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Is it safe to travel in Brazil and Colombia?


Ask our Experts

My husband and I have 8 or 9 days to visit either Brazil (Rio, Salvador, maybe Pantanal) or Colombia (Bogota, Cartagena, Villa de Leyva or coffee country) but are struggling to decide which. Your advice and safety insights would be appreciated.

Asked by Hannah

You can be sure that neither of the two holidays that you are considering will disappoint. In fact you've picked two of my absolute favourite countries, so I will try to briefly compare the experiences you might be likely to have in each of them.

I notice that both the holidays include stunning colonial cities, and in terms of that part of the trip the key difference would be cultural. Salvador has a very notable African influence, while Colombia's Cartagena has a strong Caribbean accent and Bogotá a typically Andean feel. Rio, whilst also having a surprisingly pretty colonial core, is of course most famous for its beach life but there is also the atmospheric artists' neighbourhood of Santa Teresa, best explored by old-fashioned tram. The food is quite different too – Salvador has the absolutely delicious moqueca, Rio the gluttonous rodizio restaurants where you'll be served beautifully cooked cuts of meat until you're completely stuffed; Bogotá is home to a hearty and warming cuisine (ajiaco is a typical dish) and Cartagena has many sophisticated international dining options.

While in Rio we can arrange for you to visit a samba school where you watch a spectacular carnival rehearsal in full flamboyant dress, or in Salvador we can organise for you to attend a ‘spirit cleansing ritual’, part of the Afro-Brazilian religion of candomblé, or watch a performance of the martial arts dance capoeira. Bogotá's main attractions meanwhile are its museums, including the Gold Museum and Botero Museum, or we can take you to the nearby salt cathedral of Zipaquirá. In Cartagena the main activities are strolling through the beautiful balconied streets and perhaps taking a day trip to the Rosario Islands.

One of the other obvious differences between the two holidays is the amount of wildlife you will see. The Pantanal is teeming with exotic birds, monkeys, caiman and capybaras and offers a safari-like experience with a variety of excursions from your rustic (or more luxurious) lodge. Taking a canoe out at dawn, I’ll never forget the family of giant river otters that, out of nowhere, followed us as we headed up stream.

Colombia's coffee country on the other hand is a place to unwind and enjoy the beautiful scenery. It is difficult to explain just exactly what makes it so special – it's one of those places that really stays with you long after you leave but is strangely hard to put into words! Villa de Leyva similarly has a laid-back charm and beautiful cobbled streets.

In terms of safety, hundreds of thousands of tourists visit each of the destinations you have mentioned each year without any problem, but you should take particular care in Rio, Salvador and Bogotá by not wearing expensive jewellery and always taking a taxi home at night rather than walking – basically the same common sense rules you would use in any large city. In the Pantanal, Cartagena Old Town, Villa de Leyva and the coffee zone you should not need to be too vigilant. Here is a link to our briefing dossier which gives you detailed information on safety. You should also keep an eye on the FCO’s travel advice for Colombia and Brazil, but currently all the areas you mentioned are considered safe to visit.


Answered by Laura Rendell-Dunn
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