Staying Safe in Latin America

Staying Safe in Latin America

I have traveled and lived all over the Latin American map: Venezuela, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Panama, Dominican Republic, Peru, México, and other warm places with (sometimes) amazing beaches. I have seen my fair share of dingy buses, overcrowded subways, and lonely stretches of highway reaching into the jungle.

At times, the mountains, beaches, big cities, small towns, empty plains and jungle paths all seem to meld into one confusing Latin American collage.

And along the way, I’ve learned a thing or two about getting robbed. And avoiding it.

My only personal brush with armed robbery was one time in Valera, in the mountains of Venezuela.  I was standing on a city street waiting for a friend to meet me, and a guy came up and very kindly asked me to give him all my possessions. And not scream in the process, of course. He was a very polite thief, which, I think, is not good for business.

I just walked away from him. (That’s not a recommendation, though – never turn your back on an armed man).

So what do I do to not get robbed while on city streets anywhere in the world?

Never use a cell phone on the streets

If I’m walking on the street and my phone rings, I pop into a store or café to take the call. Having my phone out on a busy city street is like offering it to whoever walks by.

Never wear headphones in public

I want to be alert when I’m on the street, and listening to headphones is a distraction. And thieves know it.

Never put anything of value in your pockets

One of my friends was walking on a busy street when he felt something funny in his rear pocket. A woman had her fingers on his wallet. Another friend felt a man on the bus was getting a little too close, but he didn’t think much about it – until he got off the bus and found his phone missing from his front pocket.

Keep your valuables in safer places than pockets.

Keep your bag or purse where you can see it

I always keep my purse in front of me, with zippers zipped. I usually buy purses that have straps that cross my body, making it difficult for someone to take the bag off of me.

Don’t wear flashy jewelry

This is basic, but it has to be said. If you live in a safe place, you may not to take this seriously when traveling. When going to a city where there’s a reputation for robbery, leave the jewels at home.

Don’t trust strangers

This is a simple kindergarten skill, but take it seriously.  Don’t trust people you don’t know if it’s dark out, or you’re in an isolated place – not even women and old people.


Another basic one. Don’t go to get cash out of an ATM or bank if you’re alone, it’s dark, or you’re in an isolated place.

Don’t agree to buy anything or accept a service without being told the price

Once I traveled with a group of friends in Venezuela. Driving home, we stopped along the side of the road to eat at a small restaurant and my friends ordered fried fish, which is a cheap meal. But they didn’t ask before buying, and when the bill came, the owners charged them a ridiculous amount of money for that poor fish – all because they didn’t ask the price first.

So ask before eating.

Check bills and receipts twice

Restaurants can always slip in something you didn’t buy, and store clerks sometimes hate to count out exact change.

Taxi drivers can be thieves, too

I hate to say that. I’ve had the pleasure of being in the company of many honest taxi drivers. But the reality is that quite a few taxi drivers take advantage of travelers. So if you don’t like being cheated, find out beforehand how much taxi rides are supposed to cost and how the fares are calculated.


Please share with us any of your tips on how to stay safe!

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