Despite improvements in security, crime rates remain high in Colombia. Illegal armed groups and other criminal groups are heavily involved in the drugs trade and serious crime including kidnapping (for ransom and political purposes), money laundering and running extortion and prostitution rackets.
Drugs, organised crime and terrorism are inextricably linked. Control of the drugs trade is a major driver of much of the armed conflict. In 2013, the UN noted that coca cultivation in Colombia had decreased. However, there was still evidence of high levels of coca cultivation in the following Departments in Colombia: Pacific Region (Departments of Chocó, Valle Del Cauca, Cauca and Nariño), Central Region (Departments of Cesar, Antioquia, Santander, Cordoba, the southern area of Bolivar and Norte De Santander), as well as the Departments of Putumayo, Caquetá, Meta and Guaviare. There is a risk to your safety in any area where coca, marijuana or opium poppies are cultivated and near to cocaine processing labs.
Illegal armed groups and criminal gangs are active in all of the Departments where coca is cultivated, processed or transported, as well as in many cities. The risk is particularly significant in rural areas adjacent to the borders with Panama, Venezuela and Ecuador; in the Parque Nacional Natural de La Macarena in the Department of Meta; and the port towns of Buenaventura in the Department of Valle de Cauca, Turbo in the Department of Antioquia and Tumaco in the Department of Nariño.
Street crime is a problem in major cities, including Bogota, Medellin, Cali and Santa Marta. Mugging and pickpocketing can be accompanied by violence. British nationals have been robbed at gun point in the Candelaria area of Bogotá. Be vigilant, particularly if you are in public places used by foreigners, or near official buildings. Avoid deprived areas of cities. Take care on city streets, especially after dark or if you are on your own. Don’t carry large amounts of money or wear valuable watches or jewellery. Avoid using your mobile phone in the street.
Reports of criminals in Colombia using drugs to subdue their victims are frequent. This includes the use of scopolamine, which temporarily incapacitates unsuspecting victims. Drugs can be administered through food, drinks, cigarettes, aerosols and even paper flyers. Victims become disoriented quickly and are vulnerable to robbery, sexual assault and other crimes. Avoid leaving food or drinks unattended and don’t take anything from strangers.
Where possible, plan how you will travel to and from your destination. Only use pre-booked taxis. Be wary if you are approached by a stranger. Assailants have used drugs to subdue their intended victims. These drugs can take effect extremely quickly, allowing a criminal to rob the victim and escape before the attack can be reported. Never accept offers of food, drink or cigarettes from strangers no matter how friendly or well-dressed a person appears.
Express kidnappings – short-term opportunistic abductions, aimed at extracting cash from the victim – also occur. Victims can be targeted or selected at random and held while criminals empty their bank accounts with stolen cash cards. Most cases in major cities involve victims that have been picked up by taxis hailed from the street. There have been incidents where those who have resisted the kidnappers’ demands have been killed.