Dangers to watch out for in Colombia

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of November 20-26, 1997
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Dangers to watch out for in Colombia
Question: I am contemplating a trip over Christmas to Bogota, Colombia, and surrounding area. I'll be meeting my boyfriend who has been employed on an oil rig outside of Bogota. He hasn't had the chance to do much sightseeing, but is familiar with unrest. What would you suggest about my joining him?

Fort Lauderdale, FL

Adventure Adviser: The first thing to do is to call the State Department's recorded message center (202-647-5225) and you'll receive a Consular Information sheet that will give you a rundown of the current situation in Colombia.

If it is truly dangerous, the State Department will issue a travel warning telling you not to go there. Keep in mind, however, the State Department may err on the side of overcaution because it is not in their best interest to have American tourists wandering around dangerous places.

After you take heed of the official stance on traveling to Colombia, try calling travel agents or tour companies who offer trips to South America and ask them their advice (I've never run into an outfitter that offers trips to Colombia. It's too dangerous).

You may even want to call a few colleges and ask for their Latin Studies department. I'd also go to a local library and do a clip search of the most recent stories on Bogota and the surrounding area (just yesterday I read guerrillas released a geologist who had been kidnapped for seven months. Unlike most others, the geologist was unharmed).

Most of the really dangerous stuff happens in more remote parts of Colombia, so if you go, don't travel the countryside — it is crawling with guerrillas, paramilitary, military, and drug lords.

Also, try not to draw any attention to yourself by wearing expensive clothes or jewelry. Most Americans get into trouble because they look wealthy.

Finally ask yourself how badly you want to go. There is a real possibility you may find yourself in a life-threatening position. I spent seven weeks in Bogota in 1991 and had no trouble, but if I was given the opportunity to travel there now, I would think twice about it.

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