Staying safe in Colombia, a security checklist for visitors

Posted on Sep 3 2014 - 4:03pm by Today News
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Traveling in Colombia can be the experience of a lifetime; however, it can pose certain personal security risks; a security consultant lists four recommendations for safe passage through the South American country.

Ben Hockman, security expert for leading global risk consultancy, told Colombia Reports that there have been dramatic improvements in the security situation in Colombia during the last decades. However, many parts of the country remain too dangerous to travel, especially for a foreigner who doesn’t blend in naturally with the local environment.

Hockman believes that the key to safe travel in Colombia is planning, which can be categorized in four areas: logistics, communication, personal security awareness, and emergency planning.

1. Logistics

“Always research how to reach destinations, how to get away from them, and how to travel around your destination once you are there. It’s important when traveling to fully study, research and understand your destination and the specific risks which apply to that environment,” Hockman stated.

Hockman advises travelers to take a plane and avoid road travel in possible. Due to the frailties of the infrastructure in parts of Colombia, traveling by air is in fact, frequently the only option.

However, should you insist on the full road experience either by bus or by car, Hockman advises that “as a rule of thumb when traveling by road is never to travel alone and to travel during daylight hours, particularly in rural locations, where there could be security threats,” said Hockman.

Traveling in cities can pose different kinds of threats and different solutions.

“…It’s important when traveling to fully study, research and understand your destination and the specific risks which apply to that environment.”

“If there is a security problem in the cities, it’s typically related to street crime or micro-level drug trafficking often affiliated with big cartels or guerrilla groups,” elaborated Hockman.

Getting taxis off the street should definitely be avoided. Plenty of smartphone applications exist, designed purely to enable people to avoid jumping into a taxi on any street corner.

Taxis can be a great way to get around, but some taxi drivers may not work for a formal company. For travelers in big cities like Bogota or Medellin, taking a cab off the street can pose a significant security risk.

If you don’t have a smartphone, you can ask a hostel or a hotel to call a taxi for you. Should you be on the street, it is easy to go in to a cafe or a restaurant and spend a little money and then ask them to call a taxi to pick you up.

2. Communications

“Always make sure to have a way of getting in contact with people in the case of an emergency. A good tip is to not only rely on one source of communication, the ideal is to bring multiple phones with different networks to increase the chances of obtaining a signal in all destinations,” Hockman recommended.

Situation reports can also be a good idea. The concept is to make an agreement of certain times a day or week, where you call a colleague, a friend, or a family member to give them a brief update on your location and what you plan to do.

“…A good tip is to not only rely on one source of communication, the ideal is to bring multiple phones with different networks to increase the chances of obtaining a signal in all destinations.”

The contact person will know where you’ve been, where you’re going, and with whom you’ve been in contact, and with this information the contact person can take appropriate and pre-agreed action if you should miss one or several scheduled calls.

When traveling to secluded places, it is also a good idea to invest in a tracker, a GPS-system, or a satellite phone, which can help you get in contact with the outer world or simply broadcast where you are. Also, it is advised to check out “blackspots” with the tracker operator before you set out, added Hockman.

3. Personal security awareness

“Always be aware of the environment you are in,” stressed Hockman, which means you should be considering all possible risks, including health, crime, and other aspect of your trip that could pose a danger.

“If you do not speak Spanish, you immediately become an even greater target, because the assumption about foreigners often is that they’re rich.”

“For instance what is happening immediately around you? Also what is the general security situation in the area you’re in?”

The ability to blend in is not necessarily only influenced by your foreign appearance.

“If you do not speak Spanish, you immediately become an even greater target, because the assumption about foreigners often is that they’re rich,” warned Hockman.

Therefore, it is not advised to walk through the streets talking loud in your American or British accent, sporting the bling-bling. It’s good advice to keep key words and phrases written down and practice a few standard sentences, to minimize your obviously foreigner features.

“Should you be traveling on business, try to avoid making reservations in the name of your employer, or giving any information that suggests you work for a wealthy multinational business,” Hockman cautioned.

If you indicate that you’re traveling on behalf of a company, you increase your market value, which could make you a more attractive target for robbery or express kidnapping etc.”

“Another important thing to remember is to keep a low profile both as a business traveller and as a tourist. Do not wear expensive clothes, jewelry, or other accessories that draw unnecessary attention to you,” endorsed the security expert.

4. Emergency plan

“This point is closely related to the three former recommendations, but basically it suggests to always have a plan of how to get away from the place you are, if a major incident should occur,” said Hockman.

One should know the fastest and safest transportation methods to get away should a situation develop.

“In a landscape like Colombia, changes happen quickly both for the better and for the worse. For that reason, it is a good idea to keep updated on the security situation until right before you leave, and also during your trip, if possible.”

“In a landscape like Colombia, changes happen quickly both for the better and for the worse. For that reason, it is a good idea to keep updated on the security situation until right before you leave, and also during your trip, if possible,” the security consultant advised.

Additionally, it is highly recommended to know who to get in contact with at a local level if any health problems, security risks, or other emergencies should occur, and to make a list of those contacts.

In terms of medical emergencies, it can be lifesaving to have your medical history written down in both English and Spanish for people to read, should you need medical care.

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