Is Cali safe to visit? Cali 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 Cali is still a major concern for tourists visiting and expats living in Cali.
Cali and 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 Cali. I have lived in Medellín for over eight years and I have traveled to Cali several times. And probably the most common questions I 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 Cali safe?”, “Aren’t you scared living there?”, “What is the chance I will be kidnapped when I visit?”
In this article, we look at some up-to-date Cali crime statistics and 20 recommended expat safety tips. Crime and safety are major concerns of expats and are included in our list of 11 downsides to living in Cali.
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 Cali so we now look at the crime rates and safety in Cali. in addition, we previously compared Medellín vs Cali as a place to live.
Note the above photos of Colombian police in Cali are by the National Police of Colombia.
Is Cali Safe? Cali Homicide Statistics
The homicide rate in Cali in 2018 was 47.3 per 100,000, which was lower than in 2017. The following chart shows the homicide rate in Cali from 2007 to 2018 according to Cali Como Vamos.
Also, in 2018, Cali had the highest homicide rate out of the cities in Colombia. In addition, Cali is ranked #31 on the list of the 50 most dangerous cities in the world based on the homicide rate.
In 2019, from January 1 to August 17, the number of reported homicides in Cali according to Cali Como Vamos was 678, which was down 12.2 percent from the same period in 2018.
Is Cali Safe? Homicide Statistics by Comuna in Cali in 2018
Cali has over 240 barrios that are located in 22 comunas. Cali uses numbers for comunas instead of names used in some other cities in Colombia. The following table shows the homicides by comuna in Cali for the 11-month period from January to November 2018 and the calculated homicide rate per 100,000.
10 of the 22 comunas in Cali have a homicide rate of over 50 per 100,000. Looking at the map of Cali comunas below, the comunas with the highest homicide rates are somewhat scattered. So, it’s not like in Bogotá where you can say the southern part of the city is generally more dangerous.
Some of the western barrios in Cali such as El Peñon, Santa Teresita, Santa Rita, Arboledas and Bellavista are generally considered some of the safest neighborhoods, with few homicides.
Also, some of the northern barrios are also generally considered safe including Santa Monica, Granada, Centenario and Juanambu. In addition, the far south neighborhoods of Ciudad Jardin and Pance are generally considered safe.
If you stay out of the bad neighborhoods in Cali, you will likely avoid over 70 percent of the problems that give Cali a bad reputation.
For example, Siloé is a large hillside neighborhood in Cali. Looking at a map, you could say this belongs to western Cali, but Caleños generally consider it to be south. Siloé is one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Cali.
Also, anything in Cali east of Calle 25 is considered the district of Aguablanca. This eastern part of Cali is another no-go area for foreigners.
Is Cali Safe? Robberies in Cali
According to Cali Como Vamos, the rate of reported robberies of persons has been increasing in Cali over the past four years, as seen in the following chart:
Also, the rate of robberies of homes has been increasing in Cali over the past four years:
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.
In addition, according to Cali Como Vamos, the total number of reported robberies of persons in Cali during the period from January 1 to August 14 in 2019 was 7,247, up from 5,586 in the prior year. So, the robbery rate of persons in Cali continues to increase in 2019.
My Safety Experiences in Medellín, Cali 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 Cali, 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 in January 2020 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 Cali. But I am safety cautious and normally take taxis at night and don’t go to certain parts of cities in Colombia.
20 Cali Safety Tips for Expats for 2019
Cali 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 Cali 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 Cali:
- 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 Cali 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 like El Peñon, Santa Teresita, Santa Rita, Arboledas and Santa Monica. Street crime is possible everywhere in Cali.
- Be careful on the Masivo Integrado de Occidente (MIO) transportation system. Robberies are common on the MIO system in Cali. So, be careful of pickpockets during rush hour. 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 Cali 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 shorts and flip-flops in Cali speaking English loudly on an iPhone is likely to attract some unwanted attention. Cell phones are the most commonly stolen item in Cali.
- 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 Cali 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. Stay away from the Siloé and Aguablanca neighborhoods in Cali.
- 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 Cali. 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 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. 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 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 Cali 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, 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 Cali but also generally apply to other cities in Colombia and other countries in Latin America.
Is Cali Safe? Reporting Crimes in Cali
If you are a victim of crime in Cali, 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 Cali Safe? Security in Cali 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 Cali safe?”
This biggest concern of expats visiting or planning to move to Cali is typically security and safety. And being included in the top 50 most dangerous cities in the world doesn’t help the safety reputation of Cali.
But once expats start living in Cali, 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 Cali should be greatly reduced.
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