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When planning travels to unfamiliar destinations, it’s really important that you take into consideration the political, economic and social risks of visiting that certain area of the world. Central and South America have a reputation for violence and unrest, so my advice is that you get a-learnin’ about the countries you’re considering long before you book those flights.
To simplify this, here’s a list of the top 10 safest countries in Latin America for 2022 (and also the least safe countries, at the bottom of this page!). You’ll see that there are proportionately more of the top safest countries in South America than Central, but the Central nations that do well do very, very well!
Please note that I’m sticking to mainland LatAm for this list, so Caribbean islands haven’t been included as they’re not often on the travel route that readers come to my blog for 🙂 Some of them also have different ease of travel implications depending on where in the world the tourist is from.
After this post on the safest countries in Latin America in 2022, you’ll also want to read:
What’s my data source for the safest Latin American countries?
This is really important to know, and comes with lots of challenges to get to an accurate list of the safest countries in Latin America. For this list, I’m going to be using the results of the 2022 Global Peace Index (June, 2022), which weights 23 data points including political instability, militarisation, terrorism, incarceration effects, homicides, sexual assaults and ecological threats.
Is this the best way to statistically say whether a country is safe or not? Honestly, no. It’s actually pretty flawed, and my Economics professors would probably flog me for it. However, with the limited global data that’s out there, this is one of the most accurate indices for estimating which are the safest countries in Latin America at this time.
In an ideal world, I would love to include data from the World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report that looks into safety specifically from a tourist’s point of view, but this hasn’t been refreshed since 2019, and I’m even less comfortable using country data in such a fast-changing part of the world that has since gone through a pandemic.
What’s important to consider about safety in Latin America?
So why not just judge which are the safest countries in Latin America using homicide rates, I hear you ask? Well, from a traveller’s point of view, this is not a particularly relevant metric. That’s because the vast majority of homicides in Latin America are gang/cartel-related or domestic.
The chances of a randomer walking up and shooting you are fairly low – though will hugely increase if you decide to go against all advice and visit extremely poor or known dangerous areas and proceed to act obnoxiously and/or flash your cash (I’m not victim-blaming, I’m stupid-tourist-blaming).
More likely to affect tourists and therefore one of the key indicators in considering the safest countries in Latin America for travellers is the level of civil unrest.
Though in 2020 some contenders saw their protestors agreeing to reduce or put a halt to protests, 2021’s perceived political mishandling and economic strain put on the many communities living hand-to-mouth during to the pandemic has meant some of this unrest has come back with new fire in its belly.
A number of countries have switched hands – whether by fully democratic means or not – in the last few years, and some have even switched political ideologies. This will all ultimately influence how people live day-to-day, how content they feel and how issues are dealt with, and therefore whether the environment is safe and secure.
I’m not gonna say the time everyone got kicked off of our bus a few kilometres away from the nearest city in Bolivia due to road blockades & political protests was the worst thing to ever have happened in the world, but it wasn’t particularly fun:
Of course, COVID-19 will have had an impact while this country safety data was put together. The problem with trying to gauge medical safety in developing countries during a global pandemic is that testing is not universally affordable – by the government nor the general population – and these countries’ lack of power and money on the world stage means they are often low in the pecking order to receive solutions once they are discovered.
The pandemic data collection & reporting in Latin America is not always well-funded/far-reaching and often needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.
Anyway, let’s get into the list of the safest countries in Latin America to travel to in terms of the Global Peace Index (now that the vaccine roll-out is well underway in most regions of the world I have hope that the medical safety of travel isn’t far off!).
And for reference, Canada scored a ranking of 12th out of 163 in the 2022 GPI report, the UK came 34th, and the USA dropped 7 rankings to 129th. Yep.
Safest countries in Latin America in 2022:
GPI 2022 Ranking: 106
A new entrant into the top 10 safest countries in Latin America since I started these guides a few years ago! Great to see Guatemala making an appearance here.
It’s seen an improvement in the homicide rate since 2021, but the country is sadly still known for femicide (usually within domestic relationships).
From a visitors’ point of view, caution and a keen eye are needed in assessing situations, but outside of the larger cities you won’t feel too on-edge.
GPI 2022 Ranking: 101
I’m glad Peru didn’t rank too poorly on the list of safest countries in Latin America because it’s definitely a must-visit for tourists interested in the rich history of this region, but its place has slipped significantly from 7th in Latin America and 86th globally in 2021.
Luckily, you can explore all the wonders of Machu Picchu, Cusco and Paracas without looking over your shoulder the whole time.
Some parts of the cities of course get dodgy, so wise up on the safer areas before you travel to Peru (or anywhere else, for that matter).
To tell the truth, this one sort of surprised me at first, as while petty crime is quite common due to the relative poverty in Bolivia, violent crime isn’t necessarily an everyday threat as long as you don’t get involved in the wrong crowd/cartel.
Where Bolivia does not score well is in the militarisation indicator, especially in the wake of the ousting of their hero-turned-cray-cray-fraudster, Evo Morales, back in 2019 and the political turmoil that has thrown them into.
But aside from having to plan travel around road blockages and the like, this shouldn’t affect visitors too significantly.
Though it’s climbed the rankings from 88th in 2021, Ecuador’s place of 7th in the safest countries in Latin America is heavily influenced by the protests suffered over the last couple of years, standing a stand against everything from oil prices to wages and the handling of the pandemic by the government.
Gang conflict is known to happen north in the Esmeraldas region, so tourists are generally told to avoid it, and I was specifically warned about muggings in Quito, especially in the highly touristic areas such as the Old Town where you’re a sitting duck.
However, in much of the country popular with visitors, such as Otavalo, Baños and Cuenca, things do feel pretty safe.
I feel like Paraguay is one of those countries that just keeps its head down and gets on with things. One thing I noticed when I visited Paraguay was that the wealth gap is HUGE, so people are either São Paulo elite wealthy or La Paz hilltops poor.
Paraguay doesn’t score too well on the economic cost of violence, which explores indicators such as armed conflict and internal displacement.
I definitely felt a little on-edge in some parts of Asunción as there are several shanty towns right in the centre, but it didn’t help that we arrived during a protest against political corruption. However, in the richer parts of the city, people party like it’s an NYC rooftop, pulling up in their Range Rovers with not a care in the world. Pick your areas wisely!
GPI 2022 Ranking: 69
Argentina is more known for its political and economic instability, so as a tourist you don’t need to be too preoccupied with the risk of violent crime.
Most crime towards foreigners is petty – whilst there, I was victim to credit card copying in a restaurant in Buenos Aires, and then accused of being the thief in Rosario when someone had cash stolen off their bed in a hostel (spoiler alert: I wasn’t).
Again, protests can happen, and declaring bankruptcy every 5 years or so is a trick the Argentinian government is fond of which can make money hard to value and get hold of. COVID-19 may have sped up this pattern, so keep an eye on the economic situation before you travel.
Panama is just… I don’t know how to describe Panama without it sounding like a negative thing, but… neutral? Chill? Mild?
Anyway, a key reason that Panama continues to sit near the middle of the top 10 safest countries in Latin America is that it suffered unrest in the last few years over reforms that the government tried to push through that were to have a significant effect on marginalised groups.
These protests largely occur in Panama City, so are unlikely to affect travel across the rest of the country.
Needless to say, the San Blas Islands are a very safe bet, and a great detour when travelling from South America to Central!
In the 2019 GPI, Chile scored the highest ranking of all the safest countries in Latin America, ranking 27th worldwide. However, ongoing civil unrest in reaction to a very unpopular government means that it has slipped from its pedestal in recent years.
Away from the big cities, Chile’s most beautiful areas are still very much peaceful, so keep up-to-date with protests and plan your trip to the ex-safest country in South America accordingly.
Top of the safest countries in South America, Uruguay is famed for its political stability and relative lack of violent crime.
The GDP per capita is much higher than some of its neighbours, so there’s less of a need for people to survive via desperate means. Education levels are high, and the climate is mild.
Funnily enough, since arriving in Uruguay was the first time I ever stepped foot on South American soil, I remember being caught up in the continent’s bad reputation and feeling entirely on-edge for the first 2 weeks or so, even though it’s technically safer than my home country. Lols.
Long a safe haven for tourists wanting to dip their toes into Latin American travel without being too exposed to many of the dangers associated with this region, Costa Rica remains on top of the safest countries in Latin America to travel, and has actually climbed one place in the rankings since last year.
It has managed to gain this title despite an increase in violent demonstrations year-on-year and an influx of refugees from its neighbour, Nicaragua.
The biggest crime against tourists in Costa Rica is the price of tours + expectation for fat tips at the end. Don’t @ me, bruh.
And what about the unsafest countries in Latin America?
For the nations that didn’t make this top 10 safest countries in Latin America, let’s have a look at how they ranked on the 2022 GPI:
El Salvador 114
[Remember, the USA sits here at 129]
The one I’m most disappointed to see so low on the ranking of safest countries in Latin America is Colombia, as it obviously has a special place in my heart. However, it reveals some of the flaws in using this data, as it can’t account for the fact that the guerrilla violence and cartel activity are heavily concentrated to certain regions that tourists would/should never go.
Much of the petty crime in Colombia (and to be honest, many of the other countries in Latin America) can be avoided by being aware of your surroundings and not drawing attention to yourself as a tourist. Check out safety tips for Colombia here.
Venezuela, however, is down at the bottom of the list of safest countries in Latin America in 2022 for a very solid reason; unfortunately it’ll be a few years at the very least before it’ll be advisable to travel there due to immense political unrest and the displacement of millions of people.
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