Guest poster Raphael Alexander Zoren from A Journey of Wonders lived for 6 months in the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Here’s his best 10 safety tips to survive in the city.

When I first came to Buenos Aires, I didn’t do my research so my expectations were definitely skewed with the reality that I soon faced. The image that we foreigners have of Buenos Aires is all about a semi-European city filled with beautiful architecture, tango, wine, tall white people and well, basically, everything that Latin America is not in regards to crime.

Statues at the Recoleta Cemetery
Statues at the Recoleta Cemetery

It wasn’t until my first week was over that I soon realized that, despite what Porteños with an European obsession might say, Buenos Aires is just another Latin city. A very dangerous one in fact. So here are some travel safety tips: Buenos Aires edition! 

Tip #01: Stay in a night-life neighborhood. The reason for this is because you can safely walk in the night and don’t have to risk taking public transportation or taxis. Plus, they are patrolled by policemen so you’ll definitely be safe. Some examples are Palermo, Recoleta and Belgrano. Try and avoid visiting ONCE and/or LA BOCAS during the night as these are dangerous neighborhoods. 

Tip #02: Don’t over-drink with a Porteño. According to what I’ve seen and the experiences of my female friends, Porteños are keen in never taking a “no” for an answer and the number of date-rapes is quite high in the city. Don’t expect to find a gentleman in a club; something as innocent as walking you back to your hostel so you are “safe” can turn ugly. In short, be suspicious of seemingly innocent and thoughtful actions. Use the buddy system and never leave a bar and/or club with someone you just met. This doesn’t mean you can’t go out and have a couple of drinks; just don’t get black-out or sloppy drunk. Make sure you are always in control. 

Porteños in Action
Porteños in Action

Tip #03: Leave your valuables at the house/hostel. At nightclubs and bars, it is extremely common for people to pickpocket foreigners. Pickpockets have gotten extremely good at it and you will never feel it. A friend of mine lost her camera, wallet and phone in different occasions in the same day! Traveler’s tend to loose their majority of their valuables either on the metro (for more metro safety tips click here) and/or at the club. My advice is to leave all expensive items, like Iphones or cameras, at the hostel. It really isn’t worth getting your camera stolen for a couple of bar shots (plus most locations have onsite photographers). If you plan on backpacking for an extended period of time or living in Buenos Aires for a while, then buy a 10 USD cellphone to take out with you in these types of situations. 

Tip #04: Be weary of distraction methods. Buenos Aires thieves have become extremely crafty little buggers and have developed a number of different methods to distract tourists while robbing them silly. One of the more common scams is the SQUIRT / MUSTARD / BIRD POOP method. In short something is squirted or thrown at you thus distracting you. At times a seemingly and non-threatening person might approach you, like an old lady, to offer to wipe it off or direct you to the nearest bathroom. To rub off the liquid you might take off your backpack and set it down beside your legs or take off some of your items. At this point a thief grabs what he/she can take and runs off. If someone tries to help you on the street, don’t ignore them, but assess the situation.

Tip #05: Taxis, taxis, taxis! Most taxi drivers are honest and hard-working individuals but there is a select few that are pros are ripping of tourists, especially individuals taking a taxi from the airport. Counterfeit bill swapping, running the meter fast, taking a few extra laps around the block or a little “confusion” about payment are all scams you should be aware of. Your best best when hailing a cab is to look for the brand: RADIO TAXI, as they are the most well known company in Buenos Aires. Bill swapping is more common with ARG$50 and ARG$100 dollar bills so try to pay taxis with smaller change. Also always have the exact address and a map pointing the way. Not only will you feel safer but it will also prevent the taxi driver from overcharging you. Kidnappings are extremely rare in Buenos Aires but there has been cases of taxi drivers assaulting passengers during the night. The best thing is to write down the address or take a business card of the hostel/hotel to point to when entering into a taxi. For more information of Buenos Aires taxi scams click here

Tip #06: Visit the Boca during the day only. The Boca is a charming picturesque neighborhood where you can watch tango and visit the stadium where Maradona once played. The tourist part of La Boca is very safe, with police escorts walking around during the day, but the surrounding area can be dangerous: day AND night. Try to stick with the tourist area and do not wander too far. If you plan on making you own way to Boca then avoid wearing flashy items and don’t bring too much cash with you. It is also best to avoid la Boca at night. 

La Boca
La Boca

Tip #07: Currency can be tricky. Individuals can not take out USD from any bank in Buenos Aires (or any Argentine city). Many of the main streets have individuals screaming “EXCHANGE!” and will pester you if you look foreign. Fake currency is a problem in Buenos Aires. In fact, a friend of mine took out money from a bank machine only to be told by a vendor a couple of hours later that one of her ARG$100 bills was a fake. If you need to exchange money talk to reliable people, like the front desk staff at your hostel, about where to exchange money. For more info about the blue rate and how to get the best exchange rate in Argentina click here and here.

Tip #08: Be careful about giving charity. In the main plazas, it is extremely common to find beggars (sometimes even children!) asking for money. I know it might seem cruel but your best option is to ignore them or just give them the couple of pesos that you have left over in your pocket. NEVER pull out your wallet to give money as this is the perfect opportunity for a snatch and grab. Either say “no tengo dinero” or search your pockets for loose change. 

Tip #09: Be careful when crossing big avenues. Some (most?) of the bus drivers are complete madmen who believe they are in the next Fast and the Furious sequel, often ignoring traffic lights. If you have to cross a street, always look at both sides of the road before crossing. The same can be said for certain types of taxi drivers, so watch out! 

Tip #10: Enjoy your time. Yes, this list might seem a little bit grim but hey, Buenos Aires is somewhat safer than the rest of Latin America’s capitals…but not that much. But if you stay safe and aware than you won’t have any problems! 

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Guest Post Provided by: Raphael Alexander Zoren from a Journey of Wonders

You can follow Raphael’s adventures in Mexico and the world at A Journey of Wonders and remember to also visit his Facebook page and Twitter. Keep journeying on!

9 Comments

    1. My best advice if you are looking to rent an apartment in Buenos Aires to look for direct owners instead of agencies and you’ll save up to 30% of the final price. It is not easy as mostly of the websites around are agency sites (and I’ve even seen some saying “direct owner, no commission” were they are not) you may need to look in ads, craigslist, etc.
      I am a direct owner of an aparment and I’ve been renting my apartment fotr tourists for the last 7 years, directly or by agency so I know what I am talking about.

    1. Whoops. I’ve been living in BA now for over 7 months and have done everything you say to avoid. Though I haven’t been raped, killed nor robbed – hurray! =) All these tips are for the faint hearted non-travelling people.

      I’m sorry but I don’t really understand tip 2 and 7. If you don’t want to ‘overdrink’ with a local than maybe you should reconsidering coming here at all. I have never ever heard, seen or experienced Argentinian men not understanding the “no”. There are more ladies than men here so I guess they’ve got plenty of choice. Yes there have been rapes, unfortunately, but they happen anywhere, again – unfortunately.

      Don’t give to charity? Wow. Please do give those 1 or 2 pesos you have in your pocket. Many people got homeless after the 2001 crisis in Argentina, that hit hard. Those people are still on the street. If you don’t want to give money give food or a drink they’d love that too. I always give something, whether they come to me in the metro, on Plaza de Mayo or when I’m drinking a beer.

      Above all people should remember that Buenos Aires is a big city and it is far from being a rich city, but I don’t experience much more crime or vandalism than I have in the Netherlands (where I’m from) actually I’ve seen more dangerous situations in Amsterdam than here… and trust me I’m not a scared puppy staying indoors all the time – I do walk alone at night, I do talk with people in bars at streets or wherever I see them, I do go to suburbs after the sun gone down on my own.

      If you are easily scared than do everything as described above, the only pity is that you’ll not be able to see and experience the real BA.

      Ps. being called the ‘Paris of the South’ has nothing to do with the crime rate. I think the crime rate in Paris is quite high as well. The architecture you find here is definitely 100% Paris – take Recoleta or Belgrano for example, typical Paris =)

      1. Ok. First and foremost I want to state that I did not write this article, nonetheless I agree with these tips. Let me address your comments one by one.

        First off I am not saying that if you do these things you will FOR SURE be robbed, mugged or raped. The article merely states that by putting yourself at risk, you increase your chances of having something bad happen to you. In the end it really is your choice.

        I actually don’t understand you point about over-drinking. I don’t think that you need to be drunk to truly enjoy a city. Second I was in Buenos Aires for one month and lived in Santiago for a year and every time I went out I was met with a very “friendly” individual who would not take no for an answer. I would always joke with my friends that NO always seemed to translate into: not right now, but try harder! Hahaha. It does happen and when alcohol is thrown into the mix, men (whether Latino or gringo) tend to become more and more aggressive.

        Giving charity is an ethical issue. I do agree with the author who states that it can be a con and actually many cons start out like this, you help and old lady while someone behind you picks your pocket. When I was living in Santiago someone came up to a beggar on the street and told her that if she wanted to clean up her life and make a living, they would hire her as a nana. She refused, stating that earned more money begging on the street than working as a nana. Yes some people need it and sometimes it creates a dependency. It is an ethical issue that I do not wish to really debate, however I will say that I have heard of the charity distraction in Buenos Aires and I would warn traveler’s to weary.

        Lastly, yes rapes happen every where. But once again your chances of getting assaulted or raped increase in situations where: 1. You are really drunk 2. You can’t walk / function 3. You put your trust in a total stranger. You are right 9 out of 10 times nothing will happen, but do you really want to take that risk?

        In the end, it really has nothing about being scared. It’s about being smart. My blog focuses on travel safety so that you can have fun and travel safe. The reason I write so much about the topic was because I was mugged and robbed in Chile. After my experience I talked to a lot of travelers who shared a lot of horror stories, including a girl who was drunk and left the club alone and was raped by a taxi driver. Traveler’s often just do whatever and think “it will NEVER happen to me” until one day it does. If you keep on doing unsafe things than you are playing russian roulette!

        I just want to provide information for people to keep themselves SAFE and not be SCARED to travel. Informed traveler all the way!

    1. After New Year, two weeks ago, we stayed in Palermo soho for five nights. One night after dinner four of us were going to a Tango show in the same neighborhood a few minutes from our rented apartment. We passed Armenia street and even a police officer at the same place, and just 50 meter after that two guys jumped out of a parked car with guns in their hands pointing them at our heads. Everything went so fast. But luckily no one got hurt. And they only got my cellphone (lost many photos…), keys, and some small cash from the others. Note that we didn’t flash with fancy clothes nor our things in our hands. Ironically we choose Palermo for its safety and left most our stuff at home before going out.. We had backpacked since end of the summer in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile without anything happening. I have also traveled in Middle East and most of the European capitals, and BA is by far one of the places I felt most unsafe in. And the only place I’ve got robbed (by gunpoint). Even others travelers I’ve met during my trip in South America stated the same about BA, some of them being robbed or mugged (one being stabbed by knife in Florida street, one if the main shopping pavements). Would unfortunately never recommend anyone to go there.

      1. Buenos Aires is beautiful and Palermo is definitely one of the “safer” places to stay in the in city. In reality, something like this could have happened in any city – I have heard horror stories from people traveling to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and I was personally robbed (TWICE) in Chile. Most of the time it can be avoidable if certain precautions are taken. But at the same time I have had some pretty close calls (and heard stories) about other places I have lived, like Toronto, Paris and Brussels. I would recommend people take extra precautions in Buenos Aires, but to skip it completely would be a shame.

      1. WOW. My experience is completely different. Nothing ever happened during my 1 year in BA…but maybe because my husband is local and he knows the local street codes, red flags and safe places…

        I love Buenos Aires, without the high crime it would be a perfect place to live forever…

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