Practical Safety Tips for Women Traveling in Medellin, Colombia | The Mochilera Diaries
Colombia, Travel Tips

Practical Safety Tips for Women Traveling in Medellin, Colombia

It is just as safe for a woman to backpack around the world as any man!” – Some Travel Blog Written By A Man

Not to sound like a cynic or anything, but I just don’t believe this idea to be true.

In fact, I think it’s total bullsh*t.

As a solo female traveler, safety is always top of mind; it’s just an unfortunate reality that more risks exist for the female traveler.  I don’t consider myself paranoid by any means; in fact, I still manage to put myself in questionable situations from time to time (hey, nobody’s perfect).  Generally speaking, though, I’ve figured out a good balance of vigilance and nonchalance that allows me to travel alone quite comfortably while keeping myself out of harm’s way.  It’s not so hard to do so long as you’re armed with the right knowledge heading into your trip.

With each new destination come new challenges.  I’ve always been grateful for insider knowledge that allows me to know what to expect before I even arrive, so I thought I’d offer up some of my best advice for staying safe in my favorite Latin American city, Medellín, Colombia.

As a disclaimer, I don’t believe Medellín to be a particularly dangerous place and my intention here is not to dissuade anyone from traveling there.  In fact, there are a number of reasons I’m certain you’ll love it.

These tips are certainly applicable to both sexes, but my main goal here is to equip my fellow lady travelers with the knowledge they need to feel confident and secure when traveling in Colombia.

How to Stay Safe in Medellín, Colombia

Dress conservatively

This isn’t so much a suggestion meant to deter unwanted catcalls or sexual advances (but it is good for that, too) but to keep you from standing out as a tourist, in general.  Paisa women tend not to wear shorts or tiny skirts during the day OR when out at night, and it’s always a good idea to try to blend in with locals as much as possible.Practical Safety Tips for Women Traveling in Medellin, Colombia | The Mochilera Diaries

Late at night, have someone call you a taxi or order one with Easy Taxi or Uber

During the day, hailing a taxi on the street will likely be just fine.  At night, however, the best way to ensure you’re getting a legit taxi driver who’s affiliated with a local company and has all the appropriate legal documents to prove it is to call a taxi service directly or order one using the Easy Taxi app.  The company will give you a number that you can compare with the taxi that arrives to ensure it’s the right car.  If the numbers don’t match, do not get in.  Although rare, robberies and express kidnappings are a real possibility.  Most importantly, stay vigilant–if you feel uncomfortable, wait for another taxi.  Conversely, if you like your experience, ask for your driver’s business card so you can call them again in the future.

Finally, if you’d rather, you can now order an Uber ride in Medellín!  The San Francisco-based startup launched service in January of this year, and although it’s slightly more expensive than a yellow cab, it provides a safe, convenient alternative (and bells and whistles like water bottles and a driver who’s actually interested in chatting with you).

No matter the time of day, keep taxi windows rolled up and doors locked

Stories abound of passengers being robbed by drivers on motorbikes while waiting in stopped traffic.  Even a few inches of space can be enough for a thief to reach an arm into the car, so I recommend keeping it all the way closed, or open just a crack.  Keeping your doors locked is important as well.  Furthermore, avoid making yourself a target in the first place–try not to display phones or other expensive goods during your ride.

Stay in groups at night

Especially after midnight and regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman, it’s important not to wander the city alone.  If you ever must, stick to well-lit streets where there’s plenty of traffic.Practical Safety Tips for Women Traveling in Medellin, Colombia | The Mochilera Diaries

Know the risks

In all honesty, the biggest risks for visiting tourists are non-violent crimes such as pickpocketing and robbery.  There is a more dangerous risk, though, that I would be neglectful not to mention.

Colombia has earned a bad reputation for the prevalence of a powerful drug known as Scopolamine being used as an aid in robberies and even rape.  A prescription drug used as an anesthetic or to treat nausea from motion sickness, Scopolamine administered in large quantities can cause a person to lose all sense of free will; victims becomes docile and submissive, and have been known to aid thieves in burgling their own homes or emptying the entire contents of their bank accounts willingly.  The effects on the memory are incredibly damaging as well, and victims may not fully be aware of anything that happens while affected or be able to identify their aggressors after the fact.  Scopolamine is colorless, odorless and tasteless, and can be sprinkled into food or drinks, or blown into a person’s face (for that reason, it is also known colloquially as Devil’s Breath).

Reduce the risk of falling victim to this dangerous scam by staying in a group when out at night and by never leaving a drink unattended, even for a moment.

It seems Scopolamine use is more common in Bogota and other parts of Colombia than Medellín and I don’t personally know anyone who’s ever been a victim, but it’s important to be aware of the risk.  Click here to read more about Scopolamine use in Colombia.

Don’t bring all your valuables out with you–leave a stash of cash and extra cards at home

This should be pretty self-explanatory; in the event of a robbery, you’ll be thankful to have as little on you as possible to minimize your losses.  I never took my dSLR out with me at night and would typically only bring the cash I needed for the evening.Practical Safety Tips for Women Traveling in Medellin, Colombia | The Mochilera Diaries

Don’t display expensive electronics in public places

Again, avoid making yourself a target by keeping your valuables out of sight the majority of the time.  You can certainly take photos from time to time, but I recommend keeping your things tucked away whenever you’re not using them.  This is especially important in crowded areas such as downtown or on the metro during rush hour.  If you’re working on your laptop at a cafe, sit inside, or at least away from the street.

Don’t get too comfortable

Some neighborhoods in Medellín (El Poblado and Laureles, for example) are often touted as being the safest parts of the city.  This may be true in relative terms, but the truth is, bad things can happen anywhere. Plenty of robberies have been known to take place even in the “safest” of neighborhoods; it’s important to remember this and to exercise caution at all times.

Pin It!Safety tips for anyone traveling in Medellin, Colombia.  The city is much safer than it used to be, but it's always good to know what you're getting into!

Have you traveled in Medellín?  What safety tips would you add to this list?

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  • Reply Justine March 29, 2015 at 9:43 pm

    I actually felt incredibly safe in Medellín (and Colombia in general). I was, however, traveling with my boyfriend so I imagine I would have taken different precautions if I were flying solo. That being said, if I were to take a solo trip I would 100 percent travel alone there. I think if you’re smart Colombia is a pretty safe place to travel. You make some great points here. I am that girl who was taking a photo at a VERY crowded metro station in Medellín and almost got her camera snatched. As I was putting my camera back into my bag some passerby reached into my bag. Luckily he missed and grabbed my wrist instead! But, yes, good call on not bringing your dSLR out at night. I have to admit I’m not always the smartest with my electronics in Jakarta. I’m constantly going around town with my laptop and camera…probably not the best idea!
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    • Reply La Mochilera March 30, 2015 at 9:36 pm

      Totally agree, Justine, Colombia is plenty safe as long as you’re smart about it. I did have minor panic attacks if I was ever out in Medellin with all my blogging gear (laptop, hard drive, camera, iphone, purse full of money) thinking that I’d be completely f*cked if anything happened because I had literally every single thing of value on my person at that moment. Luckily though, nothing ever did 😉

    • Reply Local Adventurer April 1, 2015 at 1:04 am

      my father in law actually got his phone snatched out of his hands in jakarta while he was texting and walking… and he grew up in jakarta too!
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      • Reply La Mochilera April 1, 2015 at 3:20 pm

        Oh my gosh I knowww, criminals do NOT discriminate! Locals are at risk in Medellin just as much as tourists are.

  • Reply Polly March 30, 2015 at 3:20 pm

    All valid points and, really, good points for both women and men! Man, I hated dressing more conservatively when I was in Armenia – I get it’s respectful (even though I’ll never pass haha) but man in that heat, it’s a killer!
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    • Reply La Mochilera March 30, 2015 at 9:37 pm

      Yeah, Medellin was often the same way. I wore shorts on plenty of occasions just because it was too damn hot for me. I know in some places that won’t even be an option!

  • Reply Linda Bibb March 30, 2015 at 4:15 pm

    I’m glad you mentioned scopolamine because it’s something most people don’t know about. I’ve read that it can be blown into a person’s face and the perpetrator will follow behind until he thinks it’s taken effect. Scary stuff, important to be aware of.

    Love how you started the story. Truth, that.
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    • Reply La Mochilera March 30, 2015 at 9:40 pm

      Scopolamine is totally scary! Apparently it’s very fast-acting too, so I’m sure they wouldn’t have to follow behind for long. I feel grateful that in the 6 months total I spent in Medellin, I was never a victim of any kind of crime.

  • Reply Local Adventurer April 1, 2015 at 1:06 am

    wow that’s so scary! i had never heard of scopolamine. it’s been a while since i traveled on my own.. but it is definitely not the same. and traveling to middle eastern countries is so much nicer as a man! -_-
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    • Reply La Mochilera April 1, 2015 at 3:21 pm

      Yeah, the middle east is one place I’m mildly apprehensive to travel on my own. I’ve heard stories from friends (two girls who traveled there as a pair, and a guy/girl pair) and even when there was another person or a man around, it didn’t seem to deter the mistreatment. 🙁

  • Reply Inez June 17, 2015 at 12:12 am

    I’m heading to Medellín soon for a few months so this is really interesting to here as I’ve been thinking about safety a bit. I am probably going to travel around South America a bit too, but I’m wondering what your advice is in general about taking a dSLR? I am not planning using it at night, but am I likely to attract attention using it in the day generally in South America? I understand crowded places is not a good idea, but my dSLR is quite large so I don’t know if its a good idea to take…

    • Reply Leah Davis June 17, 2015 at 1:59 am

      Hi Inez! A lot of people travel in South America with dSLRs, you just have to use common sense. Like you said, it’s best not to take it out at night or in crowded spaces, and just be aware of your surroundings the rest of the time and keep it stowed away when not using it. I had my dSLR stolen in Central America but it was in a hostel dorm at the time, not out in the streets, so my biggest piece of advice is to lock up your things wherever you are staying!

  • Reply Daphne July 12, 2016 at 11:05 am

    Hi Leah,

    Very helpful post. I am looking at flights to Medellin, but JetBlue only offers flights that arrive at 11:30pm. I am a bit concerned about arriving so late at night since I will be alone. Do you think it’ll be a problem at all if I call an uber from airport to where I am staying? (will mostly choose Laureles)

    • Reply Leah Davis July 13, 2016 at 2:36 am

      Hey Daphne! Uber was still a pretty new service in Medellin when I was there, but I know some people felt it was safer/more reliable than taking taxis, and based on my experiences in other cities (like Mexico City) I would believe that to be true. I think you’d be just fine ordering an Uber from the airport, but if all else fails, I always had good experiences with taxis, too. Good luck!

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