10 Safety Travel Tips for visiting South America

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Guest post by @teresaribas

If you are planning to visit South America, here is a list of 10 travel safety tips to keep safe!

Let’s start with the most common question:

Is South America safe?

Latin America always tends to drop under the “cons” column when making that “where to next” decision regarding safety; and although the Safety weight should always be high when it comes to travelling, violence and danger are generally overrated in certain countries.

We won’t lie or sugar coat, crime levels in Latin American countries are higher than what we’re probably used to, but that should never be an impediment to travel. One should, however, be aware that special safety measures and precautions should be taken.

The people, history, culture and nature in these countries have been some of the most inspiring and soul-filling we’ve been to and we wouldn’t want you to miss out on the opportunity to live this experience out of fear.

We’d even risk guaranteeing your integrity, phone, money and passport will all be safe if you follow these 10 very easy safety tips and recommendations that we’ve strictly followed ourselves when travelling in South America.


South America Travel Safety Tips

1 – Prevention

Prevent, prevent, prevent. Prevention is the best investment.

You should see prevention as something extra to pack in your backpack, not as a burden.
Do your homework, learn how to get from A to B before you go.

Understand the safety measures you so should take in each specific country and write down emergency contacts, just in case. Preventing will always be better than having a bad experience that could ruin your trip.

South America view

2 – Avoid walking around at night

“The night is dark and full of terrors”.

Avoid walking around at night, especially in lonely streets and big cities. It’s not like vampires jump out as soon as the sun goes down, but maybe those late night strolls in the park should probably be avoided.

There is another very important thing to keep in mind: always avoid public transport at night, it’s better to spend a couple euros/dollars extra on a taxi (or Uber) than to lose all your belongings and get your trip ruined from one single bad experience.

 Safety tips for Mexico and South America
Oaxaca, Mexico

3 – Always be up to date on local news

Given the majority of these countries are historically politically unstable; geographically located where there is always (even if just a slight) risk of natural disasters and socially restless; you should always pay attention to local news before and during your trip.

Things here can change very quickly and you should always be able to adapt your plan to these unexpected and unpredictable situations when travelling in South America.

4 – Ask the locals

Always ask and follow local recommendations.

This is one of the most important travel safety tips in South America, and also the one that has helped us the most. Ask locals for their opinions on your plans.

Do this only when they have no interest in selling you anything, don’t blindly trust anyone who tries to take you to a bus when you get into a station or show you the way, or give you a “free sample” of something, have criteria and know who to trust.

Some people here live off commissions to attract tourists, so you might get ripped off.

Obviously, that’s not always the case and you’ll meet a lot of locals who earn nothing from your existence, who can help you understand if a neighbourhood should be avoided, if there’s any unsafe region for whatever reasons or if you should get Ubers instead of Taxis or Taxis instead of Ubers.

Strictly follow their recommendations once you ask for their tips, most people here don’t want you as a tourist to be hurt, that would negatively affect business and economy in places that live off visitors.

Safety tips for Villade Leyva, Colombia
Villade Leyva, Colombia

5 – Keep a low profile

This is not just a Latin America recommendation, and you’ve probably read this off every travel guide, but avoid taking your best jewellery and sneakers out for a walk.

You’ll stand out and that’s something you don’t want, especially if criminals are around, they’ll go for the people who look like they have something valuable (even if they don’t).

Know where to take your fancy camera and/or phone out, understand that sometimes it’s better to lose that story opportunity, instead of losing your phone.

6 – Protect your belongings

At. All. Times.

Keep an eye on them, one tiny distraction and you can lose them all.

Scatter your money, don’t carry it all in one place; don’t put your phone in your pant’s back pocket, or your wallet for that matter.

Grab on to your backpack in crowded places and watch out for your stuff in public transport.

 Bogotá, Colombia, travel tips
Bogotá, Colombia

7 – Look confident

Look like you know where you’re going (even if you don’t).

In fact, one of the best ways to avoid problems is to look confident. Don’t walk around looking at your phone or your maps, don’t look lost, people might take advantage of that.

Look for a shop whenever you feel lost, whether it’s a business, a restaurant, and ask for directions.

8 – Follow your gut

Be smart, follow your gut.

Many times, while looking for the museum, the park, the street, you’ll go through some dodgy streets.

Turn around. Always turn around if something feels weird.

Take a different path, walk down a different street, chances are your bad gut feeling is actually real.

Big cities can be tricky, and big cities one is not familiar with can be hell, keep yourself safe and follow your gut every time that one street, that one person, that one taxi, that one bus looks bad.

Barranquilla, Colombia, South America
Barranquilla, Colombia

9 – Learn Spanish basics

You don’t have to be Gabriel Garcia Marquez to travel through Latin America, but knowing some basics can get you out of some frustrating situations.

The English level in some countries is surprisingly low and, although miming sometimes does the trick, it won’t if you need something more complicated like “I need something to help with sandflea bite itching” (which you’ll need.. I’d bet you on that).

Learn the basics, it will help.

10 – Beware of Tinder traps

That’s right, dating.

Something that has become rather common in some countries is trapping tourists through tinder or dating websites. We’ve heard some stories first hand, and they are not pleasant.

Again, be smart, learn who and who not to trust, protect your belongings and follow your gut.

San Pedro Atitlàn, Guatemala

As a conclusion, I’d like to invite you to not obsess over safety in these countries, if you take care, prevent, prepare and take some precautions to avoid finding yourself in a complicated situation, you’ll be able to enjoy an inspiring, enriching and soulful experience.

Just like you would anywhere else, understand you’re a visitor, and you should adapt to the local culture and habits, not the other way around – respect the people around you, be polite and thankful, and don’t do anything a local wouldn’t.

Don’t get yourself in trouble, needless to say, you should avoid getting in the drug or prostitution scenes and accept the cultural differences.

Enjoy, there’s so much to learn & see!

Tikal, Flores, Guatemala

Author Bio:

Native Portuguese, bilingual in English, trilingual in Spanish. I speak Catalan when people promise not to laugh, I’ll understand Italian or French. I still believe I should’ve listened to my mother when she told me to learn Mandarin.

Born in Oporto, Portugal, lived in Italy and England before settling for Barcelona, Spain. Where I lived for the past 9 years before quitting my job as a corporate branding consultant and leaving my house, my life and my friends to follow one of my biggest dreams: to travel the world indefinitely.

Not a blogger, I share all my trips and tips on my travel diary at @teresaribas

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