South America

Is It Safe to Travel to South America?

Laura Pattara

Laura Pattara  |  1 June 2018

Useful tips for your next trip in South America

Find more about our holidays in South America 

There are quite a few instances when all South American countries are bundled up and considered just one uniform destination and never is this truer than when talking about the safety aspect of South American travel. Although many of us wouldn’t dream of asking ‘is it safe to travel to Europe?’ (for we know the answer would be ‘where, in Europe?’) we still fail to see South America for the expansive and diverse continent it really is, comprising many different countries.

Is it safe to travel to South America?

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Well, generally speaking, sure it is, although – as with every other continent – there are certain safety considerations that should be taken in certain parts of certain countries. Knowing where safety issues can arise is half the battle won so being informed is, in fact, the most important precaution you should be taking. Moreover, keep in mind that South America receives tens of millions of tourists every year and the great majority have a simply unforgettable travel experience, free of health and safety issues. Keeping a perspective on the numbers, therefore, is vital in understanding the safety aspect of touring extensively throughout the continent.

 

What a view of Rio de Janeiro !

 

Safety overview of South America

If you’re a fan of statistics then you may find it interesting to learn that, generally speaking, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and Ecuador are considered the safest countries for tourists to visit whilst a few issues have been sporadically reported in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia and Peru. Having said that, do note that countries like Peru and Bolivia do receive many more visitors than Ecuador, for example, and that 99% of reported issues have to do with a bout of gastro, a petty crime like mobile theft or passport loss and, in much greater numbers, road accidents whilst using public transport or driving rental cars. So whilst statistics can certainly be helpful in understanding the safety situation in South America it does help if it is kept in perspective and studied in greater detail. Despite what you may have heard second-hand or whatever misconceptions you may have, the single greatest safety risk in South America actually comes from road travel on public transport, something that isn’t often even considered.

What can you do to mitigate safety risks when travelling to South America?

There are many precautions you can take to help mitigate safety risks and ensure your journey is problem-free and enjoyable.

Be informed

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Every country the world over has certain areas tourists should avoid and South American nations are no different. The #1 safety precaution is to know what the safety situation is, not just in the country you wish to visit but also the specific provinces in which your must-see highlights are located. Getting the info is actually the easy part: just about every government in the world is intent on keeping foreign tourists perfectly safe so reports of somewhat dodgy areas to avoid are numerous and widely shared. Check your own government’s warnings and ask an expert travel agent for known safety concerns in the specific areas you wish to travel to, as you plan your journey.

Consider your transport choice

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Now that you know where the main concerns lie, it’s a good idea to consider your choice of transport. Renting a car abroad is, statistically, the most ‘dangerous’ thing you could do and this is true of any continent, not only South America. Choose a private transport option operated by an experienced local and your road safety risks will greatly diminish.

Consider the economic situation of your chosen destination

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Although all South American nations are making huge leaps forward as far as their economic prosperity is concerned, there’s no denying that the continent, as a whole, is still developing. Don’t forget that all South American countries are still relatively young and all major developments weren’t made until they won their independence from their respective colonial rulers. Why is this important? Well, because it is a known fact that the poorer the country, or region, than the higher the incidence of petty crime against tourists. Expensive luxuries like the latest mobile phone, fancy cameras and even jewellery can attract unwanted attention abroad, especially if you happen to be showing them off in a region where people are barely able to make ends meet. So be thoughtful in what you pack and what you carry around with you, leave valuables at home and don’t go sightseeing with all your worldly possession draped around your neck.

Mind your stuff & stay central

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Truth be told, you’re actually more likely to lose something yourself rather than have it stolen and that’s due to all the packing and unpacking involved with travelling. From cash to credit cards, cameras, phone and whatnot, make sure you have one specific place in your belongings for each item you pack and, more importantly, make sure it is always kept there. When going out, only take the bare minimum with you, nothing extra. Booking a very central hotel in large cities is ideal and allows you to easily get back to leave souvenirs, cameras or extra money during the day. Need to go to the ATM? Make a specific outing for it, in company and during the day. Go out, withdraw funds and return to put your cash in the hotel safe. Only then go out sightseeing with just the essentials. Choosing a centrally located hotel also helps you avoid the prime mistake many travellers make: walking around with huge backpacks filled with all sorts of snacks, drinks, maps and cameras. You probably don’t do this at home so why do it abroad? A small bag with a strap across your shoulders is much safer (and easier!) to carry so choose one that fits a small money purse (leaving your card-filled wallet in the safe) and a small camera. Besides, stopping for local drinks and snacks is half the fun of travelling in South America so ditch the 2lt water bottle and stop often to hydrate in local cafés instead.

 

Seeing Machu Picchu is a unforgettable experience

Know where to seek help

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It’s not only a country’s government who is intent on keeping tourists very safe but also local business owners who rely on tourism income to survive. What this means, for you, is that hotel staff and many café and restaurant owners in tourist areas will go out of their way to help you should you find yourself being hassled or followed. Got lost and need a safe taxi back to your hotel? Feeling uncomfortable in a situation? Can’t shake off a persistent ‘local guide’ who insists on showing you around? If you can’t find a way to safely remove yourself from the situation on your own, seek help from someone who can. Luxury hotels are a known ‘out’ for many tourists in distress, even those who aren’t staying there as the staff is simply trained in the art of helping foreigners.

Don’t forget about health risks

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Health safety is just as important as personal safety, so read our top health tips to avoid exhaustion, dehydration, sunstroke and altitude sickness when travelling to South America. All of these have the potential to ruin your perfectly safe trip!

Make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance

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When all is said and done, being fully insured for any eventuality is the main precaution you can take that’ll give you peace of mind. From lost luggage to misplaced credit cards, missed flights and twisted ankles, bouts of gastro or what-have-you: a comprehensive travel insurance policy is the only thing that can ensure that even the smallest mishap doesn’t turn into a potentially trip-ruining catastrophe.

Research and a great deal of common sense are your best friends when evaluating how safe it is to travel to South America, so don’t let scaremongering and over-hyped media reports put a damper on your plans. We constantly travel the length and breadth of Latin America and consider this a perfectly safe place to visit as well as one of the most rewarding destinations on the planet. So how about it? Ready to take the proverbial bull by the horn? Visit our tour page and discover how affordable, easy and safe an organised tour of South America can be! Go with the people in the know (that’s us!) and take all the worry out of your once-in-a-lifetime trip to the most enticing, rewarding, fun and awe-inspiring place on earth.

 

Find out more about our holidays in South America 

Further reading:

Best Time to Visit South America

How to Travel to South America from New Zealand

Guide to Small Ship Cruising in South America

Travelling Solo on a Group Tour

10 South America Experiences Not to Be Missed

 

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