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Nov 09

20 Tips for Staying Safe in Buenos Aires & Other Big Cities

Police patrolling Palermo.

Don’t let the story of the attempted robbery we foiled which we told you about in our last blog post deter you from visiting Buenos Aires – it’s a brilliant city, we’ve spent a lot of time here, we’ve always felt safe here, and we still want to buy an apartment in Buenos Aires. Surely that says something?

Just be sensible when you visit Buenos Aires and take some extra precautions, as you would when you visit other big cities where a large percentage of the population live in poverty, such as Rio de Janeiro or Cape Town.

We’ve calculated that 80% of the people we know in Buenos Aires – both locals and expats – have experienced some sort of personal crime, mainly pickpocketing or robbery. There’s a message or two there: take care, and take out travel insurance!

Our tips to staying safe based on our recent experience and advice from local police:

1. For your first few days in Buenos Aires or any new city, go out with little of value until you get a feel for the place, see how the locals dress and act, are comfortable, and know where you can and cannot go.
2. Use a no-name camera strap, place stickers or tape over your Nikon/other brand name, do whatever you can to make it look well-used, and don’t use professional-looking camera bags.
3. Don’t pull out expensive gadgets such as your iPhone, iPod, and iPad in plain view on the street; slip into a doorway, shop or cafe.
4. Be on the lookout for pickpockets: many operate in pairs or threes in crowded public places, such as plazas and parks, outdoor tango shows, buses and trains – take taxis if you can afford it.
5. Stay alert: robberies are increasingly common around restaurants and bars around closing time, when restaurant staff counting the night’s takings are targets as much as the customers leaving to get a taxi.
6. Don’t even think of walking home, no matter how close the restaurant is to your accommodation; restaurants would prefer to call you a taxi to their door.
7. Be vigilant as you walk from the restaurant door to the taxi and pay the fare while you’re in the vehicle with the door locked.
8. Once in the taxi, the driver will probably automatically lock the taxi doors. If he doesn’t, do it yourself.
9. In taxis, if you must keep the window open, don’t keep handbags or valuables on your lap, but on the floor between you and your friend. We’ve heard stories of bags taken from laps and doors being open to do so when taxis are stopped at lights.
10. Don’t carry a bag around at night if you can avoid it. If you must hold it tight against you.
11. Don’t carry valuables, passports or lots of money, just take out as much as you’ll need.
12. Hide the bulk of your money on your body, in your shoes, or in wallets/purses deep within your clothes, and keep small notes in outer pockets to hand over to the thieves.
13. Dress down, dress like locals, don’t wear expensive jewellery, and don’t carry backpacks which quickly mark you as a tourist and make you more vulnerable.
14. Don’t relax and don’t let the fact you’re dressed like locals put you at ease, however, locals are being robbed almost as much as tourists these days!
15. Avoid dark streets late at night (though our attempted robbery happened right outside a brightly lit restaurant) and assess anyone walking toward you, noting where their eyes are focused; cross the road or step into a busy bar or café if you’re suspicious.
16. If you’re confronted by a thief, the police advise not to fight back as the robbers could be armed. Instead, stay calm and hand over that small amount of money that you’ve prepared for this possibility.
17. Only shout out for help once the thief is a reasonable distance away. In areas such as Palermo where there’s a policeman or security guy on practically every corner, chances are someone will quickly run to your aid and the thief will probably get caught.
18. When booking a holiday rental, ask what kind of security your accommodation has. Our apartment had a 24-hour guard box, so we felt perfectly safe.
19. No matter where you’re staying, don’t open your door to people you’re not expecting and don’t know. You heard what happened to Francis Ford Coppola, right? A friend staying at a hostel was recently the victim of an armed robbery.
20. Do press charges against the culprit if he’s caught and you’re given the option. While you might not like the idea of the guy being locked behind bars for what might have been an act of desperation, nor do you fancy spending 2-3 hours at the police station giving a statement, think of it as a deterrent to other thieves. You could also be preventing that person from stealing from other, perhaps more vulnerable people.

5 comments

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  1. Mike

    “If confronted by a thief, police advise not to fight back…”

    Ha ha… do as you say, not as you do!

    1. Terence Carter

      LOL. We can see the irony of that statement. I think the police were going to give me a ‘badge of stupidity’ for my efforts. Especially seeing that the arresting officer wielding the gun was about 55 years old and nervous as hell.

  2. Jen Laceda

    Have you heard whether parents travelling with kids are targeted often? That’s my one worry about travelling with a child or children without my other half. I’m contemplating single parent travel, but while I won’t be galavanting outside at night, I have fears that I may be making myself a target for thieves and pickpockets since they may know how tired / stressed / distracted a single parent can be when travelling with kids.

  3. Travel Muse

    Great advice guys. I did walk home from a restaurant to our apartment in Quito and learned very quickly that you can be cased in just 2 short blocks. Fortunately my husband was with me, but I learned a lesson. Take the cab, no matter how short the distance.

    1. Terence Carter

      Thanks for your comment.
      We’ve been cased before in BA, but it was when I was carrying full camera gear for an assignment. As soon as they know you know what they’re doing – they’re usually off for a ‘softer’ target’.
      Have to admit I’ve been cased far more in Milan than BA!

      T

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