Location: South America
Time zone: GMT/UTC minus 5 hours
Daylight savings time: no
Current time: 16:38
Currency: Colombian peso
Dialling code: +57
Internet suffix: .co
Colombia is a large Latin American country with vibrant culture and rich biodiversity. Emerging from an extensive internal conflict it is set to become much more of a popular travel destination, although security conditions can still be problematic. The country is also subjected to a risk of occasional natural disasters.
Overall security situation: several challenges exist
Crime rate: high
Murder rate: one of the highest in the world
Gun ownership levels: average
Kidnapping hotspot: yes
Maritime piracy hotspot: yes
Do landmines/unexploded munitions pose a significant risk in parts of the country: yes
While the security environment has been defined by conflict, terrorism and organised crime for more than a generation, the situation has improved significantly over recent years.
The country’s institutions have weathered what appears to have been the worst of the storm but there is still significant capacity building to be undertaken, particularly in the field of law enforcement in areas previously controlled by rebel groups.
The country’s crime rate is still high and it suffers with one of the worst homicide rates in the world. Kidnap remains a risk, including for foreign nationals.
Maritime piracy is also a risk around some of the country’s harbours, although this is usually low-level in nature and related to trends in petty crime on the land, rather than the development of any sort of piracy cartels similar to Nigeria, Somalia or Indonesia for example.
There remains high risk of terrorist attack, by the remaining rebel groups and splinter organisations. These can lead to extensive damage as well as occasional casualties.
Unexploded ordnance such as landlines remain a risk in several parts of the country.
Civil unrest also continues to pose a concern. Protests and demonstrations are frequent and often disruptive with sporadic violence, although casualties are normally limited.
The above might sound alarming and there are certainly a lot of security issues to be aware of in the country, but it is possible to visit and live in the country without having to encounter any of these issues directly.
Aviation safety levels: standard
Annual road fatality rates: high
Vehicles drive on the: right
Infrastructure quality: very poor
Urban ATM availability: moderate
Electricity supply: 110V 60Hz
Electricity supply reliability: relatively consistent
Plug types: A and B
Plug type A (2 flat pins, not grounded/earthed)
Is tap water drinkable: no
Healthcare quality: among the best healthcare provision in the world
Infectious disease prevalence: relatively low
Travellers should consult a medical practitioner prior to their trip but the following vaccines may be considered before travelling to the country, depending on factors such as specific destination, planned activities, intended time and length of stay as well as personal medical conditions (in some cases no additional vaccines may be required at all):
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B (not always needed)
- Rabies (usually only for long-term stays, or for those spending time in isolated areas or coming into contact with animals)
- Yellow Fever
- Standard vaccinations (ie those commonly used in the developed world, such as diphtheria, measles, mumps, polio, rubella, tuberculosis and tetanus)
Malaria risk: low
Yellow fever presence: yes
Dengue fever prevalence: frequent cases
Rabies prevalence: high risk
HIV prevalence in society: low
Hepatitis A prevalence: high
Hepatitis B prevalence: low (high in the far south)
Hepatitis E prevalence: not highly endemic
Cholera status: low risk
Chikungunya virus presence: present
Zika virus presence: recent outbreak(s) reported
Japanese encephalitis presence: no
Cutaneous leishmaniasis presence: endemic and problematic
Visceral leishmaniasis presence: endemic
Onchocerciasis presence: no longer endemic
Schistosomiasis presence: none
Tick-borne encephalitis status: low/non-existent risk
Chagas disease presence: endemic
Typhoid fever presence: strongly endemic
African trypanosomiasis presence: none
Plague status: not thought to be present
Rift Valley fever status: not present
Lassa fever status: not present
Polio status: not endemic
Ebola outbreaks: no
Meningococcal meningitis hotspot: no
Climate: tropical along coast and eastern plains; cooler in highlands
Terrain: flat coastal lowlands, central highlands, high Andes Mountains, eastern lowland plains (Llanos)
Natural disaster risk: moderately high
Natural hazards: highlands subject to volcanic eruptions; occasional earthquakes; periodic droughts; landslides; flooding
Tropical storms: few/none
Previous earthquake(s) with over 1,000 fatalities: yes
- Galeras (elev. 4,276 m) is one of Colombia’s most active volcanoes, having erupted in 2009 and 2010 causing major evacuations; it has been deemed a Decade Volcano by the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior, worthy of study due to its explosive history and close proximity to human populations
- Nevado del Ruiz (elev. 5,321 m), 129 km (80 mi) west of Bogota, erupted in 1985 producing lahars (mudflows) that killed 23,000 people; the volcano last erupted in 1991
- Nevado del Huila reawakened in 2007 after 500 years of dormancy and has experienced frequent eruptions since then
- Other historically active volcanoes include Cumbal, Dona Juana, Nevado del Tolima, and Purace
Government type: republic
Socio-economic development score: 5/10 (medium levels of socio-economic development)
Adult literacy rate: 94.7%
Unemployment rate: moderately low
Civil liberties: some restrictions, usually mild
Investment rating: investment grade
Corruption levels: fairly high
Same-sex sexual activity: legal
Death penalty: abolished
Languages: Spanish (official)
Ethnic groups: mestizo and white 84.2%, Afro-Colombian (includes multatto, Raizal, and Palenquero) 10.4%, Amerindian 3.4%, Roma <.01, unspecified 2.1%
Beliefs: Roman Catholic 90%, other 10%
- The following advice has been compiled by travel safety specialists and ex-special forces personnel.
- However, please note that it is of a general nature only and may not reflect the reality of your circumstances.
- Ensure you have proper insurance cover in place.
- Select good quality accommodation and properly prepare for any tasks, excursions or other activities you have to undertake.
- Be mindful of local laws and cultural norms, bearing in mind that they might be different to what you are accustomed to.
- Consider conducting or obtaining a risk assessment specific to you, your profile and your trip, task or operation.
- This should take into account the likelihood of potential risks affecting you, as well as the likely impact they will have, and will help you decide, depending on your risk appetite and implementable risk mitigation measures, whether or not you should proceed.
- Be prepared for potentially poor-quality roads and other forms of transportation.
- This can make it difficult to get around.
- Consider obtaining a high-quality vehicle that can handle difficult terrain if you intend to travel anywhere with particularly bad-quality roads.
- Bear in mind that traffic safety conditions may be poor.
- Try to ensure that any accommodation or workplace is located in a good quality building.
- Bear in mind that in the event of an accident or emergency, the emergency response services may have very limited resources available.
Road traffic accident
- Be aware of local driving conditions and hazards.
- Drive defensively and adhere to speed limits to minimise the risk of being caught up in an accident, or request that your driver(s) do the same.
- If using a taxi or local driver, ensure that they are qualified and competent and that their vehicle appears well maintained.
- Ensure that vehicles are in good working order before travel.
- Perform regular checks on your vehicles for oil, fuel, tyres and seatbelts.
- Consider taking additional equipment such as a jack, spare tyres, water, blankets, torches and a first aid kit, especially if travelling to more rural or isolated areas.
- Consider using four-wheel drive vehicles for particularly poor road conditions.
- Car users should know how to perform emergency repairs.
- Bear in mind that healthcare facilities and services may be less extensive than what you are used to at home.
- Facilities and services may be particularly limited in rural areas.
- Pharmacies may not offer the same medications you might be accustomed to being able to purchase at home.
- If you use any medications on a regular basis, consider taking extra supplies.
- It may also be advisable to have them accompanied by a note from your doctor.
- In the event of serious or complicated illness or injury it may be necessary for a patient to be evacuated out of the country.
- Ensure that there is sufficient medical insurance in place to cover such an event.
- Find out what specific diseases are present in your intended travel destinations.
- Research the specific measures you should take to lower the risk of infection, bearing in mind that the disease(s) in question could be water, air or insect-borne.
- It might be useful to seek medical advice prior to your trip.
- If possible, do this several weeks in advance of your travel, in case you need to obtain specific vaccinations, some of which can take time to be administered properly.
- Be aware of any potential outbreaks which may be taking place in the country.
- Be careful with any cuts and grazes which might be more susceptible to infection in your travel destination than at home.
- Hygiene will be very important, but it can be more challenging to maintain good standards of hygiene in some parts of the world where sanitary products, cleaning products and even clean water can be hard to obtain.
- It might be advisable to bring extra supplies with you.
- It would be better to take them and not use them than to leave them behind and then need them in a challenging situation.
- You may also encounter challenges over where and what you want to eat.
- Try to avoid venues which appear unsanitary.
- Be very aware of any medical symptoms which might arise, both when you are travelling and for up to a month after you return home.
- Seek medical assistance if you have any concerns.
- Bear in mind that local doctors in your home country might not be familiar with certain tropical diseases.
- If you become ill on your return, inform your doctor where you have been and ensure that unfamiliar tropical diseases are taken into consideration as a possible diagnosis.
- Research and familiarise yourself with your destination in advance of travel.
- Find out what the local criminal trends are and identify any potential hotspots, such as certain neighbourhoods.
- Note than crime levels can often be higher around public transport, shopping areas and crowded places.
- In higher risk areas exercise caution and be aware of your surroundings.
- Try not to overtly display your belongings or anything that could make you appear wealthy.
- Ask yourself if you need to show off your jewellery, watch, mobile phone or other items or equipment.
- Try to keep your wallet or cash hidden.
- It also helps to avoid appearing vulnerable in at-risk areas so try to display confidence and purpose as you move around.
- Avoid consulting a map in public as this will mark you out as both unfamiliar with the environment as well as being potentially vulnerable.
- Familiarise yourself with local maps and directions before wandering around.
- Identify routes to your accommodation and other safe havens (such as police stations, embassies, commercial areas with a police presence or quieter, safer neighbourhoods for example).
- Familiarise yourself with landmarks so you can orientate yourself and find your way out of trouble spots if you need to.
- Note that crime trends can change, and the level of risk can become higher, after dark.
- It might be advisable to avoid wandering around at night.
- Avoid dark alleys in urban areas.
- It is might also be advisable to travel in pairs or in a group.
- It may also be preferable to drive or be driven around certain areas rather than walking around in the street, even for going relatively short distances.
- In general, use your gut instincts and be prepared to avoid situations, places or people that seem suspicious, odd or wrong in some way.
- Make sure that your organisation and loved ones are ready to respond in the event that you are taken.
- Consider appropriate insurance arrangements.
- Otherwise, in at-risk areas keep knowledge of your plans and movements to a small circle of trusted individuals.
- Take family photos with you as this can help humanise you in the eyes of your captors, which could elicit sympathy and potentially encourage them to treat you better.
- Keep a low profile, but also consider travelling in pairs or in a group in order to appear less vulnerable, depending on the circumstances.
- Vary routes and routines so as to make it harder for any potential abductor to plan an attack against you.
- Consider undertaking hostile environment training in advance of travel.
- Consider undertaking close protection services if the local security environment requires it.
- Civil unrest can lead to road closures and even curfews, which can affect your travel plans.
- Be prepared for delays and route alterations.
- Avoid demonstrations as they can turn violent.
- Large gatherings of people can be difficult to predict or control and can lead to issues such as mob violence, arson, assault and looting.
- The security forces may use excessive force to control events in some circumstances, posing an indiscriminate risk to anyone in the area.
- Even without any particular violence, large demonstrations can be at risk of poor crowd control, which can lead to crushes and stampedes.
- If demonstrations take place on a frequent basis, research the trends which tend to accompany them.
- Where do they tend to take place? Do they tend to turn violent? Do attendees target specific types of building or representative interests associated with a specific nationality, industry, political group (such as party-political offices, state buildings or foreign-owned businesses)?
- Once you have identified the sorts of risks, trends and areas of higher risk to be avoided you can start planning to minimise your exposure.
- If civil unrest appears to be particularly volatile, or set to last for an extended period, try to stock up with essential items (including food, water and medicine) in case you are stuck in your accommodation or work place or other location for an extended period of time.
- Be prepared to alter your plans at short notice and even to leave the area or even the whole country if conditions escalate. deteriorate.
- Identify evacuation routes and safe havens in case you need to get out of harms way at short notice.
- It is also advisable to identify the evacuation routes and fire safety procedures at your accommodation and/or work place in case you need to leave in a hurry.
- Beware of photography at sensitive sites or during civil disturbance.
- Monitor and assess the trends and tactics of any relevant terrorist organisations with the potential for targeting your location and identify potential targets.
- For particularly at-risk areas, the most effective risk mitigation advice is simply to avoid them.
- Use your judgement on the frequency of incidents taking place and decide whether or not your journey to an at-risk location is needed.
- Be vigilant in and around higher-risk areas, which could include crowded places, symbolic or sensitive political sites, or busy restaurant, nightlife or tourist spots.
- Depending on the situation and circumstances (including your own work, nationality, lifestyle and other profile aspects) you might need to enact security measures for protection in higher-risk areas.
- Be aware of your surroundings and be prepared to react at short notice in the event of an incident.
- In the event of an incident, get out of the area quickly if it is safe to do so.
- Alternatively hide and try to keep out of harm’s way.
- In most cases you should only try to help other people if it is safe for you to do so.
- Keep quiet and notify the relevant authorities, colleagues or loved ones only when you are out of danger.
Foreign government warnings
- Pay attention to the advice issued by your government and/or other countries (such as the US or UK).
- For most travellers, it will be very much advisable to avoid any areas deemed to be high-risk by official government bodies.
- For those who need to travel to these locations for work, personal or other essential reasons should consider the risks likely to be present and take appropriate measures.
- Insurance may not be valid for travel undertaken to these areas, so it is advisable to check with your provider before travel.
- Note that areas of official high-risk might change at short notice.
- Find out where the at-risk areas are in a country and consider avoiding them, particularly if any minefields are poorly demarcated.
- If you have to go to an at-risk area, consider undergoing minefield awareness training first.
- Seek local knowledge on the whereabouts of potential unexploded ordnance as residents will often have the most up-to-date information.
- Stick to well used roads, routes and paths.
- Don’t touch or approach suspicious items.
- If in doubt when travelling, especially on foot, turn back and retrace your steps.
- If driving in an at-risk area, avoid leaving the vehicle as far as possible.
- Take particular care after heavy rainfall as flooding can wash away warning signs or even displace unexploded ordnance and move it into new areas.
- If rainfall, flooding, extreme temperatures or other types of severe weather are a concern, check the local weather patterns to find out if there are times of the year where the risk is much higher.
- Consider avoiding travel to at-risk destinations during these times.
- Try to stay in good quality accommodation.
- Take appropriate clothing and footwear.
- Take appropriate protection for any sensitive equipment you wish to bring.
- Note that storms, flooding and other types of harsh weather can overload infrastructure, lead to traffic jams and power cuts.
- Flooding and heavy rainfall can also raise the risk of landslides, as well as insect- and water-borne diseases in some parts of the world.
- As such, be prepared to delay, alter or even cancel travel plans to affected or high-risk areas.
- Be prepared to respond at short notice to any seismic activity.
- Create an emergency plan to follow in the event of an incident that involves a communications breakdown, so you can meet colleagues at a designated meeting point if you are separated and cannot get in contact with one another.
- Practise drills such as “drop, seek cover and hold on” procedure so that you can take shelter as soon as an incident occurs.
- Know the location of your nearest medical kit and medically trained personnel.
- Knowledge of basic first aid will also be very useful.
- Get away from glass or anything that could fall if shaking starts.
- Consider carrying a whistle that can be used to alert first responders in the event that you are trapped after an earthquake – although bear in mind that in some circumstances and/or locations there may not be much in the way of first response capabilities, particularly following a damaging earthquake.
- In the event of an incident, avoid damaged buildings that might still be at risk of collapse.
- Be prepared for aftershocks.
- Note that earthquakes can trigger tsunamis and landslides so be prepared to move out of harm’s way once the shaking has stopped.
- You may need to move very quickly and with limited time.
- In at-risk areas, pay attention to official warnings and observe exclusion zone orders.
- Know your evacuation routes and the location of your nearest shelters and medical facilities.
- Familiarise yourself with any official warning systems.
- Ensure that you have sufficient supplies (such as food, water, medications and fuel) as well as good working vehicles so you can leave very quickly if needed.
- Be prepared to react to evacuation orders and actual eruptions at short notice.
- Be prepared for possible travel disruption in the event of an eruption, which could affect flights and lead to congested roads and fuel shortages.
- Depending on the level of risk, consider having a shelter in your accommodation and/or place of work if it is in an area which could be affected by heavy ash fall, as this could provide you temporary shelter in the event of an eruption.
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