Is it Safe to Travel in South America

South America – Is it safe?

My answer is, safe enough to take what I value most: my family

Alex Burridge – Managing Director South America Travel Centre

Alex Family

I’m one of the two owners of South America Travel Centre and I have been travelling to South America with my wife and two children for each of the last 5 years.  As a family we’ve visited parts of; Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador & Cuba. As you’d imagine my children and wife are very important to me (an understatement) and I wouldn’t be taking them with me if I thought their safety was at risk. They are by far more valuable than any possession I own.

Almost every time I tell a friend, sometimes a family member, that we’re off to South America again I get a slightly quizzical look; often followed by the question ‘is it safe’? The simple answer is yes.

The Changing Face of South America

Most countries in South America have changed since my first visit in 1992. Then the only tourists were westerners; usually slightly more adventurous souls. Now the bulk of tourists are South Americans – itself testament to their changed economies and the ‘changing face of South America’.

Gran Torre Santiago Chile
Thriving Economies

In the last 25 years, and particularly in the last 10 years, most South American countries have seen their economies thrive, many, like Chile, have significant natural resources. Just like here in Australia the resulting economic boom and the trickle down effects of their growing economies has meant that standards of living have improved including; education, infrastructure, customer service, health/hygiene and safety.

Improved Infrastructure

Generally South America’s infrastructure, roads, airports, accommodation and transportation, have all realised significant improvements. There are many architecturally beautiful hotels like Tierra Chiloe Lodge in Chile, Mashpi Lodge in Ecuador, Explora Lodge in Patagonia, Chile and Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba in Peru’s Sacred Valley that have better customer service than here. Often run by young university educated managers who speak 3 or 4 languages who have travelled the world to learn and have selected all the best things they learnt and have taken them back to their property; that’s all in addition to having beautifully furnished rooms and excellent cuisine.

Inkaterra Urubamba

Inkaterra Urubamba, Sacred Valley, Peru

Mashpi Ecuador

Mashpi Lodge, Ecuador

Tierra Chiloe, Chile

Tierra Chiloe, Chile

Excellent Cuisine and World Renowned Restaurants

Cuisine is another example of the ‘Changing Face of South America’ with 8 of the world’s top 50 restaurants.  It’s not just at these ‘judged’ restaurants where the cuisine is excellent you’ll find many fabulous chefs, fine local wines (particularly in Chile & Argentina) and wonderful dishes at many first class hotels and other restaurants.

Virgilio Martinez Central Restaurant, Lima

Top Restaurants

Ranking Restaurant Name City Country
#5 Central Lima Peru
#8 Maido Lima Peru
#16 D.O.M Sao Paulo Brazil
#20 Pujol Mexico City Mexico
#22 Quintonill Mexico City Mexico
#33 Astrid y Gaston Lima Peru
#42 Borago Santiago Chile
#49 Tegui Buenos Aires Argentina
Is Travel in South America Without Risk?

Of course not. Currently we would not send anyone to Venezuela and there are some very remote border regions that we’d again not offer. Common sense is needed wherever you are travelling, be that in Australia, or overseas.

Most larger cities around the world have safe areas and less safe areas. I believe there is an incorrect perception that many South American cities are less safe than they actually are.

Here’s my view;
Perceptions of safety are created by everyone who travels and their experiences.
Even when I was a tour guide in Africa (25 years ago) I was often amazed by the unnecessary risks some travellers took. And I suggest those risks are still taken by some today. Some travellers choose to travel on a more limited budget (nothing wrong with that), however they will often utilise cheaper accommodation which can be situated in the less safe areas (again there’s nothing inherently wrong with that). To further save money some will walk or utilise forms of local transport, often at night, and sometimes with all of their belongings with them…. To me there is a point where common sense needs to override budget. Looking at how perceptions are created you’ll perhaps understand how some (still a very a small percentage) have problems – which can create a perception that whole cities are not safe.

Local Guides, Private Transfers, Good Quality Accommodation

However, having the assistance of the best and very professional guides, pre-arranged private transport and the fact that if you stay in excellent accommodation in the better neighbourhoods you’ll start to realise why travel is generally safe.

When exploring cities we have a driver and a local guide (we don’t necessarily have to back track to your starting point, you can leave unwanted items in a secure vehicle and you have a local expert guide looking after you). Personally I also work on the premise of; if you don’t need it with you don’t take it with you. For any belongings you don’t need that day leave them at the hotel – the safest place for them.

Finally the people; South American people are very decent, welcoming, friendly people to whom family is very important. My local partners, some of who have worked with South America Travel Centre since 1995, are more than just ‘business partners’ they have become friends.
So whilst I know I’ll likely continue to get those quizzical looks – the reality is that travel in South America is safe and my children, my wife and I all look forward to our next trip.

Casona Matetic Wine Tasting
Zuleta