Colombia has received a lot of bad press over the last few decades, so it’s natural that people are often concerned about whether Bogota is safe. Last week I received a message from one of my Colombian readers saying that the best Bogota safety tip is not to ‘dar papaya’ :). Now, ‘give papaya’ doesn’t mean anything to us English-speakers, but it’s a very common idiomatic expression here in Bogota (which has nothing to do with papayas!); basically, ‘no dar papaya’ means not to have anything valuable on display while you’re out and about – don’t wear expensive jewellery (my mother-in-law was relieved of her gold ring at knife-point last year), don’t take your smartphone out and start using it on the street or on the bus or TransMilenio stations; be vigilant on the bus (the other day my friend saw a guy jump on the TransMilenio bus, grab an unsuspecting passenger’s purse and jump off again); look around you before you take out an expensive camera to take a photo etc. Don’t show off what you’ve got to potential muggers, and you reduce your chances of getting mugged! To sum up: don’t give anyone the opportunity to take advantage (with the insinuation that if you do, then it’s your fault if someone does!).
And.. try not to look like too much of an unsuspecting tourist! The other day I was waiting for the TransMilenio and there were three people in front of me speaking in fairly clear English, wearing backpacks with the Air France hand luggage tags still on them… *sigh*… I probably should have said something, but I didn’t… by speaking English and behaving as though they had just got off the plane, they were advertising themselves as easy targets. Remove your airline tags as soon as you get to where you’re staying; by all means speak in English but be aware of those around you – I have seen dodgy people literally scouring the crowds in the TransMilenio stations and buses, clearly looking for easy targets; and if you must wear a backpack, wear it on your front instead of your back when you’re on a bus, so that you won’t get pickpocketed!
For some useful anecdotes on how various people have been screwed over in Bogotá (including some from myself!) pop over to ‘Bogotá for Dummies‘.