South America often gets a
bad reputation as being an unsafe place to travel, which is unfortunate when you
consider the amazing cities, majestic ruins and unparalleled nature that can be
found there. Fortunately, the reputation is somewhat overblown. It depends on
where you go, but aside from an elevated risk of theft and pickpocketing,
travel in South America is quite manageable.
The first line of defense
when traveling anywhere is knowledge. Before you even leave home it's a good
idea to investigate where you are headed and the major safety issues in the
area. Prior research will help you sort out the rumors from the truth and
determine what precautions you might need to take.
Once you are on the ground in
a new area, don't stop asking questions. Locals, other travelers and
particularly your hotel staff are a great source of up-to-date information.
Even the safest cities have bad neighborhoods, and someone with more experience
can tell you which areas are safe and which should be avoided, particularly at
night. They can also alert you to any scams happening in the area.
Taxis in South America are
often an important vector for scams, rip-off and (in very rare cases)
kidnappings. Always make sure that you are getting into an official taxi and
that they are using the meter or you have negotiated a price beforehand. At
airports and bus stations there is usually an official taxi stand or your hotel
can call you one.
This seems like an obvious
tip, but it's a mistake many travelers make (and some pay dearly for). Parts of
South America play a pivotal role in the world drug trade, which means high
quality narcotics can be available at cheap prices. The risk however really
isn't worth it as buying drugs puts you in contact with the worst criminal
elements in a city and puts you at risk for everything from undercover police
stings to robbery and even worse.
South America is the kind of
place that personal article insurance was invented for. The best way to keep
your valuables safe is not to bring them at all, but if you do carry an
expensive camera or laptop, definitely insure it in case of theft. Sometimes
even the most cautious people slip up and it's better to have that extra
The easiest way to avoid
thievery is not to be a temptation. Fine jewelry or name brand purses should
probably be left at home and expensive cameras only taken out when necessary.
You will want to leave your passport and most of your money locked up during
the day and only carry what is necessary. This minimizes risk and makes you
less of a target.
Probably the most common
crime in South America, like in many tourist destinations, is pick pocketing.
Crowded cities full of tourists are like an all-you-can-eat buffet for talented
Don't let these tips frighten
you. South America is an incredible, vibrant and most of all, very large place.
Conditions vary greatly from Santiago to San Paulo. The bottom line is: take
care of your belongings and take care of yourself and you will be at far less
risk for any problems.
Do you have any additional
safety tips for South America?
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Stephanie Yoder is a girl who can't sit still! Since graduating college in 2007 she has either been traveling or planning to travel. She's lived on four continents and visited everywhere from the Great Wall of China to the Great Barrier Reef. She now writes and travels full time, blogging about her adventures on Why Wait To See The World? (formerly Twenty-Something Travel). Follow Stephanie on Twitter or visit her on Facebook.
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