I can spend all day explaining why you should visit the fascinating continent called South America. The culture is interesting, rich, and diverse. The landscape is unique and sometimes ethereal, featuring some stunning archaeological sites such as the famous Machu Picchu. There are the almost outworldly Bolivian salt flats, the Salar de Uyuni, the Peruvian Nazca lines, and the Amazon rainforest which is the largest of its kind in the world.
The cuisine is as diverse as the culture and incredibly delicious. Foodies will have the time of their lives trying different food. You are also spoiled when it comes to drinks as they are just as diverse as the food.
Life is a carnival in South America as the people just love to celebrate. From religious festivals to cultural festivals and carnivals, processions, and so on, it seems the good people of South America are always finding a reason to party.
But despite all the obvious attractions of the continent, there remains the burning question of whether South America is safe. Let’s face it, South America doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to safety. From dangerous roads to drug cartels and scams, South America seems like a country that travelers should be wary of.
I’ll put your mind at ease here and say South America is generally a safe place to travel to. While its notorious reputation isn’t unnecessarily unearned, things have changed in recent years. I’ll admit that some countries are safer than others and to put your mind at rest, below are the safest South American countries according to the Global Peace Index.
What Is The Global Peace Index?
The Global Peace Index (GPI), which is a report produced by the Institute for Economics & Peace, is the world’s leading and most reputable measure of peacefulness. Ranking 163 independent countries, peace experts evaluate how involved countries are in ongoing and international conflicts. About 23 indicators are used to assign the GPI of a country. The lower the GPI, the safer the country.
I’m a big believer in the saying that “numbers don’t lie” and I’ll be using cold statistics and my personal experience traveling around South America to present a list of the most peaceful and safe South American countries. Here we go.
Global Peace Index score: 1.795
Uruguay takes the crown of the safest country in South America. The country isn’t as popular as some of its neighbors but travelers that make their way to Uruguay are set to enjoy outstanding natural beauty. Uruguay’s coastline is pristine and mostly untouched while fun lovers can party from dawn to dusk.
The locals are friendly and there are several remote spots for those looking for solitude either to relax or do a bit of self-reflection. Thanks to the geography of the country, you don’t have to worry about sudden natural disasters.
Pickpocketing and petty theft are common in the major cities and you’ll need to be vigilant. Don’t displays signs of wealth like wearing expensive watches or jewelry as it can make you a target. Don’t go anywhere alone at night and ask hotel or hostel staff about places to avoid. It’s also recommended you don’t use ATMs at night. Overall, you need to consider normal precautions when traveling to Uruguay.
Global Peace Index score: 1.84
Natural beauty, delicious and inexpensive food, beautiful landscapes, and friendly locals. These are what you can expect from any trip to Chile. Fortunately, Chile is also the second safest country in South America and you can travel around the country with your mind at ease.
Your biggest concern in Chile is petty theft and this is prevalent in the larger cities. However, you can avoid being a victim by keeping your eye on your belongings and not making yourself a target by flaunting expensive items. Be wary of strangers trying to your attention in public spaces as thieves tend to work in teams. One may distract you while the other steals from you.
Don’t enter unlicensed taxis. There have been incidents of people getting robbed in unlicensed taxis. You can tell your hotel staff to help you book a taxi just to be safe.
Watch over your drink in nightclubs or bars and refuse drinks from strangers. Drink spiking is becoming increasingly popular in recent years so you’ll have to keep an eye on your drink.
Global Peace Index score: 1.911
From thriving nightlife to numerous delicious local cuisine and beautiful and unique geography, there are a number of good reasons to visit the third most populous country in South America.
Similar to the countries I’ve discussed above, petty theft is the major concern in Argentina. Expensive items like wallets, phones, watches, and jewelry should be kept out of sight as rich tourists tend to draw the attention of criminals.
It’s also advisable you avoid lower socioeconomic areas as the crime rate tends to be higher in these areas. Your hotel or hostel staff can also advise you on areas to avoid.
Armed robbery and violent crime aren’t generally a concern in Argentina but they have been reported in some of the major tourist areas. Be extra vigilant in Rosario and Bueno Aires. Avoid walking after dark and use ATMs only banks and shopping centres.
Protests and demonstrations are fairly common in Argentina and it’s better you avoid them as they may turn violent. Flooding, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions are potential natural disasters. Know your hotel’s evacuation plan and follow local media for updates in case of any natural disaster.
Global Peace Index score: 1.976
Paraguay isn’t popular among travelers and is one of the least visited countries in South America. For most people, there isn’t just anything to see in Paraguay. After all, Paraguay isn’t your typical postcard travel destination.
So, why travel to Paraguay? It’s because the country has its charm. It’s quiet, peaceful, and a great place to relax. There are several off-beaten paths making it a great place to become immersed in nature. The tempo here is really slow and laidback which may require a bit of adjustment from some tourists. But when you settle in, you start to enjoy the country.
If you ever find yourself in Paraguay, you only need to apply basic safety precautions and you’ll be fine. Mugging, bag snatching, and pickpocketing are common in the big cities. There have also been reports of armed robbery and car theft although these are not very common.
The standard of driving is poor and natural disasters like floods and forest fires may occur. Scams are also very common so you’ll need to be street smart.
Global Peace Index score: 1.988
Ecuador is an amazing country with diverse landscapes ranging from the Amazon rainforest to the Andes and the coastline. The country is filled with incredible biodiversity and impressive colonial architecture. I described Ecuador as a small country that packs a lot of punch in my detailed travel guide about the country. Be sure to check the guide out.
It’s somewhat safe to visit Ecuador and I’ll urge travelers to observe an increased level of safety precautions. Thefts and pickpocketing are common in tourist hotspots, public transportation, restaurants, and shops. Don’t enter unlicensed taxis as robberies and even kidnapping have been reported in unlicensed taxis.
It’s easy to recognize official cabs as they have orange license plates or white plates with an orange strip on top. Official taxis also have video surveillance on the inside. There’s also the risk of getting scammed, although this can happen anywhere.
Flooding and tsunamis can occur in the rainy season. Volcanic eruptions and earthquakes can also be expected due to the geography of the country.
Global Peace Index score: 1.989
Bolivia is popular among South American travelers due to its status as the cheapest country on the continent. But you’ll be completely wrong for thinking people only go to Bolivia because of its affordability. The country is a treasure of natural wonders, with breathtaking salt flats easily coming to mind.
Pickpocketing and bag snatching are rampant in the streets of Bolivia. This requires travelers to be security-conscious and hold their bags tightly. You should also keep your valuables well hidden and out of sight.
Public transportation in Bolivia is not very reliable or safe. Tourists should steer clear of Coronilla Hill in Cochabamba, near the main bus terminal as the area is frequented by drug addicts and alcoholics. The area is not safe for both tourists and locals. You can also ask hotel staff for areas to avoid during your stay in Bolivia.
There is a high risk of getting scammed so you have to be street smart. The rainy season is a tricky time to visit as flooding and landslides are common during this period.
Global Peace Index score: 2.091
The home of the magnificent Machu Picchu, Peru continues to see a record number of tourists annually. There are also other interesting destinations in Peru and it’s one fun after the other for travelers here.
Peru is relatively safe. Thousands of travelers flock there each year and most don’t have any issues. So, you can rest easy knowing that you won’t be kidnapped or murdered in Peru. However, petty crime is common although this usually happens to people that are careless or flaunt their belongings. So, it’s important to avoid displaying signs of wealth.
Thieves work in pairs or teams. So, be wary of someone trying to gain your attention in public or crowded areas. Don’t go anywhere alone at night as most crimes against tourists occur after dark. If you must go anywhere at night, it’s advisable you go as part of a group as there’s safety in numbers. Stay away from drug tourism. Punishment for drug-related offenses can be harsh.
There is a risk of landslides and flooding during the wet season. Volcanic eruptions may also occur. The latest volcanic eruption happened in 2016.
Global Peace Index score: 2.14
Guyana is one of South America’s well-kept secrets. There are people that have never heard of Guyana but people that know and have traveled to the country are rewarded with rich rainforests, meandering rivers, dusty savannah, and golden beaches.
English is the official language of Guyana making it the only South American country to have English as an official language. As a result, it is easier for English-speaking travelers to navigate the country.
Tourists, especially those well-dressed and wearing expensive accessories, are usually perceived as wealthy and tend to be victims of theft. So, it’s advisable you don’t flaunt any expensive items. There’s also the possibility of violent crime but this is generally low. Overall, you’ll need to exercise increased caution in Guyana.
Crime is generally limited to the major cities and the more rural and inner regions where most of the natural attractions are located are mostly crime-free.
Global Peace Index score: 2.465
Arguably the most popular country in South America, Brazil is a haven for football lovers as well as people that enjoy festivals, music, and partying. The famous Rio de Janeiro festival comes to mind as well as those in Salvador, Recife, and Olinda.
Brazil is also immensely blessed with several natural attractions and unique landscapes. There’s just so much to do and see in this massive country that you may barely scratch the surface depending on the length of your stay in the country.
The high rate of income inequality in Brazil means crime, especially petty crime, is high. So, you need to be smart in the country. Always walk with purpose when exploring the country as clueless tourists tend to be more attractive targets to street criminals.
Carry just enough cash you need for the day and dress to fit in. Don’t flash expensive items like phones, cameras, watches, and jewelry. Never leave any valuable item in plain sight in your car or on the beach.
Avoid outdoor ATMs and don’t accept food and drinks from strangers. Riptides occur frequently in Brazil and you are strongly advised to never go swimming alone.
Global Peace Index score: 2.729
Brimming with beautiful landscapes and cultural heritage, Colombia is a must-visit travel destination. If you are hungry for adventures and parties, you’ll have a blast in Colombia.
However, Colombia has a notorious reputation due to the drug cartels that once ravaged the country. Some of your friends and family may even be shocked that you’ll even consider traveling to Colombia.
The truth is that the situation in Colombia has changed over the years and the government is working hard to create a better image for the country. There’s still a lot of work to be done though. The key to staying safe in Colombia is to avoid making yourself a target. Locals have a saying – “No dar papaya” (Don’t give papaya). And by papaya, they mean something “sweet” like money or expensive items that may make you seem wealthy. So, don’t flaunt money or expensive items. Don’t walk alone at night or come back from nightclubs or bars alone. Also, avoid using ATMs at night.