Safety and Security in Colombia
As you may know, Colombia has earned a reputation of being of very dangerous and violent country. The country is actually suffering from different plagues, such as drug trafficking, kidnapping, guerrillas and even landmines. There are definitely places you MUST avoid. Actually, it is better not to leave the big cities and their areas. The guerrillas have taken control of some parts of the country and the Government has issued a national warning for certain areas, so be sure to check it before coming. Always be vigilant and attentive and do not try to be adventurous because it could really end badly. The best you can do is stay within the area of your school or your city and try to avoid getting in trouble with local people. Usually, famous touristic sites are safe as well.
■ Emergency services
To call emergency services in Colombia, you can dial 132 and you will be in contact with ambulances or with the police. However, you might not be able to speak to an English speaking staff so be sure to learn or to carry with you a few basic sentences in Spanish. As for health insurance, you should really take one before coming because even if facilities are rather good in big cities, in rural or more remote areas you might encounter difficulties and anyway: better safe than sorry. You can also find more information and advice at your consulate or embassy.
■ Political situation
Colombia is a republic and was the first country of South America to have established a constitutional government. The political history of the country is very complicated, with the alternation of periods of stability and periods of serious conflicts between the government and the guerillas. Negotiations have been initiated since 2012 between the Government and the FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forced of Colombia), one of the strongest guerillas in the country.
■ Short trip
Given the unstable situation of the country, it is better not to get around too much. Before considering any short-trip, check at your embassy or on the Colombian government website which areas are ok for you to visit and which are best to avoid.
The rail system is rather small and poorly developed whereas the road-network is quite good, so you can take a bus or rent a car. To drive in Colombia, the insurance is mandatory but pretty cheap. You’ll need a valid driving license from your home country and an international driving license.
Traveling agencies recommend the following places : Cartagena, Bogota, The Coffee Triangle…
■ Mobile phone networks
The mobile operators in Colombia are Tigo, Claro, Movistar, Virgin movil, Uff!Movil and ETB. Claro is the most expensive one but also offer a wide coverage in the country.
You can purchase a pre-paid sim card and pay as you use it, which would be less troublesome than having to sign a contract with a mobile company.
The network isn’t the best in the countryside, but you won’t have much problem in the main cities.