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Colombia solo- some concerns

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London, United...
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Colombia solo- some concerns

Hi all,

I am planning on going on a 3 week solo backpacking trip of Colombia in July and i am completely torn between whether it is a good idea or not. So my main concerns are...

1) Safety- i think i have read every single blog and article from the first 10 pages that come up when you Google "Colombia safety" so i have a good idea of what its all about...don't walk about by your self at night, check every area before you go to make sure you know which parts are safe, don't hail taxis, don't take the metro or buses....so with all these things to consider, i'm thinking i will constantly on the look out for potential dangers and i wont actually relax and enjoy my time there. Also i have read a lot of cartagena is unsafe and you shouldn't be walking around alone due to robberies and thefts, i plan on spending most my time on the coast so this so does not fill me with confidence.

2) I do not speak any Spanish- now if i decide to go to Colombia i will be spending the next few months cramming as much of the beautiful language into my head as possible. However, i realise that even with this cramming, my Spanish is going to be very limited.

3) Taxi situation- all the advice says not to hail a taxi from the street and to instead ring for one each time. Like i said, i do not speak Spanish so if i'm out and about and i've been exploring a town and then decide to head back to the hostel, how on earth do i call i Spanish speaking taxi firm and explain my exact location and where i want to go to...let alone understand what they may say back? does this not really affect your ability to explore and have a flexible itinerary?

Colombia just looks so beautiful and a place i REALLY want to go to after reading some amazing reviews but as an inexperienced solo traveler (i do plan on meeting as many people as possible in hostels etc however) my lack of Spanish and the amount of warnings i have read about, I'm wondering if it is a good idea?

any advice on the points above would be greatly appreciated and my apologies for the long post...i am very much the novice when it comes to backpacking or traveling outside of Europe.

Thanks!

Bogota, Colombia
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1. Re: Colombia solo- some concerns

Hi Mike

Of course you can take metro and city buses! For intercity buses, well it depends on the bus route and the areas crossed. But it is usually fine.

Taxis, yes it is safer not to hail taxis, especially at night. Remember we are talkign about levels of risk. The risk is limited, but its exists.

With limited Spanish, you may want to have a smartphone, with a data plan, and taxi apps, like TAPPSI. Very, very useful for people with limited (or no) Spanish.

Yes, discovering Colombia is a very good idea. Just make sure to know where you're going. The major touristic areas are safe. It can get grittier when you start to travel in more remote areas, especially near borders (Venezuela, Panama, Ecuador).

CDY
Medellin, Colombia
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2. Re: Colombia solo- some concerns

If you feel better about you can have the hotel call a taxi, i have taken taxis in Medellin, Bogota, Cali, Cartagena and numerous small towns, including moto taxis where you just jump on the back of the bike, almost never called one, just grabbed it in the street, but I do speak Spanish.

Buses and the metro are fine, no where is perfectly safe, just dont do stupid things like getting falling down drunk, getting involved in drugs or hanging with prepagos- all much much more dangerous activiies than taking a taxi.

Stop reading too much on-line, just go , use common sense and enjoy yourself.

Medellin
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3. Re: Colombia solo- some concerns

I am not sure who is saying taxis in Colombia are dangerous. In general they are very safe, even to hail off the street. In 10 years I have had no major problem, and even if you are worried, any store or shop will call one for you. The main worry (more pain in the butt) is that in Cartagena and some pueblos they are not metered, which can mean a small overcharge. And if your alternative is a different latin american country, prepare yourself for a lot worse taxi problems (ie not bad just be more careful)

Bogota, Colombia
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4. Re: Colombia solo- some concerns

I've never had any problem with taxis either (well, nothing worse than being overcharged). And I am just hailing them on the street 80% of the time.

There is one situation when I get more cautious: At night when I am coming back from a night out. In that case, I am asking the restaurant/bar/disco to call a taxi for me. And anyway the majority of the Colombians do the same, or use a smartphone taxi app, as I mentioned earlier.

Spending most of my time in Bogota, I am a massive user of taxis. I do use public transportation also. The local bus system, transmilenio, has the huge advantage of providing a more predictable time of transportation than taxis.

I agree with Bicks about taxis in Cartagena. As a tourist, there is no way to know the proper price. There are official prices though, and they are made public. But frankly they are really difficult to understand if you don't have a good grasp of the city.

London, United...
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5. Re: Colombia solo- some concerns

Thank you so much for all of your advice. Very much appreciated.

I think the taxi app sounds like a good idea, i would just need to sort a phone for when i am out there as using UK mobile contract data plan would be expensive.

i think there is always the danger of reading too much into these things online, I'd kick my self if i didn't go so i think my decision is made! thanks again.

one other thing, have any of you been to taganga? i hear it is the popular destination to meet other backpackers but i also hear it is a bit dingy and there is a lot of crime on tourist there. Wondered what you guys thought? better alternatives? cheers!

Medellin
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6. Re: Colombia solo- some concerns

My opinion only; it is a dingy, dirty hole and I cannot understand why so many backpackers love it. There are many places much more beautiful. Maybe a half day visit. More a sort of hippy pot smoking hangout place.

UK it's a OK
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7. Re: Colombia solo- some concerns

Just a little to add to the advice already given

- if you're out and about sight seeing there is a good chance there will be hotels / guest houses, go to one of these and ask if they would call a taxi for you

- being able to speak some Spanish will increase your enjoyment / experience but you'll be surprised how much you will pick up as you go along. Assuming of course you don't spend all your time with English speaking back packers

- where ever you go in the world there are dangers, including London. Use your street smarts, continue with the research but don't believe everything or become paranoid

Bogota, Colombia
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8. Re: Colombia solo- some concerns

pot and other substances.

Well to be honest there is a relaxed atmosphere in Taganga, and an international feel.

It is really slow paced, careless. The problem is that hostels, bars, and restaurants also are slow paced and careless. Booze can be bought at any hour of the night, despite the laws, and police patrols just don't care.

Its a small village with very deficient infrastructures. Most of the streets turned unpaved a long time ago, they have electricity problems and now water supply problems. And yes some places are really dirty. Police forces are notorious to be highly inefficient (or maybe even worse). There's a number of handycraft sellers, mostly South American backpackers (loads of argentinians).

You have to appreciate the hippie atmosphere. It is far from being everybody's taste.

To illlustrate, a typical secondary street in Taganga:

http://www.karibik-trip.com/_files/bilder/faq/Taganga%20(45).JPG

London, United...
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9. Re: Colombia solo- some concerns

phone: if your uk phone warranty if finished, just have it unlocked and then pick up a prepaid sim in colombia. (unlocking phones often voids the warranty, but not 100% of the time)

second-hand smart phones are available in SA and often cheaply. many are stolen, but also many people will sell theirs when they upgrade.

Harrisburg...
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10. Re: Colombia solo- some concerns

Hailing a taxi on the street, despite what you have read, is fine. Taxi drivers are at far greater risk than their passengers....by, say, 100 to 1. There are exceptions--bad areas you wouldn't be in in the first place, and late-night zones where a driver might plausibly be looking for drunks to rob--but in general it's not a statistically significant worry. The worst thing likely to happen is that your driver will inexplicably think you meant Candelaria the southern slum rather than Candelaria the colonial neighborhood as started to happen to me several years ago but I quickly set him straight.