Colombia’s level of safety has had a major turnaround since the nineties. At the height of organized crime and drug trafficking during that time, it was considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world. But today, the situation has changed for the better. Numerous Colombian cities are known as very safe for travelers and expats, while others still have some improving to do.
The safest cities in Colombia are:
- Santa Marta
Safety is a crucial factor when deciding whether or not to visit or move to a new country. It’s extremely important to know the safest places, as well as what level of crime to expect. For this reason, we have written this article with a list of the safest cities in Colombia.
The Safest Cities in Colombia in 2022
With a population of over 3.7 million, Medellin is Colombia’s second largest city. But in reality, Medellin feels more like a collection of many neighborhoods. You can see a wonderful mix of high-rise apartment buildings and low-rise townhomes together with the greenery of the Andes Mountains. However, some neighborhoods are safer than others.
According to a recent survey, 87% of Medellin’s residents are satisfied with their life in the city. 51% of the inhabitants feel safe living there.
Safety in Medellin has improved significantly after the nineties, when crime reached excessive heights. Now, it is even safer than some American cities. However, gangs still operate in the city. There’s an estimated 240 gangs with 5,000 members overall. Nonetheless, regular people are unlikely to get hurt, as gang violence is typically concentrated to their targeted rivals.
These days, Medellin is the first choice for expats and digital nomads due to its safety, large size, diversity and countless entertainment and dining options.
You will also find that more people speak English in Medellin than in other Colombian cities. It’s also relatively easy to find English-speaking doctors, lawyers, bankers and accountants to handle your professional needs.
Barranquilla is the largest city on the northern Caribbean Coast of Colombia. With a population of over two million people, it is the fourth-largest city, and it’s also known as one of the safest cities in the country.
While it is considered safe by many expats who live there, a recent study found that only 33% of its residents feel safe. 19.3% of the inhabitants of Barranquilla have been victims of some sort of crime in the last two years.
Barranquilla is also a port city that hosts the second most well-known Caribbean carnival in the world. Its weather is very comfortable, generally breezy, and not very humid. The city has excellent restaurants, nightlife, reliable infrastructure, medical care, transportation, etc.
The coastal city of Santa Marta was ranked as the fourth best city to live in Colombia in 2021. With a relatively large population of 454,000 people, it’s also one of the safest places on this list.
Yet, not too long ago, Santa Marta was one of the 50 most dangerous cities in Colombia and the world. Thanks to all the reform efforts of the government and the locals, the city has reduced crime rates drastically and become one of the safest places to live in the country.
Such improvements were possible due to an increase in police presence and investment in city wide security. Today 56% of residents feel safe while living in their city.
As an expat, you can enjoy Santa Marta’s beautiful beaches, its national park along the coast and the highest coastal mountain range in the world. The city also has a warm, tropical climate, which is perfect for anyone who craves the outdoors.
The Santa Marta area also offers history, beautiful white sandy beaches, water activities, ecotourism, trendy restaurants and a growing nightlife. Overall, Santa Marta offers safety, a high standard of living, quality gastronomy and low costs.
The city of Bucaramanga is located in north-central Colombia, and it is one of the safest places in the country. Approximately 525,000 people live there.
Only 12.5% of Bucaramanga’s residents have experienced some type of crime in the last year– one of the lowest figures in the entire country. With the homicide rate having dropped more than 10% recently, 39.7% of its inhabitants feel safe living there.
Bucaramanga is also a modern city with excellent public transportation, year-round spring weather and a newly expanded airport.
The cost of living is even less expensive than many parts of Medellín, as well as the Coffee Triangle.
The nickname of Bucaramanga is “The City of Parks,” as residents and visitors are spoiled with 160 parks that the city has to offer. Furthermore, it has gorgeous mountain views that surround pedestrian-friendly streets.
In addition to being one of the safest cities in Colombia, it is also one of the most prosperous in Latin America. In terms of cost of living, Bucaramanga is one of the most affordable cities in Colombia.
Manizales is a city in the mountainous coffee-growing region of Colombia. As the capital of the Caldas department in the central part of the country, it’s also the safest city in the country. Manizales has remained this way for several years as a result of 71% of the residents feeling safe living there. The total population of Manizales is around 500,000.
Additionally, the number of homicides was recently reduced by 39.2%, and suicides by 30%. This clearly shows a general improvement in the safety of the city. Furthermore, Manizales is also known as the most ecological city in Latin America. It’s a beautiful destination for visiting, thanks to its nature, architecture and coffee.
Another survey has shown that 83.9% of the people see Manizales as a safe city. For comparison, in cities like Bogotá, Cúcuta and Quibdó, less than 15% of residents feel safe.
Manizales is also the second-best city to live in Colombia. It is known as the “city of open doors” due to the hospitality and kindness of the local people. Despite being a relatively small city, the quality of life in Manizales is better than most of the more prominent cities in the country.
Pereira is located in the center of the Golden Triangle, in the foothills of the Andes (western Colombia), and it’s a growing center for trade and commerce. Around 500,000 live there.
The safety rate is high compared to the national average: in the last few years, the homicide rate was reduced by 48.8%, with 47.3% of its residents feeling safe living there.
Pereira is the largest of the three cities that make up the Coffee Triangle, and it offers a high level of safety. It’s a great option for a simple, yet sophisticated lifestyle with all the comforts of the first world: hotels, shopping malls, fine dining, open-air nightclubs, cafés, quality healthcare and reliable public transportation.
One misfortune of the city is that due to the several earthquakes, Pereira has lost many of its original buildings. Nowadays, modern constructions dominate the city. Therefore, you can see a mix of upscale neighborhoods with high-rise apartment buildings and a few historic buildings downtown.
Although Colombia is still working on its safety and security, these cities are your best bet when looking for a stress-free life in this beautiful South American country.
What is the safest city to live in Colombia?
According to recent polls and research, mountainous Manizales is the safest city in Colombia. As we said, it’s the country’s coffee capital, where you can see countless coffee trees in the surroundings.
The city is also called “San Francisco of Colombia” due to its steep hills. Manizales is a modern city with all the conveniences and services you need for a comfortable daily life.
Furthermore, the city has a real European, small city feel to it. Some liken it to a small town in the Swiss Alps. The air is always fresh, and the temperature is typically a little cool.
What is Colombia’s most dangerous city?
Cali, also known as Santiago de Cali, is the most dangerous and violent Colombian city. It’s located in southwest Colombia and has over two million residents.
Cali doesn’t have the best safety reputation, as it has received hundreds of thousands of people from rural areas who escaped drug violence, civil war and natural disasters. This led to the creation of large and poor neighborhoods.
The most dangerous district of Cali is Aguablanca. More than half of the city’s murders take place there. At night, police are out in full force, arresting anyone suspected of criminal activity.
The 1990s was the most violent time when the Cali and Medellin cartels waged a vicious war to control global cocaine distribution. By the mid-2000s, violence had dropped. Furthermore, Cali has been making efforts to improve its economy in recent decades. However, by 2009, Cali’s murder rate began to rise again.
While tourists regularly visit the city, we don’t recommend that anyone should live there. If you do visit, you should take precautions.
How dangerous is living in Colombia?
Since the creation of the Republic of Colombia, the county didn’t enjoy an economically stable environment. There have been many conflicts between the liberal and the conservative parties. The rivalry was so tense that Colombia experienced ten years of the civil war called “Violencia” between 1948 and 1958.
After that, Pablo Escobar started his cocaine venture in the jungle, rising crime rates again. But the situation improved progressively since the early 2000s thanks to a military presence, actions from the government and the will of the Colombian people.
Yet, Colombia is still behind many countries when it comes to safety, including some Latin American destinations. Overall, you should be careful when visiting Colombia or living there.
In fact, the latest Global Peace Index ranked Colombia 144th out of 164 countries. Some reasons for such a poor performance are:
- high levels of access to weapons
- internal conflict
- displaced people
Petty theft (mugging and pickpocketing) is still an issue in the country, and there are still volatile areas where it’s advised you shouldn’t go.
However, Colombia’s kidnapping rate has dropped by 90% over the past 15 years. Avoiding sketchier areas (like lonesome rural highways) can also dramatically reduce your risk of danger.
Nevertheless, all those factors don’t stop tourists and digital nomads from coming to the country. In the end, Colombia is a far safer country to visit than it was a decade ago. Yes, big cities, such as Bogota and Medellín, still have their dangerous areas. However, there are parts of Colombia where you face minimal risk of anything bad happening. We described them above.
For example, in cities like Manizales, Pereira, and Provincias Santander, more than 45% of the residents feel safe in their neighborhoods, and in the rest of the municipalities, less than 30% feel safe. Yet, in Bogotá, Cúcuta, and Quibdó, the percentage of feeling safe is less than 15%.
According to the surveys, people are satisfied with their life and safety level in the following places:
- Medellín is the city best valued by its inhabitants, where 87% of those surveyed are satisfied with this city.
- Manizales (85% of respondents satisfied)
- Barranquilla (84% of respondents satisfied)
- Santa Marta (81% of respondents satisfied)
- Bucaramanga (78% of respondents satisfied).
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