Is Bucaramanga safe to visit? Bucaramanga, Colombia is generally safe to visit if you follow some basic safety tips, as you will reduce your risk of being a victim of crime. However, security in Bucaramanga is still a major concern for foreign tourists visiting and expats living in Bucaramanga.
Bucaramanga and the rest of Colombia still have a reputation of violence and drugs to overcome that hasn’t been helped by the popular Narcos series. What many people don’t realize is the timeframe depicted in Narcos was well over 25 years ago and that Pablo Escobar is long dead and buried.
I have seen several inaccurate posts on the Internet about safety in Bucaramanga. I have lived in Medellín for over eight years and I have traveled to Bucaramanga several times.
However, probably the most common questions I still get from friends and relatives in the U.S. are still related to the security and safety in Colombia. I frequently hear questions like “Is Medellín safe?”, “Is Bucaramanga safe?”, “Aren’t you scared living there?”, “What is the chance I will be kidnapped when I visit?”
Bucaramanga has a similar climate to Medellín but hasn’t been discovered by many foreigners. But Bucaramanga is starting to receive more interest by foreigners due to its lower cost of living and climate.
We previously compared Medellín vs Pereira vs Bucaramanga. Bucaramanga is smaller than Medellín so it has less traffic and pollution. Bucaramanga’s metro population is about 1.3 million compared to about a 4 million metro population in Medellín.
In this article, we look at some up-to-date Bucaramanga crime statistics and 20 recommended expat safety tips for Bucaramanga. Crime and safety are major concerns of expats visiting Bucaramanga or planning to move there or visit.
Everyone’s experiences and perceptions about security and safety differ. Obviously if you or a family member or close friend have been victim of a crime your perceptions about security and safety will be different than someone that hasn’t experienced a problem.
Several Medellin Guru readers asked about safety in Bucaramanga. So, we now look at the crime rates and safety in Bucaramanga.
Note the above photos of Colombian police in Bucaramanga are by the National Police of Colombia and the Bucaramanga government.
Is Bucaramanga Safe? Bucaramanga Homicide Statistics
The homicide rate in Bucaramanga in 2018 was 17.4 per 100,000, which was the about the same as in 2015 according to Bucaramanga Colo Vamos.
According to Vanguardia, between 2012 and 2018 Bucaramanga recorded a total of 628 homicides, according to figures collected and disclosed by Fundación Paz y Reconciliación.
El Centro in Bucaramanga is the neighborhood in Bucaramanga where more homicides have been committed over a period seven years. Between 2012 and 2018, 38 homicides were committed in El Centro.
And the second highest count of homicides in Bucaramanga over these seven years was in Café Madrid in the north of the city.
Is Bucaramanga Safe? Robberies in Bucaramanga
According to W Radio, the number of reported robberies of people in Bucaramanga increased 76 percent between 2012 and 2018.
In 2018, there are 5,043 robberies of people in Bucaramanga, which was in increase of 2,182 cases in 2012.
Robberies of businesses in 2018 totaled 1,372, which was up 126 percent compared to 601 in 2012. Also, robberies of motorcycles increased by 133 percent from 2012 to 2018 in Bucaramanga.
Also, according to the Bucaramanga Metropolitan Police, the north of the city and El Centro in Bucaramanga are where robberies are most reported.
Note that Colombia reports hurtos, which means robberies and thefts. So, the robberies statistics in Colombia actually include both robberies and thefts. Robbery in English involves force or the threat of force. While theft is a broad term that can cover a wide variety of criminal offenses including pickpocketing.
My Safety Experiences in Medellín, Bucaramanga and Colombia
I have lived in the Medellín metro area for over eight years in five different neighborhoods. And I have been traveling to Colombia since late 2006, when I first discovered Colombia.
During all this time living in Medellín and traveling in Colombia including several trips to Bucaramanga, I have generally felt safe. But I am security conscious and use common sense plus take some safety precautions outlined in our 20 safety tips below.
In all this time traveling to Colombia and living in Medellín for over eight years, I only experienced three problems. One problem was recently in Laureles in Medellín when I was robbed at knifepoint.
And two of my problems were on the Medellín metro. One time on the metro was a few years ago when I was traveling on the metro with a backpack during rush hour. And a small camera was in the small pocket in the backpack. When I arrived at my destination, I later discovered the camera was gone.
Also, I was a victim of a pickpocket on the Medellín metro in August 2018. I normally try to avoid rush hour on the metro when people are packed like sardines.
I had my cell phone in one front pocket and my wallet in the other. I had one hand on my pocket with my wallet and my other hand was holding on. When I arrived at my destination, I realized someone had taken the cell phone from my pocket. And I didn’t notice or feel anything. Note that cell phones are the most commonly stolen items in Colombia.
I have not encountered any other security problems while living in Medellín and traveling throughout Colombia including Bucaramanga. But I am safety cautious and normally take taxis at night and don’t go to certain parts of cities in Colombia.
20 Bucaramanga Safety Tips for Expats for 2020
Bucaramanga is generally considered safe to visit if you use common sense and take some precautions. There are a number of basic precautions you can take to be vigilant about your personal safety and improve your security while in Bucaramanga and Colombia.
Here are 20 safety tips in no particular order that should improve your security and greatly reduce your risk of being a crime victim in Bucaramanga:
- Don’t flash your cellphones, cameras, jewelry or money around. In addition, pickpocketing and purse snatching is common in some public places. Distraction is frequently the strategy, so be alert and keep an eye on your belongings. Also, be aware of your surroundings when using your cellphone, as cellphones are the most commonly stolen items in the city.
- Never resist if you are a robbery victim. Many homicide victims in Bucaramanga resisted robberies. It’s not worth risking your life for some money and/or possessions. Don’t try to be a hero.
- Take care even in upscale neighborhoods. Take care even in upscale neighborhoods such as Cabecera del Llano in the eastern part of Bucaramanga and Zona Norte located north of Cabecera. Street crime is possible everywhere in Bucaramanga.
- Be careful on the bus transportation system. Robberies can occur on the bus system in Bucaramanga. So, be careful of pickpockets during rush hour when people are packed in the buses. And you may not even realize you have been a victim until you arrive at your destination.
- Stay away from drugs, sex tourism and illegal activities. Participating in shady activities increases your likelihood of becoming a crime victim and historically many of the foreigner homicides in Bucaramanga s have been related to these activities.
- Be especially careful with your cell phone. Try not to be such an obvious foreigner tourist that can make you a target. An expat in flip-flops in Bucaramanga speaking English loudly on an iPhone is likely to attract some unwanted attention. Cell phones are the most commonly stolen item in Bucaramanga and the rest of Colombia.
- Use ATMs in malls and grocery stores. Avoid ATMs on the street or in areas with few people around. And be conscious of who might be watching you.
- Avoid bad neighborhoods. The poorest neighborhoods in Bucaramanga are not really places for expats, even during the day. You aren’t missing anything – there is nothing for tourists to see in these neighborhoods. For example, stay away from the Villa Rosa, Villa Helena, Café Madrid, La Transición and Miradores barrios in the north of the city, which taxi drivers consider to be unsafe.
- Never leave your drink unattended. It takes almost no time for someone to drug your drink with something like Scopolamine (aka Devil’s Breath), which can wipe the memory of its victims and can affect the ability to resist criminal aggression.
- Be careful of fake police asking to check your money for counterfeits. This is obviously a scam and sometimes happens in Bucaramanga. Real police will never do this.
- Don’t carry lots of cash with you. Only carry what you need for the day or night with you.
- Put your bag, purse or backpack in front of you. In busy areas it’s common for snatching of bags, purses or backpacks.
- Late at night call for a taxi. During the day, hailing a taxi on the street in Bucaramanga will usually be fine. But at night calling for a taxi or using an app like Cabify is safer and will ensure you are getting a legitimate driver.
- Don’t walk alone at night. It’s safer in groups at night in Bucaramanga. And if walking alone, stick to well-lit streets where there are plenty of people.
- Try to keep a low profile. If you keep a low profile in Bucaramanga you are less likely to become a target. And never give out information about where you live to strangers.
- Watch out for motorcycles. A disproportionate number of robberies and crimes in Bucaramanga and other cities in Colombia take place by criminals on motorcycles due to the ability for a quick getaway. So, take care brandishing phones in taxis or on the street as you may attract unwanted attention from a criminal on a motorcycle.
- Don’t carry your passport with you. Carry a copy of your passport with another ID like a driver’s license. Only bring ATM and credit cards which you plan to use. Leave your passport and other cards locked up in a safe location.
- Don’t invite strangers to your home or hotel. And if you are meeting someone you don’t know in Bucaramanga, always do this in a public area like a mall, restaurant or café.
- Change locks and buy a security door. When you are living in a place long-term in Colombia always change the locks. No telling who else will have keys. And for even better piece of mind change the door to a security door reinforced with steel inside and around the frame. But make sure to get permission from the owner if you rent before replacing a door.
- No Dar Papaya. Don’t give papaya. This is a famous quote in Colombia, which means essentially don’t put yourself in a position where you become vulnerable to be taken advantage of. Many of the above tips are ways to “No Dar Papaya”.
These common-sense safety tips apply not only to Bucaramanga but also generally apply to other cities in Colombia and other countries in Latin America.
Is Bucaramanga Safe? Reporting Crimes in Bucaramanga
If you are a victim of crime in Bucaramanga, you can report this. A police report, known as a denuncia, may be filed at the nearest Unidad de Reacción Inmediata (URI) of the Colombian judicial authorities.
You may also file a report at a police station but it will not have the same validity for legal process. So, it is recommended that victims of a crime go to the nearest URI to file a formal report. And be sure to get a copy of the report.
In addition, Guala is a special division of the police that handles cases involving extortion and kidnapping. They can be reached via phone at 165.
Colombia Travel Warning or Advisories
Several countries provide a Colombia travel warning or Colombia travel advisory.
For example, the U.S. Department of State has a Colombia Travel Advisory that is currently at Level 2 – exercise increased caution. In this travel advisory, it is advised to reconsider travel to several departments in Colombia including Arauca, Cauca, Chocó, Nariño and Norte de Santander Departments, with the exceptions of the cities of Popayan (capital of Cauca) and Nuqui by air.
Also, Canada has travel advice and advisories for Colombia that says to “exercise a high degree of caution”. It also recommends avoiding all travel within 20 km of the border with Venezuela, within 20 km of the border with Panama and the ports of Buenaventura and Tumaco.
In addition, the UK has UK foreign travel advice for Colombia that advises avoiding all travel to the ports of Buenaventura and Tumaco.
Furthermore, Australia also has its Australian travel advice for Colombia that recommends avoiding all travel within 20 km of the borders with Venezuela and Ecuador except the Pan American Highway crossing at Ipiales and avoiding all travel to the ports of Buenaventura and Tumaco.
Medellin Guru’s Safety and Security Series
Safety is the biggest concern of foreigners visiting Colombia or planning to move to Colombia. So, we have a series of 15 popular articles about safety and security in Colombia:
- Is Colombia Safe? Colombia Security and Safety Tips
- Is Medellín Safe? Medellín Security and Safety Tips
- What are the Safest Neighborhoods in Medellín and the Aburrá Valley
- Medellín Robbery: Expat Experience Being Robbed at Knifepoint
- Colombia Gun Laws: Is it Legal to Have a Gun in Colombia?
- Scopolamine: The Realities of Devil’s Breath in Colombia
- Colombia Protests: Tips for Foreigners to Stay Safe During Protests
- Is Bogotá Safe? Bogotá Security and Safety Tips
- Is Cartagena Safe? Cartagena Security and Safety Tips
- Is Cali Safe? Cali, Colombia Security and Safety Tips
- Is Santa Marta Safe? Santa Marta Security and Safety Tips
- Is Pereira Safe? Pereira, Colombia Security and Safety Tips
- Is Manizales Safe? Manizales Security and Safety Tips
- Is Bucaramanga Safe? Bucaramanga Security and Safety Tips
- Is Barranquilla Safe? Barranquilla Security and Safety Tips
The Bottom Line: Is Bucaramanga Safe? Bucaramanga Security and Safety Tips
The biggest question I have received since living in Colombia has been “Is Colombia Safe?” And my answer has been “yes”, as long as you follow some common-sense guidelines.
Colombia unfortunately still has a bad security reputation to overcome that is for the most part undeserved. The reality in Colombia is that the security situation has improved dramatically over the past couple of decades. But many foreigners still ask “Is Colombia safe?” or “Is Bucaramanga safe?”
This biggest concern of expats visiting or planning to move to Bucaramanga or another city in Colombia is typically security and safety. But once expats start living in Bucaramanga, security becomes less of a concern once they realize that the reality doesn’t match the perception many foreigners have.
The bottom line is if you take the precautions we recommend above with our safety tips, your risk of being a victim of crime in Bucaramanga should be greatly reduced.
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