Colombia is quickly becoming one of South America's holiday hotspots. The violent crime and chaos that kept tourists away in the past has been drastically reduced over the last decade. Particular progress has been made combatting that worst of travelling nightmares, kidnapping.
For decades the citizens of Colombia were caught in the middle of conflict between left-wing guerrilla groups, far-right paramilitaries and drug cartels. Kidnapping was increasingly used as a terror tactic and ransoms provided a source of finance, along with cocaine production. Though Colombia is fighting the war on drugs, the cocaine trade still continues. Over 360 tonnes have been seized so far in 2017, including 12 tons in November found in banana plantations near the Colombia-Panama border. Due to increased drug seizures, the incidence of the crime has fallen, at least in the major cities.
The danger is greatest in the far south and northeast of the country where rebels and drug cartels hide out in the remote mountains and thick jungle. For tourists this makes things pretty easy: Most of the major cities and tourism draw cards lie outside the danger zones. The key is to avoid travelling too far off the beaten path and to stay out of rural areas. Luckily this doesn't apply to the gorgeous Zona Cafetera, where Colombia's coffee production is centred.
Travelling by night isn't a good idea. Night buses might be a convenient way to combine sleep and travel times but they are more often targeted for robberies and kidnapping. It's also best to stick to the big national bus companies like Expreso Palmira, Bolivariano, Berlinas, Expreso Brasilia, Copetran and Rapido Ochoa. They tend to take more direct routes and are less likely to stop for roadside passengers along the way, which can be risky. Domestic flights are relatively cheap in Colombia, with some airlines offering great promotional deals to rival bus prices. It's worth checking online before you buy a bus ticket.
Hire cars are sometimes targeted in robberies and abductions, especially on tough rural roads where a slow moving car is an easy target. If you do want to drive yourself make sure you stick to the major highways and don't stop unless you're in a populated area. Try to keep the petrol tank topped up so you're not forced to stop in danger zones.
Carjacking can be an issue in the cities so remember to keep your doors locked at all times. Be wary at intersections, especially at night, and don't hang around if you think you're in danger.
Secuestro Expresso or express kidnapping can occasionally be a concern for tourists. The drive-thru of the abduction world, victims are usually not held for long, just enough time to tour a town's ATMs and drain any bank accounts or credit cards. Middle class locals are the most common victims but travellers still need to be vigilant to avoid being targeted.
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Colombia, the South American country with a frightening reputation for warring drug barons and kidnappings, is a hot new destination for travelers. Here's what you need to know.
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