The cobblestone streets of Bogota, Colombia are just begging to be photographed. With the winding stretches of colorful houses constantly competing with a stunning blue sky, I found my eyes darting up side streets and around corners, soaking in the city’s charm and ignoring the uneven stones that dared me not to trip. Bogota is beautiful.
But Is Bogota really safe?
“You shouldn’t have that out,” my new French friend remarked with a sideways glance at my camera.
I made every effort not to roll my eyes while tucking it back into my bag.
“I need to take pictures.”
She didn’t need to tell me again. She knew I’d take it back out, as soon as a new colored house emerged, completing the rainbow of our walk through La Candelaria, the historical district of Bogota that has become the most popular neighborhood for backpackers.
Setting my blatant frustration aside, I will concede that my French friend was right. This area, although home to most hostels in Bogota and much improved in recent years, is known for pickpockets and thieves. Talk to anyone who has spent some time in the area and they’ve likely got a story to share about armed theft — laptops and cameras full of valuable memories, money, and passports that have fallen victim to Bogota’s resilient crime. I tried to consider the telephone effect of each of these stories — likely passed along a string of backpackers before I heard them. Then an Argentinian girl returned to our hostel one afternoon with a surprisingly calm report of being robbed by a man with a knife, just outside our hostel that afternoon. He took all of her money and her passport. She smiled and shrugged, struggling to find the English words. “I need to find embassy to get new passport.”
Embassy?? Passport?? The only word repeating itself endlessly in my head was Knife.
I only spent three days in Bogota before my frustration with the unfortunate limitations that do arise when traveling solo convinced me to book a bus to Medellin. I just couldn’t stay in a place that forced me to rely on the company of others, just to leave my hostel. I like to explore on my own and snap endless streams of pictures. I like to get lost and find my way in a new place. For me, these were not reasonable options here.
Now let me clarify that I do want to experience all types of places in my travels. I want to exit my comfort zone and expand upon it. I want to make myself vulnerable to the unfamiliar. But I also need to feel safe. I don’t want to dissuade other solo females from exploring Bogota. It truly is a beautiful city with fascinating history and culture to explore. Not to mention the countless little Panaderias selling scrumptious empanadas, tomales, and THIS…
My stomach gets a substantial say in my assessment of new locations, but overall, Bogota simply did not fit the style in which I like to travel, and the sense of security I prefer to maintain for the start of my trip.
There is plenty that I missed out on by leaving so quickly, and I will return to see all of that. (My flight leaves from Bogota so I actually have no choice!) In the meantime, I’m enjoying a city that feels right to me. Today I explored areas of Medellin that were completely void of tourists and English speakers and I felt completely at ease. I carried my camera and took lots of pictures (coming soon). I got lost. I ordered food from a street vendor without having the slightest idea what I’d consume. I talked to strangers. I felt safe. Granted, bad things can happen everywhere, and I’ll continue to be careful. But I know that leaving Bogota early was the right decision for me.
Despite the constant scolding of Colombians and tourists alike, I did manage to sneak out my camera and capture some of La Candelaria before bidding Bogota farewell. Here is a brief glimpse of a growing and evolving city that I hope to see more of someday…