“Is Medellin Safe?”
This question is on everyone’s mind before traveling to Medellin, Colombia. It makes sense since the country has been through the unrest in the ’90s and Medellin being dubbed as one of the most dangerous cities in the world.
But that was over 20 years ago…
Since then, Colombia has risen to the top of the tourist destinations in South America. The transformation is a stark contrast from back in the ’70-the ’00s. More than that, Medellin has now been rebranded as the “Silicon Valley” of Latin America. With technological advancements, Medellin has seen many more digital nomads, tourists and remote workers flock to the city.
But does that mean Medellin is completely safe now?
We spent nearly 4 months living in Medellin, Colombia to see first-hand the safety in the city, how it’s changed from its past and discover what the digital nomad scene is like.
In the blog post, we will share key statistics on Medellin safety and whether it’s safe enough for tourists – whether you’re going alone, as a solo female traveler or as a family.
We are all about enjoying a foreign country but we are also all about being smart while traveling at Two Tickets Anywhere. In the end, we will share the 7x tips and precautions we took that helped us stay safe in Medellin the entire time.
Is Medellin Safe For Tourists Or Is It Too Dangerous?
I don’t want to give a generic answer like that but I feel that’s the only honest way to answer.
Every city in the world has dark corners and danger lurking around. No place is 100% safe! Medellin does have a very dark past but the city has worked hard to transform and evolve into a booming metropolis (which it has done successfully).
With that said, crime has not disappeared in Colombian cities – it is still very much prevalent everywhere. However, it isn’t as bad as it used to be!
The best way to answer that question is to give you our own personal experience after being Medellin digital nomads for 4 months. During that time, NOTHING bad happened to us! We felt very safe in Medellin and we were grateful to NOT have any encounters with petty crime the entire time.
However…that doesn’t mean the crime didn’t happen around us. We heard at least 5-8 different people get robbed during broad daylight or at night! It can happen to anyone and at the end of this blog post, we will share the precautions we took to help you stay safe in Medellin just like we did.
Bottom line: Is Medellin safe? Yes and no. It can be very safe if you are vigilant, careful and aware of your surroundings. But it can also be dangerous if you go to the wrong areas, hang out with the wrong people or give papaya (you’ll see what that means below).
In other words – your safety is up to you!
Medellin Safety Statistics & Facts
Want to get some real numbers on Medellin safety?
You’ve come to the right place!
Here are some key stats fromMedellin Advisors to help answer the “Is Medellin Safe” question:
🌎 Medellin Safety & Crime vs South America: Compared to other South American cities, Medellin is ranked #19 in terms of the highest homicide rates. This shows that it isn’t the MOST violent city on this continent.
🙅♀️ Medellin Safety & Crime vs North America: Medellin is ranked #69 on the crime index. There are many major US cities like Baltimore, Detroit and Chicago that rank higher on the crime index than Medellin.
🦠 Medellin Safety & Crime & COVID impact:Before the pandemic in 2019, there were approximately 25,000 reported accounts of personal robberies. During the first year of the pandemic that obviously decreased to approximately 18,000 as most people were in lockdown. In 2021, as lockdown went away, the reported personal robberies are around 19,000 just a bit above 2020.
📲 Petty crime is the most popular in Medellin.The thing foreigners need to watch out for is petty crimes such as robberies. El Poblado, (the most popular tourist area) had an average of around 5 people robbed per day in 2019, according to Medellin Advisors.
💊 You need to watch out for ‘Scopomaline’. This drug is a powerful substance that can sedate you and put you in a zombie-like state. It’s a popular method for criminals to use when at bars or clubs.
It’s perfectly normal to feel a little nervous about traveling to a country with a dark past but it’s good to get outside of your comfort zone and push yourself (even if your family and friends tell you to stay home). We have found most countries surprise us and we like to experience it for ourselves first-hand rather than what the media tells us.
Medellin is a beautiful city situated in the valley of mountains it’s been dubbed as the ‘City of Eternal Spring’ because of its perfect 24 deg weather.
There’s much more to Medellin than the cartel nowadays.
What Kind Of Crimes Happen In Medellin?
What kind of crimes should you look out for in Medellin? There are definitely all kinds of crimes that exist – narcos, petty crime, scopolamine, scams, and beggars.
Here are the 2 crimes most tourists need to watch out for:
This is the most common crime foreigners and tourists experience. We have heard many stories of people getting robbed late at night and during broad daylight.
Since the pandemic, the poverty rate has increased across Colombia. There are also around 1.75 million Venezuelan refugees that are unable to work and live in extreme poverty.
The poverty rate can sometimes be what drives people to commit street crimes. They have targeted wealthy and touristic neighborhoods because they know that there are smartphones, laptops and money in these areas.
While we were living in Laureles, we read on a NomadList slack channel that someone got robbed (at gunpoint) in broad daylight at a popular cafe, SMASH Avocaderia Laureles. They took his wallet, his phone and all his belongings. We were there for lunch that same day and it happened around 3 hours after we left the restaurant. This can be a very traumatizing experience for anyone.
We also lived in Poblado for a month and we heard of a couple of robberies late at night. If you wander the streets by yourself or walk on the dangerous streets – you can easily be targeted. Calle 10 in Poblado is well-known for people getting swarmed and robbed late at night!
This drug works like a roofie. Criminals can easily slip one into your drink and you become sedated, zombie-like and follow their orders. If you love the nightlife scene, you need to be extra careful because this is a fairly common crime amongst men. You’ll wake up the next day and not know what happened. It can be very scary!
While homicide is a big part of the crime in cities like Medellin, this doesn’t usually happen to tourists very much. Petty theft is usually your only concern as a foreigner in Medellin.
As long as you are vigilant and careful, Medellin is still a very safe city for you to visit for a few days, weeks or months!
Is Medellin Safe To Travel Alone?
Yes, Medellin can be safe for solo travelers that are street smart and it’s best to stick to the popular tourist cities.
Solo travel is something everyone needs to do at least once in their life. While I was on exchange in the Netherlands, I specifically traveled to Portugal all by myself at 20 years old. I was used to traveling with Matthew (my boyfriend now husband/other half of Two Tickets Anywhere), friends from school and family.
Traveling alone allows you to do whatever YOU feel like. Don’t want to see a church? You don’t have to! Want to eat pizza every day? Why not?! It’s freeing to travel solo.
However, it’s slightly more dangerous to travel by yourself than it is with a group or partner. And you might be wondering…” is Medellin safe to explore on your own?”
We believe it is safe in Medellin for solo travelers. While we were living there, we met so many solo travelers – it seemed pretty common! The thing is – you do risk becoming a bit of a target sometimes.
Criminals find it easier to do their crimes when you’re all by your lonesome. Unfortunately, they’re weak like that! As a solo traveler, it’s important to keep street smart and protect yourself at all times. If you feel one hint of danger, follow your instincts and head the other way!
But don’t let the fear get to you because Medellin is a magical city for solo travelers to discover.
Is Medellin Safe For Solo Female Travelers?
Yes – in general, Medellin is safe enough for solo female travelers looking to experience the Colombian culture. During the day, it’s relatively safe while you do need to be more careful at night. The best thing you can do to ensure your safety is to be aware of your surroundings, stay in the right neighborhoods and not get complacent.
As a woman wandering around myself, I have to say I felt pretty safe in Medellin. I wouldn’t say 100% safe but close enough! There’s always that reminder in the back of your mind which helps you not get complacent. Once you put your guards down, we find is the time that petty crimes can take place!
As a woman, it’s important to always be aware of your surroundings no matter where you travel and be vigilant at all times. You never know when danger strikes!
Is Medellin Safe For Digital Nomads?
Yes, Medellin is safe enough for digital nomads to live and work online but you still need to be aware and careful of your surroundings. As a digital nomad couple, we felt pretty safe working from cafes and coworking spaces around the city with our valuable tech setup.
While we were completely safe, I have to be honest and say that I didn’t always ‘feel’ safe. It might just be me and my overthinking about something trouble lurking around the corner. I just didn’t have peace of mind which isn’t great when you’re trying to enjoy a new city.
After living as Medellin digital nomads for nearly 4 months, nothing bad happened to us the entire time we were there. We’re extremely grateful and we know how traumatizing it can be when something bad does happen!
Emergency Numbers To Keep In Your Notes
Want to be extra careful and stay safe in Medellin?
If you ever get into any trouble, here are some numbers you’ll want to have in your back pocket:
- Tourist Police: (1) 3374413
- National Emergency Number: 123
You can call these numbers and see what they can do to help your situation.
Top 7x Tips To Know Before Your Visit – Is Medellin Safe?
You’ve got the lowdown on Medellin safety and crimes. But that’s only half the part of staying safe in the City of Eternal Spring.
You can do your part to keep yourself safe in Medellin. Here are 7 tips we used and learned while living in Medellin for nearly 4 months.
1. Stay In The Right Areas Of The City
The difference can be as little as 1 street corner away from danger.
We’ve felt this in several cities where we are walking around and take a few wrong turns and suddenly realize we were in a bad area.
One of the easiest ways to stay safe is to book your stay in a safe neighborhood/area in Medellin. Usually, staying in these tourist bubbles means you’re less likely to run into trouble (even if they target tourists).
Before you book your Airbnb or hotel, you MUST check the location first! It can make or break your trip and you need to set yourself up to have a safe time in Medellin.
Here’s the safest and most dangerous neighborhoods in Medellin for tourists:
Safest Neighborhoods in Medellin For Tourists
- El Poblado
Avoid These Neighborhoods in Medellin
- La Candeleria/Downtown
Want to know more? Check out our complete guide on where to stay in Medellin here.
2. Don’t Give Papaya aka Don’t Tempt Anyone
“No dar papaya” (Don’t give papaya)!
This local expression simply means that you shouldn’t have anything “sweet” (hence the reference to papaya) out in the open that would make someone target you.
Whenever someone says that expression – your reaction should be to keep your valuables hidden and hold your bag close to your chest. When we did a free walking tour with Real City Walking Tours in the downtown area (which can get dangerous), whenever we walked through a ‘not so safe’ street – the guide would just tell everyone “No dar papaya!”.
Keep your valuables hidden, don’t wander around late at night alone, avoid coming out of clubs alone and don’t flash your wealth in any way (clothes, bags, watches, brands, etc). If you use your common sense and keep your wits about you – you’ll be safe in Medellin.
In other words: Don’t put yourself in a position where someone can target you from a mile away.
Another way to ensure you don’t lose your valuables is to have a second phone or a decoy wallet. Some people bought cheaper phones while they lived in Medellin and carried it with them so if they ever got robbed, they didn’t have to give up their main phone. A decoy wallet can be a small, cheap one that you can hand over in a robbery instead of your real wallet with all your important cards and IDs.
What To Wear In Medellin
Most Colombians dress very well but they know how to not make themselves a target. While we were in Colombia, we kept our clothing really simple but not too simple (like wearing flip-flops, shorts and a t-shirt which is big gringo energy). While you probably can’t avoid looking like a tourist – it helps to make it just a little less obvious.
3. Don’t Argue Or Fight Back
If you ever get into any kind of trouble like petty theft – don’t fight back! It is 100% not worth the risk.
You have no idea what kind of weapon these criminals carry and unfortunately, it’s usually a gun that means life or death. Sometimes, they will point the gun at your face and it’s best to give them whatever they want without any arguments. Other times, they will have a knife hidden away and they will not think twice to stab you if you don’t give them what they want.
Once you’re already in trouble, don’t hesitate and just hand everything over to them. After all, it is just STUFF that is replaceable.
4. Join Local Facebook Groups
The local Facebook groups in Medellin are very active. You can find out about meetups, events, rent apartments and so much more on these Facebook groups. They are very helpful and help you get a little more insight into what life is like in Medellin, Colombia.
Here are some of the best Medellin Facebook groups to join:
- GringoPaisa (Americans In Medellin)
- Medellin Expats
- Digital Nomads Medellin
- Medellin Expat and Tourist Info.
- Medellin Expats and Colombia Insight
These Facebook groups also include some stories of petty theft. People post on the groups to tell the story of what happened to them and where these instances took place.
5. Sit Inside The Restaurants/Cafes
We learned this over time as we watched Colombians at some restaurants.
At first, we loved sitting out on the terraces because the restaurants in Medellin are next level and create an amazing atmosphere. This is totally fine when the restaurant is enclosed from the streets.
However, a lot of the restaurants in Medellin are located close to the streets and sidewalks.
A lot of the petty theft usually occurs like this: there are 2 guys – one driving the motorbike and one ready to get off to rob people. Once they get to a restaurant, the 2nd guy hops off the bike and targets whoever is closest to the entrance of the restaurant. Why?
It’s easy to access and they can get away really quick!
That’s why we started to sit inside the restaurants and cafes instead of close to the entrance. Even if there is a small barrier or a huge arrangement of plants – if you’re in the outdoor section of the restaurants, you’re more vulnerable to petty theft crimes.
Unless it’s a completely closed-off restaurant where it’s not easy to get in and out, we suggest dining in the indoor section of the restaurants you visit.
6. Don’t Wander The Streets Late At Night
This is a no-brainer for most cities you visit – Medellin is no exception.
A lot of the crimes take place after the sun has set and it gets dark. Criminals like the dark because it’s hard to see what they look like and there are fewer people around to witness the street crime.
Use your common sense to ensure you’re not wandering the streets past 10pm or 11pm. If you want to get home past this time, you shouldn’t take the risk and just order an Uber for yourself. Trust me – it’s not worth the $2 savings in an Uber ride.
The people on Facebook groups always wrote, “I was so close to ordering an Uber but I decided to walk and then I got robbed. I regret not ordering it”. If you ever feel a hint of danger or your instincts are heightened – listen to your gut and just don’t take the risk. It’s just not worth it!
7. Be Vigilant On Dating Apps
If you are on Tinder or any other dating apps, you could be a target. A lot of men and women have had horrible experiences where they were drugged and their entire apartments get robbed.
The drug ‘scopolamine’ is very common for criminals to use to induce you into a zombie-like state. Guard your drinks like a hawk on a night out at a bar or club. It’s easy for them or their accomplices to slip it into your drink without you noticing.
BONUS: Get Travel Insurance
Traveling to Medellin without travel insurance?
You might want to rethink that one!
When you have travel insurance it definitely keeps your worries at bay and allows you to have some peace of mind. Anything can happen in Medellin (or anywhere else in the world) and it’s not worth the risk!
We use Safetywing Travel Insurance as digital nomads who travel full-time. We’ve used them since the very start of our journey and we can recommend them if you want a low-cost, affordable and reasonable health insurance. Thankfully, we have never had to claim anything but so far their service has been great.
BOTTOM LINE: Is Medellin Colombia Safe For Tourists To Visit in 2023?
Still wondering… “is Medellin safe?”
Yes, Medellin can be safe for tourists to visit. After nearly 4 months of living in the City of Eternal Spring, we never had any problems or ran into trouble – not once! But again…that’s our personal experience. We have heard some horror stories and if you apply the 7 tips above, you should be just fine in Medellin.
Here’s a recap of the top 7 tips to stay safe in Medellin:
- Stay In The Right Areas Of The City
- Don’t Give Papaya aka Don’t Tempt Anyone
- Don’t Argue Or Fight Back
- Join Local Facebook Groups
- Sit Inside The Restaurants/Cafes
- Don’t Wander The Streets Late At Night
- Be Vigilant On Dating Apps
BONUS: Get Travel Insurance
We hope you don’t let your fear take over. A lot of people told us not to go to Colombia and we are so glad we didn’t listen. We met some of the most friendly people, enjoyed perfect weather and lived out our digital nomad dreams in the top destination.
As always, use common sense and be vigilant no matter where you go in the world.