As far as really big cities go, Buenos Aires is not particularly dangerous although if you listen to the many residents of this port city or the excitable tabloid media, you may come to believe it’s something akin to downtown Baghdad.
The truth is that petty theft is a problem — violent crime is less common. Incidents of armed robbery have increased in the last few years, but the chances are slim that a short-term visitor will be a victim. The longer you stay in Buenos Aires, the more likely it is you will be a victim of crime.
It’s worthwhile to keep in mind that those who cooperate usually don’t get hurt. Basically, you are more likely to get killed or carjacked in Boston than Buenos Aires, but more likely to be pick-pocketed in Buenos Aires. Outside of the country’s capital province crime rates are low.
Tips to Stay Safe While Traveling in Argentina
The best thing you can do to ward off crime is to be aware of the dangers that exist, as you would anywhere, and act accordingly.
Tourists in Argentina usually realize that they need to be careful, but when you’re having fun it’s easy to forget to pay attention. When possible, try not to look like a foreigner. Obviously this is not always the easiest thing for a foreigner to do, but there are certain steps you can take. In a country where approximately 30% of the population lives below the poverty line, and the local currency is valued at less than one quarter of a US dollar and one-sixth of a Euro, it is a sad fact that certain people view foreigners as nothing more than a potential source of money (kind of walking ATMs with sunburns).
The good news is that Argentina is unlike many other countries in South America, in that the population is a bit of a melting pot. This means that if you are tall, blonde and blue eyed, you could still pass as a local here. Those of African descent will blend in the least, but if you are low-key most people will assume you’re from Brazil or Uruguay, i.e., not a neo-colonist with wads full of cash. Across the board, the chances that you will be a victim of crime depend more on your attire and conduct rather than just your physical appearance.
Look at what the locals are wearing and try to imitate them to a certain extent. When you are walking around the city, for example, it may not be necessary to wear your Machu Pichu hiking gear and floppy hat when casual clothes and comfortable shoes would probably suffice. Likewise, try not to talk louder than is necessary in public, as that is another way of drawing attention to yourself. Resist the urge to shout at your wife in English that she is walking in the wrong direction when she is half a block in front of you.
Similarly, avoid looking lost. If you are lost, it’s a bit hard to pretend otherwise, but it’s best to advertise it as little as possible. Standing on a street corner staring open-mouthed at a giant foldout map is a none-too-subtle hint to potential thieves that you are disoriented. Using a Guia-T (the compact transport guide with maps of the whole city) as the locals do is abundantly more low profile.
You can always head into a quiet bar for a coffee and pour over you map while sitting down at a table as well. If you are comfortable in Spanish you can also just pop into a ‘kiosko’ (convenience store) and ask for directions.
Carry as few valuables with you as possible, and pay attention! If you only have one small bag with your camera, money and credit cards hold it close to your body when walking, hugged to your belly while on crowded public transport, and on your lap or looped around the chair when you are sitting in a cafe or restaurant. Take care when using cameras or cell phones — it’s not unheard of for people to have them snatched out of their hands in the middle of the street by someone running past, or riding by on a bike or motorcycle.
Pickpockets are especially adept at taking advantage of crowded public places – a moment of inattention and your wallet could vanish. Barbara Bush (George W.’s daughter) kindly demonstrated this fact for us when she somehow managed to have her bag snatched at a humble San Telmo restaurant, despite being accompanied by a posse of secret-service agents. (Apart from not keeping an eye on her bag, we can only assume she was also living up to her family name by breaking our next rule…)
Don’t get too inebriated! All of the points above are easier to comply with if you are sober. Buenos Aires is a great city in which to party into the wee hours of the morning, but if you are going to do so (and it would be a shame to miss the nightlife) keep your wits about you and don’t carry too many valuables. The cash you need for the evening’s festivities, your phone if you have one, a piece of paper with your the address of where you’re staying written on it (to show the taxi driver if you are too ‘tired and emotional’ to remember) and possibly your bank/credit card kept in a separate place from your cash is all you should need.
All of these points seem obvious, and apply to most places you travel to in the world, but are still often forgotten among all the merriment of being in one of the world’s most exciting cities. Most visitors never experience any kind of problem, but it pays to be just a tad paranoid, or at least remain cautious and attentive at all times.
Argentina Safety Round-Up
• Be aware
• Only carry what you need for the day
• Try to keep a low-profile
• Avoid looking lost
• Watch your bag closely on public transport and in restaurants
• Don’t get too wasted!
• Be aware of common street scams. (See article)