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Is Medellin Safe To Visit? Top 9 Things Travelers Need To Know

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Colombia has recently seen digital nomads and backpackers flooding back to Medellin. While the city of eternal spring and affordable living is attracting many travelers, new safety concerns have emerged as tourism restarts. I have spent over 200 days as a visitor in Medellin over the last two years and learned how to navigate the city safely. Medellin is a vibrant cultural city that is safe in the tourist zones but there are cautions travelers must take while visiting.

Here is everything travelers need to know about staying safe while visiting and the latest trending crimes that are targeting tourists.

While Medellin is generally safe for travelers in terms of violent crime, a recent string of armed robberies, druggings and petty crimes against tourists are occurring as of 2024.

Current Crime Wave That Is Targeted At Tourists

This isn't to scare away tourists but travelers need to know that there is currently a string of crime that is directly affecting tourists in the city. Colombia now has the highest poverty rate in all of Latin American estimated at 45% by the World Bank.

To put that in perspective, an estimated 18.9 to 23.9 million Colombians were living off less than $91 (USD) per month at the start of 2023.

Travel Off Path has followed the official Telegram crime group for Medellin for the last 2 years. While we won't link to it here due to its graphic nature, it does share an alarming amount of the daily crime happening in the city. While most travelers visit the city without incident, being aware of the dangers while visiting Medellin will help reduce the risk of becoming the victim of a crime.

Medellin Police on Motorbike

The Venezuelan refugee crisis has also introduced over 1.75 million Venezuelans into Colombia, many of whom many are unable to work legally and are also living in extreme poverty.

The poverty is leading to a high number of armed robberies directly targeted at the affluent and touristic neighborhoods of Poblado and Laureles.

Street sign to Poblado

These are the two most common areas of Medellin that travelers stay while visiting. While we were in the city for one month, we first hand knew of 5 armed robberies on tourists including 2 guests that were sitting on the patio of the hostel at which we were staying.

According to Medellin Advisors, an average of 6 people in Laureles and 5 people in El Poblado are robbed per day at gunpoint. This was before the pandemic hit the economy hard and the number of robberies are estimated to be much higher in tourists areas as of 2024.

Medellin Highway

Other Crimes Targeted At Tourists and Expats

Along with pickpocketing, there is a far more sinister crime currently being targeted at tourists. The use of Scopolamine (devil's breath) is a drug being used in drinks to heavily sedate unsuspecting tourists and then rob them while they are unaware. This crime is usually targeted at foreign men while they are in bars or clubs but could even happen in a restaurant. Tourists are being directly targeted by girls on dating apps that work for dangerous organized crime groups. Some perpetrators that have used scopolamine in the past have accidentally overdosed their victim resulting in death.

Comuna 13 Medellin

Scams, Stories And Beggars

Right now in Medellin's busy tourist areas, 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 cash in their pocket. The poverty has lead to a high number of street vendors, beggars, hustlers, homeless and pickpockets.

Medellin, Colombia is not for first time travelers and visitors to the city should have a strong understanding of what they need to do in order to stay safe while in Latin America. A friendly hello on the streets of Poblado is never just a hello. There is always an angle and you are the target.

Medellin Homeless man

While Medellin does have its fair share of petty crime and armed robberies, violent crimes against tourists are rare.

Top 9 Tips To Help Keep Travelers Safe While Visiting Medellin

‘No Dar Papaya' Which translates to ‘don't give papaya' it essentially means to not make yourself a target for crime. Follow these 9 tips for staying safe in Medellin.

Metrocable 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 the theft will come at gunpoint. Do no take your phone out. Do not take a selfie. Do not use your phone for directions and do not leave your phone on the table while dining on patios or in restaurants. After a few days you may see others do it and get tempted, but this is the very definition of making yourself a target.

Many expats and long term travelers in Medellin have a second cheap cell phone for when they are out and about in the city. That way if you are robbed, it's not such a big deal to just let it go.

Medellin Colombia backpacker

Do Not Fight Back

If you are robbed, do not fight back. Do not give it a second thought and just hand everything over. Violence is most likely to occur during a robbery when the victim refuses to comply with the robber. Another travel blogger Nomadic Matt was stabbed in Bogotá when he refused to hand over his cell phone.

Colombia Police

The Decoy Wallet

Get a cheap decoy wallet and put a small amount of money in it. Then using a hidden RFID wallet, keep your credit card and main cash safe. When you are robbed, your wallet and your phone will be the main targets of the thief who will want to be out of there fast. Be ready 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, banks cards and your primary cell phone. It's a better idea to carry a small amount of money in and a cell phone then nothing at all. A robber may become frustrated and impatient with a tourist who says they have nothing on them.

Poor area of Medellin

Never Leave Your Drink Alone

Make sure you never leave your drink alone or even out of your sight for a moment. There are countless stories of foreigners being drugged by women in Medellin and waking up with absolutely nothing left. Many of these crimes go unreported due to embarrassment of the tourist. The target of this crime is usually men. Using dating apps such as Tinder in Medellin can be very dangerous and a recent undercover video actually caught some of the girls that work for these gangs in action.

Bars in Poblado Medellin

Book Safe Airport Transfers

After visiting Medellin 10 times in the last 2 years, we have learned that reliable airport transfers are few and far between. Twice we were left stranded at the airport as our driver did not show up.

The safest way to get to your accommodation is a private transfer with a driver who will be waiting inside the terminal with a sign with your name on it. The drive to the city from the airport takes around 40 minutes.

I recommend Andres Espinosa at RoundTrip Medellin. Cost is 120,000 COP ($30 US) for 1-2 people. Reach out to him on WhatsApp at: +57 319 357 6115

Let him know you found him on Travel Off Path to get the prices above.

Spirit Airbus A320 airplane Medellin airport in Colombia

Don't Look Like A Tourist

For guys that are over 6 feet with blonde hair and blue eyes, this may prove a little difficult. This doesn't mean you should add flip flops, shorts and a tank top into the mix. There is nothing that quite says ‘I'm a tourist' like flip flops. The more you can blend in, the better off you are. The most common outfit for Colombian men is a pair of jeans, a t-shirt and sneakers. This isn't saying you can't wear what you want but the more you blend in and the less your are noticed, the better off you'll be.

Skyline of Medellin

Don't Go Alone At Night

This one especially applies to the ladies and once again the most common crime will be robbery. Many solo female travel blogs state Medellin is safe for solo female backpackers. While that may be true during the day, I didn't spot one female walking alone at night. Walking around by yourself after dark is making yourself a target for petty crime. A female walking alone is much more likely to be robbed than one with a group of people. For the men as well, you'll be much safer in a group then by yourself.

Solo traveler in Medellin

Getting Drunk

Getting wasted on your first few nights in Medellin is a very bad idea. Unless you are staying at your own hostel or going out on an organized pub crawl like the one run by Los Patios Hostel, your chances of something bad happening are high. Guys most often fall prey in clubs after a few too many drinks. Clubs are filled with local women that know how easy it is to prey on drunk foreigners that are not used to the attention. These women may be prostitutes or even worse, are getting ready to drug and rob you. Walking alone at night while intoxicated is just another way to make yourself an easy target.

Chiva Party Bus

Being The Tough Guy

Lets just say the bogans that one sees in Bali won't last 5 minutes in Medellin. Tattoo's, muscles and tank tops don't intimidate the criminals, gangs or guys with guns. Show respect for the Colombian culture, traditions and don't even think about being the tough guy at the bar. Colombian men and women have grown up knowing how to survive in tough conditions. Gringos in a Colombian prison or dealing with Colombian gangs don't stand a chance.

Colombia police

Leave Your Gold Rings and Gucci Sneakers At Home

While dressing nice is part of the Colombian culture, dressing rich is not. Nothing says rob me like your Gucci sneakers, gold jewelry and a Rolex. Seriously leave the bling at home.

Choosing The Right ATM

Most visitors will stay in the Poblado neighborhood and the best ATM is right beside the cathedral beside Poblado Park. The bank is called Davivienda and allows you to withdraw up to 2 million Colombian pesos at a time. The area is very busy and has individual rooms for each bank machine. There are usually guards outside the bank making it a safer location to withdraw cash. It's best to use it during the day however there are often line ups of 5 to 10 minutes for one of the 2 ATM machines.

Neighborhoods To Avoid

First time visitors to Medellin will want to stick to the neighborhoods of El Poblado or Laureles. These areas are the main tourist areas and offer an increased police presence. There are a few no go zones including El Centro (downtown) at night. It quickly becomes a ghost town and is not a safe place to be after dark.

If you plan on visiting other neighborhoods higher up on the hills including Santo Domingo, La Cruz or Enciso, these should only be visited with a local who can make sure you are not wondering into the wrong area.

While the Medellin expat community groups may be a little cranky on Facebook, they tend to offer some good insights into what is going on in the city in terms of crime and scams. Make sure to keep an eye on them before arriving to stay up to date on current happenings in the city.

Colombia skyline of buildings

Is Medellin Worth The Risk?

Absolutely! While petty crime and robberies do occur, this growing city has made huge strides in becoming safer over the last decade. If you use your head and ‘don't give papaya‘ your likely to have the time of your life. From the very affordable cost of living, beautiful weather and amazing infrastructure for a trendy nomad life, Medellin is a city with the potential to become the next big thing in tourism.

Looking For The Best Hostels In The Center Of The Action?

Trendy Medellin Hostel For Digital Nomads – Rango Boutique
Hostel For Partying – Los Patios

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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com

Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.


James

Sunday 28th of January 2024

It is not a safe city. I have lived in Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Minneapolis. I have never been robbed in the USA. I have been robbed 2 times in Poblado.

The first time I was robbed it was by 2 police on a motorcycle. The law in Colombia allows police to stop anyone at anytime and search though their pockets and belongings. This has happened to me 3 times. The first time my Uber drove into a police roadblock. The other 2 times I was stopped in a city park. One of the times I was searched in the park the police kept my money.

The second time I was robbed 2 young men ran up to me and started hitting me with car window squeegees. They were able to pull money from my pants and run away.

Every single resident of Medellin I have met has told me they have been robbed, usually more than once. Their money and mobile stolen.

It is safer during the day, however the sun sets every day a few minutes after 6pm. So it is not really practical to not be out at night.

I used to carry pepper spray to protect myself, but since April 2023 it is now illegal to have that. So if you are smaller or older like me there is no way to protect yourself anymore.

Robert Herdz

Friday 12th of January 2024

I've been to Medellin for more than a decade. What do I have say: well let's see. Where you come from in the U.S. or world makes alot of difference. If your from a small boring town in Iowa you might find Medellin very dangerous. If from a big town you might find it equally dangerous. But if you come from a big city you might find Medellin safer. As far as y those tips to keep you safe , well that applies to about any place because criminals don't discriminate depending on location. As if the U. S. A. Were free of crime.

Kelvin Lanier

Thursday 12th of October 2023

This is so dumb. I can’t live safe , so I have to do all these precautionary things. I been there ten times and I wouldn’t live there with all those precautions. I love my Rolex and flip flop. It’s not worth it. I don’t what you’re talking about going and enjoying while being a target.

Brian Rudi

Friday 12th of January 2024

@Kelvin Lanier, you sound like the dumb one bub. I would not travel across the street with an idiot like you.

Mea

Saturday 12th of August 2023

Reposting my comment from abother Colombia TOP blogpost:

Dec of 2020 I flew to Medellin. I somehow drugged was nearly kidnapped IN THE UBER FROM THE AIRPORT. The driver was insisting I hot a ‘Mark yourself safe’ button on the uber app soon as I got in, which I found suspect. Under 10 mins he pulls onto a highway ramp, turns off the car and starts texting someone. SAYS NOTHING TO ME about why we stopped. I noticed the windows were down and doors unlocked. I frantically lock doors and shut windows. He’s still typing. I realize he’s prob calling an accomplice to come take me by gunpoint. I start yelling at him (In Spanish, saying Idk why we stopped but take me NOW to my destination). I kept yelling til he hit the pedal and I got their safely and untouched, with ny luggage. But under an hour later I felt incredibly sluggish with a massive headache. I tried crossing the street and it felt like I wS in slow-mo, walking through quicksand. Never had such an experience before and don’t know HOW I was drugged but it certainly felt like it! I have no memory of consuming anything in the uber… Someone said they can blow dust? Anyways, I made it back safely to my Airbnb and the next few days I was FINE but this was a VERY sketchy thing and it made me question my safety even in UBERS!!! I ended up loving Colombia but it makes me weary to return. Please check your doors when entering taxis/cars and learn some local language bc I don’t know if I would still be here if I hadn’t!

Samantha

Monday 27th of March 2023

What about purses? Is it a bad idea to carry a purse, even one without many valuables?