Crime, safety and more
Travelling to South America can be fraught with dangers. Still, the experience varies tremendously from one place to another and even within the same country. You can range from localities with a Scandinavian crime rate to places a few miles away akin to Mexican drug cartel towns. So generalisations can be highly misleading.
Most travel operators' advice is to check official sites like gov.uk or their equivalent in most countries. The problem is that those sites will tend to focus (rightly so) on the really dangerous hotspot and give you some more generic advice on other places of the same country, which is common sense, mainly stuff of the kind you'd be expected to apply when travelling, say, to Barcelona or Paris, or Rome. Often the really ‘dangerous' places are located way off the beaten track, or in areas where no ordinary should ever venture, except by some unfortunate mistakes.
One of my favourite sites for safety information is https://www.travelsafe-abroad.com/. This is because it offers a glance at data and comparison of several aspects of criminality and comparison with other countries. For example, the overall score for Argentina is 70. The one for Greece is 73; thus, you can easily see that Argentina is only very marginally riskier than Greece, for example, and Chile (with 79) is almost as safe as Sweden (83)! I bet you would never have guessed that. The site offers additional information on specific sites, though I think that's when it gets too generic. For example, for Buenos Aires, it will tell you that La Boca and San Telmo can be risky. La Boca is one of the key tourist spots (where you are advised to go with a tour guide) and is perfectly safe during the day but avoided entirely at night—similarly, San Telmo is one of that capital's jewels yet less safe at night. The trouble is that when you average minimal day risk with much higher at night, you may end up with an overall score of medium/high danger, unnecessarily putting you off visiting those areas.
We don't need to tell you that opportunistic petty crime occurs mainly in crowded areas, so be careful when using public transport or visiting crowded public spaces. For example, what may appear to be an accidental push may result in some quick pickpocketing. When you are aware, the thief will already be miles away. Night times are perilous (everywhere!), so reduce your risk exposure further and travel only with essential items. Do heed the advice of your local guide and concierge, and never, ever use unauthorised private cars. A restaurant will gladly call you a licenced taxi (ensure the meter is on), and you can then safely return to your hotel. Excessive alcohol use will expose additional risks. If you drank too much and lost valuables, you would only have yourself to blame.
Cameras, gadgets and mobile phones
So how do you assess risk? Well, here is again where common sense comes into place. The best starting point we can offer is simply blending in with the natives. For example, look at how they dress and try to blend in. Don't ostentate wealth. What is the point of sporting a Rolex when you only want to know the time? A Swatch works perfectly well; in the event of theft, you won't shed many tears about it… The same principle applies to all the other accessories, like bags and cameras. Ah, cameras… if you are a keen photographer, you will immediately stick out, especially if you started sporting telelenses and other fancy accessories. I am afraid you will take a calculated risk, especially if you travel alone. The best advice we can give you is to take out suitable insurance. However, most people will happily use a mobile phone as a camera. Natives, too, take photographs using their mobile phones, and you will blend in more easily with one. If possible, do not travel with the latest iPhone but get a cheap one, preferably with a local SIM (you can buy one at the airport), where you would only keep essential information, leaving your other device in your hotel's safe. We can give you some additional information when you travel with us.
You now have the right camera (and phone), know the risks, and only need to ensure your other valuables are protected.
Cards, money and ID documents
I recommended a small rucksack and a bum bag in the previous blog about packing. When exploring places, what you take depends on your daily needs. If you are in a city where you can easily access refreshments etc., a bum bag with your essentials would be more than adequate. Make sure in any event that you separate your cash, avoiding placing it all into one single spot. So have some small change in your pocket, enough to pay for coffee or a bottle of water, more in your wallet (never in your back pocket if you are a man!) and more cash in one of the many zipped compartments of your bum bag. The same principle applies to credit cards. Unless you plan on purchasing precious goods, you'd be better off using rechargeable debit cards. They are straightforward to use, some with excellent exchange rates, and if lost, they offer prompt refunds. Keep your other cards in the hotel's safe and travel with those instead!
As for IDs, there is a misconception that you must always travel with original documents. That may be the case in some countries, mainly those with more totalitarian regimes. Still, in places like Chile and Argentina, it would be sufficient for you to carry a photocopy, leaving originals in the hotel's safe. Make more than one copy of those documents, though. However, if you go to a bank, you may need to take originals.
You have secured your devices, cash, credit cards and ID documents and are ready to enjoy the sights without worrying too much about personal safety. In another blog we shall talk about rates of exchange and how to survive the complexities of official vs ‘black market' rates. Watch this space!