This guidebook is a short analysis on the safety in Latin America. Big parts of this material are universal for travelling to the other parts of the world as well. The idea is to raise the tourist knowledge and warn about the most common, potentially dangerous situations.
- First part (the one you read now) is about safety in Latin America: here are the facts and typical crimes on tourists.
- Second part is about habits that every safe backpacker should have. It also tells some example stories of those who paid for their mistakes.
- Third part (in progress) will be about staying healthy during your travels.
During a 9 month trip across Latin America I encountered 4 potentially dangerous moments and I’m quite sure that I remained safe thanks to the knowledge and commons sense. Once I just had quite a lot of luck, but it happened on the beginning of my trip, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I bet I could avoid it as well today, with all the experience I gathered from almost a year of travelling.
You’ll return with awesome memories
You’ll just need to take care of yourself, do your research, get to know the way to stay safe. In contrary to the cliche, travelling in Latin America is quite safe and you’ll meet so many friendly Latinos wishing you only good.
Some people in Latin America want to take advantage over tourists
Thefts and assaults with weapons happens. I don’t know the exact numbers, I can only say what I hear form other travellers. Not so many of them are victims of crime though.
A lot of theft happens due to lack of common sense
Many times tourist leave their belongings unattended, they lack common sense, they get way to drunk or go to wrong places.
Latin Americas violence has it roots in drug business (cocaine) and focuses mainly around big cities. Scary statistics (mainly from Mexico and Central America) refer mainly to gang wars and most of them refers to “hot spots” – drug trafficking centres.
Due to geographical location in many places you’ll experience early sunset, somewhere around 6 or 7 PM. It’s good to know that, because short days don’t go along stretched walks and lack of daylight increases suspicious activity.
MOST TYPICAL CRIME TYPES AND HOW TO DEAL WITH THEM
Often because somebody didn’t properly take care of their things. Pickpocketing in crowded places, theft in night buses or from the locker somewhere in a bad hostel. Widely known trick is to distract the victim (by spitting on him or pouring over a drink) and take advantage of distracted tourist. You’ll have to stay calm and pay attention to your surroundings, especially on markets and crowded streets.
They happen in dark alleys, bad neighbourhoods and in taxis. The infamous “millionaire taxi ride” may happen i.e. in Bolivia, Peru, Colombia and results in emptying your credit or debit card. It’s good to use only official, well marked taxis that are part of a decent companies, because unmarked taxis may happen to be driven by criminals.
To avoid robberies you’ll have to dodge “suspicious” areas, especially after dark. In case of being attacked by a person with a weapon it’s advisable to stay calm and give anything the attacker wants or you might end up being hurt by an angry assaulter.
Another widely known method is a motorbike robbery. It happens when two riders approach you, rob and escape the scene quickly. It’s advisable not to walk alone or in desolated areas.
Local authorities extortions
The police in Latin America is one of the most underfunded one across the globe. Policemen salaries are very low so law enforcement officers sometime look for additional money by extorting small bribes.
The topic is escpecially up-to-date in Venezuela, where due to tourists reports, army patrols stop travellers and try to intimidate them.
- Slipping drugs into drinks
Used due to exploit women as well as steal valuables, concerns both sexes. The drug doesn’t have any specific taste or smell so it’s advisable not to accept drinks from strangers nor leave your drink unattended. And finally, go partying with somebody you trust.
SAFETY IN PLACES MOSTY FOR TOURISTS
Basically you can cross whole Latin America using the beaten path, from hostel to another hostel, often using dedicated tourist buses. The safety in such places is in many cases assured by local police so the tourism business can grow. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have to be careful there – some tourist related crime, such as pickpocketing and theft might actually be bigger than in other places, simply because “rich” gringos may attract thieves.
LATIN AMERICAN COUNTRIES SAFETY RANKING
You can find several rankings on safety in Latin America, there are some differences here and there and often they are based on homicide statistics. Tourist safety will be little different and here’s my take on the topic.
- Basically safe: Costa Rica, Uruguay, Chile
- Less safe: Panama, Argentina, Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay
- Quite unsafe, you’ll have to take care in “hot spots”: Nicaragua, Bolivia, Colombia, Brazil, El Salvador, Mexico
- The infamous tail of the ranking, unstable, you’ll have to take precautions in many areas: Guatemala, Honduras, Venezuela
FACING THE DEAMON
This is just the first part of three, in couple of days you’ll read about habits of safe traveller and you’ll learn why broad understanding will let you travel mindfully and safely.