How Safe Is Popayan for Travel?

Updated On January 9, 2024
Popayan, Colombia
Safety Index:
31
* Based on Research & Crime Data

Popayan is the capital city of the Colombian Department of Cauca, nestled between the central and western sections of the towering Andes mountain chain.

This bustling Colombia town is well known for its colonial architecture and a vast array of historical buildings that have earned it the name of “White Town.”

This Colombian city features majestic architecture with a wealth of opportunities for fun, relaxation, and entertainment that draw tourists worldwide.

Still, there are also a few notable downsides.

Learn more about the warnings and dangers of traveling in Popayan, Colombia, in the comprehensive travel safety guide below!

Warnings & Dangers in Popayan

Overall Risk

OVERALL RISK: HIGH

Online reports from local officials and neighborhood data providers like Numbeo place the crime rate in Popayan at one of the highest in the world. This gorgeous Colombian city harbors above-average numbers of violent crimes, property crimes, corruption, and bribery. Visitors and locals here could become the victim of a violent crime at any time of the day or night. Online reports show a variety of residents fear for their safety and may even avoid going out at all when possible.

Transport & Taxis Risk

TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: HIGH

Getting around Popayan using a local taxi or transport service can be a gamble. There are numerous reports of taxi scams where drivers intentionally overcharge unsuspecting tourists by tampering with meters or quoting incorrect fares. Incidents of thefts, assaults, pickpocketing, kidnapping, and robbery are also higher than average in this town.

Pickpockets Risk

PICKPOCKETS RISK: HIGH

If you can't avoid traveling to Colombia at this volatile time, it is essential to remain vigilant by securing your valuables and belongings. Pickpocketing reports have skyrocketed in this area, and unwitting tourists are often the intended targets. Keep valuables like cell phones and cash out of your back pockets and out of reach – especially when traveling in crowded and poorly lit areas.

Natural Disasters Risk

NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: MEDIUM

The city of Popayan poses a moderate to high risk related to experiencing earthquakes, floods, and landslides. Popayan is located in a seismically active region of Colombia, which also experiences months-long bouts of heavy rains that can lead to tremors, landslides, flooding, and damage to roads and local infrastructure.

Mugging Risk

MUGGING RISK: HIGH

Travelers need to note that Popayan is statistically one of the most dangerous places on earth. High levels of violent crime at all hours of the night and day mean that tourists can quickly become the victim of a crime of opportunity like mugging, robbery, petty theft, and pickpocketing.

Terrorism Risk

TERRORISM RISK: HIGH

Colombia and its neighboring countries are currently in high states of turmoil, which makes the likelihood of a surprise terrorist attack even more imminent. Warring drug factions, local gangs, corrupt officials, and a largely impoverished population are all contributing factors to terroristic acts that can occur in heavily populated locations, including airports, government buildings, hotels, and entertainment venues.

Scams Risk

SCAMS RISK: HIGH

Taxi scams where local drivers have been accused of meter tampering, overcharging, and taking the scenic route happen regularly in cities like Popayan. Travelers should also beware of fake police scams, where officers demand payment or bribes for document validation, and restaurant scams, where local eateries inflate charges for unsuspecting travelers.

Women Travelers Risk

WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: HIGH

The current climate of crime and violence makes the city of Popayan virtually unsafe for all travelers. This risk can be elevated for solo female travelers who are unfamiliar with the landscape and don't speak the language. Reduce your chances of becoming the next travel victim by learning basic conversational phrases, dressing moderately to avoid attracting attention, and steering clear of high-crime neighborhoods.

Tap Water Risk

TAP WATER RISK: HIGH

Water quality and drinkability can vary by region in Colombia. While some areas have water deemed safe for drinking, other areas experience issues with poor water quality and water treatment practices that can affect travelers. Travel experts advise drinking bottled water only and boiling water before drinking when bottled water is unavailable.

Safest Places to Visit in Popayan

Some of the safest places to visit in Popayan, Colombia, include the Centro Historico – the town’s historical city center, Parque Caldas, a central outdoor park that often serves as a gathering place for travelers and locals seeking to enjoy peaceful surroundings.

Museums and cultural sites like the Museo de Historia Natural and the Museo Leon Valencia are also considered safer places to visit.

Places to Avoid in Popayan

Local crime reports show that residents and tourists visiting crowded markets in the area may be more likely to become pickpocketing victims in the midst of the chaos.

They also show that venturing outside the city to less populated regions can be a dangerous recipe for disaster.

Stay within the city limits and avoid visiting remote, crowded, and poorly lit areas of the city – especially at nighttime.

Safety Tips for Traveling to Popayan

The entire country of Colombia is under a level three travel advisory. Adhere to the following safety tips if you cannot avoid traveling to Popayan, Colombia, during this extremely volatile time. 

  1. Prepare for Altitude Changes: The city of Popayan is located at an extremely high elevation in the Andes mountains, which can make for noticeable altitude changes. New visitors to the area should take a day or two to acclimate to the high elevation.
  2. Drink Bottled Water: Colombian water treatment processes can vary between cities and regions. Avoid experiencing bouts of diarrhea and ongoing digestive issues while traveling by drinking bottled water or boiling water when bottled water options are not available.
  3. Be Wary of Street Vendors: Travelers can stay safer when they choose reputable eateries and shops vs taking chances with street vendors. While many vendors are on the up and up, a select few may be on the prowl and looking to scam unsuspecting tourists out of cash and valuables by using distractions.
  4. Respect Local Customs: Accidentally disrespecting local customs by not understanding the language can be costly. Research local customs before you travel and learn a few key phrases to make communication easier.
  5. Keep Your Distance in Local Markets: Beware of criminals, scam artists, and con artists who often commit premeditated crimes and crimes of opportunity behind the scenes of crowded markets where detection of criminal activity is nearly impossible.
  6. Use Reputable Transporation Services: Choose your transportation provider from a list of internationally known and respected ride-share services like Uber and similar services to avoid becoming a taxi scam victim or unwittingly putting yourself in danger by using non-verified services.
  7. Emergency Evacuation Can Quickly Become a Reality: The highly volatile climate and the hypercharged atmosphere surrounding Colombian towns like Popayan make the idea of being evacuated from the country under an emergency travel order a real possibility.
  8. Drink Bottled Water: While some of the water in the city is deemed safer and drinkable than most, digestive concerns and local water treatment practices suggest that US travelers can stay safer by drinking bottled water when visiting Popayan.
  9. Exchange Some Currency Before Arrival: Converting cash into local (COP) currency before you touch down in Popayan can save time and reduce the likelihood of being scammed upon arrival.
  10. Respect Local Photography Etiquette: Travelers should be mindful of the local photography etiquette that prohibits taking photos or charges fees for taking pictures at specific locations and religious sites.

So... How Safe Is Popayan Really?

While the city of Popayan, Colombia, has the potential to provide a relaxing, exciting, and safe vacation when proper precautions are taken, it is imperative for travelers to note that this city has one of the highest crime rates in the entire world.

As such, global neighborhood review sites that provide crime statistics, like Numbeo, have assigned this Colombian city one of the highest crime index scores on record.

The Numbeo Global Crime Index has assigned Popayan a score of 81.93, which is an indicator of incredibly high crime. 

The Numbeo crime index measures global crime statistics to assign each city and state in its database a crime index score based on the number of violent and property crimes reported in the area. 

Numbeo’s crime index starts at 20, which is the lower end of the scale and represents relatively low crime.

Scores between 20 and 40 represent moderate crime on this scale.

Crime index scores higher than 80 represent abnormally high levels of crime.

How Does Popayan Compare?

CitySafety Index
Popayan31
Bogotá46
Medellin52
Cartagena82
Barranquilla47
Cali52
Santa Marta33
Vienna (Austria)88
Hong Kong (China)70
Manama (Bahrain)54
Tianjin (China)67
Brussels (Belgium)60
Shanghai (China)66

Useful Information

Visas

Visas

Most US travelers visiting Colombia for short stays of less than 90 days aren't required to have a Visa. However, this policy can vary between people based on several individual factors, so it is important to verify entry requirements and travel Visa requirements with the Colombian embassy or US consulate.

Currency

Currency

The Colombian Peso (COP) is Popoyan's local currency. US Travelers should convert cash to local currency prior to arrival to avoid snags and scams while traveling. Travelers can also visit online and local currency exchanges, banks, and ATMs to exchange money.

Weather

Weather

Popayan has a variety of local weather patterns in its elevated position among the Andes mountain range. Historical temperatures in the area generally fall between 60 and 73 degrees year-round. Travelers should be aware of visiting during the rainy season, which can last for months between June to November.

Airports

Airports

Popayan-bound travelers should note that this Colombian city is not served by its own local airport. Airline travelers will likely be forced to take international flights to Alfonso Bonilla Aragon International Airport, which is over a hundred miles from the city center, and then risk being scammed or led off the beaten path when taking ground transportation to reach their intended destinations.

Travel Insurance

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is a smart investment for international travelers visiting high-crime areas. Get travel insurance to protect your trip from unexpected cancelations and medical emergencies, and as a viable option for communication and seeking local help for emergencies when traveling abroad.

Click here to get an offer for travel insurance

Popayan Weather Averages (Temperatures)

Jan 19° C
Feb 19° C
Mar 19° C
Apr 19° C
May 19° C
Jun 18° C
Jul 18° C
Aug 19° C
Sep 18° C
Oct 19° C
Nov 18° C
Dec 18° C
Choose Temperature Unit

Average High/Low Temperature

Temperature / MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
High
°C
242424242424242524242323
Low
°C
131313131312111212131313
High
°F
757575757575757775757373
Low
°F
555555555554525454555555

Colombia - Safety by City

CitySafety Index
Barranquilla47
Bogotá46
Bucaramanga32
Cali52
Cartagena82
Cucuta32
Leticia70
Manizales47
Medellin52
Popayan31
Santa Marta33

Where to Next?

Share Your Experience

Share
Facebook Pinterest