While the vast majority of tourists to South and Central America find nothing but a warm welcome and rewarding experiences, there are some clear risks – especially in the big cities.
Most crime is relatively petty, involving pick-pocketing or bag-snatching. But in some locations there is a more serious threat, especially if a robbery does not go according to the perpetrators’ plan.
What is the official advice about Argentina?
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The Foreign Office warns mainly about street crime.
“Keep a close eye on your personal possessions at all times. Thieves normally work in teams of two or more and tend to target small bags and pockets.
“The most common form of distraction theft reported in Buenos Aires is the ‘mustard scam’. Thieves have been known to rob tourists while an accomplice pretends to help remove ketchup or mustard that has been ‘accidentally’ sprayed on them.
“If you find yourself in this situation, politely but firmly refuse assistance and walk away.
“Thieves posing as hotel guests are known to snatch bags while tourists are checking into hotels or hostels.”
There are also occasional so-called “express kidnappings”, in which someone is abducted purely to empty their bank accounts in different ATMs.
These typically take place close to midnight, so that withdrawals can be made on two separate day.
Once the cash has been obtained by the villains, the victim is normally quickly released.
The US State Department warns: “Street crime in the larger cities is a constant problem for residents and visitors alike.”
“Visitors to popular tourist destinations should be alert to muggers, pickpockets, scam artists, and purse-snatchers.
“Criminals are often well dressed and hard to spot. They target individuals withdrawing cash from ATMs by following customers exiting banks.
What about violent criminals?
The FCO warns specifically of robberies in Buenos Aires involving physical violence and the use of weapons “in the streets immediately outside of the Caminito tourist area in La Boca”.
The official advice says: “Make sure to stay within the designated tourist area where there are high visibility police patrols.
“If being robbed, hand over your cash and valuables without resistance.”
The Canadian government adds: “In some cases, thieves on foot work with thieves on motorcycles, ‘motochorros,’ to snatch purses and backpacks.
“Criminals usually do not hesitate to use force if opposed. If robbed, hand over your cash and valuables without resistance.”
“In La Boca, always remain on Calle Caminito. Violent thefts often occur in neighbouring streets.”
The US State Department says: “Crime statistics reflect a decrease in the overall murder rate for Argentina, but a marked increase of violent crimes; specifically, 300 more crimes by ‘motorchorros’ in Argentina in 2018 than in 2017.
Is Argentina particularly dangerous?
Despite this appalling attack, Buenos Aires and the rest of Argentina remains relatively safe. The Foreign Office says that 111,000 British travellers visited the country in 2018, and very few of them experienced problems.
Where else in Latin America is dangerous?
Capital cities and huge conurbations such as Sao Paulo and Rio in Brazil are particularly prone to a large number of robbers. Travellers are particularly vulnerable in places with large numbers of tourists, such as Cuzco in Peru, Cancun and the “Riviera Maya” in Mexico, and resorts in some of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean islands.
What can I do to reduce the risk?
Western visitors may inadvertently be putting themselves at risk with their appearance or possessions.
Dress down – and be aware that robbers may identify targets as they leave the airport and bide their time to stage an attack in less public surroundings.
Avoid wearing flashy watches or jewellery or showing signs of affluence such as expensive cameras or smartphones. It may be worth buying a cheap mobile and a local SIM card to reduce the chance of being targetted.
Do not carry around shoulder bags that can be easily swiped. Leave valuables in your hotel, and carry what you take with you in a money belt beneath your clothes or a pocket that can be buttoned or zipped shut.
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