9 Tips to Travel to South America Safely| 20 October, 2020
Are you preparing a trip to Latin America? Then take note of these 10 tips for a trouble-free trip.
Traveling is synonymous with adventure, discovery, experiences, emotions, landscapes, cultures and new friends. However, when we decide to prepare the backpack or suitcase to embark on a new expedition, it is undeniable that our risk factor increases exponentially compared to those who stay quietly on the couch at home.
Although it has been proven that anything can happen to you anywhere, within our possible travel destinations there are areas of the planet where we will feel safer wandering through its cities, towns, mountains, fields or beaches. Europe, North America, Oceania and part of Asia would form this core. South America, unfortunately, is often left off the list.
This melting pot of Latin and indigenous cultures is one of the most beautiful areas on Earth, offering a wealth of culture and landscape that is difficult to match. You must explore it to feel like a complete traveler and at Soundsandcolours we leave you with a few tips to make it as safe as possible and minimize the chances of any setbacks.
1. Get informed before you travel
It is essential on any trip, but even more so in places prone to experience some kind of political instability, to find out what the current situation is in the country or region we are going to visit. At present, practically all of South America is safe in this sense, except for the occasional problems that still arise with the FARC guerrillas in Colombia and the revolts in Venezuela.
The research you should do is not only limited to political or economic issues but also to questions such as the climate. You must know, for example, when the rainy season is likely to leave the roads and highways impassable or if it snows in the mountains you intend to climb. Such poor forecasting can put you in a really dangerous situation for your health.
2. Always carry your documentation with you
This section is a classic in South America. If you haven’t travelled here, in Africa or part of Asia, it’s almost certain that the police won’t have stopped you to check that you have your passport and/or visa in order.
The police are usually very poorly paid in South American countries and occasionally see foreign tourists as an opportunity to improve their battered paycheck. Always carry your original passport or a certified photocopy (not considered sufficient in all countries), even if it is well kept in a belt with pockets hidden under your clothes.
The price for not carrying it varies according to the amount the agents on duty want to extort from you, as there is usually no officially legislated fine.
3. Act with common sense in the cities
Although, as we have already said, any mishap can happen to you in the most unexpected place, it is true that large South American cities are usually somewhat more dangerous than the rest of the territory.
When you are visiting them, ask at your hotel or hostel which are the areas to avoid at night and not frequent places like dark alleys or the suburbs.
You should also watch out for theft at night in busy places such as beaches, tourist attractions, subways and buses during rush hour.
4. Don’t carry a lot of money and valuable things with you
This applies almost anywhere in the world. Carrying a bulky wallet in your back pants pocket, a big watch on your wrist and good audiovisual equipment outside your case draws attention in Buenos Aires and on the streets of Madrid.
Try not to carry too much money or valuable objects when you go for a walk or do some activity in nature. It is a good idea to leave them in the safety deposit box of the hotel or hostel where you are staying as some rooms are not completely safe either.
5. Get in touch with the premises
When you arrive in a new and unknown place, it’s a great idea to get as close to the locals as possible. It is good to know, in advance, some of their traditions, to speak in their language and to be open and close to them. If you draw a distinction between tourists and locals yourself, you will most likely be unfriendly to them and they will not help you much in a hurry. Try speaking Portuguese in a small lost village in Brazil and you’ll see how people turn to you and make you feel much safer.
6. Know your skills and limitations
A classic, for example, in the Andes mountains. People go for walks on paths that lead to peaks of more than 4,000 meters above sea level without ever having climbed beyond the terrace of their building. This is how problems such as altitude sickness, extreme cold for which we have not brought suitable clothes or sunburn arrive.
By not knowing what our limitations are and what we are going to encounter, we can endanger our physical integrity in a way that has nothing to do with robbery or assault.
Another common example is the ingestion of alcohol, especially strong drinks like Templeton Rye, in bars in towns located at high altitude. You get drunk much more easily and many people have woken up without remembering anything about the previous night and without their wallets.
7. Keep in touch with yours
New technologies allow us to stay in touch with our loved ones almost anywhere in the world. In South America it is no different and we will almost always find a way to communicate.
If we are going to take a trip of several days to isolated places or have met new people, local or foreign, with whom we are going to travel for a while, it is convenient to let family or friends know about our plans. If anything happens to us they will be able to raise the alarm.
8. Stay vigilant
Without going so far as to be paranoid that you stop enjoying your trip, it’s always good to stay alert. For example, a basic rule is to never leave your handbag, where you keep all your valuables, in the compartment above your head when you travel by bus in places like Peru, Bolivia or Ecuador. It is likely to be taken away when you get lost. Also, do not get into the vehicle before checking that your suitcase or backpack has been placed in the hold and make sure that no one takes it away at the stops.
Pay attention to your things and watch your back, but don’t get obsessed.
9. Choose your travel times wisely
In some South American countries it is not very advisable to travel by bus at night. In Ecuador, Bolivia and parts of Peru, driving and roads strongly advise you to rule out that option. It is also not safe to travel through critical areas of Colombia at night.
When you take a flight or other transport that is going to leave you in a big city like Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, La Paz or Bogotá, you should try to arrive at a time when there is life and you can find public transport without difficulty. It is not advisable to arrive at bus terminals or airports in large cities in the early hours of the morning.
In spite of these ten pieces of advice, you have to think that South America is not the Wild West and it is a land of immense beauty that can be enjoyed without any setbacks. Travel with a little head and enjoy it!
Follow Sounds and Colours: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Mixcloud / Soundcloud / Bandcamp
Subscribe to the Sounds and Colours Newsletter for regular updates, news and competitions bringing the best of Latin American culture direct to your Inbox.