South America Travelling

I Didn’t Get Robbed in South America

This post is based on my experience of travelling in South America where I visited Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Colombia.

I travelled around South America for five months and I did not get mugged. None of my property got stolen. I did not have my bag sliced while on a bus in Bolivia. As far as I am aware I was not even close to getting robbed at any point.

We were advised to be careful visiting Cerro de Monseratte in Bogota

Did I fail as a traveller, or more importantly, as a travel blogger?

Most travel bloggers seem to have a story, a popular post about how something went terribly wrong while they were travelling, which although hard at the time, taught them a valuable lesson— I do not have such a story, unless you count getting harassed by an old woman in Vietnam while her grandchild deftly slipped around the back and took my cheap, nasty phone from my bag—I would have given it to her if she’d asked nicely. But that story is more embarrassing than a hardcore traveller’s tale.

Before my trip, I was worried about travelling in South America.

You just hear so many stories, and they often involve guns, knives and assailants in balaclavas.

It doesn’t matter how many people tell you otherwise; before you have been there you just know that South America is a dangerous place because it has always been a dangerous place. Besides, all the people who have never been there tell you that it is.

Except that now it isn’t. Nowhere near as dangerous as it used to be at any rate.

Medellin in Colombia has made a complete transition from the drug-trafficking, kidnapping central that it used to be. So why are people still so damn afraid?

One of Medellin's poorest districts

As with anywhere else in the world, South America has its dangerous parts, and every city has shady neighbourhoods. If you wander into these areas then you are asking for trouble. Even heavily populated tourist areas can conceal dangerous people and pickpockets.

But then so does the city that you live in.

Recently I spoke to somebody who planned a trip during the summer of 2011. Just before she was due to visit her destination it was beset by troubles: riots in the streets, shops burned down in the night, people cowering inside their homes afraid of the mobs outside. Violent attacks in broad daylight, the police battling for days to regain control. Her friends begged her not to go; it was too dangerous, they said.

Where was this terrifying place? Egypt? Libya? The Favelas of Rio de Janeiro?

No. It was London – you know, the London that will host millions of foreign tourists at the Olympic Games this year. How many of those will worry that London is a dangerous city?

I am not saying that just because I did not have any problems in South America then it is a completely safe place: it would be irresponsible to say such a thing. Of course I met people who had been robbed, I heard of camera snatches, cloned ATM cards, emptied bank accounts, and I met travellers who had ended up in potentially dangerous situations. Thankfully I did not meet anybody who had been physically hurt, once the valuables were handed over the victims were left alone.

Valparaiso may be a colourful and pretty city, but stories of muggings are not uncommon

Despite these stories I would like to shake off the common belief that South America is full of violent criminals. Crime exists in South America as anywhere else in the world but a beautiful country like Colombia should not be forever stigmatised by its past. Imagine if every country was treated according to the crimes of its past, where would Britain stand then? Or Germany? The USA?

Some of the places that I visited in South America are also some of the areas that tourists are often warned about, places such as Retiro Bus Station – Buenos Aires, La Boca – Buenos Aires; Valparaiso – Chile; Cerro San Cristobal – Santiago de Chile;  La Paz – Bolivia;  La Candelaria – Bogota; Medellin – Colombia, and Taganga – Colombia.

In all of the South American countries that I visited, the only time I ever felt truly concerned about my safety was walking around Buenos Aires at night. Ironically, this was the city in which I had expected to feel the most safe when I planned my trip. Even so, I did not encounter a situation in which I felt threatened or intimidated.

Maybe I was just lucky when I travelled in South America.

Maybe I just never happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Maybe the precautions I took kept me safe.

Or maybe the tide is turning in South America and people who visit there will finally see that it is a continent of beautiful, honest and hard-working people no longer allowing the minority of criminals to tarnish their reputation.

I certainly hope to see fewer ‘I Got Robbed in South America’ blog posts in the future and see more people venturing to this beautiful continent.

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  1. I am so happy to read this! Almost 3 months in South America and every day I felt very safe! Hopefully it will stay like this for another 3 months for me 🙂
    crazy sexy fun traveler recently posted..SALTA LA LINDA – THE PRETTY ONEMy Profile

    1. I am pleased to hear that you are having a great time too. Where has been your favourite place so far?

  2. says:

    Does make you wonder, doesn’t it. I had my purse knicked in York (Old York that is) the other week, but it didn’t seem worth writing about! Maybe I should have just to prove it happens everywhere!
    Linda recently posted..So, Again, I Didn’t Get to do York’s Ghost WalkMy Profile

    1. You should! I have so many Brits saying that the countries I visit are dangerous, it would be good to show them that they are just as likely to get robbed at home!

  3. says:

    Now this is the kind of post I like to read! Eases at least some of my worries. I may have to send this post to my worried mother 😉

    The way I see it, wherever you choose to travel, common sense, awareness, and a general sense of caution/& “following your gut” will go a long way.
    Lindsay recently posted..Drew & SarahMy Profile

    1. You are right about the general sense of caution and awareness. There were times when we changed our direction walking around a city because we had a bad feeling about an area, or jumped in a taxi for a distance that was easily walkable because instinct told us we wouldn’t be safe. Other times we didn’t speak to each other as we walked past certain groups of people because we thought that revealing our foreigner status might not be wise. We followed advice from bloggers who had not been so lucky, such as keeping valuables with us on bus rides and not under the seat. I hope that some of our measures helped us to avoid situations.

  4. We spent 6 month in South America (3 month in Buenos Aires and 3 in Bolivia) and had no problem at all either.

    Feeling wise I would say we felt more unsafe in Buenos Aires than in Bolivia. But again, nothing happened to us in either places. Other travelers we met weren’t so lucky and heard some crazy stories.

    As for any place you are visiting and for that fact you are living using common sense.

    Love that first picture btw!!!
    Bolivia Travel Blog recently posted..For 91 Days in Bolivia – The E-BookMy Profile

    1. I heard some crazy stories while I was there too. You are right about using common sense, my favourite story was a guy who stopped in a dodgy area somewhere in Venezuela to take a picture of a sign warning tourists that muggings were common in the area. When he turned around he was faced with assailants who had waited for him to take the picture before relieving him of his camera and oher valuables!

      I wanted to write the post to show people that getting robbed in South America is not a given, before I went I was so convinced that it would happen while I was there that I never even considered I might be fine the whole time. A little common sense can go a long way.

  5. says:

    What smart ideas about staying safe in South America. I agree that staying aware of your surroundings is the best thing you can do. Bad things can happen everywhere and as long as you’re smart, you can avoid bad situations.

    1. Yes, just using common sense can make a huge difference.

  6. I was at an ATM in Chiapas, Mexico where I took out a fairly large sum of money. I carefully put my money in my wallet and walked away. A got about half a block then suddenly this HUGE guy with tattoos and a Mohawk started running after me. Instead of reacting in a defensive or appropriate way, I froze.

    Then I noticed he had a smile on his face and my ATM card in his hand. I had left it in the machine and he was returning it to me.
    Jonathan Look, Jr. recently posted..Street Food | Cervecita Dulce or Sweet BeerMy Profile

    1. That is SUCH a great story, I love to hear things like this – it really enforces the fact that the world is mainly full of good people. We are right to be cautious as travellers, but it is also important to remember that most people are not out to scam and rob you. Thanks so much for commenting 🙂

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