The Big Book of Safety: 32 tips for safe travel in South America
Sometimes, I use affiliate/sponsored links with my recommendations, which if bought through might earn me a few pennies at absolutely no extra cost to you. This helps with the cost of keeping this site alive so I can continue to guide you on your travels. Please remember that I would never ever ever recommend anything I don’t or wouldn’t use myself. Big thanks to each and every one of you who have trusted my recommendations so far! Lozzy x
Thanks to various reputational blows and scary news headlines, people don’t expect to find safe travel in South America easy. When I first left the UK, my parents’ biggest concern was that I was going to end up coerced into some drugs ring somewhere, not to be seen until I ended up on the 10 o’clock news having been caught for trying to smuggle cocaine through an international airport in my knickers.
LUCKILY, they were just being bloody ridiculous, and across my 19 months in South America (plus a further 7 months in Central America) the most troubling crime I ever encountered was that time that I was wrongly accused of stealing cash from a girl in my hostel in Rosario. Still bitter.
My parents did have some semblance of a point, though. Crime follows poverty, and there’s no skirting around the fact that South America has an awful lot of poverty. Even the nicest of you would get caught up in a tangle of mishaps if it was the only way to feed your family.
It’s easy to have a burning hatred for criminals, but the more you see what some people call ‘home’ and learn about the institutional and societal forces that completely stunt upwards social mobility in certain communities, you may find yourself taking a softer stance.
Anyway, I’m not here to excuse criminal activity, I’m here to give you lots and lots of helpful tips for safe travel in South America! The below advice (consisting of basic 101s, petty crime, violent crime, financial and transport safety tips) will hopefully greatly reduce your risk of falling foul of common issues in the region.
There’s a huge amount of socioeconomic, cultural and geographic diversity across South America which affects what you need to be looking out for, but it’s easy to adapt as you pick up tips from new people along your journey.
After this guide to safe travel in South America, you may also enjoy reading:
- Top 10 safest Latin American countries to travel to in 2021
- 50+ bits of know-how for backpacking in South America
- Staying safe and comfortable on night buses in South America
This all being said, please don’t let this information scare you. I like to have a ‘pase lo que pase/what happens, happens’ view to stumbling my way around South America, and I know that I wouldn’t enjoy myself half as much if I spent my time constantly worried about all the bad things that could occur.
Yes, there are risks, but with each day that you travel, the below tips for safe travel in South America will become more and more engrained in your way of life as second nature, until you don’t even realise you’re employing them. Stick to the safest countries in Latin America, and you’ll have even more chances of keeping secure.
But honestly, chill. You’re gonna be fine!
You can download these 32 tips for safe travel in South America as an e-book to carry around with you if you subscribe to my mailing list, here.
Want to skip to something in particular?
Basic tips for safe travel in South America
If you do nothing else, make sure to master these basic bits of advice for enjoyable and safe travel in South America!
1. Trust your gut
This tip for safe travel in South America HAD to come first. Humans have evolved to subconsciously pick up behavioural micro-cues, so your gut actually tends to be a pretty good indicator of a situation.
I think a lot of us feel obligated to suffer through certain circumstances in order to remain polite, but you should never feel too embarrassed to walk out of an uncomfortable place, sale or conversation when your gut is screaming blue murder at you.
2. Agree on your price beforehand for everything
EEEEVERYTHING. Be very clear about what you’re paying, and for what. Unless you also see locals paying upfront too, don’t pay until you have received the full service.
If you’re feeling uneasy, ask for a receipt (recibo in both Spanish and Portuguese).
3. Book at least one night of accommodation in a new city
As if long journeys between cities weren’t enough, looking for accommodation around a new destination with all your valuables on your back and clearly no idea where you’re going is not a great start to safe travel in South America.
Always book at least your first night, then you know where to head to from your transport terminal, and you won’t be caught aimlessly wandering the streets of a random neighbourhood. If you love it, stay another few nights, and if it’s grim, you can still be a free-spirited backpacker and play your next move by ear now that you’ve had a chance to see what the city offers.
4. Never let your stuff out of your sight
You’d be surprised how quickly your things can go walkies when you leave them alone out of your view. I’m assuming you’ll be travelling with a larger backpack for clothes (ladies, here’s my review of the Osprey Auro 50L backpack!) and a smaller rucksack for your valuables, like I do. Your larger backpack should be heavy enough to deter most people, but they might still have a fumble for goodies inside.
If you’re trying to ensure safe travel in South America without a well-trusted buddy, your smaller bag needs to accompany you everywhere until you can lock it up somewhere secure.
5. Listen to the locals
Locals have spent their whole lives getting to know their hometown like the back of their hands, so when they tell you not to go down certain streets or behave in certain ways, make sure you listen to them.
Locals are definitely some of the best sources of info for safe travel in South America, and in lots of destinations we came across strangers who were compassionate enough to take time out of their own day to give advice to tourists they’d seen making rookie safety mistakes.
6. Remember that other travellers are just as much of a risk
Going to developing countries, I think a lot of travellers assume that their only threat is poor local people who are desperate or morally void in some way (yes, some people really think that). However, of the crime I’ve heard about or witnessed in South America, a significant proportion has actually been committed by other backpackers – mostly petty theft from empty hostel dorms.
While I don’t want you to spend the entirety of South America trip on-edge, don’t let your guard down when you arrive at your accommodation just because you’re back to being around people who look or sound like you.
7. Healthcare in South America can be cheap, but travel insurance is still a must
Accidents happen, even to the most healthy of backpackers, and you really want to be prepared for any wallops that come your way.
Mine and Andy’s long-term backpacking travel insurance saved us about £1200 in the first year of backpacking in South America alone. We found them very quick and easy to work through a claim with, plus they allowed us to purchase a long-term policy without being in our home country at that time, which surprisingly few travel insurance companies do.
8. A little lingo goes a long way
Knowing just a teeny bit can help you communicate to locals what help you need, and can solidify trust if they see that you’re at least trying to learn their language.
If you want to go further to ensure safe travel in South America, I highly recommend spending some time at a school in one of the best destinations to learn Spanish, or at the very least pick up a Spanish phrases CD or book.
9. Make sure someone out there knows where you’re going
Even if it’s just the girl who sits on the reception desk of your hostel or your grandma on WhatsApp, make sure someone has some clue as to where you’re off to each day, especially if you’re on your own.
They’ll have a lot better idea of when to start looking on the rare occasion that you end up going missing.
Fend off petty crime for safe travel in South America
10. Stay alert for safe South America travel
Keep your wits about you. Ask the hostel in any new destination to let you know of any scams, areas or tour companies to avoid.
Of course, let your hair down, but always know who’s around you, where you are and never ever ever let your stuff out of your sight.
Professional pickpockets are quiiiiiiiick, and you probably won’t even realise you’ve lost anything for a fair while.
11. Know your surroundings
One of the easiest ways to label yourself as a target in destinations known for petty theft is to wander around looking like you don’t have the foggiest idea of where you are or where you’re trying to go.
Know your barrios (there are places you need to avoid in every city in the world, including your own hometown), check maps before you head out, and walk as though you have at least an indication of what you’re doing.
12. Keep your passport in your hostel
I’m not really sure why so many people are adamant on taking their passport out with them day-to-day. I don’t even trust myself to do that in England without losing it immediately.
Well-rated hostels in South America are generally pretty trust-worthy, and you should only be staying in accommodation that provides some form of locker. In some hostels and hotels, they will ask you to put your passport behind the reception desk until you leave. Don’t panic, this is due to local laws and they will keep it in a lockbox.
Bring a drivers license to use as ID, and print some passport copies if you’re worried you may need it out and about (apart from vehicle hire and longer transport journeys, you won’t).
13. Pack a decoy
In certain cities and when travelling by night bus, I got into the habit of taking a small handbag as a decoy, so thieves focused on that instead of the actual valuables in my small rucksack. Andy took a decoy wallet with a few unused cards and coins, and we both had old crappy phones to take on nights out.
We only felt the need to do this in cities where stealing from tourists is rife, like Rio de Janeiro (check out Rio de Janeiro’s safest neighbourhoods here to minimise your risk).
Just make sure the bag or wallet isn’t completely empty if you’re using it as a mugging decoy (i.e. to roam a city at night vs just passing through a bus terminal where the threat is more of pickpockets). You don’t want to put yourself in even more danger if muggers have time to check the contents.
14. Only book hostels that offer lockers
In this day and age, you’d be surprised by how many hostels think they can save a few pesos by not providing a few metal boxes in the corner.
Luckily, Hostelworld and Booking.com will always let you know if lockers are on offer in a given hostel. Also, they should definitely be free.
Even hostels like this with no window panes provide lockers:
15. Bring a heavy duty combination padlock for your hostel
By heavy duty, this doesn’t necessarily mean ‘thick’, as some of the locker loops can be small. But make sure your lock isn’t flimsy, as it doesn’t take much for someone to cut through them. This padlock would be perfect.
Even in private rooms, you should use any locker provided. I learnt this the hard way when we had £100 in cash stolen from a private room in Torotoro, Bolivia.
16. Don’t be flashy
As the Colombians say, ‘no dar papaya’, and as my dad would say, ‘don’t be a flashy git’. In short, if you ‘give papaya’, someone will see your papaya, want your papaya and take your papaya. This can’t happen if they never know your papaya exists. For the purposes of safe travel in South America, papaya is your cash, your watch, your phone, even your nice trainers.
I didn’t want to use my auntie to make a point, but here she is providing an excellent example of giving papaya in San Gil, Colombia that I just can’t let up:
17. Dress to blend in
I get it, some of you are going to stand out just through simple genetics. However, leaving the belt wallet and bumbag at home can take you from looking like an easy target to a well-seasoned travel pro who has their wits about them, therefore making your South America travel safer by a mile.
Look around at how the locals dress and try to mimic it (though obviously don’t step out of the boundaries of what would be culturally appropriate for you – no one needs to see a gaggle of Kiwi dudes in cholita dresses. Or maybe they do. Maybe that is exactly what this world needs?!).
Protect yourself against sticky situations
18. Muggings aren’t common, but if it happens just give up everything
Yes, even your laptop. And your passport. Your life is worth more, and there’s really nothing your embassy and backpacker travel insurance can’t sort out. You’ll have to deal with the administrative hassle and perhaps attack on your ego, but that’s really a much better result than you receiving stitches for a stab wound in an over-packed A&E ward.
The truth is that there are many desperate people in this region, so you never really know the lengths they will go to in order to feed their family or survive life in a brutal gang.
19. Protests are a normal part of South American life, but steer clear
There’s a fair bit of political unrest in various pockets of South America at the moment, so it’s not unusual to find yourself in and amongst a protest or two. These rarely turn violent, but it’s always best to stay away.
As long as you avoid protests, at most you’ll probably just experience a few travel delays as a result. Keep plans flexible when you’re around a city that has had some civil unrest, and keep up-to-date with the local news.
Here’s one of the times our Bolivian bus stopped several miles outside the city and we had to walk the rest of the way. Funsies.
20. Keep an eye on your drinks
Ladies, I’m sure most of you will already be vigilant with watching your drinks in public due to date rape fears anywhere in the world. However, men may not have gotten into such habits due to their much lower risk back home, and therefore get double-whammied when their drink is spiked with scopolamine and they wake up dazed in an empty apartment with their bank accounts wiped.
This drug comes from a plant, and is used mainly (but not exclusively) in Colombia. It’s like a truth serum that turns you into a fully-functioning zombie with complete compliance. This allows thieves (often in the form of stunning women) to ask you all your bank details with no fuss, and to get your help in moving all of your stuff into their car. Be wary!
21. Be super-careful around drugs in South America
If there’s one thing worse than going to prison for 15 years, it’s going to Ecuadorian prison for 15 years. In addition to this, gringos arranging to buy drugs is one of the key ways that criminal gangs know who to target for theft.
Look, I know a huge draw of South America is the high quality and low price of the cocaine, but you need to be cautious in terms of whether you can trust your source, whether you can keep it quiet and whether you’re dosing to allow for the fact that the strength of this stuff will be mind-blowing compared to what’s available at home. You don’t want to be waking up in a hospital bed any more than you do a police cell.
Here’s me, not actually on drugs, but possibly surrounded by them. Sneaky drugs.
How to be financially-smart when you travel
22. Carry less cash
This is all about minimising your damage. If you do get robbed – or even just lose your purse because like me, you’re effing useless – let’s at least make sure you don’t lose your entire life’s savings in one pop.
Only carry as much cash as you need for the day, and use card payments as much as possible.
23. Don’t have everything on one card
Just as you should limit the damage that can be done if your cash gets stolen, you should also limit the damage that can be done if your card gets stolen.
Use a travel card (you’ll see why I recommend a Revolut card below), and load it up by just $150 or so at a time. You don’t want thieves having access to your entire savings if they get their hands on your main bank card.
24. Keep a second wallet
Now, this isn’t a decoy wallet, it’s a savings wallet to keep a safe stash if you’re going to a place that will have poor access to ATMs or is unlikely to accept card payments.
Each morning, you transfer one day’s worth of cash into the wallet you take out, then put your second wallet into your locker.
Again, damage control if stolen, but also a smart measure to take if you’re just very loss-prone (me, basically).
25. Don’t get robbed by bank fees
See what I did there. Using a regular bank card will likely result in long lists of ATM transaction fees, bank admin fees and foreign exchange commissions that RACK UP.
Get yourself a free Revolut card and use my list of ATMs in South America that give free cash withdrawals, and you’ll be laughing.
26. Use shopping centre ATMs where possible
Avoid street ATMs to take out cash as much as you can (though of course sometimes you just don’t have any choice). Where possible, try to instead find a cash point in a place with bright lights and security guards, like a shopping mall.
Alternatively, your next best option is an ATM room which you’ll see outside banks or at random points between shops, but avoid using these alone or at night as people may loiter outside for when you come out.
27. Never let your card out of your sight
If someone claims their card machine is in a different room, insist they bring it out to you, or let you follow them into said room.
Don’t make the same mistake Andy and I made in Argentina when our card got cloned – potentially in a pretty upmarket restaurant.
Ensure safe travel in South America on public transport
28. Be careful of unlicensed taxis (and tours!)
Unregulated taxis and tours can lead to all sorts of issues – lack of fair pricing, disregard for safety and unaccountability if you need to report something troubling.
This problem is especially prominent with Buenos Aires taxis – aim to get a RadioTaxi instead of hailing a random yellow car.
Most cities have reputable taxi apps where you can pay in-app; Uber is available in the places that haven’t yet managed to outlaw it, but you can also try out Cabify, 99 Easy Taxi or Beat.
29. Keep belongings tied up between your feet on public transport
Did I tell you of the guy who had his entire 30L backpack – plus the shoes he’d taken off – stolen from him while he slept on a bus?! Well, I’m telling you now. Passport, laptop, clothes, all gone.
Obviously, at some point during an over-night journey, you’re going to need to sleep, but ensure first that everything you own is tucked way out of others’ reach (thieves aren’t against squeezing sneaky fingers round the side or underneath your seat), and that bags are tied to you by a strap.
I even had a jacket pulled out from under my seat on what must have been Quito’s rainiest day in goddamn history. Enjoyed losing that.
Although between your feet isn’t perfect, you are far safer putting small bags there than up in the luggage rack above your head. Staying safe and comfortable on night buses in South America will provide some more info for you!
30. Don’t pack valuables in the top of your backpack
You shouldn’t be putting many valuables in your big backpack anyway as you can’t always have it in sight, but for some things – such as your second wallet, where the whole point is to have a back-up if your actual valuables get stolen – it does make sense whilst travelling between destinations.
Make sure these valuables are wrapped up right in the middle of your backpack contents, so a sleight hand will pick up nothing more than a wad of your dirty underwear. ‘at’ll learn ’em.
31. Know when the last bus leaves
And don’t end up like me, stuck in a closing bus station on the wrong side of a large city, unable to flag a taxi or book anything on Booking.com before the next day, realising the only option is to follow a lady holding a cardboard ‘HOSTAL’ sign and pay to sleep in her basement with locks on the outside of my door. That was a fun night.
Moral of the story is, always know when the last bus leaves, and if worried, ask someone to point you to where your bus will be pulling in so you don’t miss it.
32. Don’t arrive too late in a new city
Public transport doesn’t run at all hours, even in lots of the capital cities, so try and plan your night bus or flight to arrive at a time when you’ll be able to get a transfer to your accommodation.
Having to sit around a terminal with all your bags at 5am is not the one, and it’s not the most recommended situation for safe travel in South America.
Now you’ve reached the end of this guide to safe travel in South America, you may also enjoy reading:
- Top 10 safest Latin American countries to travel to in 2021
- 50+ bits of know-how for backpacking in South America
Liked these tips for safe travel in South America?
Save it as a pin on Pinterest to be able to find again later!
Last Updated on 15 May 2022 by Cuppa to Copa Travels
The 10 Safest Countries in Latin America in 2022
14 effective ways to learn Spanish for adults: Learn a language without leaving home
Read these next.
The best cities in South America for history lovers to travel to
16 June 2018
How to stop saying these South American place names wrong: A Spanish Pronunciation Guide
13 October 2019
Safest cities in South America
Which are the safest cities in South America to visit?
If you’re planning your next trip, you should consider looking at safe countries in South America to find the right destination for you.
This article will look at some of the safest places to travel in South America so you can find the right city to visit on your next Latin adventure.
Table of Contents
Safest Cities in South America
South America has a ton to offer! It’s a dynamic continent full of diversity, unique landscapes, cultures, and delicious cuisine, among other things.
If you want to create an experience like no other then consider the safest places to travel in South America and have the time of your life.
Why Visit South America?
There are many different reasons to visit South America.
If I named all of them here, this page would go on forever so lets focus on three compelling reasons to visit safe countries in South America instead.
- Historic monuments – Visiting South America will allow you to explore some of the most popular and interesting historic monuments in the world. Many different civilizations left their footprints on South America and exploring them is breathtaking.
- Ecological diversity – Nature lovers and adventure seekers will enjoy navigating the ecological diversity South America has to offer and the many different experiences you can have.
- Culture and cuisine – The safest places to travel in South America all have a rich culture and delicious cuisine to explore. You’ll have lots of fun learning about different traditions and local customs!
As mentioned, these are only a few of the most attractive reasons to visit South America, but there’s a lot more where that came from. This continent has plenty to offer to all types of travelers and personalities.
Is It Safe to Travel to South America?
Though South America has a few dangerous countries that require extra precautions, it is safe to visit and explore this continent.
You will need to take precautions and follow safety travel tips wherever you go, which is standard when traveling.
Some places will be more dangerous than others, but you will be able to navigate safe countries in South America without much hassle.
You’ll want to avoid the statistically most dangerous country in South America so you’ll need to do your research and plan your trip with care.
Safest South American Country to Visit?
Though there are many safe countries in South America, Uruguay, known for it’s virtually unspoiled coast and being one of the most socially progressive countries, actually tops the list.
With an overall score of 1.82 on the Global Peace Index, Uruguay is the 47th safest country in the entire world.
Uruguay is also the most stable country in South America. It’s known for being progressive and the political climate is very strong, which is why more and more travelers are choosing it as their next destination.
For many world travelers Uruguay is considered safe then with its rich cultural offerings and off the beaten path adventures, what’s not to like?
Safest Cities in South America
Because there’s a variety of safe countries in South America, there are many safe cities to visit that go under the radar of those ‘not in the know.
To help you narrow down the search, and hopefully introduce you to some unique spots here are some of the safest places to travel in South America.
Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay
Colonia del Sacramento is one of the oldest cities in the country and the historic quarter is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This southwestern city is definitely worth a visit! It is here in this unique location in Uruguay that you will find many attractions and beautiful places to visit.
The cobblestone streets are charming and you’ll have a great time exploring the local cuisine. You can visit Plaza de Armas, Street of Sighs, go to the beach, and so much more.
Chile is one of the top safe countries in South America, which is why Santiago is one of the safest cities to visit.
It’s the capital of the country and it’s a vibrant, exciting cosmopolitan city with a lot to offer.
You’ll find an active nightlife, many museums, art galleries, beautiful architecture, fine dining, and so much more.
This is one of the top colonial cities on the entire continent and you must take a tour to learn some of its history.
There is so much to do in Potosi, Bolivia, and you will enjoy every minute. Potosi is known as the world’s most elevated city and it’s also known for its silver mines. It’s a charming place, bursting with culture.
Depending on where you find yourself, Argentina is another safe country to visit in South America.
There are many wonderful cities to explore here, but Cordoba is one of the best. It’s the second-largest city in the country and it has one of the lowest crime rates in South America.
It offers many opportunities for fun! You can enjoy the nightlife, explore European architecture, and visit the many different attractions.
Ecuador is right behind Uruguay and Chile on the Global Peace Index.
This is why it’s one of the safest places to travel in South America. Cuenca is a wonderful city to visit because it provides all the perks of bigger cities such as Quito, without the same risk.
The place is charming and safe, not to mention, there’s a lot of preserved history you can explore. See this list of best things to do in Cuenca for some more suggestions on what to do while in Ecuador.
When you think of Brazil, Rio de Janeiro is likely the first place that comes to mind. However, there are tons of places to visit in this exciting country.
Florianopolis is one of the safest cities in Brazil and it’s known for its access to beautiful, breathtaking beaches. There are also many hiking trails, rainforests, and market that you can explore during your time here.
Manizales is one of the safest places to visit in Colombia and it’s quite an exciting destination that can be found in Colombia’s coffee region of the country and it has a lot to offer.
You can explore the downtown area, ride the cable car, visit Arvi Park, among many others, take a coffee farm tour, and so much more.
During my travels in Colombia I spent time looking for the best things to do in Manizales and was surprised by what the city had to offer.
Lastly, there is Arequipa, one of the most exciting cities in Peru. It offers unique cuisine, a rich history, and cordial, welcoming people.
It’s known as the White City, and it’s dominated by volcanoes. You will be able to explore these volcanoes and many of the attractions Arequipa has in store for you. See this guide on things to do in Arequipa for ideas.
Transport in South America
When it comes to traveling through South America, there are many options you can take advantage of but I encourage you to travel overland wherever you can. That way you’ll see and learn more.
Below are the top two modes of transport you will encounter:
Traveling by Bus in South America
Traveling South America by bus is perfectly possible.
Buses are the most common form of public transportation in the country, so options are available in each city for short and long-distance travel.
Make sure you research your options according to the city you’re visiting and book tickets in advance whenever possible.
Uber in South America
Uber is available in many different South American countries, such as Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic.
You’ll be able to use this service, but don’t forget to take basic precautions. If you are doing solo travel in South America then be extra careful.
Wherever Uber is not available, you can still use taxis, just try to go with the most reputable companies and avoid hailing them off the street.
Food Safety in South America
While exploring South America, you’ll be exposed to all kinds of foods but it’s important to be careful. This way, you will avoid getting intoxicated!
Food Hygiene in South America
It’s very important to keep in mind that food hygiene standards vary greatly from country to country in South America.
Many countries in South America have modern food legislation where regulation is consistent and effective.
Do some research and determine if the country you’re visiting is one of them. If it isn’t, be extra careful where you eat.
Food and Water Safety in South America
Many germs and diseases are food-borne, so it’s important to be careful with the things you consume while traveling in South America.
Be aware of the fact that sanitary conditions vary greatly and in many cases err on the side of caution. Knowing which place to choose will usually come from experience of eating out while in South America.
⤵️ Here are a few food and water safety tips to keep in mind:
- Wash your hands before and after every meal and sanitize them often throughout the day.
- Busy restaurants that have a high food turnover are the safest, so do your research.
- Be extremely careful when it comes to trying street food.
- Street food that’s made on the spot and served hot is safer.
- If you eat raw veggies or fruits, make sure they’re washed well.
- Avoid eating raw or uncooked food, especially seafood and meat.
- Avoid unpasteurized dairy products during your travel.
- Don’t drink unfiltered water or tap water, especially not if you’re visiting rural areas.
- Make sure you read restaurant reviews; just because a restaurant is luxurious doesn’t automatically make it the best option.
- Avoid fresh salads or sauces made from raw vegetables or fruits.
- Avoid bushmeat, such as rodents, monkeys, bats, and other local wild game.
- Hot drinks are safe when they’re served to steam hot. If you want something cool, warm, or room temperature, choose bottled or canned drinks.
Travel Insurance for South America
No matter who you are, it is recommended that backpackers and all types of travelers use World Nomads Insurance for a fully comprehensive cover..
If you are due to travel soon, you can get a Get Your Free Quote by clicking the link or the image above and filling out your details – that way you’ll get instant travel insurance cover from the date of travel that you choose.
Safest Cities in South America
This inspirational guide should have given you the inspiration need to visit one of the many cites in South. Yes, South American countries often get a bad rap, but they’re not all the same.
Some countries and cities are dangerous, especailly when you veer outside of the cities mentioned above, but others are perfectly safe to visit.
Always do your due diligence and extended research to choose the best destination for the kind of trip you want to have. Then of course, follow safety travel tips to make sure you have the best possible experience.
If you happen to be traveling on a budget, why not see this list of cheap countries in South America to visit and get even more ideas to consider?
Like this article? Pin it…
Which one of these safe South American cities will you visit next?
Leave a nice comment or let’s start a conversation below!
“ Dear friend! Some links in this post contain affiliate links. Meaning, if you click through and make a purchase, book a hostel or sign up for a tour, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you . Your support means a lot and helps me to keep traveling and maintaining the quality of this site for you.”
Helping thousands of people worldwide with independent travel in Latin America. Layer Culture means to dig deeper into the ideas, customs, and behavior of a group of people.
After spending years on the road Dan is now offering to help you find your feet in Latin America; inspire you to learn Spanish and get you started on your adventures. Learn how to travel longer and stronger!
Is It Safe in South America?
Bonnie is a freelance writer born and raised in South America who has covered the continent for 11 years.
Pierre-Yves Babelon / Getty Images
South America—home of the famous Machu Picchu, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Patagonia, and more—attracts roughly 37 million tourists per year. Naturally, due to the presence of rebel groups and its notoriously violent illegal drug trade, parts of the continent have been deemed unsafe for tourism. But even Colombia, widely avoided as a travel destination until the early aughts, has turned its reputation around in recent years. There are many places to visit in South America if you practice basic safety and stay away from certain areas and activities.
- The U.S. Department of State has issued a Level 3 Travel Advisory (“reconsider travel”) for all South American countries except Uruguay , which remains a Level 2 (“exercise increased caution”), and Argentina , Brazil , and Venezuela , all under a Level 4 (“do not travel”).
- Prior to 2020, all but one were under a Level 2 due to crime, terrorism, kidnapping, and/or civil unrest. Venezuela has been placed under a Level 4 due to “crime, civil unrest, poor health infrastructure, kidnapping, arbitrary arrest, and detention of U.S. citizens,” the advisory says .
Is South America Dangerous?
While some parts of South America have been deemed dangerous by the U.S. Department of State, much of the continent is perfectly safe to visit. Travelers are advised to avoid the entire country of Venezuela due to ongoing political instability. Parts of Colombia—Arauca, Cauca (except Popayan), Chocó (except Nuquí), Nariño, and Norte de Santander (except Cucuta)—are also under a Level 4 because of crime, terrorism, and kidnapping . In 2019, the U.S. Department of State warned of “K risks” in 35 countries following the kidnapping of American tourist Kimberly Sue Endicott in Uganda . Venezuela and Colombia were the only two South American countries on the list.
The safest places in the continent seem to be the stunning beaches of French Guiana, Uruguay, the volcano-laden nation of Chile, Suriname (South America’s smallest), Paraguay, and Argentina. Wherever you go, leave your valuables at home and travel with an abundance caution.
Is South America Safe for Solo Travelers?
South America is safe for solo travelers so long as they stick to low-risk areas and remain vigilant. Many of its cities and countries are popular tourist destinations with countless hostels frequented by the backpacker set. Solo travelers should stick to these areas—Bogota, Colombia; Jijoca de Jericoacoara, Brazil; Santiago de Chile, Chile; Mendoza, Argentina; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for instance—and only travel to more remote or dangerous areas with a licensed tour guide. As with any city, solo travelers should avoid going out alone at night and taking solo taxi rides. Kidnappings happen, so use the buddy system as often as possible.
Is South America Safe for Female Travelers?
Women travel to South America all the time—often in groups, sometimes alone—and many of them return home with only positive experiences. Women’s rights are not as progressive in South America as they are in the U.S. and there are frequent reports of domestic violence in many countries; however, this doesn’t generally put female travelers at risk. Because of South America’s very macho, chauvinistic culture, women may experience cat calling or other hassle from men. What they should really keep an eye out for, though, is pickpocketing and other non-violent crime. Female travelers are vulnerable, especially when alone, so they should keep their guards up and travel in groups when possible.
Safety Tips for LGBTQ+ Travelers
Homosexuality is legal in every South American country except Guyana, where it is punishable by life imprisonment (although that rule is rarely enforced). Same-sex marriage is illegal in seven countries: Bolivia, Chile, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela. Anti-discrimination laws are in place everywhere except Guyana, Paraguay, and parts of Argentina. Travelers should know the laws of the countries they intend to visit, and try to avoid public displays of affection even where it’s legal as violence towards LGBTQ+ individuals and couples still occurs.
Safety Tips for BIPOC Travelers
Demographics vary by country—for instance, Argentina is 85 percent white whereas Suriname is primarily Black and East Indian . Bolivia is 55 percent Amerindian while 75 percent of Paraguay’s population identifies as mestizo . South America, as a whole, is a melting pot of races and ethnicities, and the vast majority of it is extremely hospitable and welcoming. That being said, racism is prevalent (as it is throughout the world), and exists in various forms. So long as BIPOC travelers stick to the tourist-centric places where locals are more exposed to diversity and are therefore more accepting, they shouldn’t encounter any trouble.
Safety Tips for Travelers
- Colombians have a saying, no dar papaya (don’t give papaya), which means “don’t be stupid,” or—in other words—don’t put yourself in a position to be taken advantage of. Travelers should walk with confidence, stay aware, and avoid looking like a target.
- Educate yourself on the current affairs of your destination and avoid demonstrations or any unrest while there.
- Keep in mind that pickpockets often work in pairs or groups. One or more will distract you while another does the stealing. or Portuguese in case of an emergency.
- Wear appropriate clothing for the locale and situation. Dress like the locals and conceal any valuable possessions (iPhones, cameras, jewelry, etc.).
- It’s always a good idea to register with your embassy or consulate before traveling abroad.
TripSavvy uses only high-quality, trusted sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
U.S. Department of State. “Uruguay Travel Advisory.” November 23, 2020.
U.S. Department of State. “Argentina Travel Advisory.” August 6, 2020.
U.S. Department of State. “Brazil Travel Advisory.” August 6, 2020.
U.S. Department of State. “Venezuela Travel Advisory.” October 30, 2020.
U.S. Department of State. “Colombia Travel Advisory.” October 30, 2020.
U.S. Department of State. “Introduction of K Risk Indicator.” April 9, 2019.