With the influx of new tourists coming into Medellin over the past 18 months, I feel some of the things I had posted on a Facebook group back in 2020 are more relevant than ever and I think this is the perfect time and venue to revisit these tips and add a few more that address the things that make you stand out while you’re here.
I understand that if you are on vacation, you want to be in vacation mode, but there are some things to realize while you’re here. First, let’s address the elephant in the room – robbing and drugging ANYONE is wrong and needs to be handled in the appropriate manner, and by all local authorities. I am not blaming the victims at all. However, all of my tips here are to keep you away from being put in that position to begin with. I know many are tired of hearing the Colombian phrase “No dar papaya”, but in this case it’s what has kept me safe here for 8 years.
Dress the part
This is the easiest part to address. If you are walking around the city here, you will notice that there are many fashion differences between the US/Canada/Europe and here in Colombia. In every Colombian city, the people dress very differently depending on the climate, and the overwhelming fashion choices in the city. I’m not saying that when you’re in Medellin, you should mimic J.Balvin or Bad Bunny’s style, but wearing cargo shorts, a ratty shirt, and flip flops are going to make you stand out in the wrong way.
One thing I can say with certainty is that average Colombians take pride in their appearance when going out of the house. If you are dating a Colombian, especially a Colombian woman, you have to be presentable when you are out with them. I understand that you are on vacation, but you will stand out as a target if you are wearing what Paisas refer to as “The gringo uniform” – a baseball hat, t-shirt that’s dirty/not well kept, shorts and flip flops. Bonus points if you are wearing cargo shorts and sunglasses. All of these will make you stand out as a tourist and you will get more attention from the beggars, street sellers and thieves. Also, if you have to run for any reason, you’re completely screwed if you’re wearing sandals. Chanclas are for the house and a behavior correcting method for latin women.
When I was with my ex, who is paisa, she also said that the hygiene of gringos is lacking by Colombian standards. I can think of one instance where we had to get up at 4AM to get on a flight, and I told her I would shower right before bed, so there would be no issues in the morning. She was utterly disgusted by this idea. She said to me that I am a reflection of her when I go out in public, and if I don’t have the same hygiene standards that she does when I’m out in public, I reflect poorly on her, and it’s even more embarrassing when we’re together. This is the public perception, and not adhering to this will ensure you stand out.
Here is my advice, If you are going out to a decent restaurant, bar or club and you’re a guy, wear a button up shirt, jeans and shoes – But make sure the shirt is pressed. Don’t be a slob, in addition to not looking like you belong, you will not do well with the women of substance in these places. If you are walking around the streets, wear a nice clean t-shirt, joggers and athletic shoes and wearing a hat is ok here as well. Most importantly, smell good. There are some people that the paisa make fun of secretly because of their poor hygiene, I’m not going to call them out, but being clean is a choice. Bathe regularly, wear deodorant, brush your teeth and wear cologne/perfume. It will go a long way to your interpersonal success here, but also to just not standing out.
While on that subject, the overwhelming majority Colombians don’t smoke. I’m not saying to not smoke at all, they just see it as gross and it definitely turns off people wanting to interact with you. Also, if you are outside of a bar or restaurant smoking you have a much higher risk of a street vendor, prostitute or panhandler bother you.
No Dar Papaya
This is the one that I think most people don’t want to hear, but it’s very true. If you are on vacation or live here, you can’t turn a blind eye to the crime here. It’s rampant, and contrary to other places in the ‘western world’ the majority of the crime happens in the tourist areas. It seems counter intuitive that there would be high crime in places like El Poblado and Laureles, but here that is the case. Tourists are easy marks, because your brain is in vacation mode. Even those from the most dangerous cities are vulnerable here to crime because you have caught the attention of the organized criminals here. Here are a few tips on how to avoid this:
- Stay off your phone in the street – If you are walking around with your phone in the street, taking photos, chatting, setting up your date for the night, or doomscrolling TikTok, you are at risk of getting your phone snatched. It happens in an instant here. The typical method is the thief is on a motorcycle, pulls up close to you, snatches your phone and rides off into traffic. Another variation is that you are in a car with the window down, not paying attention to your surroundings, and a moto splits traffic and grabs your phone and speeds off. This happened because of your lack of special awareness, and not paying attention to your surroundings. I have had people tell me ‘tell the thieves to stop stealing, I shouldn’t have to change my behavior for them’. If that is your retort, you’re right it is wrong, but it’s how you stay safe in the real world.
- Don’t walk around with all of your belongings in a backpack. This one should be self explanatory, but with the sheer number of backpackers I see walking around with camping backpacks on their backs in the streets proves this is not the case. You are a target if you are walking around with the entirety of your belongings on your back. It’s better to find a safe place to keep your items if you’re going to be out in the streets.
- Keep your chains and expensive jewelry at home. If you’re a guy and you fit the Miami stereotype of a hype beast, you are going to stand out here, and not at all in the way you want to. I understand that there are plenty of Colombian women in Miami, and there your chain and designer clothes are a status symbol they respond to in Brickell, but here you stand out to the ‘ladrones’ more than the ladies here. I’ve seen too many times in Parque Lleras guys (and women) get their chains snatched. Think of this, a chain snatching beef is what took Tupac and Biggie from us. Past that, you will stand out to the scopolamine queens. They’re much higher tech in their tactics. More on that later.
- Limit your consumption of drugs and alcohol while out in public. Nothing makes you a bigger target than being visibly drunk or high in public. I understand that when you’re out dancing you want to have a great time, but the law of diminishing returns is definitely applicable here. If you are walking around high or drunk you aren’t going to be as vigilant as you should be and that is a recipe for disaster here. While I’m on the topic, let’s talk about the dreaded topic, cocaine. I know it’s a (secret) reason many come here, but there are a few things to clear up – the first is strength, generally speaking the cocaine here isn’t cut 4-5 times and is much purer, so if you do bumps like you do back home, you have an infinitely higher chance of overdosing here. The next is the legality; there are some people on a Passport Bros-centric Facebook group that read an obscure law that up to 1 gram of cocaine is legal to carry here. False, it carries jail time here if you’re not careful, and it can even affect you back home. The moral of the story is to have your fun, but it’s better to do that in the comfort of your own home.
- Read the room. This is a soft skill that many do not have, so I will make this as simple as possible – Look around you. If you are the center of attention, and it doesn’t feel like it’s good attention, pay attention to that feeling and try to seamlessly remove yourself from the situation. No night out is worth being in a dangerous situation for.
The most important thing to remember is that you’re not at home. You already stand out, so don’t make that worse. There are many more things, but this is a good foundation for knowledge of papaya.
Learn the language
So, one thing I will say, learning Spanish is hard. I’ve been here for 8 years, and I learned it while I was here. I didn’t take classes, I did it all with apps and talking to people. When I didn’t speak Spanish well, my life here was much more difficult. I had problems with communicating the most basic of needs to people. I had to embrace making mistakes and get over my perfectionist nature to be comfortable with looking like a fool when talking to people.
I’m not saying you have to be perfect with Spanish, but have the basics down. One thing I can say with certainty is that Paisa people LOVE it when they see a foreigner, and they will likely want to talk to you to learn more about you. It’s a natural curiosity that they have, and it will help you in business here, your love life and just your social life at large. If you plan on staying here, people will take you much more seriously if you can communicate with them. It seems simple, but assuming that people here will speak English is ignorant. If you can’t speak English in their country, and aren’t actively learning it, you are in no position to expect them to know your language.
One thing I can also say is to learn the swear words and common phrases here. You can know if people are talking poorly about you. If someone calls you ‘pirobo’ ‘malparido’ or ‘gonorrhea’ you will know you’re not in a favorable place.
Pablo Escobar is not as cool to Colombians as he is to you. If you are from the US, how would you feel if someone wanted to talk about slavery and how cool it must have been? Hey, let’s go on a slave ship tour! That’s what it sounds like to a pretty substantial number of Colombians when you act like Pablo Escobar is some demi-god because he was infamous and powerful. He was responsible for death and terrorism in the country for a long time. Many people have been directly affected by his reign of terror here.
There are many who still see him as the “Paisa Robin Hood”, but by and large he is someone that Colombian people, especially Paisa people hate. I know many want to come here and live some “Narcos” fantasy here, but just look at how well that ended for the protagonists of the show, it won’t end much better now if you want to go down that road.
There was a rash of some ‘dating gurus’ advertising penthouses on AirBnB, as “Pablo Party Penthouses”, which consisted of the AirBnB host providing several grams of cocaine and prepagos for parties. However, the snake ate its own tail on that trend, because the guests were staying up for days at a time partying in residential buildings. There was even an instance where a drugged up girl went to pick up a delivery from the front desk at a residential building naked in the middle of the day. Don’t be this person.
Be culturally sensitive and respect the culture here. Pablo Escobar is not culture here, he is history, and an ugly one at that.
I know that prostitution is legal here, but it doesn’t mean to celebrate it. Also, check the laws before you come here. People misunderstand the laws here and get in trouble, especially with sex workers and drugs. When you travel you are supposed to follow your local laws. IE – The age of consent and drug laws here in Colombia.
Much like the myth surrounding cocaine here, many have heard that you can have sex with underage girls here without trouble. Neither is true. The age of consent for sex in Colombia is 18, and if anyone tells you otherwise, run. There is a misconception that you can have sex with a 14 year old here, which is accurate under very specific circumstances here. You will need to have written permission from their parents or legal guardians, you will have to be married to the person and it will have to happen in a church. I’ve been through a legal marriage here, and the process is lengthy and idiotic. Not to mention it’s disgusting, and you’re a real life villain if you are coming here to take advantage of the youth.
If you do choose to visit any of the strip clubs here, they are thin veils for houses of ill repute. The two that come to mind are Fase 2 and La Isla. Both are well regulated and relatively safe. You are less likely to be drugged and robbed there. However, be smart. There is still a stigma surrounding sex work here; colloquially referred to as “Doble Moral” roughly translated to double standards. It’s very real here, after all, Colombia is a very religious country.
Also, when I said earlier to not celebrate it, what I mean is that it’s still a source of shame, and even though most folks won’t understand when you talk openly about it, some will, and it is not something to talk about openly here like you’re talking about the weather.
Colombia is the land where magical realism was born. It permeates every aspect of life here, and is deeply ingrained in the DNA of every Colombian. For some this is a positive thing, it allows them to tap deep into a creative source, that living in this reality won’t allow you to access. For others it allows them to justify delusional behavior, and for even a small percentage of others, it allows them to justify heinous behavior as “doing what they have to” regardless of how much it scars others.
Westerners are the same here, without even knowing it. Nowhere is this more evident than on Tinder. When westerners come here, specifically the men and fire up Tinder, they are greeted with a seemingly endless stream of young gorgeous women who are looking for “Short Term Fun”. They turn off all skepticism, and their confidence gets gassed up because Isabella, the 20 year old, university student is interested in him. It doesn’t matter that when she was born he was her age, and she only speaks Spanish. She even wants to come to chill at his place before going out. ‘Have I hit the lottery?’ he thinks. You sir have not, she did.
Best case scenario, she is looking for a sugar daddy or a relationship “con beneficios mutuales”, which sounds sweet and like friends with benefits, but allow me to expand on this. She is looking to give you love, in exchange for helping her economically. If that’s what you are looking for, more power to you. But the words are crafted carefully to trap you into an agreement you are not clear about.
Worst case scenario, she is about to drug you, and steal everything from you. Here is where the high tech comes in, generally speaking they use scopolamine to subdue victims. I also chose that phrase carefully, because scopolamine doesn’t knock you out like a roofie, it makes you lose consciousness in your mind, but at the right dosage, makes you completely submissive to your captor. This means they don’t have to hack your laptop, phone, safe, etc. They already hacked you, and you will give it all to them, happily.
You will wake up confused, in need of immediate medical attention and not knowing how to articulate this in Spanish. Think about the level of hell waking up a day later with no memory of anything, all of your belongings gone and confused as to how you got there. Add in the stress of a language barrier, not having your support system with you, and no way of getting in touch with anyone that can help you. This is the reality of the aftermath of getting drugged by scopolamine. In many cases, the person drugging gives a larger dosage and kills the person. That happened in 2022, and the young man was just on a date with a sweet appearing girl in Laureles, but that cost him his life.
The horrors of getting drugged with scopolamine don’t end with confusion and the feeling of utter violation and helplessness. Oftentimes, victims will have to deal with organ failure, scarring in vital endocrine systems, and the most sensitive thing of all, is possible infertility and oftentimes erectile dysfunction which will haunt the victim for months or even years.
Am I blaming the victims for getting violated like this? Not specifically. Their poor choices led them to be there, but nobody deserves any of this. For the men who experience this, it’s the closest that they can feel to being raped. There is a level of shame involved with reporting it to the authorities, and causes the victim to never trust people, even if they address the PTSD, all similar to rape victims.
If you are on Tinder in Colombia, especially as a man, I want to make this incredibly clear – YOU ARE THE PREY. Here are a few things that should be dealbreakers when meeting with anyone from Tinder:
- NEVER meet them at your hotel, apartment or hostel without meeting them in person. Ever. Just don’t do it. This isn’t a “Netflix and chill moment”.
- If you want to meet someone, do it in a public place where there are a lot of people, and they don’t serve alcohol. You’ll thank me later for this.
- If they want to come to your place for drinks before going out, that’s not a good thing. Bonus points if they want to bring a friend.
- This is the most important thing, if it seems too good to be true – trust your instincts that it is. Because it is indeed too good to be true. At minimum she wants you for your wallet, at worst you’re going down a dark path that will leave a lasting impression on your future.
All of the things I’ve covered here can be boiled down to one phrase: “You’re a visitor here, have respect for the people, the culture and the country”. Respect the culture as much as you’d like to have them respect yours if they visited yours.
In the latest version of the tourists that are coming to Medellin, there is a lack of respect, it feels. This coincides with the genesis of the Passport Bros movement, and it is either a contributing factor or one hell of a coincidence. In addition over the past year to 18 months, there have been high profile cases that have swayed the favor away from the foreigners in Medellin. There have been dating gurus selling a pipe dream of a sexual paradise where lonely western men can come and have the pick of the litter for just existing and having an American or EU passport, guys who were financially supporting high profile DJ’s and then murdering them after finding out that they weren’t the only guy in her life and general disgusting behavior from visitors.
I’m sure none of my esteemed readers disrespect our chosen home in this way, so why do I bring this up? Well 2 reasons – one as a warning to those that would participate in this trash behavior. Reported druggings have gone up 430% in the past 12 months, robberies are up 125% over last year as quantified by the Police Station in Manilla. What can’t be counted is the public perception of foreigners in Colombia.
That part affects us all who call Medellin home. I will explain my point on this. If the police think that we are all cut from the same cloth, we will be harassed more by the police for just existing. This creates an environment where the Police and public at large don’t judge us by our actions or contributions to society, but rather by the actions of a small minority. Personally, I understand where they are coming from. Hearing stories of the tourists coming here and being utterly inappropriate with the locals makes me feel bad for the treatment they have received at the hands of visitors to their home.
Keep this in mind, no matter where you were born, you are not superior to others. You are not entitled to anything her, and the less respect you treat others with, the less you will receive. Remember the human in the interactions here. A little respect, reverence and curiosity will take you a long way when you decide to call another country home. Treat everyone here as if they are your brother, sister, mother, father, or even just friend. If you do this you can make that last one a reality.