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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!
For this list, I’m going to be using the results of the 2021 Global Peace Index (June, 2021), which weights 23 data points including political instability, militarisation, terrorism, incarceration effects, homicides, sexual assaults and ecological threats. Though obviously not statistically perfect (far from it!), this is one of the most accurate indices for estimating which are the safest countries in Latin America at this time.
Of course, COVID-19 will have had an impact while this 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.
For example, Nicaragua was said to have suffered only 163 coronavirus deaths nationwide from March to December 2020 (with 919 cases per 1 million people vs the worldwide average of 9711), but experts that summer estimated that their figures should be 20x higher than officially reported. Real-time COVID-19 data sometimes needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.
One of the key indicators holding nations back from being crowned the safest countries in Latin America is the level of civil unrest, and 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.
And 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).
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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 10th out of 163 in the 2021 GPI report, the UK came 33rd, and the USA dropped 2 rankings to 122nd. Yep.
Safest countries in Latin America in 2022:
GPI 2021 Ranking: 105
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.
But aside from having to plan travel around road blockages and the like, this shouldn’t affect visitors too significantly.
I’ve always be warned off travelling to Guyana due to safety concerns, so I’m surprised to see it sitting so well in the list of safest countries. It seems its relative lack of militarisation and low levels of domestic and external conflict are pulling it up the rankings.
Mugging risk for tourists is still high though, and solo female travel is not advised.
This is actually a pretty cheeky entry of mine as culturally Guyana is not considered part of Latin America (which consists of countries with romance languages), but I’ve included it for its regional location since you’re considering travelling to this corner of the world.
GPI 2021 Ranking: 88
Ecuador’s ranking of 8th 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 2021 Ranking: 68
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 for Panama sitting 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’s 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.
It has managed to gain this title despite an increasing homicide rate YoY 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 2021 GPI:
El Salvador 110
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, please don’t let this put you off travelling there: the guerrilla violence and cartel activity are concentrated to certain regions that tourists would/should never go, and much of the petty crime 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.
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