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Safety in Latin America


Most Latin American countries have now recognized that tourism plays an important part in their economies and governments have taken great steps in the last few years to change Latin America’s poor security image. You’ll find a lot more police, especially plain-clothed officers, in the towns and cities most frequently visited by tourists.
Here are some helpful tips to help you minimise any security risks:
  • Ÿ Ÿ When taking taxis from an airport to your hotel, travel in the more expensive airport taxis and ensure that the drivers have official identification. Never take a taxi waiting outside the airport grounds.
  • Ÿ Ÿ Travel in a group if possible.
  • Ÿ Ÿ Learn the basics in Spanish before you arrive in Latin America. Don’t expect that people will speak English.
  • Ÿ Ÿ Keep your valuables hidden and watch your pockets especially around busy tourist areas such as Florida St. in Buenos Aires and La Mariscal in Quito.
  • Ÿ Ÿ Avoid going on your own to remote areas/ruins where tourists would not be expected to go.
  • Ÿ Ÿ Seek local advice or take a guide.
  • Ÿ Ÿ Read the guide books and talk with other tourists to find out which areas are best avoided.
  • Ÿ Ÿ When leaving nightclubs/bars/discos late at night take a taxi home no matter how close your hostel or hotel is.
  • When arriving in a new town, keep to your original plan and stay in the hotel that you have decided on. Don’t let the taxi driver persuade you that your hostel is fully booked and that he knows a cheaper and better one. He’ll be working on commission and the hotel may not be in a safe part of town.
  • Ÿ Ÿ Although assaults are rare, theft can be prevalent. Latin American thieves are experts at making the most of a good opportunity – a moment’s lapse in a tourist’s concentration is their business. Long bus trips, crowded streets and packed trains are all their territory. We don’t recommend that you avoid these places because you can’t, but again commonsense precautions should be taken.
  • Ÿ Ÿ Don’t wear expensive looking jewellery.
  • Ÿ Ÿ On public transport, have your day pack close to you at all times, preferably with the straps around your legs or padlocked to the luggage rack. On buses, your backpack will normally go outside, either on top of the roof or in the external luggage compartments. On long distance buses, ask for a receipt for your bags. On short rides, just keep a careful eye out each time the bus stops to off-load bags.
  • Ÿ Ÿ Leave your valuables in your hotel safe when making day trips or longer tours. Obtain a receipt not just for your money belt/wallet etc. but for its contents, with each item listed.
  • Ÿ Ÿ If planning on going to market areas, crowded streets, fiestas etc. don’t go with all your valuables. Leave them in the hotel.
  • Ÿ Ÿ If you’re planning on buying something expensive, keep your money safely in a money belt.
  • Ÿ Ÿ If the pavements are really crowded, especially in market areas, walk on the road.
  • Ÿ Ÿ Bag slashing is rare these days, but for added safety you can wear your day pack on your chest. If it’s on your back, try to walk without stopping.
  • Ÿ Ÿ When putting your bag down on the floor, to take a photo or just to sit in a café, remember to put your foot through the strap. This is the most common type of theft in Latin America – tourists forgetting bags in cafes and on returning to ask if anyone has seen it - you’ve guessed it - it’s gone.
If, at the end of the day, you are unfortunate enough to be robbed ... just accept it as a travel experience. Make sure that you have good insurance and that you’ve read the small print before arriving in Latin America so you know what is required to make a successful claim. Excluding precious photos, most things can be replaced in Latin America. Finally don’t let it spoil your holiday and don’t suddenly believe that every Latin American is a thief. The overwhelming majority are kind, honest, hardworking people who detest the thieves probably more than you do – when they get robbed, they usually don’t have insurance.