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Safest Latin American Countries to Visit in 2024

Introduction

The safest countries to visit in Latin America in 2024 are Uruguay, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Paraguay and Argentina. These are the beginner spots you should be targeting if it is your first trip to this beautiful part of the world. The likes of Venezuela, Ecuador and northern Brazil are a little more challenging. There are safe places within those countries (for example, southern Brazil, or the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador), but the overall country requires extra precautions. I would recommend starting with beginner and intermediate countries.

Having travelled extensively through Latin America, I wish to share some advice to anyone looking to explore my favourite region in the world. I will explain why these countries are the safest, which parts of each country should still be avoided, and why certain countries such as Chile and Panama have been excluded despite often making these lists.

Yellow, blue, pink, black, red and turquoise-coloured colonial-style buildings in Santa Ana, El Salvador.
Colourful buildings in Santa Ana, El Salvador: A country that has gone from one of the most dangerous to one of the safest since 2022

Which Countries Make up Latin America?

This question is harder to answer than you may think. However the general consensus is that the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries in Central America, South America and the Caribbean (and Mexico) are what constitute “Latin America”. Broader definitions may also include the French-speaking countries and territories, or every country in mainland Central and South America. However, these are the countries that undoubtably come under the “Latin America” banner:

  • North America: Mexico
  • Central America: Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama
  • South America: Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil
  • Caribbean: Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico*

*A USA territory, but generally defined as being in Latin America

These countries and territories are sometimes included in broader definitions of Latin America:

  • Central America: Belize
  • South America: Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana*
  • Caribbean: Haiti, Guadeloupe*, Martinique*, Saint Barthelemy*, Saint Martin*

*French territories which are sometimes classified as “Latin America”

Canada, the USA (excluding Puerto Rico) and any Caribbean territories not mentioned above are not considered to be part of Latin America under any definition.

For the purpose of this post, I will be focusing on the first group of countries: those which count as Latin American countries without a doubt.

What are the Main Dangers in Latin America?

Latin America is safer than the average person thinks. Sure, that doesn’t mean you can run around waving $50 bills in the air and expect everything to run smoothly. But it also doesn’t mean that within minutes of leaving a Mexican airport you’ll end up in the hands of the dreaded cartels.

It is true that violence is a problem in some parts. But even in countries with a lot of violent crime, you will often see the majority of it occurring in certain areas. Usually in large cities, and often between locals involved in criminal activities. Tourists are rarely targeted with violence.

Now robberies are a different story. This is by far the biggest threat to tourists in Latin American countries. I spent ten months in the region myself and was almost mugged on the streets of Quito. I met several travellers who had their own mugging stories to share. Santiago in Chile and many parts of Colombia were the scenes of many of these crimes. However, there was one common factor that every single traveller with a story like this (myself included) shared. Every single one did something silly to put themselves in a vulnerable position. I will share more later on in this post on how to avoid ending up in such a situation.

Political instability is another key danger to be aware of. This is a region where things can change quickly with little warning. My plans to visit Ecuador were almost scuppered when protests spread like wildfire, roadblocks were erected across the country and little traffic could move within Ecuador’s borders. Ironically, the flu held me up in Colombia just long enough for the chaos to subside. These protests initially started as a rally against fuel and food price rises. Venezuela and Nicaragua have also had their fair share of political issues, whilst Peru saw president Pedro Castillo impeached after a failed attempt to cling onto power. Avoiding countries near election times is a wise move.

Wildlife and the environment can also pose a threat to tourists and locals alike. Mosquitoes are perhaps the biggest danger, given the diseases they carry and how widespread they are. There are many dangerous creatures such as jaguars, crocodiles, snakes, poison dart frogs and deadly spiders. Although the good news is that many of these are very rare to find, let alone come into contact with. The main environmental issues come from flooding which can be common at times, landslides which it can cause, and hurricanes which often hit Central America and the Caribbean between May and October.

The Safest Countries to Visit in Latin America in 2024

One of the most common metrics for measuring a country’s safety is the Global Peace Index (GPI). The index uses 23 different metrics ranging from terrorism impact, violent crime and political instability to UN peacekeeping funding and military expenditure. These are used to calculate a score ranging from 1 (best) to 5 (worst). As of February 2024, Iceland is 1st with a score of 1.124 and Afghanistan sits bottom in 163rd position with a score of 3.448.

My recommendations for the safest countries to visit in Latin America in 2024 will take the GPI into account, but personal experience will also be a key ranking factor. At the time of writing I have been to every Latin American country aside from Venezuela, Cuba and the Dominican Republic (and Puerto Rico). From my knowledge of those countries, only Cuba could be a potential contender to add to this list.

I have met numerous locals and travellers alike, as well as experiencing these countries first hand within the last two years. Therefore I will lean on that to come to conclusions.

I am also judging the country on its overall situation in 2024. This is bad news for Panama (mostly very safe, but home to the deadly Darien smuggling route and the dangerous city of Colon). It also knocks Chile down the list (safe in large parts, but lots of political unrest in Santiago and the Mapuche conflict in the south).

Let’s start with the GPI ranking for each Latin American country however:

Ranking
(Latin America)
Country
Ranking
(Global)
Score
1Costa Rica391.731
2Uruguay501.798
3Argentina541.837
4Chile581.874
=5Panama=681.942
=5Paraguay=681.942
7Bolivia782.001
8Dominican Republic832.019
9Ecuador972.095
10Cuba992.103
=11Guatemala=1032.130
=11Peru=1032.130
13Honduras1202.265
14El Salvador1222.279
15Nicaragua1232.294
16Brazil1322.462
17Mexico1362.599
=18Colombia=1402.693
=18Venezuela=1402.693
GPI rankings for Latin American countries, using the latest data from 2023

Without further ado, let’s get into my top 5 safest countries to visit in this beautiful part of the world.

1) Uruguay

Global Peace Index ranking: 2 (Latin America), 50 (Global)

The safest South American country by far, and few would argue with that. Uruguay often tops Latin America safety lists for good reason. Uruguay is a beacon of political stability, ranking 19/193 for this metric according to research by business and economics expert The Global Economy. Unlike other South American countries, Uruguay does not suffer from regular riots and unrest.

Violent crime here is very low. Uruguay is the most Europeanised country in South America. The culture, demographics and architecture make it seem like a country in Western Europe. The gang violence and cartel wars which plague other Latin American nations are nowhere to be seen in sleepy Uruguay.

This was one of the few countries where it felt safe to go out alone after dark. I wouldn’t recommend walking around the streets with your phone in your hand, but the odds are in your favour here. Something which certainly wouldn’t be the case in Ecuador or northern Brazil.

Uruguay wasn’t the most exciting country in my opinion, but it deserves its title as the safest country in Latin America.

A pink pastel-coloured building in Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, with a couple of small trees outside as the sun shines down
Uruguay wasn’t my favourite country, but it was at least very safe

2) El Salvador

Global Peace Index ranking: 14 (Latin America), 122 (Global)

El Salvador is one of the safest places in Latin America.

Wait, what?? Isn’t that the country with all the dangerous street gangs such as MS-13 and Calle 18 running riot?

It was until very recently. In fact El Salvador has gone from being one of the world’s most dangerous countries to one of Latin America’s safest in just two years. This was a country plagued by deadly gang violence for a long time. But the president said enough is enough.

At the end of March 2022, just two weeks before my own trip to El Salvador, 87 people were murdered in a 3-day period, with 62 killings taking place on the Saturday alone. This prompted president Nayib Bukele to declare a state of emergency suspending some laws and providing law enforcement with new powers which allowed them to carry out mass arrests on gang members without red tape holding up the process.

This state of emergency is still in place as of February 2024 and has dramatically transformed the country.

Salvadorean gang members are often easily identifiable with facial tattoos common amongst them.

Must admit that two weeks after the crackdown began, I was a little nervous whilst getting off a bus in San Salvador and spotting a chap with his face covered in tattoos. I decided against staring long enough to see if his face was marked with gang symbols. Perhaps he was just a local dentist or lawyer paying tribute to his daughter’s academic successes… right??

Anyway, the crackdown has been one of the biggest political success stories in the 21st century. And Bukele was rewarded in February 2024 by being re-elected as president of El Salvador with a record 85% of the votes.

There has never been a better time to visit this beautiful country where you can see the stunning Santa Ana Volcano and nearby Coatepeque Lake. World famous surfing spot El Tunco and nearby “Bitcoin Beach” El Zonte are other famous spots in the country. This is a real underrated gem of a country with a lot of stunning natural beauty and beautiful colonial buildings. I would say it is one of the best countries in Central America to visit.

Armed guards patrolling the streets of San Salvador with large guns in broad daylight
Armed guards patrolling the streets of San Salvador: part of the reason why this former gang hotspot is now very safe

3) Costa Rica

Global Peace Index ranking: 1 (Latin America), 39 (Global)

The third safest country in Latin America is Costa Rica. One of the more touristy destinations, with visitors flocking in large numbers to see the wonderful wildlife this country has to offer, Costa Rica is also very safe.

One slight exception would be the capital San Jose. Whilst it isn’t a “dangerous” city in the Caracas/Tegucigalpa category, it has a bit of an edge to it, and I wouldn’t recommend walking alone here after dark.

There are still some dangerous parts of San Jose. These aren’t places you will end up as a tourist, but perhaps you should be aware of them regardless. La Carpio, Pavas, San Sebastian, Los Guido, Santa Rita de Alejuela, Desamparados and Leon XIII are all places to avoid. The centre of Limon on the Caribbean coast, and some areas along the Nicaragua border do also have a higher rate of crime than elsewhere.

The good news? You will probably be visiting none of the above during your trip to Costa Rica. There are two primary factors that draw people to this country: the wildlife and the beaches. Sure, petty crime does occur, but with simple precautions you can avoid becoming a victim. In the major wildlife spots such as Tortuguero or La Fortuna, crime is virtually non-existent.

In fact, the main threat in Costa Rica comes from the wildlife. With over half a million species, there are many harmless creatures, but also a few that can book you a date with the grim reaper in extreme circumstances.

Crocodiles, poison dart frogs, many snake species and the Brazilian wandering spider (one of the world’s most venomous) can all be found in Costa Rica. But incidents involving humans are very rare, and most creatures tend to only strike as a last resort if they feel threatened. The one local resident you should view as a serious threat however is the fer-de-lance viper.

The majority of snake bites in Central America come from this deadly creature, which does an excellent job of camouflaging itself in rainforest environments. Even if you survive a bite from one, the experience can be painful and recovery can take a few weeks.

The good news is that even bites from the pesky fer-de-lance are rare. Just be sure to dress appropriately and if possible, find a guide for any jungle treks.

Wildlife adventures in Costa Rica should be right at the top of your bucket list for Central America.

The feared fer-de-lance viper on the rainforest floor, hidden amongst the leaves in Costa Rica
A fer-de-lance viper: Costa Rica is one of the safest countries in Latin America, but be careful around wildlife

4) Paraguay

Global Peace Index ranking: 5 (Latin America), 68 (Global)

My fourth recommendation for one of the safest countries in Latin America is Paraguay. A little-known territory in the heart of South America, this is one of Latin America’s least visited nations, mostly due to its lack of tourist attractions. However, I have a little more knowledge on Paraguay than the average westerner, as this is my girlfriend’s country, and I’ve learnt a lot since first visiting in 2022. Therefore I can share what I know about the safety situation with you right now.

Paraguay is mostly safe. The majority of tourists will only visit the capital Asuncion. Like any average large city, it is safe for the most part, with a few pockets you should avoid. Most notably, the Chacarita, a slum in the northern part of the city.

When I was first in Asuncion, locals nearby warned me away from the Chacarita as I walked nearby. “Muy peligroso!” they said – “very dangerous” in Spanish.

I walked past some wooden shacks which had been set up just outside the Chacarita, to house residents forced to flee their homes by fire. During under two minutes here I was stared at, hissed at, followed and a lady commented on my phone (which was hidden in my pocket at the time). Didn’t feel safe so I left the area ASAP. Most other parts of Asuncion are very safe, particularly the historic central areas and posh Villa Morra.

Elsewhere in Paraguay, Ciudad del Este on the Paraguay/Brazil border is a pretty run-down city which many Brazilians visit for cheap electronics. The city isn’t quite as bad as it looks, but many of the electronics here are fake, police may ask for bribes (just pay if this happens, it won’t be much and could save you a lot of hassle) and there is a risk of petty theft.

The real area to avoid is in the east of the country’s centre, around the borders with Brazil. Pedro Juan Caballero is controlled by Comando Vermelho, a Brazilian narco gang with influence just across the border. Tourists have no reason to come to this area or surrounding cities.

Like Costa Rica, Paraguay does have some dangerous wildlife. Yet it is very rare to encounter anything that could cause real harm. Jaguars are incredibly rare, likewise deadly snakes. Crocodiles exist in the rivers, but can easily be avoided with common sense.

Overall however, Paraguay is a very safe country. Realistically, if you avoid the Chacarita and Brazilian border areas (aside from the Ciudad del Este/Foz do Iguacu area, which is safe) you will have no issues here.

Metal shacks which make up the Chacarita slum in Asuncion, Paraguay
Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay is very safe, with the exception of this slum which is known as the Chacarita

5) Argentina

Global Peace Index ranking: 3 (Latin America), 54 (Global)

The last Latin American country I would name as one of the top five to visit for safety is Argentina. Like Uruguay, this is a very Europeanised country with a lot of similarities in culture, architecture and lifestyle. It is also a country where you can find some world class steak for rock bottom prices.

The gang violence and cartels plaguing other parts of the continent are not such a big problem in Argentina, although that doesn’t mean everywhere is safe.

The one spot that can get a little hairy is the city of Rosario, the birthplace of some bloke called Lionel Messi. Apparently he kicks a ball around and is quite good at it, just in case you haven’t heard. Oh, it was also the birthplace of a slightly less inspirational chap called Che Guevara.

Anyway, what makes Rosario a bit dodgy? Well it’s the heart of Argentina’s drug trafficking route, and has experienced some gang violence as a result. This is unlikely to have a direct impact on tourists, but getting caught in the crossfire can’t be ruled out.

Rosario aside however, Argentina has few safety issues with the people. Capital Buenos Aires does see its fair share of petty thefts, but no more on average than any other major city in a safe country. You will probably visit the incredible La Boca neighbourhood at some point in Buenos Aires. It gets quite dodgy at night but is very safe during the day time if you stick to the tourist spots around El Caminito. Other parts of the country, such as German-themed village Villa General Belgrano, wine capital Mendoza and popular Iguazu Falls are very safe and have almost no crime.

Perhaps the main threat to safety in Argentina comes from the biting cold in the country’s south. Argentina is home to the beautiful mountainous Patagonia region. Take precautions against cold weather and ensure you know how to navigate mountains safely. Do this and your Argentina trip will almost certainly be fine.

People in Argentina are very poor due to the collapse of the peso in recent years. Despite this, there has been no notable increase in crime. I have written a detailed guide on how to save money in Argentina.

A lake in the middle of Parque General San Martin, Mendoza, Argentina. The water ripples as the sun shines down, with mountains providing the perfect backdrop
Argentina is a very safe and serene country (Pictured: A lake in Mendoza’s Parque General San Martin)

And What About the Other Latin American Countries?

Why “Safe” Panama and Chile Were Excluded from this List

As mentioned earlier, there are two countries which feature heavily in “safest country” lists which I have not included in this post. First up is Panama. This beautiful country on the southern tip of Central America has many very safe places. Retiree favourite Boquete and party paradise Bocas del Toro are very safe. Likewise, capital Panama City is one of the safest major cities in the Americas.

However Panama is also home to the very dangerous Darien Gap. This vast jungle region is a key drug and people smuggling route from South America to the USA. It covers both Panama and Colombia, and is effectively lawless. The government can do little to help if you run into trouble in this punishing environment. It is run by guerrilla and paramilitary groups. It has no infrastructure, extreme weather, deadly animals and challenging terrain. This, the gang-ravaged city of Colon and occasional political unrest ensure that Panama just misses out on this safety list.

Chile is the other regular in similar lists which I have omitted from this one. There are two main reasons for this. One is the Mapuche Conflict taking place in the south with the government fighting indigenous tribes. The Mapuche seek to create an independent state and have been involved in several deadly clashes to achieve their goals. The second reason for Chile’s omission is the capital, Santiago.

Considered “safe” according to outdated articles that haven’t been updated for years, Santiago is home to regular riots, linked to far-left groups who have been fighting officials and vandalising the city. It started in 2019 with protests against perceived inequality, and escalated further ever since a constitution change was first rejected in 2022.

I didn’t feel safe in Santiago, even getting tear gassed during one of the aforementioned riots whilst walking back to my hostel. Staff told me such riots take place every Friday for the reasons mentioned above. I met a guy in Paraguay who had his phone snatched out of his hand by a passing motorbike in Santiago.

Valparaiso, another popular Chilean city is also associated with muggings and other crimes.

Safe parts of the country include popular Atacama Desert and remote Easter Island, although the latter is a 6-hour flight from Santiago. Easter Island is politically Chilean, but culturally and geographically Polynesian.

A Brief Safety Summary of the Other Latin American Countries

Elsewhere in Latin America: Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil can be travelled to safely, but do have their fair share of crime. Venezuela is the most dangerous country in the mainland Americas. The safety situation has steadily improved in the last couple of years. But “safer” doesn’t mean “safe”. Peru and Bolivia are safer than the countries mentioned above, but have their fair share of political instability which can change things at any time. Honduras is a country plagued by gang violence and caution is required whilst travelling through, although Copan Ruinas and the Bay Islands are safe.

Nicaragua is on the safer end of the spectrum despite political instability under dictator Daniel Ortega. Try and avoid capital Managua however, this is the exception. Guatemala is mostly safe for tourists if you stick to the beaten path. Be cautious heading off the tourist trail however, and do a lot of research before you go to Guatemala City. Mexico is another mixed bag with cartel wars making some parts of the country amongst the world’s most dangerous. Mexico also has very safe areas. Oaxaca, Bacalar and Tulum are very safe, whilst Mexico City and Cancun have a mixture of safe and dangerous areas.

In the Caribbean, Cuba is one of the countries with the lowest crime rates, and violent crime is said to be very rare. The Dominican Republic has a lot more crime. It isn’t quite up there as one of the more “dangerous” countries on this list, but it certainly requires extra precautions.

How to Stay Safe in Latin America

Latin America is a region that requires more precautions than Europe for example. Here are some tips for staying safe from some of the main threats in the most beautiful part of the world.

Crime

  • Do not go out alone at night in cities. There are a few exceptions where it’s fine to do so (Montevideo or Mendoza for example), but as a general rule of thumb, don’t do this
  • If you must go out alone at night, use taxis to get from door-to-door
  • Use Uber or similar ride-share apps. Many street taxis are unreliable and there is a high chance they will try to scam you with the price. In some extreme cases, kidnappings have occurred
  • Do not get your phone out in the streets of cities at any time of day. Again, this is a general rule and doesn’t apply to everywhere (again, Montevideo and Mendoza are good examples of safe spots). Using my phone to check maps in broad daylight was exactly how I was attacked by three muggers in Quito
  • If you need to use your phone in a large city, head into the nearest shop, cafe or restaurant. Bonus points for going far inside and being discreet rather than standing directly in the entrance. I’ve practiced this ever since the Quito incident in July 2022 and had zero problems since
  • Stay away from drugs at all costs, and be very careful with alcohol. Drinks you can cover are a smart idea. Several robberies and even deaths have been linked to drink spiking in Latin America – most notably in Medellin where powerful scopolamine is used to rob tourists
  • Be careful using online dating apps. Particularly in Medellin (but also elsewhere in Colombia and some parts of Ecuador and Mexico) thieves set up dates with victims and use the aforementioned scopolamine to rob them. Meet potential dates at daytime in busy places if you use these apps. Do not accept drinks from them and keep your own drink covered at all times. Do not bring dates back to your accommodation

Wildlife

  • Wear long clothing, use DEET spray and sleep under a mosquito net to avoid mosquito bites. Mosquitos cause several deadly diseases including malaria and dengue fever. This advice does not apply so much to cities, deserts and mountainous areas. However it is very important to follow in jungle environments and wetlands
  • Snakes are some of the deadliest creatures in the region. Wear boots and long trousers, watch where you walk and use a stick to poke the ground in front of you and alert snakes to your presence
  • Be very wary of dogs in the Americas. They can be aggressive and may carry rabies which is fatal in almost all cases where symptoms develop. If you encounter aggressive dogs, pick up a rock (or at least pretend to) and threaten to throw it at them. Failing this, run towards the dog aiming kicks at it. You don’t have to make contact, the kicking action alone will scare the dog off. Stay facing the dog at all times until the danger has passed, but do not make direct eye contact. Do not try to outrun a dog
  • One of the deadliest creatures in the Americas is one that isn’t particularly well known. The kissing bug spreads Chagas disease which kills 12,000 people per year across North and South America. It is the main vector for this disease. To avoid them, stay in places where cracks in walls are sealed and pets are kept indoors
  • Another surprise killer in the Americas is……. the snail!?!? Yes. Snails living in freshwater sources such as ponds transmit bilharzia which kills 200,000 people globally every year. This is because they release parasites into the water which can infect humans who come into contact with them. To avoid these, simply avoid making contact with freshwater sources. If you want to swim, do so in the sea or a chlorinated pool
  • Animals with fierce reputations that can kill but are NOT a serious threat to tourists are as follows: Spiders, poison dart frogs, jaguars, crocodiles and sharks. Whilst the above are all deadly, they are either very elusive, or unlikely to attack humans and can easily be avoided

Weather and the Environment

  • On mountains, stick to clear trails and bring emergency equipment if you don’t go with a professional guide
  • Tell friends when you go to remote regions where you may not be able to make contact for a while, make sure they know your itinerary and what to do if you need help
  • Similarly, in jungles, use a professional guide, and share your plans with friends who can call for help if you don’t make it out as planned
  • Between May and November, hurricane season sweeps through Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. To avoid this, simply follow local warnings – there is normally a minimum of 36 hours between a strong hurricane being announced to the general public, and actually coming in. This will give you time to get to safety before the hurricane hits
  • Flooding and landslides do occur. Stay away from cliffs during heavy rain to avoid being caught up in a landslide

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