Stephanie Yoder a RoamRight Blog Author

How To Travel Safely in South America


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.

Here are some things you can do to make sure your trip to South America is as safe and trouble-free as possible:

Do Your Research 

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.

Some countries are distinguished by safe and unsafe areas. For example in Colombia it is very safe to visit Bogota, Medellin and other major locations, but parts of the south and the Amazon are not advised. With some prior knowledge you can plan your trip accordingly.

Ask for Advice

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.

Use the Correct Taxis

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.

Stay Away From Illegal Drugs

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.

Invest in Travel Insurance

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 re-assurance.

Don't Flaunt Your Valuables

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.

Be Aware

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 wallet thieves.

The easiest way to avoid falling prey is to be aware of your surroundings at all times, particularly on the subway and near tourist attractions. Pickpockets like easy targets: the lady with her purse gaping open, the distracted tourist who sets his camera down on the table, or the guy with the iPhone almost falling out of his pocket. Don't be that person, and you will most likely be passed over for someone more tempting.

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?

Note: Available plans and coverages may have changed since this blog was published.

About the Author

Stephanie Yoder

Stephanie Yoder, a RoamRight Blog Author

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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