How Safe Is Columbia for Travel?

Columbia, United States
Safety Index:
68

Columbia, South Carolina, might be one of the hottest trips you’ll ever take, whether you like it or not.

One of Google’s top questions about this capital city is “Why is Columbia, South Carolina, so hot?”

The city sits inland, about two hours from the beach, and brings its own version of Southern hospitality, habits, and legends.

Whether you’re dining on the unique pimento cheeseburger, snacking on peanuts proudly claiming to be the “worst in town,” or pulling apart a wishbone hoping the weather cools down, there’s so much to explore in this city you won’t find anywhere else.

This is a place where wearing polka dots can send a political message and wearing orange could get you ostracized.

Carbonated beverage lovers might seek out the bottling plant believed to give the city its nickname of “Soda City,” but will never find it.

The moniker comes from a shortened version of Columbia – “Cola” – which then transitioned to Soda.

There is nothing unique about the history of soda here other than you should order a Coke even if you want a Dr. Pepper.

For example

YOU: “Can I get a Coke to drink?”

SERVER: “Sure, what kind of Coke?”

YOU: “Dr. Pepper.”

The nuances and oddities of cities really make them worth exploring and Columbia has a unique twist around every corner.

Even the fireflies here dance in sync, one of the only places in the world you can see this happen.

Nearby Lake Murray comes with outdoor and water adventures, and you can tour what was once the largest earthen dam in the world.

You can also explore Bomb Island, and the only bomb you might experience comes from the flocks of purple martin birds that roost there.

Yet, this island is a historic site that helped Americans take a stand in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack.

I promise you, that a trip to Columbia, South Carolina will have your mind packed with random nuggets of information and a slight case of heartburn.

Warnings & Dangers in Columbia

Overall Risk

OVERALL RISK : MEDIUM

There's a medium risk here with high crime rates that keep growing and a community struggling with a 23% poverty rate. It's not a place too dangerous to visit, but it does come with some cautionary tales and advice.

Transport & Taxis Risk

TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW

You can't miss the COMET public bus transportation system here as the rides are brighter than the summer sun. Tourists should pay special attention to the Sode Cap Connector as it goes between all the tourism hot spots without stopping in potentially dangerous neighborhoods. Even better? Rides are just $1. You can get taxis and rideshares. Rental vehicles are also available. There's a low risk, but use caution at bus stops and try to avoid using public transportation after dark.

Pickpockets Risk

PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW

You are more likely to have a purse snatched than be pickpocketed here. In 2020, 11 purse snatchings were reported yet there were no pickpockets. In 2019, purse snatching was four times higher than pickpockets too. This could be a great time to plan to ditch the purse and utilize inside and secured pockets.

Natural Disasters Risk

NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM

You can expect a medium risk here with a variety of weather issues. There's the insane summer heat, severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, flooding, and remnants of hurricanes that can cause a combination of all those listed above. Winters are more milk, but every now and then there's a crippling winter storm (and by crippling, I mean any snow or ice whatsoever).

Mugging Risk

MUGGING RISK : MEDIUM

The robbery rate is almost twice the national average, but just 20% of the robberies that happened in 2020 were in public places, and 25% were highway robberies in 2019. There's low risk by the numbers, but violent crimes - including gun crimes and homicides - are on the rise. That's not just in Columbia, but in all of South Carolina (and, to be honest, America as a whole). Treat this as a medium risk.

Terrorism Risk

TERRORISM RISK : MEDIUM

The police chief in Columbia said, "I can say here what I think has directly contributed to systemic violent crime is the proliferation of illegal guns on the street," but that's not a terrorist group. That's people who live in a specific part of the city. It's not quite big enough for a terrorist group to make this a potential target, but the presence of the major military training base of Fort Jackson on the east side of the city automatically elevates it to medium risk. However, it also brings more military and Homeland Security protection.

Scams Risk

SCAMS RISK : MEDIUM

The South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs lists the most common scams in the state, and many of them are the typical lottery or utility scams. However, there's a medium risk when it comes to the potential for scams. Thieves here are looking to make a quick buck, especially during game days. If you notice a possible scam, call 1(844)TELL-DCA(835-5322).

Women Travelers Risk

WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : MEDIUM

The sexual assault rate is 60% higher than the national average and there are parts of the city that are just too dangerous to even visit. Other parts of the city make some people nervous, even though they are stocked with activities and shops. Proceed here with a medium risk, but also know that basic personal safety smarts will go a long way here.

Tap Water Risk

TAP WATER RISK : LOW

The 2021 Water Quality Report showed an E. coli violation in April. The utility took all the required steps to fix the issue. You can look at it two ways: 1. The water was contaminated for a short time or 2. The issue was clearly noted and addressed swiftly. The city is also adding smart technology to water meters that bring instant information to customers should there be a violation or issue again. While there's a low risk overall, there's nothing wrong with choosing bottled water for drinking if that gives you a yucky feeling.

Safest Places to Visit in Columbia

You can purchase a CoolPASS to save money on three of the top attractions in town.

A CoolPASS is just $32 and will get you access to:

  • EdVenture Children’s Museum
  • Riverbanks Zoo & Garden
  • South Carolina State Museum

Take a guided tour of the Historic House & Garden District to learn about the history of the city from founding through the Civil War into the Civil Rights Movement and today’s Columbia and beyond.

NOTE: There will be tours of plantations that once held slaves, which could be triggering for some people.

Be sure to add the Mann-Simons Site to your agenda so you can see how this groundbreaking location helped create “a community for free people of color during a time when most were still enslaved.”

Another discount alert comes from CulturePASS, which gets you access to the Columbia Museum of Art, Historic Columbia, and the South Carolina State Museum.

You can also purchase, at no cost, an itinerary for a RECONSTRUCTED tour of the city through the Reconstruction Era, or get a Pimento Cheeseburger Passport.

Take a break at Riverfront Park or use this location for a great workout.

There are walking/jogging trails and fitness equipment along the way.

You can also take a self-guided tour to learn about the state’s oldest hydroelectric plant.

Heads up: There are signs that warn alligators might be in the water.

Lake Murray and the surrounding area boasts 650 miles of shoreline with more than 90 miles of rivers.

Boating, tubing, kayaking, and rafting are popular activities here.

You can also hike one of the many trails or just chill on the lake beach.

Tours in kayaks are also available and you can march in the footsteps of Confederate soldiers along Congaree Creek.

When you see Cromer’s P-Nuts, you might be caught off guard by the “Guaranteed Worst in Town Since 1935” advertising.

Turns out, a competitor once put up signs to dissuade people from eating Cromer’s treats.

Cromer’s ran with it and it turns out the reverse psychology only helped the brand grow and thrive.

For those who have never tried pimento cheese, you might be hesitant to try it on a hamburger.

Pimento cheese mixes the pimento pepper with cheese and mayonnaise.

Pimento is very sweet and mild pepper, so it won’t be too hot to handle.

As a child in the Midwest, I called pimento cheese the “lumpy cheese with weird red things in it.”

However, when you’re in Columbia you just have to try this local delicacy.

Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Places to Avoid in Columbia

North Columbia is the root of most crime in this metro area, according to the police.

Gun violence here became so common that police installed ShotSpotter technology that immediately reports when gunshots happen.

Police are on the way before the first 911 call gets made.

“The placement of ShotSpotter is data-driven,” Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook said.

“It’s where the majority of our violent crime occurs.

The frequency of that crime, historically looking over years, is what drove where we had that equipment installed.”

West Columbia is a separate city with a separate police department just across the river.

While it’s a city of less than 18,000 people, it also has incredibly high crime rates.

The violent crime rate is higher in West Columbia than it is in Columbia.

As a tourist, I’d avoid going into that area, with the only exception being the Riverbanks Botanical Garden.

Safety Tips for Traveling to Columbia

  1. Columbia Police Department has a Community Crime Map that allows for interactive research. You can choose a location and search for any crime you want around that area in whatever time range you’d like. The map also extends beyond Columbia to show crimes throughout the region. Each dot marking a crime lists detailed information about what happened and has a link to report a crime tip about that incident.
  2. You can also look at an interactive City Information Map. There are various layers you can choose from, whether you want to find a park or a police station.
  3. Even the tourism bureau of Columbia has jumped on the bandwagon, calling Columbia “The Real Southern Hot Spot.” However, as a tourist, you should know this is more than a punchline. Columbia is the hottest city by temperature in the state and summer can get downright suffocating and dangerous. It’s not close enough to the ocean to get a cooling sea breeze, yet it gets the humidity and heat of the South. From May through September, highs can reach the upper 80s or 90s, with a “feel like” heat index in the triple digits. This can easily cause heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and dehydration. You will sweat in a way you didn’t think was physically possible. Drink water, electrolytes, and take your time.
  4. Columbia-Richland Alerts are the emergency notification system in the region. Users register through the city’s website and you can custom select which alerts you want to get to your email or mobile device. The only exclusion for a tourist might be to remove the Public Meetings/Hearings. The rest of the list includes safety aspects or events happening during your visit.
  5. You might still be stuck on something I mentioned above, “Did she say ALLIGATORS?” Yes, there are alligators in South Carolina, mostly near the beaches along the coast. However, the Congaree River system is also known to have alligators. I’ll be honest – I lived in Florida near a large park with tons of alligators and I knew plenty of people who went kayaking there with no problems. I refused to kayak anywhere but saltwater (I guess I was less scared of sharks than alligators??) At the same time, there have been two deadly gator attacks in South Carolina as of August 2022.
  6. Use the USGS river and lake monitoring system to get details of the water in the recreational areas around. Warm water can lead to bacteria or algae growth, stormwater can create polluted water, and flood levels can make the water dangerous or leave parking areas flooded. You can also search on HowsMyRiver.org.
  7. Hurricane season runs from June through October, with a heightened alert during August through October. While Columbia doesn’t get the brunt of the storms, it still gets the remnants of hurricanes that can, in turn, spawn severe thunderstorms and tornados. On top of that, people from the coast usually evacuate inland to places like Columbia. Don’t visit if a hurricane is coming. Take it from your author who lived through three hurricanes in Florida. Being without power and clean water in high levels of humidity is not a vacation anyone wants.
  8. To “Catch the COMET” (the bus system), you can download the TransitApp or purchase tickets ahead of time by email. The app will walk you through the routes, times, and give you live tracking of the buses. Veterans, senior citizens (65+), and Medicare recipients get a half-off discount.
  9. For people with their own vehicles here, download the Passport Parking app so you can search for available parking and feed the meter from your mobile device. Parking meters come in a variety of colors, and those colors are associated with time limits.
  10. The city will become very crowded during game days for nearby USC. Don’t make a joke about the University of Southern California, because this is a much different USC. Hotels, bars, and restaurants will be crowded during this time and people might have a little more to drink than usual, so prepare for some drunken crowds. This also goes in line with the “Don’t wear orange” comment I made earlier, as that is one of Clemson’s colors and USC is a bitter rival with Clemson.

So... How Safe Is Columbia Really?

Much of how dangerous you think Columbia is will depend on where you are coming from originally.

People from larger cities like Chicago or St. Louis might think the crime here is no big deal.

Anyone who assumes this is a small, nice, Southern college town is in for a rude awakening.

Contributing to the crime rates in Columbia are:

  • High poverty level
  • Growing gun violence
  • Lack of trust in police
  • Victims or witnesses too scared to speak up

“And that’s because if somebody survives that shooting and they’re walking and talking and not in a hospital, they’re going to respond by street justice,” Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook said.

“And we know that that’s a shooting cycle that we have to disrupt, meaning if you’re the victim of a non-fatal shooting, you’re going to, in turn, retaliate with a shooting.

We put a lot of our efforts through technology and investigative emphasis on disrupting that shooting cycle and identifying our prolific offenders.”

Of course, every city has the kind of crime Columbia does, but this city just has much more than you’d expect or the locals want to see.

Stay in tourist districts and try to travel in groups or pairs whenever possible.

Avoid walking around at night.

Stay on top of the weather throughout the day, because severe storms can be dangerous here.

Know what to do if a tornado warning is issued, and avoid being outdoors until 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder.

How Does Columbia Compare?

CitySafety Index
Columbia68
New York City67
Detroit56
San Diego67
Miami55
Cordoba (Argentina)61
Toronto (Canada)81
Melbourne (Australia)80

Useful Information

  • Visas - You'll need a passport and a U.S. Visa if you're coming from outside the country. The visa is used to get through Customs, but you can store it in a safe place until your return flight. You can travel freely through South Carolina without needing to show proof of identity.
  • Currency - You can only use the U.S. Dollar here, but avoid carrying cash. There's just too much crime to risk having large amounts of money with you. If you do carry cash, store it in an inside pocket or in a non-traditional place. Many of the attractions have tickets that can be purchased online or through mobile apps.
  • Weather - You won't need a winter coat here and winters will even have some days that feel more like spring. The humidity doesn't go away, however, so bring clothing that can handle sweat without leaving stains. Rain gear is a good idea since there is a lot of rain in this region. Bring bug spray and apply it often. One local legend says one of the main streets was built extra wide to keep mosquitoes from crossing it. (Which doesn't work, FYI.)
  • Airports - Columbia Metropolitan Airport is within the city limits, but some people opt to fly out of Charlotte, North Carolina, for a larger airport and less expensive flights with fewer connections. If the beach is part of your trip, there are airports in Charleston and Savannah, each about two to two and a half hours away.
  • Travel Insurance - Travel insurance for urban travel and outdoor adventures is going to save a potential financial headache if you have an accident or get stuck in a hurricane.
Click here to get an offer for travel insurance

Columbia Weather Averages (Temperatures)

Jan 9° C
Feb 11° C
Mar 15° C
Apr 19° C
May 23° C
Jun 27° C
Jul 29° C
Aug 28° C
Sep 25° C
Oct 19° C
Nov 14° C
Dec 10° C
Choose Temperature Unit

Average High/Low Temperature

Temperature / MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
High
°C
151722263033353431262016
Low
°C
2481216212222191274
High
°F
596372798691959388796861
Low
°F
363946546170727266544539

Where to Next?

1 Review on Columbia

  1. Finally saw Fort Jackson

    Got the chance to go to Columbia on a business trip and also managed to see Fort Jackson. It was on my bucket list for some time now so I had to make time to go. A nice spot to visit and take a few days off in. Didn’t have any bad things happen so if I can, I will be coming back.

Rated 4 / 5 based on 1 user reviews.

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