‘No des papaya’: safety tips for Bogota
Colombians have a famous saying that every foreigner should memorize before arriving: ‘No des papaya’. Its literal translation, ‘Don’t give papaya’, can more accurately be translated as, ‘Don’t give opportunity to thieves’. Colombia has come a long way in terms of security in the past years, but petty theft is something to be conscientious of in Bogotá, just as in any major international city. Its easy to achieve the beautifully immersive and safe experience that has made the country a growing tourist destination in recent years; it’s just important to keep in mind a couple of tips and tricks in order to thoroughly enjoy life in Colombia while holding on to your papaya!
- Keep a watchful eye on your belongings
First things first, it’s important to be attentive your belongings at all times. When at the local coffee shop back home, one can often times get away with leaving their unaccompanied laptop on the table for a quick bathroom break. That’s not the case in Bogotá. Never leave your belongings unaccompanied, and, better yet, always keep them within eyesight. Instead of putting your bag on the back of the chair at a restaurant, it’s best to keep it on your lap or stored between your feet. Sometimes, there are even nifty hooks built into the underside of the tabletop that were specifically created for securing bags! This is not to scare all visitors into thinking that their belongings will disappear into thin air, though it is important to arrive with a heightened sense of awareness.
- Zippers and phones
Bags with zippers are a must-have in Colombia. This will make it more difficult for wandering, curious hands to find their way to your wallet or phone. When on public transportation, keep your phone in your bag (with a zipper) at all times. This is the most important tip to not ‘dar papaya’. Keeping your phone in your bag as often as possible in public is highly recommended. Additionally, the time away from texting and scrolling through Instagram can lead to an overall more present, immersive experience! There are endless benefits to limited phone use in public.
- Transportation 101
Whether you are traveling via train, bus, taxi, bike, or mule, it’s important to apply tips #1 and #2 while in transit. When it comes to transportation, Medellín definitely reigns supreme over other Colombian cities for its incredibly efficient, easily accessible metro system. On your first day, make sure to get a metro card, which will be your automatic pass to an economical adventure around the city. Tight spaces on Medellin’s metro or Bogotá’s transmilenio (the bus system) make for a haven for pickpockets. While it may not be the most stylish, definitely wear your backpack in front so you can keep an eye on it. Also, carrying your exact bus money in your pocket is always advisable; that way there’s no need to fumble with a wallet at the entrance to the station. When it comes to taxis, it is always recommended to either use Uber or a taxi application instead of taking taxis off the street. While Uber is technically illegal in Colombia, it is widely used and considered safe. The only difference is that you need to sit next to the Uber chauffeur instead of in the back seat so that it looks to the police like you’re two friends going for a ride. Uber is a great, easy way to get around the city, especially because the listed fare means you won’t be overcharged for being a foreigner.
In summary, these tips are not to cause terror amongst incoming travellers about their upcoming adventures. On the contrary, all first-time visitors should be thrilled about the incredible, culturally rich country that is Colombia. These suggestions are just to make sure that your travels run as smoothly as possible without hiccups related to a lack of understanding about the differences between the reality of one’s own country and the reality of daily life in Colombia. Feel free to reach out to us a Red Tree Study for any other suggestions about safety and security for your upcoming trip!