Table of contents
- Is Medellin safe for traveling?
- Is there crime in Medellin?
- What are the safest parts of Medellin?
- Which dangerous parts of Medellin should you avoid?
- General safety tips for visitors to Medellin
- Popular scams in Medellin to watch out for
- Safety items to bring to Medellin
- Safest ways to get around Medellin
- Food and water safety in Medellin
- Safest types of places to stay in Medellin
- Is Medellin safe for family travel?
- Is Medellin safe for solo female travelers?
Tell anyone you’re going to Medellin, Colombia, and they may ask, “Really? Is it safe there?”
If I had only read about Medellin’s troubled past in books and in the news, I’d have the same question. But luckily, this South American city is a great place to visit, and it’s not as dangerous as it may seem.
As we have both stayed in Medellin as well as spent some time living there as expats, we’ll help you find out if Medellin is safe for a vacation, in this guide.
Here’s what you’ll be learning about safety in Medellin:
- Learn some of the best safety tips and precautions for travel in Medellin.
- Get familiar with several common Colombian travel scams you may find in Medellin.
- Discover the safest ways to get around Medellin, as well as what to know about food and water safety in Medellin.
- Take note of which areas in Medellin are safest, and how to avoid dangerous neighborhoods.
Is Medellin safe for traveling?
From our experience and with multiple trips to Medellin as American travelers, we have never experienced crime nor threats in Medellin. Of course, we have been vigilant and cautious, and in this way, we have avoided theft and crime.
Medellin is safe as a vibrant and special travel destination if you act smart. It’s why we’ve spent a month there, twice. We also have good friends (Alex and Ryan) who live there as expats.
To see more about what you can do in Medellin, check out our Medellin travel guide.
Is there crime in Medellin?
In general, yes: there is crime in Medellin. Remember, though: there is also crime in US cities like Chicago, St. Louis and Detroit. Many people find traveling in Medellin even safer than a lot of major US cities (if you’re sticking to the safe parts of Medellin).
Anyone (really, anyone) can be a target for petty theft like iPhone mugging in Medellin. The best thing to do is use my suggestions below of how to avoid it! Regarding avoiding crime in general, stick to the city’s safe neighborhoods, and go to other areas with a local guide or reputable tour operator, if you have concerns.
What are the safest parts of Medellin?
The safest parts of Medellin, especially for being a foreign traveler, are Laureles, El Poblado, Envigado and Sabaneta. Other neighborhoods like Belen also safe; you may just feel the presence of fewer foreigners and less English may be available.
Which dangerous parts of Medellin should you avoid?
Medellin has a lot to see, from the Botero sculptures and museums in Centro, to a tour of Comuna 13. There are places, though, that I’d never go to alone or without a guide.
For anyone who wants to see the best of the city, taking a free Medellin city guided walking tour is ideal. Your local guide will only take you to safe areas to see the top sights.
For areas to avoid, foreigners should stay away from the areas of Centro and Comuna 13 at night, as you will be a target for theft or crime. Areas outside the proven “safe areas” will also be more dangerous, especially for visitors who are not familiar with the lay of the land.
The better way to answer this question is likely, “Go to popular tourist sites during daytime only, and stick to the safe neighborhoods for accommodation, dining and entertainment.” For any other areas of Medellin, it’s best to go with a tour operator or with a local expert, as we have done for tours like the City Transformation Tour.
General safety tips for visitors to Medellin
Here are the tips that’ve helped us stay clear of crime while in Medellin.
Be careful with your phone
As the first thing that comes to mind, watch your phone. While Dan and I have never had our phones stolen in Medellin, we know a handful of foreigners who have.
Thievery for iPhones and smartphones is, not surprisingly, widespread in Medellin. Muggers want phones because they’re easy to grab and they have good resale value.
To protest against this, we have a few tips that have helped us avoid phone theft:
- Carry your phone in a zippered belt bag, money belt or hidden pocket.
- Never keep your phone in your jeans pocket.
- If walking alone at night, only use your phone in well-lit locations where others are around.
- Read and bookmark our list of how to avoid pickpockets while traveling.
Try not to look like a target
This is really challenging, especially if you are lost or using your phone to find your way. If you seem lost and vulnerable, scammers and muggers are more likely to approach you and distract you.
Know where you’re staying and how to get there
On our first weekend out in Medellin with Remote Year, we had a friend who had his apartment address written in his phone, and his phone died. You bet he was alone and couldn’t find his way back, for hours.
Take this as a story of what not to do! Always carry the card of your hotel or have your address written on a piece of paper, rather than only in a phone.
Popular scams in Medellin to watch out for
Much like in any big city (even NYC has scams!), travelers going to Medellin should be familiar with a few common Colombian scams in order to stay clear of them!
Unmarked menus and “foreigner prices”
To sum it up, a friend and I were charged $100 USD to eat a simple meal on a beach where we were the only foreign travelers, and the owner didn’t let us leave until we negotiated and paid at least some of it. Scary.
Menus with no prices or ordering something from a server/owner of a restaurant without discussing a price should always be avoided, but there may be establishments that are experts at tricking you into this. While this may seem like it would happen at eateries geared toward foreign travelers, it’s equally dangerous at places that cater to locals and where you may be the only foreigner singled out to scam.
Dating scams and Tinder scams are rampant throughout South America, and a friend of ours was “nearly” the target of one in Lima, Peru.
In general, be wary of engaging in long conversations before meeting someone for a date in Medellin, in Colombia, or in South America in general. There are scam artists lurking on dating apps and dating websites who want to meet you, a foreigner, and scam you into “paying for their schooling” or “helping them out with some money.”
You never know who (or which multiple people) are behind a scam, and even going on a date with a “local” anywhere but a very public establishment like a restaurant or bar could lead to being cornered into draining you of your cash. Be smart, and go with your gut when making connections on dating apps in Colombia.
Common taxi scams
Throughout the world, taxi scams are VERY common, and I’ve been the target of one of those, in South Africa. Getting in a taxi in Colombia means potentially being in a cab that has a rigged taxi meter, charging you multiple times what your ride should cost, and leaving you with no way to fight it.
It’s also been rumored among travel communities that taxis in Colombia may drive you in circles or “take the long route” to your intended destination, in order to have you pay up more in total cost, and waste your time.
Safety items to bring to Medellin
While Medellin is generally safe and your worst enemy will be petty theft, here are a few products to help out!
No matter how big or small, “wearing” your valuables guarded by a zipper and all within your reach and eyesight is best. Check out all the zippered belt bags I recommend in my list of the best fanny packs for travel. I specifically recommend this stylish lightweight one from Canvelle.
We recommend this in our safety guide for Mexico City, where the same type of theft is common. You can use this to make sure your laptop backpack doesn’t get swiped if you’re outside at a cafe, like one of our favorites, Pergamino, or any of the popular cafes in Medellin.
We got AirTags to put on our luggage and checked items when flying! We can track them and see if they made it off the plane or got stranded (hopefully not). You can use AirTags to put in your valuables like a laptop, phone or wallet, and if they become misplaced, they’re traceable via an app on your iPhone.
Safest ways to get around Medellin
There are quite a few ways to get around Medellin, which is cool! We have never experienced safety issues with any of the below and with the proper precautions, we hope it’ll be the same for you.
Medellin Metro, Buses and Metrocable
Taking the Medellin Metro and Metrocable (during daylight hours) can be fun! Make sure you use maps to ensure you’re heading in the correct direction. Avoid having valuables, or anything, in your pockets, as a crowded train means more commotion and more ways to be distracted should someone reach into your pocket to grab your wallet.
Wear a zippered belt bag, avoid flashing your money, and put away your phone, during the trip to avoid theft. Of all the public transit options in Medellin, public buses within the city are probably the least-frequented by foreign travelers.
Uber has been a safe bet for us as travelers in Medellin. The only thing that may differ from what you’re used to at home when taking Uber or Lyft is that the driver a) may not speak English, so have your Spanish ready and b) may ask you to sit up front so that you look like his/her “friend” due to Uber being semi-maybe-not-so-legal in Colombia.
This blog post from Katie Caf Travel is all about Uber usage in Medellin.
We’ve walked around neighborhoods like El Poblado, Laureles, Centro and the area near the Jardin Botanico, for example. With our wits about us, watching our bags and not wearing anything flashy, we have fared just fine.
At night (the sun sets around 6pm in Medellin year-round), we have stayed close to where we’ve been living or staying, in El Poblado. If we need to walk alone from somewhere, to our accommodation, we try to avoid very dark areas, stick to well-populated streets and maintain close in contact with each other for safety.
Longer-distance bus travel from Medellin
If you are looking at taking any of the best day trips from Medellin and want to ensure safety, I recommend taking a private tour with a van and driver.
Food and water safety in Medellin
Medellin is a place where we have spent time and not had any issues with food! I’ll detail what we did.
Is the food in Medellin safe?
Lucky for me and Dan, we never experienced food poisoning in Medellin, and we were pretty liberal with eating a mix of street food and restaurants! Given, we didn’t eat much meat from the streets (we ate mostly sweets or carbs like breads or vegetarian empanadas).
Eating at restaurants in El Poblado or sit-down restaurants in other parts of the city should fare fine for you. Of course, food poisoning can happen anywhere — even at expensive and nice restaurants.
As for street food, use your judgement (and note that there’s always a chance of getting unlucky). Medellin has plenty of food to buy from small street vendors, especially near metro stations. If something doesn’t look right, or looks old, it’s best to avoid it.
Can you drink the water in Medellin?
This is a valid question, as Medellin (unlike other parts of Colombia) is a city known for having potable tap water. The only other place in Latin America to which I’ve traveled, where the water is clean, is Costa Rica.
While some foreign travelers and expats are cool with trying water right from a sink, you may want to play it safe with bottled filtered water from a store, especially if your trip is short and you won’t be spending time acclimating to a month or more of the local water.
Please trust your own level of comfort with Medellin’s tap water while drinking it during your stay. No two people’s stomachs are the same, and everyone will have a different level of tolerance. For more ideas on preventing health scares, check out my list of how to avoid getting sick during travel.
Safest types of places to stay in Medellin
If you had the luck we did, you’ll find a great assortment of safe places to stay in Medellin. Also, jump back to the top of this guide for a cheat sheet on some quick vetted recommendations.
Here are our top 3 safe places to stay in Medellin
- Top hotel for safe location: Hotel Dann Carlton
- Top hotel for safety features: Hotel Intercontinental Medellín, an IHG Hotel
- Top backpacker hostel for safety: Viajero Hostel Medellin
Renting an apartment
The two times we have had extended stays in Medellin, we lived in apartments or serviced apartments. Both times, we lived in El Poblado, the international neighborhood known most for catering to travelers and expats.
To rent an apartment in Medellin, you can reaver via Airbnb, or for even better value, try a Casacol apartment. Casacol is the biggest apartment property manager in the city, and the buildings are new, clean, safe and have amenities like pools and gyms (depending on the property).
Staying at a hotel
With the growth of popularity of Medellin as an international tourism destination, there is no shortage of hotels. Since the pandemic, there are even more hotels to choose from.
My best advice is to read through reviews online, especially as they pertain to safety. You can search through reviews with the word “safety” as a keyword. I also recommend going off of the recommendations of friends, or people in your travel network, if you have one.
Staying in a hostel
Dan and I are pro hostelers, as you may be able to tell from my guide to the best tips for booking a hostel.
What I like about hostels is that they’re often in excellent locations and take security into account. In Medellin, this may be 24-hour desk staff, locked front doors, lockers or camera surveillance.
Is Medellin safe for family travel?
The quick answer to this question is, yes! Take it from our friends Alex and Ryan who live in Medellin with their toddler. There is a whole list of family-approved safe things to do in Medellin with kids, and it’s why Medellin has a place in our list of the best family-friendly travel destinations.
Here are just a few safe things families can do with a trip to Medellin:
- Visit the Jardin Botanico to see nature and flowers
- Take part in the Sunday Ciclovía, where you’ll see other families, dog walkers, runners and bikers all in streets closed off to traffic
- Take a chocolate tour! This one comes recommended by Alex, who did it with her family.
Is Medellin safe for solo female travelers?
As a woman traveling in Medellin, I have never had any safety issues because I have tried my best never to walk alone at night and to be very careful with my phone and valuables.
As per all the advice above, women who have traveled solo in Colombia and Medellin rarely face safety concerns; however, it depends on how you choose to carry out your trip. If you travel in groups (like organized day trips), avoid walking alone past dark, avoid going on dates with strangers and choose to stay in highly-rated safe accommodations, I believe you can be fine.
Of course, Medellin is a big Colombian city. Therefore, solo female travelers should ALWAYS avoid risky neighborhoods or engaging in higher-risk behaviors like drugs and alcohol. To prepare with some helpful safety products as well as female-specific things, check my list of items to pack for solo female travel.
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