Travel safety specialist Phil Sylvester put on his journalist‘s hat (it‘s a trilby with a card in the band that says PRESS) and did some investigating. No judgment about the beauty of the scenery, the friendliness of the people or the charm of the culture, all of which we're assured are top notch.
Colombia is not as bad as it once was, but you need to use common sense and caution to stay safe.
The number of kidnappings is down hugely from its peak in 2000, but it's a threat that occasionally exists.
The southwestern and northeastern parts of the country which border with Ecuador and Venezuela are dangerous, and many foreign governments recommend against any travel to those regions because of the risk of kidnap or being caught in the crossfire of a drug war.
In February 2010 the French government declared parts of Colombia to be "safe": adding Santa Marta, Barranquilla, Bogota, Tunja, Bucaramanga, as well as the Zona Cafetero departments of Quindio, Risaralda and Caldas to Cartagena and San Andres as destinations approved for travel.
Traveler forums (people who've actually been there) overwhelmingly rave about the place; they say it's beautiful and it's safer than other South American countries... as long as you stick to the popular tourist destinations. Which seems to be the key: Going off the beaten path might not be the best idea, and when you're in the big cities ask locals or other travelers which areas to avoid.
There‘s a 2005 movie called Secuestro express, about the kidnapping of a rich businessman's daughter, set in Venezuela. It describes the capital, Caracas, as "the most dangerous city on the planet." That was probably a promotion stunt to cover up for the fact the movie wasn't very good. However, kidnapping is one of the dangers of South America, a crime particular to the region, and particularly lucrative for the criminals.
Unfortunately, other South American countries haven't been as successful as Colombia at combating kidnap.
You get kidnapped for an hour, or however long it takes for them to drive you around town visiting ATMs, emptying your bank account, and maxing-out your credit card. Or they hold you for as long as it takes your family (or travel companion) to do the same.
It usually begins when the victim gets into a taxi. The driver will go around the corner where the bandits jump in. They 'persuade' you to cooperate with knives, guns, a punch or two, and unfortunately for women, sexual assault.
If this happens to you, your travel insurance will cover medical expenses for injuries they give you, and you'll have access to an emergency assistance helpline that will put you in touch with consular officials and experts who can help you deal with the psychological trauma - invaluable stuff. But you'll have to argue with your bank about the credit card bill.
Perhaps you should take a second credit card with a low limit to South America, and leave the main card at home, or locked in the hotel safe (not the room safe, they might take you back there and force you to open it).
You can buy at home or while traveling, and claim online from anywhere in the world. With 150+ adventure activities covered and 24/7 emergency assistance.
Although not every Colombian is out to cheat you, knowing what to look out for will prevent you from getting caught up in common scams.
Kidnapping in Colombia: How likely is it to affect you? We've got all the information you need and the areas you may wish to avoid on your next trip.