Colombia is synonymous with news of drugs, kidnappings and murders. But ask any traveler who has traveled through this incredible country recently and they’ll tell you there’s nothing to worry about – as long as you go in there prepared and keep your wits about you.
Travel scams are performed by cunning locals all around the world, and in Colombia there are a few scams to watch out for.
If you’re in a seedy area and a policeman stops and asks to check your pockets or to verify documents, request to go to a police station or hotel to do it. It’s happened before; a corrupt/fake policeman has either stolen money from the foreigner’s pockets or planted drugs – with the foreigner having to pay a hefty bribe.
How to avoid it: Always leave your passport at the hotel and only carry a photocopy and entry stamps.
Beware of people who try to sell you magazines or stickers when sitting at outside restaurants. During the short encounter and mild distractions, they quietly steal your phone from under the magazines.
How to avoid it: Never leave valuables on the table or bags on the back of chairs that face the street.
Vendors sometimes set the price much higher than it should be. During the negotiation process when the price drops, the buyer feels proud of their negotiating skills, and the vendor is paid an appropriate price.
How to avoid it: It’s always good to know the average costs of things before you start haggling.
Prices often denote quality and authenticity, so if the price of a supposedly genuine item is too cheap, it could be fake.
How to avoid it: Ask your hotel where you can find legitimate locally produced items.
To avoid being ripped off by a street vendor, never show how much money you have until you have agreed upon a price. If the vendor sees you have a large note, he might not be so inclined to haggle with you.
How to avoid it: Another way to get a good deal is to arrive at a stall with a big smile and a friendly buenos días señor! Keep in mind that the starting price is not always the final price — there is always room for a bit of negotiating.
Before you get in a taxi, always agree on a price and ask if he has change for a large note (if you don’t have small ones).
Pay attention during the money exchange, often, when a traveler hands over a 20,000 note to the driver, he distracts you for a moment and then tells you, showing a 2,000 note, “Oh, you only gave me $2,000”.
Or, you hand the driver a 50,000 note and he returns the note saying, “No change”. You insist that’s all you have and magically he finds change. The next day you try to pay with that 50,000 note that he gave back to you, and you’re told it is fake.
How to avoid it: Try to always carry small banknotes and always check returned notes to see if they are fake.
When taking taxis, pay attention and use an offline GPS to ensure that you are going in the right direction, and not going around in circles, wasting time so that you end up paying more. The safest option is Uber, where your ride is tracked at all times. Make sure the driver keeps the app open.
How to avoid it: Tell them you've taken that particular route before - even if you haven't. That way they think you're onto them, so they're less likely to take the long way.
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