In a world where “safety” dangles by a fraying rope, we must consider its implications before we buy our tickets. Is it safe traveling to Colombia? And what about Pereira? Even the most lion-hearted would much rather relax at ease while on vacation. We are here to help you put your safety concerns to bed, with some information and wisdom.

Safe Traveling to Colombia

Firstly, whatever the American travel advisory websites say, they seem to grossly over-state or generalize with a broad brush. And then we wonder why we are called paranoid. Regardless, there are some concerns you should be aware of, we would never want you to feel under informed. The best way to ensure your safety is to create a couple habits that can help keep you safe, once you decide to buy the ticket, and take the ride. Because, for many of us, the most dangerous thing we will ever encounter, is wanting to stay.

The Cold Hard Facts

For people traveling to Colombia, security is a good question. And, we are going to try to give you some straight information regarding crimes. According to numbers by local newspaper El Diario, or The Daily, we have seen some increase in security in Pereira. We also checked their numbers against the numbers in “Como Vamos” for Pereira, an initiative to see “how we are doing” through a series of public surveys. Here are a few of the numbers from both sources, which are listed at the bottom of this article.

  • The number of physical injury cases dropped from 1,805 in 2012 to 1,659 in 2015. Not a very big drop. Nothing to see there.
  • The number of homicides dropped from 170 in 2012 to 146 in 2015. Again not a very big drop. And Pereira does seem to continue to fall below the national average a bit. According to El Tiempo, the average rate of homicides in Colombia is 25.9 killings/100,000 inhabitants. In Pereira, we have over 800,000 people. Multiply 25.9 x 8 = 207.2 homicides compared to only 146 and slowly improving. If we were to compare it to St. Louis, Missouri USA, where the rate is almost double the national murder rate of Colombia at 40 killings/100,000 inhabitants. It’s almost idyllic here.
  • 51% of those surveyed felt safe in Pereira, compared to only 45% in Medellin
  • Only 10% of Pereiras inhabitants feel that crime is being allowed in their city, compared to 18% of those in Medellin.
  • Manizales wins the race as a place that Colombians are proud and happy to live in, Pereira is a close second, with Medellin third. Check out this Manizales investment opportunity


Let’s put the previous information into perspective

General safety of the public is average here. There are plenty of accidents and hurts that happen. This is the US in the 80’s before seatbelt laws. (In Colombia only front-seat must wear seat-belts) Over-congested roadways in much of Colombia ensure there will always be some risk to drivers and passengers.

Pereira hasn’t grown as fast as places like Bucamaranga has, in the last couple years, but it is out-growing the current transport system. Future plans are in place to include a cable car up a mountain as a touristic feature, but we aren’t holding our breath till we see them break ground.

That being said, one project that did recently finish, the one way Circunvalar.  It has already made a difference in the traffic flow, and seems to be helping with that part of the city. There are at least a couple projects underway in various parts of the city dealing with traffic flow issues. Expect to see improvement in the next few months over by the Viaduct bridge, as they finish up some traffic flow work.

People get killed here, less than Medellin but proportionate to the size of the city with no usually large outbreaks. And, most people who get killed in Colombia are playing mafia games. Take note. Also, we are below the national average for Colombia and not even half the murder-rate of St. Louis, USA.

We feel safe here. Or, half of us do. The city polling initiative “Pereira Como Vamos” reports that 51% of Pereiranos feel safe in their city. There is a strong tradition of “insecurity” especially among the mid to upper classes where a few years ago them or their children were being kidnapped. I would say the other half is the average Joe citizen who lives his life

Pereira has its corruption. No doubt, city leaders everywhere tend to sell their soul to the devil in pieces, some for the now, and the rest for later. But, it doesn’t seem to be as bad, or as obvious maybe, as other places. We definitely don’t have the heavy homicide rate Medellin does…

Risks to Pereira

Earthquake: Several fault lines run along the Colombian Andes mountains. In 1999, there was a significant earthquake that destroyed parts of Armenia and damaged buildings in Pereira. You will feel the occasional “my-building-just-moved-in-a-big-circle” effect, but no worse than California.

Volcano: There are at least 2 major strata volcanoes that are within “ash-fall” distance of Pereira. Due to glaciers on top the risk that is most common are lahir flows. A lahir flow is created when the volcano erupts. The lava picks up mud and rapidly melting snow, and then takes a slalom ride to the bottom of the mountain. In 1985, the pueblo Armero disappeared from the map and many lives were lost, due to a lahir flow. Pereira is not in the direct path of any lahir flow areas. Both are Stratovolcanoes. So if they explode, instead of flow, we would see a Pompeii-like effect take place.

Mafia Crime: The biggest threat to anyone living in Colombia isn’t necessarily the civil war out in the jungle, but the mafia crime in the cities. Since I have lived here, 3 “conocidos” or acquaintances, of my husband have been killed by mafia related violence. The best way to avoid this is to never run for political office, avoid illegal business dealings, and don’t borrow money. Drug cartels and guerrillas are generally protected by Senators and local politicians. Oh and ladies, watch out for young guys with lots of money and too much time on their hands, women are suffering in this deadly cycle too.

Common Street Crime: This topic we are going to address  in more detail below. Common street crime is the most common form of delinquency the average tourist or expat will encounter. Pickpocketing in large crowds, Scopolamine druggings and robbery have all been committed in Pereira to the unaware victim who found themselves in the wrong place, at the right time. We are going to teach you simple habits that can actually help to prevent this from ever happening to you.

Sex Tourism: The lowest of the low, the worst of the worst. Unfortunately, Colombia is known for its sex tourism. This is considered a crime against humanity, and should always be taken very seriously. Prostitution is legal in Colombia. Brothels are not. You can pick up a street walker, but she has to be able to show proof of her monthly medical exam.

Safety Information and Advice for Expats and Anyone Traveling to Colombia

Believe it or not, you have a choice. Most crimes that happen have some commonalities which are important to note:

  1. The victim was distracted, upset, showing submissive/worried/low self-awareness styles of body language.
  2. The crime was committed at night in area with less activity, less vigilance, less passing foot traffic.
  3. High volume of street activity with plenty of distractions, opportunities for sleight of hand practices and take advantage.
  4. The victim showed themselves to be possessors of physical monetary value related to goods or appearance.

Some basic Spanish easy-to-use security-related vocabulary:

Ayuda-me! Help me!

Policia: Police

Seguridad: Security

Crimen: Crime/Criminal

Pare! Stop!

Me duele aqui. It hurts here.

Donde estas? Where are you?

Estoy en la esquina de calle 22 con carrera 7. I am at the corner of 22nd street and 7 road/street.

No dar papaya. Don’t give someone an advantage.

Our Interview with Colonel Moreno

Colonel Moreno

Pereira City Guide spoke Colonel Moreno (2nd in command head honcho) of the Policia Metropolitana de Perera, and here is what he had to say about staying safe in Pereira. 

Remember, Pereira in general, is a very relaxed city, one of the safest in Colombia. Here are the facts about staying safe:

What precautions are in place to ensure safety in Pereira?

Colonel Moreno: Bueno. La ciudad Pereira. Para llegar aca estar por aeropuerto matecana esa terminal hubo masivo, cuando otras personas llega de otras ciudades. Las salidas de Pereira estan muy monitoriadas por nosotros 24 horas. Tenemos sitio enfocalizados. The city of Pereira has an international airport, a regional bus terminal for other people who arrive from other cities. The exit routes of Pereira are very well monitored by us 24 hours per day. We have places that we focus on.

Editor’s note: In Colombia, it is common to see a “reten” or cones set up to allow the police to stop a certain quota of traffic, or suspicious passers by. They monitor all the major routes entering and leaving all the principle cities of Colombia. Plus, your typical bus terminal and airport patrols who use drug dogs and presence. Pereira is known as one of the most well-monitored cities in Colombia, according to locals.

What precautions should visitors take?

Colonel Moreno:Lo mas comun es robos. Estamos dando-le a la comunidad los indicadores en la forma puede colaborarnos puedes apoyando los para eliminar ese. Enfocamos en este sector y para que, para genera percepcion de seguridad. Nos tenemos estadística. Y esto nos tenemos estadística, y nosotros trabajamos en un base eso. Y cada ano vamos bajando la tasa de criminalidad.  The most common is robbery. We are giving the community ways to work with us to eliminate this. We work it by-sector to improve the overall security (of the area). We have a rate of occurrence, and we work with this as our base. Each year we are lower that rate..

Tampoco aquí no puedes salir con oro. O con un teléfono de alta gama. pues tampoco. Aquí casi no hay denuncia de turistas. No hay. Aquí realmente no hay.Es mas la misma gente de aquí. Here you can’t go out with gold (jewelry). Or with a high-end phone either. But, here we don’t have complaints from tourists. Our crimes center around the residents here.

What precautions, or counter-measures do you have in place to prevent sex-tourism?

Colonel Moreno: Aqui mucha veces viene gente del exterior. De que  mujer muy apetecida sexualmente. La mujer Colombiana en todo parte del mundo. Hay grupos para transporter o llevar muchachas or muchachitas y las mujeres al exterior. Y estrangeros viene aqui para tener relaciones con estas. Here, many times, arrive people from the exterior. They come for a woman that is very desired sexually. The Colombian woman is muy apetecida, or appetizing/desirable, in all parts of the world. There are groups that transport women and girls to other countries. Many foreigners come here to have relations with them.

Nosotros hacemos acuerdos con los mismos denuncias. Esto nos permitan a nosotras trabajar con la fiscalia a hacer registro de delitos. We have deals with people who report to us. Then we work with the justice to prosecute those criminals.

Semana pasada cojemos un joven de 26 anos que tenia 4 ninas entre 12, 13, 14 anos que estaban grabando videos sexuales, y con jugetes sexuales. Y estan viendo al exterior. Alli se captured. Last we we caught a 26 year old who had 4 girls between 12, 13 and 14, who was filming sex tapes. It was being viewed outside of Colombia. People come here for this.

Editors Note: While overall a weak position towards sex-crimes, they have community measures that allow them to gather intelligence and pursue the criminals. In our conversation about sex crimes the Colonel basically puts the fault on the Colombian woman being “appetizing” and they the police, are simply doing what they can to register offenders and keep track of the girls, where they live, what they are doing, and move them to a group home if necessary. Feel free to weigh in on the conversation with your comments! 

As an official note, Pereira City Guide does not condone, support or encourage sex tourism in any way. Our stance is firm that this is a serious crime against humanity which should not even exist. There is a system for legal prostitution in Colombia. Do not be that tourist who comes here to rape children.

Many foreigners, Americans especially, have some sort of self-defense/martial-arts training. How can visitors defend themselves without falling on the wrong side of the law? 

Colonel Moreno: Es que la defense a un nivel mundial es parte de uno mismo. Si yo te voy a robar, tu estas en condiciones a defender-se. Si yo por ejemplo te voy a robar, y tu a mi aplican la llaves. El delinquent anda con cuchillo o con fuego. Si tu es Buena con defensa personal to puedes defender-se. Pero si tu no tan Bueno, puedes hacer dano. Its that, the defense, on a world-wide-level, is a part of you. If I am going to rob you and you are in a condition to defend. For example, if I am going to rob you, then you will put up a defense. The delinquent walks with knife or gun. If you are good at self-defense, you can defend yourself. But if you aren’t good enough, you can do damage.

Editors Note: We aren’t a licensed lawyer, our comments are not legal advice in any way. But what we took away from this is that you can use a self-defense move/technique to incapacitate, or neutralize an assailant. However, you can’t over-do it. It is essential you are at a level that is proficient enough to defend yourself but not do excessive damage. You can hit to defend, but you can’t hit to do damage. Its a legal issue that can find you in pretty hot water. Know your limits! Know your strength! Know when to hand it over and walk away. Your life is not worth that iPhone, or gold watch.

We want to extend our thanks to La Policia Metropolitana de Pereira, for taking the time to meet with us and assisting us with this investigation.

Traveling to Colombia

La Policia Metropolitana de Pereira, Recorded Interview with Colonel Cesar Moreno, comments are direct transcriptions made with as much accuracy as possible.

El Diario: Pereira Como Vamos

Pereira Como Vamos:

El Tiempo Homicides in Colombia

Fox 2 Now St. Louis: Homicide Rate:

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Pereira City Guide by Erin Donaldson


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