for sunset is a very popular activity. The only way to do this safely is to take a taxi to the entrance, take the cable car up and down, and take a taxi back from the entrance. It seems excessive because the walk back to the main road is only about 5 minutes. But muggers lurk on this road, knowing tourists come down en masse with their cameras. It’s not worth it. Just take a cab (or book a tour).
5. Watch your belongings on the Transmilenio
Bogota’s public bus system — called the Transmilenio — is one of the city’s greatest inventions. It’s basically a metro system above ground. Large buses use dedicated lanes to speed passengers around the city without getting bogged down in traffic. And at only 2,000 COP a ride, it’s affordable too!
The only downside is the Transmilenio has a bad reputation when it comes to safety. The biggest risk is pickpocketing, although bag slashing and more deliberate robbery happen too.
Many people advise not to take the Transmilenio if you have luggage or valuables with you. However, I used the bus system to get all over the city, including to and from the airport and bus station with all my stuff. I never had a problem and never felt even remotely unsafe, even during rush hour.
The key to staying safe on the Transmilenio is to look like you know where you’re going. The system can be extremely confusing the first time you use it — especially if your Spanish isn’t good. But the second you look confused, pickpockets will hone in on you. Map out your route ahead of time (Google Maps is useful for this). If you must ask for help, go to the ticket office in each station.
Additionally, always keep your valuables in front of you while on the buses and at the stations. Don’t put your phone or wallet in your pocket — hold them in your hand if you have no other alternative.
If you’re from the U.S., you’re probably used to staring at your phone while walking around your home city. We Americans love to text and walk, stare at Google Maps when we don’t know where we’re going, and play Candy Crush while waiting for traffic lights to change. But indulging these habits in Bogota is a quick pathway to getting your phone stolen.
You’ll notice as you walk around Bogota that the locals never take out their phones on the street. You’ll even see people stepping into cafes and shops to send a quick text. To ensure you don’t lose one of your most valuable belongings, follow their lead and keep your phone hidden while you walk around. (Inside a backpack that you wear in front of you is best.)
The same goes for other valuables like your wallet and camera. Don’t flash cash on the street and keep your camera in your bag until you need to use it. Never walk around with valuables after dark, except in the safest northern neighborhoods. Even carrying a nearly empty backpack or purse at night in La Candelaria makes you a target. Put a small stash of cash in your pocket and leave everything else at your hostel.
Additionally, if you do carry a day-bag, make sure you keep it on you at all times. Even if you sit down in a restaurant or cafe, wrap your bag around your leg on the floor or keep it in your lap. People will literally snatch it right out from under you if you’re not careful!
7. Be careful with ATMs and carry some dummy cash
To protect your safety in Bogota Colombia, plan all your ATM visits in advance. Ideally, make a special trip from your hostel to the ATM — where you don’t stop anywhere and get back as fast as possible after withdrawing cash.
The ideal ATMs to use are the ones inside banks and shopping malls. These usually have security guards and cameras. Just be wary of anyone who offers to help you — one common robbery tactic is to pose as a bank employee. Never use an ATM on the street after dark.
If your ATM fees aren’t prohibitively high, consider taking out a smaller amount of cash at a time than you normally would. If you’re from the U.S., Charles Schwab Bank has a great checking account that refunds all your ATM fees.
On the flip side, it’s not a good idea to walk around with no cash at all. If you get mugged, the mugger will expect you to hand something over. They may escalate and become violent if you have truly nothing to give. Carry a few pesos somewhere easily accessible just in case. If you have other valuables on you, hand this cash over first — if other people are around, your mugger may be satisfied with your dummy cash and not demand your other belongings.
8. Keep an eye on your food and drink
I hate that I have to put this tip in here, but unfortunately, if you’re a solo female traveler, you have to be extra careful about drink spiking to protect your safety in Bogota.
The biggest risk is a drug known as borrachero. This drug keeps you fully conscious, but makes you lose your willpower. So if someone puts it in your food or drink and asks you to hand over your money or camera, you won’t resist. It’s also been used in sexual assaults. It’s odorless and tasteless, so the only way to avoid it is to not accept drinks from strangers and keep an eye on your beverage at all times.
Overall, nightlife is not a major issue when it comes to safety in Bogota. Most Colombian men are very respectful, and the popular bar districts are some of the city’s safest. (Maybe stay out of the student dive bars in La Candelaria though…). Assaults do happen, but generally aren’t more of a risk than they are at home.
9. Don’t be so nervous about Bogota safety issues you skip enjoying the city
While talking with my fellow travelers at my hostel in Bogota, I was surprised by how many of them were nervous about political violence and terrorism. Yes, Colombia still has issues with groups like ELN and FARC. But the odds of you being caught up in an incident as a traveler are extremely unlikely. Local government buildings are the most likely targets by far.
Similarly, many backpackers were afraid to go out and explore the gorgeous historic neighborhood of La Candelaria — even during the day. The reality is during daylight hours, the neighborhood has a police officer or three on every corner and most of the people out and about are students.
Bogota has so many incredible things to do. You absolutely should climb Monserrate. Visit the Gold Museum. Go for a big night out at Andres Carne de Res. Take the Bogota Graffiti Tour and learn about street art. Play tejo while drinking craft beer. These are experiences you won’t want to miss in Colombia.
Safety may always be at the back of your mind when you visit, but it doesn’t have to stop you from enjoying this fascinating city.
Is Bogota safe for solo female travelers?
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I was more nervous to visit Bogota than I have been for pretty much any city I’ve traveled to. So did the city change my mind after a few days? How safe is Bogota, really?
My verdict on the issue of safety in Bogota is: It’s completely safe if you follow the tips above. I didn’t have a single unpleasant encounter and wasn’t nervous for my safety at all. I walked almost everywhere — I only took a taxi once, and it was 90% out of laziness rather than for safety reasons.
However, I did get one small look at how bad it would be to not follow these tips. When I was hiking up Monserrate, it took quite a bit longer than I expected. So I came down the mountain and walked back into the city center around noon-12:30 pm — just before the 1 pm cutoff time all the locals recommend. The street was mostly deserted and it was eerily quiet. I didn’t feel actively unsafe, but I could see how easy of a target I might have been for a mugger.
Additionally, my conversations with other backpackers revealed that lots of people who visit Bogota end up in unsafe situations. This is mostly because they choose to ignore local advice and walk around at night in La Candelaria, or accidentally stray into an unsafe barrio, or hail a cab on the street. So you definitely have to be careful.
Still, I would highly recommend Bogota as a solo female travel destination. The city has so much history and culture, it would be a shame to miss it out of fear. Simply take some extra precautions and you can have a safe, enjoyable visit to the Colombian capital!
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