The 9 Most Dangerous Places in Colombia

Dangerous places in Colombia

Colombia is a country with outstanding natural beauty and culture, but the violence in Colombia can be staggering. From gang members to terrorist groups like FARC and ELN, there are many dangerous places in Columbia which you should be sure to avoid.

Theft is common, and many people get kidnapped, so you have to take precautions. What’s more, the general crime rate across South America has been increasing since 2004. Things like violent crimes, including kidnappings and carjackings, have increased significantly during the last few years.

Homicide stats also show that many people are killed every day, and visiting Colombia can be unsafe, but there are some safer areas you can go to as well. This article will list some of the most dangerous places in Columbia you may want to stay away from if you’re looking for a no-hitches trip within its borders and don’t want to become just another crime statistic.

1. Bogota

Colombia at dusk
Photo by Envato Elements

Bogotá used to be nothing short of a crime-ridden nightmare, but today things have improved significantly since the 80s and 90s. There still exist certain safety issues which plague innocent people who happen upon Bogóta; however, rates of violence against tourists have gone down drastically from years ago when these violent crimes were at their worst.

Naturally, visiting Bogota can still be a scary prospect. The streets be potentially unsafe at night, and there are certain pockets of the city that most folk would recommend you stay away from. To help keep yourself safe in Bogota for as long as possible, there’s nothing better than planning ahead before going out.

Also, stay aware of what’s happening around you at all times. That includes making sure you know where you are in the city at all times, knowing who to call if something goes wrong, and having good insurance for your trip.

2. Buenaventura

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Buenaventura was always a place where people ventured at their own risk, and it’s still up there with Colombia’s most dangerous cities. The violence that spills over into the surrounding rural areas has only gotten worse with time, and this city will need some drastic changes for this to no longer be the case.

The drug trafficking wars in Columbia have turned the town into a war zone. Kidnappings, torture, extortion, and murder are commonplace crimes often associated with the schemes of these individuals to gain power over people by violence or fear. Buenaventura was once considered Colombia’s most dangerous city. In fact, many people during the 70s and 80s would not go near it for fear of being killed by warring factions or traffickers who were fighting over control of drug routes in this Colombian port town.

The New Humanitarian goes on to say that Buenaventura has now been deemed safer, as violence has dropped dramatically since 2016 when a truce agreement ended five decades’ worth of civil strife. But there is still some precaution needed before visiting such an unsafe place like this one used to be.

3. Colombian borders

Colombian border
Photo by Wikimedia Commons

The Colombian borders are some of the most dangerous places in Colombia, areas where drug rings and paramilitary groups are still strong. It’s not uncommon to see people taken hostage at the borders of Colombia – there have been well over 100 victims of kidnapping in these parts since 2011.

The Colombian border shares many similarities with other South American countries’ boarders. It has become an increasingly dangerous area that you need to be aware of on your journey through Latin America. Basically, try not to hang around in these parts too long!

Colombia has been a battleground for guerrilla fighters on its northern border with Panama, especially. Drug wars there between opposing clans have created and fueled an environment of illegal activity in less built-up areas.

4. Soacha

Soacha, Colombia
Photo by Wikimedia Commons

The most dangerous area of this city that actually borders Bogota has been ranked as one of the top 10 places for living abroad according to The Stand Global.

However, drug addiction and drug-related crimes are common because District 4 (which people call ‘Altos Cazuca’) separates drugs from production sites like cocaine laboratories scattered throughout South America. This district also contains many impoverished residents who have resorted to crime or prostitution just so they can feed themselves each day.

Not only that, but there seems almost zero law enforcement presence at night time when violence spikes due to outposts set up by various gangs on both sides attempting to seize control over territory.

5. Cali

Cali, Colombia
Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Visitors to Cali should keep in mind that the city can be safe for tourists, despite being on this dangerous places in Colombia list. There are still risks for anyone who doesn’t take precautions against crime, though. Colombia and Cali are still overcoming the reputation that violence, drugs, or Narcos brought upon it in early decades. But what many people don’t know is this was over 25 years ago, with Pablo Escobar long dead and buried by now!

Cali has been making strides in improving its economy in recent decades, while Colombia continues to be a hotspot for drug trafficking, terrorism, and human rights violations.

A tourist can visit almost any part of Cali and feel very little risk, especially compared to bigger cities like Bogotá, where violent crimes still happen every day. That being said, it’s not entirely a free ride. You still have to follow all the usual basic safety precautions and keep your wits about you!

6. Arauca

Colombia mountains
Photo by Jan Kronies/Unsplash

According to the Overseas Security Advisory Council’s (OSAC) Colombia 2020 Crime & Safety Report, Arauca should not be visited!

Unrest is very common in the state. The Transitional Justice Administrative Group (GATJ) continues to target government and FARC officials with threats of violence toward those who had cooperated and testified against individuals involved with criminal activity or terrorism.

The Colombian National Police (CNP), the DAS, the Army, and the National Liberation Army (ELN) have conducted several operations in the department of Arauca. The majority of these actions were against illegal armed groups involved in drug trafficking, illegal mining, and extortion.

The GATJ has made threats against public officials for their role in investigating terrorist groups. These criminal organizations are known for using violence to silence witnesses who testify against them.

7. Cauca

Photo by Alexander Schimmeck/Unsplash

The US Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs advises travelers to Cauca to be aware they are subject to a greater kidnapping risk than in other parts of the country. In fact, the US State Department recommends against all travel to the whole area, with the sole exception of the colonial city of Popayán.

It is recommended that tourists travel between Medellín and Popayán with a minimum number of stops, avoiding night-time travel and using only the safer toll roads.

The Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also issued a warning to its citizens against visiting Cauca due to the threat from increased crime. However, lots of tourists do pass this way, most drawn by the promise of some of the country’s iconic coffee brews.

8. Tumaco

A farmer in the Tumaco region
Photo by Sebastian Tovar/Unsplash

The salt-washed town of Tumaco spreads over a series of little islets and coastal plains below the Andes on the south-western side of Colombia. It’s not really on the tourist radar, being far away from the hustle and history of the big capital and the famous draws of the coffee plantations further inland. It’s also considered one of the most dangerous places in Colombia…

Yep, Tumaco has a long and dark history of violent conflict and gang wars. It was heavily impacted by the civil strife between the Colombian government and the FARC and other paramilitaries. There were a spate of extrajudicial killings here as late as 2011, which saw guerrillas enter the town to assassinate national soldiers and local politicians alike.

Much of the violence comes from the fact that Tumaco is the second most important Pacific port in the country. It’s a key outpost in the importation and exportation of both legal and illegal goods, so every revolutionary and their dog has their eye on it!

9. Norte de Santander

Norte de Santander
Photo by De ca/Unsplash

Norte de Santander is another one of the most dangerous places in Colombia. The region had only been recently recovering from the war between guerrilla groups and the Colombian government that lasted from 1964 to 2003. Today, it’s still under a “Do Not Travel” warning from the US State Department, who quote increased risks of violent crime.

Much of the infrastructure, industry, and economy is in ruins, and poverty is widespread. One distinguishing factor that makes Norte de Santander more dangerous than other parts of Colombia is its current role in the Colombian drug war. Norte de Santander is home to two of the country’s most powerful drug cartels: The Urabeños and the Rastrojos.

The US Department of State has advised that the most dangerous areas in Norte de Santander are Cúcuta, Bucaramanga, and San Vicente del Caguan, due to high levels of drug trafficking violence. The regional murder rate for 2010 was 50 per 100,000 people, far higher than the national average of 34 per 100,000.

What is the deadliest city in Colombia?

Cities that once would have been considered very dangerous, like Medellin, now rank among the most livable cities in Colombia. The highest rates of crime for Latin America today are also usually seen outside of Colombia, with El Salvador and Honduras taking up the top spots on most occasions.

However, we’d say the most dangerous major city is Cali (also called Santiago de Cali). It’s seen a huge decrease in key stats like murders per 100,000 in the last 10 years, but a recent uptick in killings and violent crime mean that it’s still above the national average. We’d also avoid port towns like Tumaco and areas within Cauca, which currently attract State Department warnings.

How dangerous is Colombia right now?

Every day, people are dying in Colombia. The drug trade has skyrocketed, and there is a large presence of guerilla groups. But this doesn’t mean that the country should be avoided by those who want to travel abroad for work or leisure because, despite these concerns, it’s still capable of being one of the most beautiful places on earth with its rich culture and breathtaking landscape making up for any danger present here.

Many countries have their dangers, but not all can offer such an amazing experience as well. Despite the risks involved in traveling through Colombian borders, you’re more than likely going to come away with some unforgettable memories which will outweigh whatever risk was taken along your journey from place A to B–with no fear at all about returning without incident.

Where is the safest place in Colombia?

The safest cities in Colombia are usually your mid-sized and smaller cities located on the Andean mountain range (Bucaramanga, Manizales, Tunja) as well as coastal towns like Cartagena or Buenaventura.

According to the National Survey of Victimization and Perception of Public Safety (2014), Bucaramanga is the safest city in the country, followed by Barranquilla, Bogota, and then Medellin. The results are based on estimates from 99 different municipalities with more than 1 million inhabitants or a population of fewer than 100,000 inhabitants.

The reason for these safer areas is mainly because it’s inhabited by people living in the middle social classes and small upper-class. In other words, there is less poverty and generally more safety in these cities than in more rural areas. The major reason for this is due to the fact that in these areas, you cannot easily make money through illegal activities like drug trafficking, guerrilla or paramilitary activity, like in other parts of Colombia.


For more than 11 years, Joe has worked as a freelance travel writer. His writing and explorations have brought him to various locations, including the colonial towns of Mexico, the bustling chowks of Mumbai, and the majestic Southern Alps of New Zealand. When he's not crafting his next epic blog post on the top Greek islands or French ski resorts, he can often be found engaging in his top two hobbies of surfing and hiking.

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