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Safety issues in South America





kaysch
Dear community,

in the second half of March I plan to do the following trip:

1. Fly to Santiago de Chile and go straight to Valparaiso
2. Go back to Santiago
3. Take a bus through the Andes to Mendoza, Argentina
4. Fly to Buenos Aires and spend 3 days there
5. Take the ferry to Montevideo
6. Fly to Rio de Janeiro
7. Go back home to Germany

I have visited quite a few countries in my life (including a few really poor countries) and have never had any problems. However, I have met many people visiting South America who complain they were threatened, car-jacked or simply mugged.

So here is my question: Is there anything in particular that I should observe or where I should be particularly careful? I don't mind being overcharged, I just don't like being robbed or threatened physically.

Grateful for your answers in advance
Vanilla
I'm from Brazil, I think my tips are fairly obvious but... Well, I think reinforcement is a good thing when it comes to traveling to poor countries.

1) You're a tourist, so you're going to stand out pretty obviously. Just take good care of your stuff (bags, purses, cellphone, camera etc) if you're visiting a public place (like one of the beaches). Don't take your eyes of your things. Be aware that people may take your stuff and just disappear into the crowd.
2) Also if you're going to visit a place, be sure to ask when it's the best time or when people usually go to it. You won't want to be alone in some places. There are places in Rio where people can get lost (Tijuca Forest is one of these places) or be mugged more easily if they're alone.
3) Ask people you can trust. It's easy to identify a policeman or seek help in hotels.

I don't know how long you will be staying in Rio, but enjoy your time there. Very Happy
kaysch
Vanilla wrote:
I'm from Brazil, I think my tips are fairly obvious but... Well, I think reinforcement is a good thing when it comes to traveling to poor countries.

1) You're a tourist, so you're going to stand out pretty obviously. Just take good care of your stuff (bags, purses, cellphone, camera etc) if you're visiting a public place (like one of the beaches). Don't take your eyes of your things. Be aware that people may take your stuff and just disappear into the crowd.
2) Also if you're going to visit a place, be sure to ask when it's the best time or when people usually go to it. You won't want to be alone in some places. There are places in Rio where people can get lost (Tijuca Forest is one of these places) or be mugged more easily if they're alone.
3) Ask people you can trust. It's easy to identify a policeman or seek help in hotels.

I don't know how long you will be staying in Rio, but enjoy your time there. Very Happy


Thanks Vanilla. I plan to stay in Rio for 2 days.
deanhills
I was in Ecuador in September and wherever I went I felt I was in protective custody. Once in a Hotel, the staff kept repeating I should only use taxis that are recommended by the Hotel. If I went to a mall, I should only use a mall approved taxi. I'm told not to go for walks, etc. etc. Towards the end I went walking any way, used taxis off the street and somehow survived it. Although I was very cautious of course. As I had been warned.

These are common sense things that every one probably is aware off any way. Don't leave valuables like cameras in the bus when you're out having refreshments for example. Keep your valuables close at all times. Don't exhibit them too much. Don't get distracted by people who ask you for your attention, it may be a hoax. Be super careful when you are moving in a crowd of people.

Having knowledge of the language of the countries you are visiting would be an advantage too I'd think. You'd understand if they were plotting or planning something. I was at a huge disadvantage from that point of view, although I found the people from Ecuador so amazingly friendly and helpful. If we couldn't communicate they always managed to find someone who could interpret almost immediately. Still difficult to understand where all the bad guys were supposed to be. I felt quite safe wherever I was.
kaysch
deanhills wrote:
I was in Ecuador in September and wherever I went I felt I was in protective custody. Once in a Hotel, the staff kept repeating I should only use taxis that are recommended by the Hotel. If I went to a mall, I should only use a mall approved taxi. I'm told not to go for walks, etc. etc. Towards the end I went walking any way, used taxis off the street and somehow survived it. Although I was very cautious of course. As I had been warned.


Funny that you mention the type of taxis one may use or not. Some other people have mentioned exactly the same to me. When you go to Buenos Aires, just use radio taxis instead of regular taxis. I wonder whether that is true for the other cities I will visit as well.

I fully agree with you that not going for walks is out of the question. I am going to South America to see the cities and learn about local culture. So how can I possibly not have a walk in the city? I guess I will have to ask at the hotels in which I am staying to find out which parts of the city are OK to visit and which ones I'd better avoid. And I guess there are time restrictions to visiting some parts of the cities.
twotrophy
deanhills wrote:

Having knowledge of the language of the countries you are visiting would be an advantage too I'd think.


I agree. A reliable source that I use whenever I go to other countries is WikiTravel because it contains detailed information about almost every single destination as well as it is free. Although asking locals can be more reliable such as asking Vanilla than to read guides about countries.
twotrophy
deanhills wrote:

Having knowledge of the language of the countries you are visiting would be an advantage too I'd think.


I agree. A reliable source that I use whenever I go to other countries is WikiTravel because it contains detailed information about almost every single destination as well as it is free. Although asking locals can be more reliable such as asking Vanilla than to read guides about countries. By the way, what are the best places to visit in Brazil?
dude_xyx
deanhills wrote:

These are common sense things that every one probably is aware off any way. Don't leave valuables like cameras in the bus when you're out having refreshments for example. Keep your valuables close at all times. Don't exhibit them too much. Don't get distracted by people who ask you for your attention, it may be a hoax. Be super careful when you are moving in a crowd of people.


Yep. Most people get into trouble because of their own reckless or careless behavior. Like If you silly enough to walk in a street or alley where nobody else going at night you could be in trouble anywhere in the world. Common sense matters a lot. There are bad people in every country you just have to be careful. This is where a good tour guide can help.
kaysch
Tonight is the night before I leave to South America.

After some research on Wikitravel I believe there are many suburbs of South American capitals which are simply no-go areas. The whole point does not seem to be just to keep a close eye on one's belongings and to apply some common sense as some of you have suggested. The guys there will simply attack anyone unknown to them with a knife or whatever, asking them to hand over your belongings. The general advice was: don't start any debate, just hand over what you have if you value your life (which they don't apparently).

Well, I have always been driven by curiosity to venture around, also around poorer countries in the world. So far - knock on wood - nothing serious has ever happened to me.

Anyway, today I bought a wallet for 3 EUR and a watch for 10 EUR. If I am mugged, so be it. I put some expired credit cards into the wallet and added a card saying "You have just being f***ed by a German tourist". No problem as those guys probably won't speak any English. I hope this will help...

So keep your fingers crossed. If I don't post anything anymore, you will know why.
deanhills
kaysch wrote:
Anyway, today I bought a wallet for 3 EUR and a watch for 10 EUR. If I am mugged, so be it. I put some expired credit cards into the wallet and added a card saying "You have just being f***ed by a German tourist". No problem as those guys probably won't speak any English. I hope this will help...
They'd get the message though to make them curious enough to get a translation. Probably would find it funny like I do. A tourist with a sense of humour. Laughing
kaysch
So this weekend I came back from my trip. I have luckily not been robbed or anything. However, there are a few things I noted. Whoever wants to go there should be aware of the following:
- The port zone of Valparaiso is not safe after dark. Even restaurants near to that area will close at dusk.
- Santiago was fine, at least where I was - which is the city centre.
- Mendoza was also fine.
- In Buenos Aires there are some suburbs which are not safe at all, not even during the day. Prominent examples are La Boca and some of the poorer areas served by the pre-metro.
- Montevideo: I was advised not to walk around the financial district or the port area in the old town. In fact the port area looked dodgy already at daylight.
- Rio de Janeiro: On the weekend the city centre is full with young guys with black rubbish bags, collecting bottles or whatever. Not safe. Copacabana beach is famous for robberies at night. And even Santa Teresa (which is where my hostel was) should not be visited at night. Not mentioning favelas or other obvious no-go areas.

In other words: I was OK, but asking around where to go and where not to go is a must.
mikeperhem1
The whole point does not seem to be just to keep a close eye on one's belongings and to apply some common sense as some of you have suggested. The guys there will simply attack anyone unknown to them with a knife or whatever, asking them to hand over your belongings. The general advice was: don't start any debate, just hand over what you have if you value your life..
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