The most common thing people ask me about my travels around South America (after what is your favorite place) is whether or not I felt safe while I was there, especially because I was traveling for part of my trip alone.
And I would say 90% of the time I did feel completely safe. I wasn’t hitchhiking, staying in the cheapest of cheap lodging and had a semi basic understanding of Spanish.
My first piece of advice to someone about to embark on a trip and worried about safety is to STOP reading the horror stories on the internet. Yes, they do happen but they are far and few between and getting lost in an internet chain of reading story after story is not helping anyone and making you more anxious.
In my experience I never felt unsafe in the way that someone might attack or kidnap me. Because I was alone I found that often my hotels and guides were more protective and wanted to always make sure I got to where I needed to go safely. My safety fears were more based around the actual act of travel and the safety of the action that I chose to take.
SEE ALSO: Before You Go: Travel Safety
THE THREE TIMES I FELT UNSAFE IN SOUTH AMERICA
1 Rounding the cliffs from Puno to Arequipa
I chose to take a bus from Puno, Peru to Arequipa, Peru. It was a short ride but a little bit of a nerve racking trip because the route into town involved some very high and winding cliffs with no guardrails and we happen to pass by an accident where a car had driven off the side. Oh and bonus, they decided to show the Taken movie trilogy the entire ride (If you don’t know, the plot synopsis is that Liam Neeson’s daughter gets kidnapped while visiting Paris).
2 Crossing the river by local bus to Copacabana, Bolivia
There are a few different buses that go between La Paz and Copacabana but because my friend I arrived so late, the local bus was the only option. We weren’t really sure of the route and when we arrived at a water crossing, we rode with the ferry across inside the bus which in hindsight was not very safe. During the day the tourist buses and vans have their occupents disembark and take passenger ferry while the buses and cars take the vehicle ferries. More about this here.
3 The Atacama Desert, Bolivia and Chile
In the States when you visit a National Park there are so many barriers and signs and guardrails you can’t fall into something dangerous without trying very hard. Not so much in South America. I went to visit the Tatio Geysers that you could basically walk on top of, climbed up to the top of Moon Valley (quite a view) where you could easily slip on the sand down into the Valley and in Bolivia climbed to the edge of overhanging cliffs.
No matter where you are traveling, whether you deem it a very safe place or not you should always be aware. Here are a few tips to help you feel safe while traveling.
The popularity of Uber has made traveling much easier, especially in places where you don’t know where you are going. I used Uber in Peru, Colombia and Panama. If you take a taxi, make sure you take a licensed taxi. They usually have some sort of ID number and telephone number labeled on their car.
Ask your hotel/hostal about safety walking around at night. They usually always err on the side of extra caution when advising their guests. Also at night try to avoid walking down dark streets or streets where there are no other people around.
Don’t travel with anything flashy or expensive. Don’t wear expensive jewelry and if you feel uneasy somewhere don’t take out your camera or phone. Also keep your money and IDs spread out through your belongings so if one thing is taken you don’t lose everything.
I like to travel on a budget but I’ve come to have a rule, if there are options, don’t take the cheapest form of transportation. Safety inspections are not always as thorough in some countries as they are in the States.
Also don’t let your belongings get too far from your sight. If you are on a bus, don’t put your backpack with your valuable belongings above you. And don’t keep anything valuable in a bag that you check or goes into the trunk or under the bus.
If you are nervous about travel, try to travel during the daytime. It just makes everything a little bit easier. And if you ever feel like you are in an unsafe situation never be afraid to speak up and ask to be let out or taken somewhere else.