How to Stay Safe in Latin America

A recent news report shed light on “a series of mysterious deaths involving American men in Colombia,” which begs the question, how do we stay…

A recent news report shed light on “a series of mysterious deaths involving American men in Colombia,” which begs the question, how do we stay safe in Latin America? 

There’s no denying that Latin America is a wonderful place with stunning scenery, iconic attractions, and amazing cultures, but it is also renowned for its high criminal violence. 

Conveniently, though, people on Reddit have discussed how to stay safe in Latin America. Today, we’ll look at what they suggested so you can travel safely, but first, let’s take a closer look at the situation in Colombia!

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According to the BBC, the recent murder of American Tou Ger Xiong is “one of eight in Medellin.” The report states that “all eight victims were Americans” and they all died between November and December last year.

The murders have been “linked to dating apps,” which the killers reportedly use to lure in their suspects and kidnap them. However, these aren’t the only murders in Medellin.

The report goes on to say, “In the first ten months of 2023, Medellin’s tourism observatory had already recorded 32 violent killings of foreigners in the city.” This included 12 Americans and 3 British people.

Colombia has a serious problem, and the US embassy has issued a warning. Therefore, it’s worth learning about staying safe when traveling to Latin America.

Now that we know a bit more about the recent troubling events in Colombia, let’s look at how we can steer clear of trouble in Latin America and stay safe. Here are 12 things the Reddit community recommends for staying safe:

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1. “Don’t Show Your Papaya”

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According to one Redditor, the saying “Don’t show your papaya” is a common saying across Colombia. It essentially refers to not showing off your valuables. The same Redditor also added, “If you walk around wearing fancy clothes and showing off your new iPhone, you’re asking to be robbed.”

In other words, to avoid any trouble, don’t stand out from the crowd by displaying things criminals might take an interest in.

2. Delete Tinder

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Tying into the story the BBC reported on the murders of tourists in Colombia, one Redditor told readers to “delete Tinder as soon as you land in Colombia.” However, Reddit’s response was surprising. 

Most users believe you can stay safe in Colombia and use Tinder as long as you follow the rule “don’t be a thirsty predator.” If you decide to use Tinder in Colombia, you should exercise caution and common sense at all times. 

According to Reddit, Tinder scams are most common in Medellin and Cartagena.

3. Learn Spanish

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One user took a rather unconventional approach when discussing safety in Latin America, simply explaining that “[speaking] Spanish is almost always the best thing you can do for your safety down here.”

This Redditor believes “you will have overwhelmingly different experiences if your Spanish is even conversational.” With that in mind, maybe it’s time you learned a new language!

4. Keep Your Belongings Secure

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One of the best tips Reddit provided readers was keeping your belongings secure. Some of the top suggestions for doing so included having “a bag that is hard to get snatched,” and wearing “pants with a good zipper or hidden pockets.”

One community member also advised readers to “keep your debit card and passport somewhere safe” and “carry the cash you need for the day and one credit card.”

5. “Don’t Get Too Intoxicated”

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Alcohol and drugs are readily available across Latin America, so it isn’t uncommon for travelers to become overly intoxicated. Impaired judgment is a big mistake if you want to ensure your safety while traveling.

Not only can intoxication lead to accidents and medical emergencies, but it can make you vulnerable to criminals. You might even attract attention from police and some police officers in Latin America are known to rob and bribe tourists. 

To avoid these dangers, limit your drinking and stay away from drugs.

6. Always Use Uber At Night

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A Redditor with experience traveling through Latin America left a comment that said, “If you’re going out late, especially in big cities, use Uber everywhere when possible.” He also told travelers to “avoid walking long distances at night, especially on empty streets.”

Doing so will help you avoid any potential trouble on the streets and any criminals waiting for vulnerable tourists. However, remember to use the Uber app with caution.

Always make sure you have the right car and don’t meet your driver in remote locations.

7. Don’t Wear Baggy Clothes

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A simple thing you can do to stay safe in Latin America is avoid wearing baggy clothes. Baggy clothes, in particular shorts, make it much easier for pickpockets to steal your valuables.

One Redditor shared his experience of being robbed in Ecuador and this is what he had to say. “I got pickpocketed once and lost my burner phone in Otavalo, Ecuador, walking around a very busy and crowded market. I was walking around in my swimming shorts which had very loose, baggy pockets.”

The pickpockets were so discreet that the Redditor said, “[I] didn’t even notice until a while later.”

8. Use An Old Phone

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Some seasoned travelers have found some more unique ways to avoid any trouble in Latin America, including using an old phone. The reasoning is how you’ll be perceived by criminals. “They assume you’re local and don’t have much money,” which makes you “not worth robbing.”

However, someone questioned this idea, leaving a comment that read, “Nobody will assume you’re a local,” and “Remember you’re the foreigner always.”

9. “Use Condoms”

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This one may seem a bit out there, but it is still an important thing to consider if you plan to be sexually active in Latin America. Latin America has a big prostitution problem and unfortunately, HIV rates are high. 

According to various healthcare organizations, over 2.5 million people are HIV-postive in Latin America. That’s more than North America, Western Europe, and Central Europe combined.

10. Don’t Accept Things From Strangers

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A popular Reddit response was to “never accept anything someone randomly hands you. Ever.” This is a common scam seen across Latin America and it could lead to an uncomfortable experience.

So, what’s the scam? People hand you something and tell you it’s a gift or freebie. However, once you take it, they’ll chase you down demanding payment (often more than the item is worth). 

It’s a scam we’ve seen before and definitely one you want to avoid!

11. Use Common Sense

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A lot of Redditors from the r/DigitalNomad community believe that simply using common sense is the best way to stay safe in Latin America and we agree. 

One user listed some commonsense things for traveling through Latin America that include staying in gated communities, only using “trusted taxi apps or drivers,” keeping your phone in a front pocket, and “keeping an eye on motorcycles.”

Other Redditors agreed, saying things like, “Just be aware and street smart.”

12. Do Your Research 

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Finally, it’s important to always do your research about a destination before arriving in Latin America. This includes choosing somewhere safe to stay, knowing what you can and can’t do, and knowing the locations to avoid.

One Reddit community member shared that if you “stay in one of the nicest neighborhoods, you’ll pretty much be fine.” He went on to say, “Research all the areas around before you go somewhere so you don’t wind up somewhere you shouldn’t be. That solves 90% of your risk.”

This is a simple thing to do, but the impact it can have on your trip is huge! 

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