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Colombia recently became one of only 4 countries in the world to drop all entry requirements related to Covid-19, causing digital nomads and backpackers to come back to Medellin. As the city of eternal spring and affordable living attracts many travelers, new safety concerns have arisen with the resumption of tourism. We recently spent a month in the field in Medellin, Colombia, to see firsthand the security in the city. Here’s everything travelers need to know to stay safe on a visit and the latest buzz crimes targeting tourists.
While Medellin is generally safe for travelers in terms of violent crime, a recent spate of armed robberies and petty crimes against tourists occurs in late 2021..
Current crime wave targeting tourists
This is not to scare tourists off, but travelers should be aware that there is currently a series of crimes that directly affect tourists in the city. The pandemic and strict closures in Medellin have hit the economy so hard that a large part of the once middle class is once again living in poverty.
Due to the pandemic, Colombia now has the highest poverty rate in all of Latin America, estimated at 45% by the World Bank. To put this in perspective, an estimated 18.9 to 23.9 million Colombians were living on less than $ 91 (USD) per month at the start of 2021.
The Venezuelan refugee crisis has also brought more than 1.75 million Venezuelans to Colombia, many of whom are unable to work legally and also live in extreme poverty.
Poverty leads to a high number of armed robberies directly targeting the affluent and touristy neighborhoods of Poblado and Laureles. These are the two most common areas of Medellin that travelers stay when visiting. While we were in the city for a month, we learned of 5 armed robberies against tourists, including 2 guests sitting on the patio of the hostel we were staying in.
According to Medellin Advisors, an average of 6 people in Laureles and 5 people in El Poblado were robbed per day in 2019. This was before the pandemic hit the economy hard and the number of thefts is estimated to be much higher. in tourist areas from October 2021.
Other crimes targeting tourists and expatriates
In addition to pick-pocketing, there is currently a much more sinister crime that targets tourists. The use of scopolamine (devil’s breath) is a drug used in drinks to strongly lull unsuspecting tourists and then steal them without them knowing it. This crime typically targets foreign men when they are in bars or clubs, but can even occur in a restaurant. Some abusers who have used scopolamine in the past have accidentally overdosed their victim, resulting in death.
Scams, stories and beggars
Right now, in the busy tourist areas of Medellin, you can’t walk more than half a block without being asked for money or being approached for a conversation that will inevitably leave a tourist with less money in his pocket. Poverty has led to a high number of street vendors, beggars, prostitutes, homeless people and pickpockets.
Medellin, Colombia is not a first-time traveler and visitors to the city should understand what they need to do to stay safe while in Latin America.
While Medellin has its fair share of petty crime and armed robbery, violent crimes against tourists are rare.
Top 9 Tips for Keeping Travelers Safe While Visiting Medellin
“No Dar Papaya” What translates to “don’t give papaya”, essentially means not to make you a target for crime. Follow these 9 tips to stay safe in Medellin.
Leave your cell phone in your pocket or get a second phone
The most common crime against tourists in Medellin is cell phone theft. Most of the time, theft will be done at gunpoint. Don’t take out your phone. Don’t take a selfie. Don’t use your phone for directions and don’t leave your phone on the table when dining on the terraces or in restaurants. After a few days you may see others doing it and being tempted, but that is the very definition of making a target for yourself.
Many expats and long-term travelers to Medellin have a cheap second cell phone for traveling around town. That way, if you get robbed, it’s not that big of a deal to let it go.
Do not defend yourself
If you are robbed, do not defend yourself. Don’t think twice and just put it off. Violence is more likely to occur during theft when the victim refuses to obey the thief. Another travel blogger, Nomadic Matt, was stabbed in BogotÃ¡ as he refused to hand over his cell phone.
The decoy wallet
Get yourself a cheap lure wallet and put a small amount of money in it. Then, using a hidden RFID wallet, keep your credit card and main money safe. When you get robbed, your wallet and your phone will be the main targets of the thief who wants to get out of there quickly. Be prepared to hand over your decoy wallet and cheap cell phone. Leave everything else of value at your hotel in the safe, including secondary credit cards, bank cards, and your primary cell phone. It’s a better idea to carry a small amount of cash and a cell phone than nothing at all. A thief can become frustrated and impatient with a tourist who says he has nothing on him.
Never leave your drink alone
Make sure you never leave your drink alone or even out of sight for a while. There are countless stories of foreigners drugged by women in Medellin and waking up with absolutely nothing. Many of these crimes go unreported due to tourist embarrassment. The target of this crime is generally men. If a woman walks up to you at a bar and thinks you’re the best thing since sliced ââbread, it doesn’t mean you’re a sexy gringo. You are a target.
Don’t look like a gringo
For men over 6 feet with blonde hair and blue eyes, this can be a bit difficult. That doesn’t mean you have to add flip flops, shorts, and a tank top into the mix. There is nothing that quite says “I am a tourist” like flip flops. The more you can blend in, the better off you are. The most common outfit for Colombian men is jeans, a t-shirt, and sneakers. That doesn’t mean you can’t wear what you want, but the more you blend in and the less you are noticed, the better off you’ll be.
Don’t go alone at night
This applies particularly to ladies and again the most common crime will be theft. Many solo women’s travel blogs state that Medellin is safe for solo backpackers. While this may be true during the day, I haven’t seen a woman walking alone at night. Walking alone after dark makes you a target for petty crime. A woman walking alone is much more likely to be robbed than a woman with a group of people. For men, too, you will be much safer in a group than alone.
Getting lost on your first few nights in Medellin is a terrible idea. Unless you are staying at your own hostel or taking part in an organized pub crawl like the one organized by Los Patios Hostel, your chances of something bad happening are high. Guys most often fall prey to clubs after a few too many drinks. The clubs are filled with local women who know how easy it is to tackle drunken strangers who are not used to the attention. These women can be prostitutes or worse yet, are about to drug and steal from you. Walking alone at night while intoxicated is just another way to become an easy target.
Be the badass
Let’s just say that the bogans that we see in Bali will not last 5 minutes in Medellin. Tattoos, muscles, and tank tops don’t intimidate criminals, gangs, or gun guys. Show respect for Colombian culture and traditions and don’t even think about being tough at the bar. Colombian men and women grew up knowing how to survive in difficult conditions. The gringos in a Colombian prison or the Colombian gangs don’t stand a chance.
Leave your gold rings and Lacoste sneakers at home
Dressing well is part of Colombian culture, dressing rich is not. Nothing says steal from me like your Lacoste sneakers, your gold and Rolex jewelry. Seriously leave the bling at home.
While Medellin’s expat community groups can be a bit cranky on Facebook, they tend to offer good insights into what’s going on in the city in terms of crime and scams. Make sure to keep an eye out for them before you arrive to stay on top of the city’s news.
Is Medellin worth the risk?
Absoutely! Although petty crime and thefts do occur, this growing city has made huge strides in becoming safer over the past decade. If you use your head and ‘do not give papayaâYou will probably have the best time of your life. From the very affordable cost of living, great weather and incredible infrastructure to a trendy nomadic lifestyle, Medellin is a city that has the potential to become the next big thing in tourism.
Looking for the best hostels in the middle of the action?
Trendy Medellin hostel for digital nomads – Rango Shop
Hostel to party – Los Patios
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