Scams. There is nothing worse than falling victim to one. It’s humiliating, expensive and can ruin a vacation and a whole country.
But I’m sure we’ve all been there at least once. I certainly have abroad and in my own country!
I wouldn’t want to say that it is because Colombians are prone to scamming people, but you can argue that we sort of is. I love my country and wouldn’t reduce us to a bad stereotype, but a couple of cultural tenets here center on taking or being taken advantage of.
Don’t let this discourage you from visiting. A very good case can be made around Colombians being inviting and kind and several travelers come and go without a hiccup, but there’s always a couple of really bad ambassadors of our culture.
Nevertheless, scams will often happen to travelers that are unaware and under-informed. Being lost is part of the wonders of traveling, but really being can be more than just troublesome. And you can fight this! Information and awareness will mitigate most, if not all, risks of being taken advantage of.
Beyond just being a generally aware and precautious person, knowing what type of scams are common helps a great deal. You can be ready to doubt suspicious offers and persons in specific situations.
I’ve been a victim to a couple (long hauling taxis, overpriced food in beaches, fake goods), but if not for our friends at travelscams.org I wouldn’t be aware of half of the things people do to rob you. Here are three scams I have been personally a victim of and I think every traveler should be aware of:
Long hauling taxis
This can happen anywhere you are unaware of taxi fares and unfamiliar with city layout. Unscrupulous taxi drivers will sometimes take longer routes to waste time to push up the price of the ride. Foreigners are prime targets, as they are often unfamiliar with ride prices, but believe me: Colombians can also fall prey to such tactics.
So: have a clear destination in mind and remember to check your GPS (Waze, Google Maps) to verify you are going in the right direction. You can also check fair prices in an app called: Calculadora de Tarifas.
Personal recommendation: Uber, DiDi, Beat, and other driver services work well enough in the cities and you have greater control over where you are going and how you get there. However, I will point out that the unregulated nature of these services draw the ire of some taxi drivers that feel they are stealing their customers. 99% it is a non-issue, but I try to keep the drivers safe by ordering the services in streets or corners not directly on traffic corridors to avoid on-looking taxis. Or, if unavoidable, being very friendly and familiar with the driver as they pick me up.
Beach service food scam
If you visit a public beach in Cartagena or Santa Marta you will be approached by vendors. There’s a myriad of them: some are legit, some are scam artists. They might offer a free something or something with “no compromise”, like oysters or a massage, and then insist on charging you top dollar for whatever they procured or did.
I would avoid going to public beaches just because vendors will harass you constantly and it can become very unpleasant. But if you can’t or won’t avoid public beaches, I would recommend bringing your own food and firmly – very firmly – decline the vendors’ services. If you definitely are craving some oysters/seafood or want a foot massage at the beach, negotiate price and currency before getting anything.
Remember: it might seem cheap in dollars or euros, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right price.
Personal recommendation: Eat food at restaurants, get massages at hotels or spas and avoid crowded public beaches if you can. They are often not the beautiful postcard-worthy kind anyway.
This happens all around the world in flea markets or with street vendors. Items outside stores usually are not clearly labeled with their price. This is not an issue if you have a good idea of what said item can go for, but otherwise, you are at the mercy of the vendor who can quote an inflated price to take advantage of you. Prices immediately quoted in dollars are the most suspicious, as they probably won’t correspond to what the price would be with the current exchange rate.
Same as before: it can sound “cheap” in dollars or euros, but that doesn’t always mean it is a fair price to pay.
Personal recommendation: if you know what you are looking for, the internet is always your friend. You can also ask at the desk of your hotel/hostel: they are usually locals and well informed.
Chances are, anyway, that you were just walking and saw something that caught your eye. In these cases, see if other vendors are also selling the item and ask around for prices. You can often haggle for a better deal – this doesn’t mean it will go for half the quoted price, but still…
There are several other scams that you should look out for, unfortunately. For my part, these are the ones that I’ve stumbled upon in years of traveling in Colombia. My take: you can protect yourself from these three scams and every other with a little bit of research. The wonder of travel is often about surprises, but everyone should do a little research beforehand just in case.
I invite you to visit our good friends at travelscams.org they’ve been documenting all about these scams for a while and have pretty good tips.