Don’t worry – tips on being safe in Latin America

On my first trip to Mexico years ago, I remember my friends telling me that it was unsafe, full of drugs, hookers, bandits and that everyone would try to take my stuff at every turn. In Trinidad, the bandit copied the “Colombian” kidnapping habit, hence my Trini friends would tell me that they knew someone, who knew someone else who was kidnapped or murdered in Latin America, about how their favourite pastime “is kidnapping tourists”. Of course, the media sensationalizes everything today and has a pesky habit of accentuating the negative aspects about different parts of the world.

It’s like when I go to US every other week to work. The average American client person thinks that Canada is cold all the time and that there are marauding polar bears everywhere and that we have rogue weekly avalanches  – I’ve never seen a Polar Bear outside of the zoo … but it is about what generalizations will spread.  As ridiculous as some of the assumptions people have about parts of the world, there are some very simple things we can do to ensure that we don’t become a part of other people’s stories.  Here are my quick tips to traveling safely in the Latin America or even in Trinidad – but they are applicable generally everywhere.

  1. Take the taxi around – they’re cheap, especially if you can haggle!
    During the day, I am usually pretty confident about just walking around, however at night, taking a recognized taxi is always the safer approach. For instance, In Buenos Aires, I walked around as much as I could, especially since taxis are a chore but at night I always took a taxi. In Rio … I always took a taxi, even in the day… Rio is rough … ! In Morocco, I had the best tour of Fez ever for a couple dollars. Although it might seem like overkill at times, especially if your hostel or hotel is just blocks away, taxis generally are much safer than walking, above all at night.  We hear horror stories all the time about taxis taking people for all they have, but in reality this is a rarity.  If you want to be extra careful, have the bar call a certified taxi and make sure you are not alone. We all know the stories where drunk tourist decided to walk .. got robbed and lost hundreds of dollars/cameras/shoes etc … when they could have spent 2.50$ a person and gotten home safely.

  2. Spread the money around … your body
    Simple and easy tip, yet I read travel forums and horror stories all the time about people being robbed of everything and their religion. Don’t keep all your money in one place. Do however keep “enough” money, in case you ever get robbed … hence walking with 20 pesos in Mexico per pocket is stupid … if you do get robbed, handing over only 20 pesos will get you beaten up plus robbed, and probably strip searched by your potential bandits.

  3. Always keep a copy of your passport and never your actual passport
    When traveling to a foreign country, especially one where you don’t speak the language, never take your passport along with you. Have multiple photocopies and scan a high resolution copy and email it to yourself, in case you lose your copies.

    Repeat after me : Your passport is your life. Say it 100 times. Losing your passport in a foreign country, is akin to you being in a non fatal car crash. It’s serious, stays on your record if your embassy has to get involved and will absolutely RUIN your trip. Photocopies will quickly prove who you are, and get you back on the road quickly. Plus in some parts of Latin America, it is the law to at least have a photocopy.

  4. Walk it, like you invented it
    Do you ever question a guy who said he invented something? Nope .. why? Cause he said so. When going to anywhere new, act like you’ve been there before and walk with confidence. This is a difficult trick to master for the inexperienced traveler – it only comes with experience and that certain “screw you” attitude that some people naturally have.If you stand around looking like a hyper-vigilant, paranoid tourist; then you will be treated like one. Do you see locals staring around? No .. cause they know what they are doing … even if you have no clue where you are going … you can always simply ask to get to somewhere interesting. I’ve done it enough times and it’s worked 100% of the time for me.   

  5. Talk to the locals
    They know where to go and where not to go … simple, easy … now write that down <scribble> “Talk to locals .. check!”  The locals are hidden in this picture!

  6. Don’t fall asleep on buses … unless …You’re at the back of the bus, by yourself.
    I’ve met too many people who lost their stuff on the bus. Food, bags, shopping … all gone with a little nap.   
  7. Trust your insincts … if it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t right!

About Rishiray

Rishi Sankar is a Cloud HRMS Project Manager/ Solution Architect. Over the past 15+ years, he has managed to combine his overwhelming wanderlust with a desire to stay employed, resulting in continuing stints with 3 major consulting firms (IBM, Deloitte, Accenture). He documents his adventures around the world on "Ah Trini Travelogue" with pictures and stories from the road/tuk-tuk/camel/rickshaw. You can follow him on Twitter at @rishiray and on Facebook at "Ah Trini Travelogue . He doesn't like Chicken Curry but loves Curry Chicken and is always trying to find the perfect Trinidadian roti on the road. He also doesn't like cheese and kittens ... and definitely not together. E-mail from his blog is appreciated like a 35 yr old Balvenie at

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