Is Brazil a Safe or Dangerous Country?

How safe is it to travel to South America?

From TRAVELBOOK | April 24, 2020, 4:19 p.m.

Violent protests in Chile and Bolivia, a right-wing extremist president in Brazil, an injustice regime in Venezuela - South America is simply not calming down in many places at the moment. Even in supposedly stable countries like Uruguay and Ecuador, the situation is currently more confused than ever. TRAVELBOOK explains how safe traveling to South America is.

Since violent protests have shaken the supposedly safe travel destination Chile, vacationers from all over the world are not only looking at South America with curiosity, but also with concern. In many countries on the huge continent, conflicts are currently smoldering, people take to the streets, and executives react with autocratic impulses. TRAVELBOOK spoke to the travel safety expert and author (“Handbuch Reisesicherheit”) Sven Leidel on the occasion of the crises and explained how dangerous traveling to South America is at the moment.

"There are indeed dangerous or unstable countries such as Venezuela or Bolivia," says Leidel. “And on the other hand, stable and less dangerous countries such as Uruguay, French Guiana, Chile and Suriname. In my opinion, you can definitely go on vacation in large parts of South America, it just depends on which country you specifically choose and how you prepare for it, or which measures you take to protect yourself. "

TRAVELBOOK sheds light on the countries of the continent of South America and says how safe it is for holidaymakers there at the moment:


For years the country has been in economic decline and suffers from inflation of 50 percent. In the past, protests for and against ex-President Macri have been largely peaceful. As far as the general security situation in the country is concerned, the Foreign Office writes: “The crime rate in Argentina is quite high. Caution and vigilance are appropriate nationwide. Raids occur even during the day and in better residential areas. The perpetrators can be armed and do not shrink from using force. "

Leidel: “Crime is most common in the larger urban areas of the country, including Buenos Aires, Cordoba, Rosario and Mendoza. Kidnapping for ransom remains a problem in Argentina, but such crimes mostly involve middle-class and upper-class citizens or expatriates. "

So mainly locals are affected by the crime, but of course it can also affect holidaymakers. However, the economic situation is dire.


Since the right-wing former military man Jair Bolsonaro has ruled the country, there has been no calm - he calls journalists “rags”. Since the soccer World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in Rio 2016, Brazil itself has been slipping deeper and deeper into the economic crisis, making headlines in 2019 primarily due to the massive rain forest fires. Bolsonaro also does not shy away from sacrificing the nature of his country for economic interests.

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In the past, there have been repeated deaths in mass protests, and the country has been shaken by an ever-increasing crime rate that has persisted for years. The Federal Foreign Office warns, among other things: "The crime rate and the risk of being the victim of a robbery or other violent crime are high in Brazil, especially in the big cities like Belém, Fortaleza, Maceio, Porto Alegre, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, São Luiz and São Paulo. ”Leidel adds:“ Nonviolent street crime is the security problem that is most likely to affect visitors to Brazil; but also violent street crime, drug trafficking and drug-related violence are significant safety concerns. "


Here, too, there have recently been violent protests with fatalities, in the face of which long-term president Evo Morales finally resigned - this is exactly what the demonstrators had demanded, as Morales was accused of electoral fraud. In view of the current power vacuum in the country, another crisis is emerging again, namely the open hostility and mistrust between the inhabitants of the highlands, many like Morales, often poor coca farmers, and the citizens of the lowlands, many of them rich farmers.

The fact that Morales resigned under pressure from the military stirs up fear of a new, perhaps bloody power struggle in not a few - violent coups and coups have repeatedly occurred in the past. The Foreign Office writes: “After the resignation of President Morales on November 10, 2019, there will be vandalism and looting. The development of the situation is currently not foreseeable. Further unrest, especially in larger cities, cannot be ruled out. "Leidel confirms:" The greatest concern for travelers to Bolivia at the moment is the ongoing civil unrest. Protests, roadblocks and an indefinite general strike continue across the country. "


It started with an increase in bus fares and grew into mass protests that have already cost the lives of many people. Today, even more than against the fare, Chileans take to the streets against social inequality, against the feeling that small elites enrich themselves at the expense of the poor. Still-President Sebastián Piñera used armed military against his people, called the demonstrators according to the "BBC" as a "powerful enemy" who used violence and also accepted the loss of human life in order to cause the greatest possible damage.

Although the fare increase was withdrawn almost immediately after the protests flared up, the Foreign Office warns: “Nevertheless, further protests and riots in Santiago and other major cities in the country cannot be ruled out. (...) Avoid public places and crowds such as protest events in a wide area. "Leidel says:" Street crime is the biggest security problem for travelers to Chile. In recent years Chile has developed into a transshipment point for drugs to the USA and a center for money laundering. Most drug trafficking incidents occur in the country's northern border region and rarely affect travelers. The Chilean police are considered to be the most professional, least corrupt police in Latin America and are well trained. "


Dead in protests in October 2019 in Ecuador, which is otherwise very stable: The violent riots broke out because President Moreno wanted to cut fuel subsidies. According to the Spanish-language website of the “BBC”, gasoline prices then rose briefly by up to 120 percent, and the costs for local transport should also increase. As with all protests in South America, it is also about growing displeasure about social inequality, about the widening gap between rich and poor.

The country itself is in debt with around half of its gross domestic product, and President Moreno's austerity measures should pave the way for a billion-dollar loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Ecuador has already gone through six state bankruptcies, the last one dates back to 1999. At a round table, the price increases were finally overturned, whereupon calm returned to the country. The Federal Foreign Office's travel and security notices therefore “only” contain the usual warnings about crime. Leidel: "Drug smugglers, paramilitaries and rebel groups supposedly operate near the Colombian border."

French Guiana

An overseas department of France and thus virtually part of the EU - here you also pay with the euro. According to “France24”, protests took place here in 2017 because the residents of the state felt forgotten by the “mother country”. The unemployment rate at that time was 22 percent, half of the population lived on an income of less than 500 euros a month. At that time the so-called "Guiana Agreement" was signed, France even apologized to the residents - little has happened since then. Although millions have been invested in a hospital, the rate of violence is one of the highest in the region, and drug smuggling is “flourishing”. The Federal Foreign Office warns against malaria, the Zika virus, dengue fever and chikungunya fever, and a yellow fever vaccination is also mandatory before entering the country. Leidel: "Crime is the main problem in connection with the safety of travelers to French Guiana."


In Guiana, which used to be ruled by the British, debts of more than 50 percent of the gross domestic product have accumulated, as reported by Datos Macro. The murder rate is 18.37 victims per 100,000 people, but the country has just under 800,000 inhabitants. The Federal Foreign Office warns against violent crime, especially armed robbery and shootings. Leidel also sees drug trafficking and piracy as problems. He says: “The top safety concerns for short term travelers to Guyana are crime, gang activity and protests. Drug trafficking is widespread in Guyana but generally does not affect short-term travelers. "


Probably no country in South America is currently booming in tourism as strongly as Colombia - this is mainly due to the fact that after the pacification of large parts of the rebel group FARC it has become much safer to travel here. There is still massive drug trafficking, but no longer the predominance of criminal cartels as in the 80s and 90s - tourism is now an important source of income for numerous regions of the country. In Colombia, however, there were (mostly peaceful) mass protests in October 2019 when the population protested against government promises that had not been kept, as reported by "Noticias". The protests paralyzed Colombia's largest cities for days.

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Despite the burgeoning tourism, the Federal Foreign Office is still issuing urgent travel warnings for numerous regions in Colombia, currently more and more for the border regions with Venezuela. In rural areas in particular, “state control is not guaranteed”. According to Leidel, kidnappings are still a problem, and "a not inconsiderable part of the police is corrupt and involved in criminal activities". TRAVELBOOK editor Robin Hartmann had only positive impressions on two visits to the country in 2013 and 2016 and says: "As long as you behave the same prudent behavior as everywhere else, you will very likely have a wonderful and untroubled holiday experience."


At the end of March 2017, the police used water cannons and rubber bullets against political demonstrators - in 2019, the protests in Paraguay flared up again and again in places. Although President Benítez has only been in office since August 2018, there have been public calls for his resignation. The page “Pro Paraguay” describes the school education, health care and nutrition situation as catastrophic, two thirds of the population lived in sometimes extremely poor poverty. Paraguay is now at the forefront of the soy exporting countries, at the cost that its forests are gradually being destroyed.

Expert Leidel sees organized crime and drug trafficking as particularly strong in the border triangle with Argentina and Brazil, but also “alleged Islamist terrorist cells”. In general, kidnappings with subsequent ransom demands have become a problem. Like Seidel, the Federal Foreign Office warns of the guerrilla organization EPP (Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo) in both the north and south of the country: “In its attacks, the EPP mainly targets the police and the military, but civilians are also occasionally affected, again and again also resulting in death. "

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Protests broke out in the capital, Lima, because President Vizcarra had parliament dissolved, which in turn deposed the president - in the end everything was reversed. The Foreign Office warns about the current situation: "Throughout the country, social unrest, strikes and demonstrations repeatedly lead to sometimes violent clashes and road blockades, which can also cause obstacles to travel." Leidel: "Street crime is the security problem that travelers face to Peru will be affected, particularly in the country's largest cities such as Lima, Cusco, Arequipa, Puno and Juliaca. While violent crime has increased in recent years, the likelihood that short-term travelers will be affected by violent crime is lower than with opportunistic theft. "


The small country is facing a major political upheaval, because according to "Zeit" every tenth inhabitant of Suriname was Chinese in 2018 - the Asian state is investing billions in the mining of raw materials such as grain, wood, diamonds and oil. According to the “Datos Macro” site, the gross domestic product per capita is just a little more than 5000 euros - for comparison: in Germany it is a little more than 40,000 euros. The national debt in Suriname is currently over 78 percent of GDP.

The Foreign Office warns of demonstrations and thefts, Leidel says: “Crime and drug trafficking are a problem in Suriname. There is minimal state control over the eastern regions of the country. Remnants of a former guerrilla group could lead to political instability in the area. "


Political stability, a comparatively high quality of life and a functioning democracy - from the outside world, Uruguay appears to be a model state to quite a few. However, the country has both the second highest aging rate and the second highest suicide rate in all of South America, as reported by the "BBC". In addition, the education system has not changed for decades, and the country is suffering from the highest unemployment rate since 2007, according to which almost one in ten people is out of work (9.8 percent). In 2018, the murder rate rose by 45 percent compared to the previous year, and violent assaults rose by as much as 53 percent. Uruguay is therefore increasingly becoming a hub for drugs from Colombia, Peru and Bolivia.

The Foreign Office warns: "In Montevideo (Uruguay's capital, editor's note. Red.) there has been a noticeable increase in crime in recent years. The focus is on robbery and theft, increasingly with armed violence. "Leidel adds:" Street crime - including pickpockets and smash-and-grave robbery - is the biggest security problem that travelers to Uruguay are most likely to be affected by, especially in the urban areas of the country. "


In the past few years, no other country has had as much horror news as Venezuela: Again and again mass protests with many deaths, millions of people who have fled, the suppression of all political opposition and dissenters, plus the worst inflation in the whole world. The situation has been worsening for years, even an attempted intervention on the part of the Vatican did not bring anything in 2016, with Juan Guaidó even a counter-president was appointed in 2018 - but the chaos only increased.

Leidel says: “Venezuela is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Incidents of murder, kidnapping, car theft and other violent crimes have increased dramatically across Venezuela in recent years due to the country's skyrocketing inflation rate, high unemployment, widespread poverty, and corrupt police and judicial systems. ”The Foreign Office warns: “Kidnappings to extort money payments and armed attacks have increased. Germans were also affected. Street crime in major Venezuelan cities, especially Caracas and Maracaibo, remains high. Violent crime and assaults can also be expected outside the cities, e.g. on country roads. "

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