South America often gets a bad rap when it comes to perceptions of how safe it is. Just the mention of the continent can conjure up images of unstable political landscapes, and high levels of crime and violence. But while there are some parts of South America that are blighted by problems of this nature, the vast majority is perfectly safe to visit.
Make sure you follow basic travel safety measures like not wearing flashy clothes or jewelry, only carrying small amounts of cash on you, and avoiding secluded and poorly lit areas at night. And as with any destination, it always pays to take sensible precautions, research your destination, and make plans based on this information. (See also: 4 Affordable Destinations That Are Safer Than You Think)
Here are six South American destinations that are safe to visit.
1. Buenos Aires, Argentina
Sometimes referred to as the Paris of South America, you’ll immediately notice that there’s a distinctly European vibe to Buenos Aires. The outdoor cafes, and Italian-, German-, and Spanish-influenced cuisine all offer a nod to the city’s history of European settlers.
Learn to tango in the home of the famous sensual dance, sample the delicious wine that the country has earned a burgeoning reputation for, and don’t miss out on asado (barbecue) at one of the bustling parrilla eateries. Restaurants here frequently don’t even open until 11 p.m. and clubs stay open until the sun comes up. This is a city that simply does not sleep.
Argentina has no travel warnings currently issued by the Department of State.
2. Medellin, Colombia
Formerly, Colombia was the battleground for some of the most violent and feared drugs lords the world has ever seen, including the likes of Pablo Escobar. However, Medellin has worked hard to clean up its reputation in recent years, with dramatic effects clearly evident.
Colombia’s third largest city has won numerous awards over the past decade in recognition of its innovations in contemporary urban design. It’s one of the trendiest vacation destinations in South America, with visitors arriving to check out the “City of Eternal Spring,” thanks to its year-round moderate temperature.
While Colombia has a level two travel advisory, Medellin is not mentioned as somewhere to be wary of. (See also: 8 Travel Warnings You Shouldn’t Ignore)
3. Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay
Uruguay is often overshadowed by its larger and more popular neighbors, and is often seen as a day trip by visitors to Argentina. But it has its very own laid-back charm that’s well worth exploring, and Colonia del Sacramento is the ideal place to start.
This sleepy city is really one for fans of the quiet life, with its historical architecture, cobblestone streets, and small town feel. The perfectly preserved historic quarter is by far the biggest draw, with its mixture of Spanish and Portuguese colonial buildings making for a picturesque destination.
Crime is extremely rare here and travel advisory levels are currently at their lowest, with no warnings whatsoever. (See also: 7 Common Travel Myths That People Need to Stop Believing)
4. Santiago, Chile
Chile’s capital and largest city is a contemporary, cosmopolitan, and classy metropolis. The central zone sprawls out from the vast Palacio de la Moneda, with many of the streets completely pedestrianized. In districts like Providencia, you’ll find refined restaurants and high class hotels.
The fact that Santiago sits in a valley surrounded by mountains and hills means it offers plenty of opportunities to escape the city center. This diversity allows you to head out into the elevated, leafy parks and vantage points that offer spectacular views of the city.
Chile has no travel warnings and a level one safety advisory.
5. Florianopolis, Brazil
Far removed from the madness of megacities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, lies the lesser known city of Florianópolis. The majority of the city lies on an island just off Brazil’s Atlantic Coast, but remains connected by two bridges. “Floripa,” as it’s known locally, is a laid back, artsy, surfer haven that’s long been a popular vacation destinations for Brazilians in the know.
The energetic city center is packed full of international restaurants, trendy coffee shops, and lively bars. Comprising landscapes as diverse as luscious white sand beaches, areas of rich forests, lagoons, and waterfalls, Floripa is also a natural wonderland that allows you to escape the city at leisure.
While some parts of Brazil have relatively high crime rates, these are mainly concentrated in specific areas and the travel advisory levels currently stand at two, with no specific mention of Florianópolis. (See also: 7 Ways to Manage Your Travel Anxiety)
6. Copacabana, Bolivia
One of the largest lakes in the whole of the South American continent, the inimitable Titicaca is so big it straddles the borders of both Bolivia and Peru. Unusually for a lake of this size, it’s also at great altitude, lying in excess of 12,500 feet above sea level in the Andes Mountain range. There are many villages and towns on the shores of the lake, but probably the most popular is the Bolivian town of Copacabana.
In truth, the town itself isn’t much to behold, but everything here centers around the lake. It is an imposing body of water, stretching out as far as the eye can see. You can hike the surrounding hillsides for incredible views, head to the indigenous village on the Isla del Sol to experience the local culture, and learn about ancient Inca traditions.
Bolivia has a travel advisory level of one and Copacabana and is generally considered extremely safe.