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.
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.
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.
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