Is Buenos Aires Safe?: Tips for a Smooth Trip
If you’re coming to Argentina, it’s likely you’ll be visiting Buenos Aires. Whether the city is your main destination or you’re merely using it as a jumping off point to the wineries of Mendoza or the glaciers in Patagonia, it’s impossible to avoid this gargantuan metropolis.
Buenos is full of life. There’s impressive street art, tango, steak (everywhere) and wine (free-flowing). The people are friendly and beautiful and the nights are long and filled with dancing. So, with all this wine and late night tango, is Buenos Aires safe for tourists?
Is Buenos Aires Safe for Tourists
Along with its myriad of tourist attractions, Buenos Aires also has a well known reputation for political turmoil and economic crises. With this overall instability, you may be asking yourself “is Buenos Aires safe for tourists?”
My answer is a resounding yes! And the 2.7 million tourists that visited in 2018 alone prove that you shouldn’t let fear stop you from visiting us here. I’d say Argentina, overall, is one of South America’s safest countries.
But (tiny but), there are safety issues to keep in mind. Petty crime is common and it’s good to be on your guard. If you take one thing from this post, be it “pay attention.” Just be aware of your surroundings, and you should be alright.
With that in mind, let’s get into more detail on safety in Buenos Aires. Here are some tips, tricks and overall advice that will help you have the smoothest holiday possible.
General Tips for Safety in Buenos Aires
Here are some general Buenos Aires safety tips to keep in mind while you’re here. In fact, these are great things to keep in mind in most big cities, especially those that you’re unfamiliar with.
Be minimal with Jewelry
Leave the big money jewelry at home. It calls unnecessary attention. Also, Argentine’s don’t use diamond engagement rings, only modest wedding bands. If you bring your diamonds, you will stick out. Also, we’re distracted when we travel and it would be awful if you simply misplaced it or forgot it in your hotel!
Don’t Carry all your cash
Never bring all your cards and cash out at once. Bring the bare minimum, so if you get pick-pocketed, you don’t lose all of your cash (or access to cash!). I always leave a bank card and a credit card in the room, just in case.
While we’re at it, NEVER bring your passport out. It’s like tempting the karma gods to get robbed, just don’t do it. Leave it in the safe. Keep a photocopy or a photo in your phone just in case you need it.
Be Careful in the ATM
Be cautious at ATM’s, they’re indoors and people tend to respect your personal space but just be aware of who’s near you if you’re withdrawing a large sum.
Bonus ATM tip: The machine keeps your card until the end (no quick insert in and out). Don’t forget and walk away without your card, as I once did.
Carry Literal Pocket Change
If you’re a good person who gives money to people begging in the street, keep some cash in your pocket. This way you won’t be bringing out your wallet each time, calling attention and letting passersby know where you keep the goods.
The Stain Scam
If someone comes out of nowhere to help clean off bird poo or a “stain”, they’re pick pocketing you! This is a common scam everywhere, from Europe to South America.
Unfortunately, if someone is being “too” helpful, it probably really is too good to be true. No one should be invading your personal space, let alone touching you, that’s a red alert.
Watch Your Bags on Public Transportation
Watch your things on public transportation. Keep backpacks to the front of your body and your hands on any zippered purses to make sure they stay zipped, if you know what I mean.
This is especially true in rush hour for etiquette reasons as much as safety, backpacks on backs on a crowded train are nightmares.
Petty Crime & The Motochorro
Most crime in Buenos Aires is of the petty variety. No one is after your life, they’re after your money, camera, bag, etc. The most common culprit of petty crime in Argentina is the motochorro.
Chorro is Argentinian slang for thief. A motochorro is a thief on a moto, easy as that. They will snatch your bag off your shoulder or phone out of your hand and be gone before you realize what happened.
Be careful of them by staying away from the curb, especially while texting. Keep your purse on the opposite shoulder from the curb. Overall, don’t be flashy. Be discreet when out on the street with your camera and phone.
Don’t be a Hero
In regards to petty theft, don’t be a hero. If someone tries to snatch your bag or aggressively demands you hand over your belongings, just do it. Nothing is worth losing your life over.
And while I said no one is after your life, and that is true as a rule, there are always exceptions. There is a drug problem in Buenos Aires and if people are high on paco (a local drug made from coca paste), they will act erratically.
There was a horrible incident where a Swiss tourist lost his life when he refused to hand over his DSLR camera in Retiro. He fought back but the thief was high and stabbed him. I’m not telling you this to scare you. It’s incredibly rare. But it can happen, so don’t try to be a hero.
Are Taxis Safe in Buenos Aires?
Yes, generally taxis are safe. You can safely flag down the black and yellow cabs you see on the streets. But, like in many cities around the world, when they hear a foreign accent they may take the “long route” if you know what I mean.
Taxi Scams with Counterfeit Bills
There have also been issues with counterfeit money from taxi drivers in the past. It’s a good idea to always watch them make your change. There are a couple common scams you’re susceptible to if you’re distracted in conversation:
Scenario 1: You hand your driver a $100 peso note. When you’re not watching he swaps it for a fake $100 and returns it to you, cursing the bad luck you had in getting a fake note (how kind and sympathetic of him!). You end up paying twice with two very real $100 (or $500 or $1,000 peso bills).
Scenario 2: You hand your driver a $100 peso note. When you’re distracted he swaps it for a smaller denomination and claims you only gave him $10 or $20. He kindly returns the 10 pesos and you pay again.
We live in a sharing economy that has given us great alternatives to taxis. If you’re worried about any taxi issues or would rather pay by card, they exist here too.
UBER is in a legal/not legal limbo. It’s not legal but it’s everywhere, you can take it. But due to their precarious situation they have a hard time transferring payments received by credit card to their drivers. Because of this, drivers prefer cash payment. They know foreigners will likely use card and locals likely cash. So if you have an obviously foreign name (like mine, Erin), you may find your UBER rides getting cancelled repeatedly.
BA TAXI APP: Taxis finally got themselves organized and created an app. If you’d rather stay loyal to hard working taxi drivers, download the BA Taxi app. You can pay by card and estimate the cost of your ride ahead of time.
Safety of Taxis from the Airport
For the safest taxi into the city from the international airport, don’t get a taxi outside. These are unofficial and will charge you whatever they think you’ll pay.
Contract one of the safe taxis (also known as remis, like a towncar) from one of the booths in the tiny room you enter immediately after existing customs. For more information about the local airports, read my comprehensive Buenos Aires city guide.
Digital Nomad Safety in Argentina
If you want to get some work done while you’re in Buenos Aires, safety with your laptop may be your main concern. Good news! It’s very safe, and common, to bring your laptop to the many coffee shops to work.
Argentine coffee shops have great wifi, good coffee, and the waiters will leave you alone for hours.
But to keep your laptop safe, never work outside on the sidewalk tables. If you want to enjoy the sunny weather, find a cafe or restaurant with a rooftop terrace instead.
It’s also a good idea to pick a table away from the main entrance to avoid anyone running in and back out with your laptop faster than you can say “cafe con leche.”
Protests & Social Unrest
Unfortunately, it’s not all red meat and Malbec, Buenos Aires is also infamous for its political instability. It’s very common to see a protest (manifestacion) in Plaza de Mayo. So, is Argentina a safe country to visit with all of this unrest?
As jarring as these protests can be to those of us not used to them, more often than not they’re harmless. For example, at the protest in the photo below I was walking around with my large DSLR camera and listening to a podcast.
There were food trucks set up slinging choripans and beef sandwiches. It was almost festive and I didn’t feel afraid at all. I used to live in San Telmo and often came to check out these smaller protests. Being from rural Texas, to say these social scenes were a change of pace for me would be an understatement and I enjoyed checking them out.
buenos Aires Safety at Protests
But are all protests in Buenos Aires safe? No. They’re not. Especially when they are politically charged. When in doubt, stay away.
But don’t be too afraid. They are generally small and won’t escalate to any violence. Marches and protests happen with such regularity that nearly every time I talk to one of you readers visiting Buenos Aires and get asked about that “big protest” they saw, I have no idea what they’re talking about.
Politics & The 2019 Elections
There is a political election coming up at the end of October 2019. With the election there is a lot of talk about upcoming instability and violence. I, personally, find this to be overblown. Don’t worry about cancelling your 2019 vacations to the city, come and enjoy yourself!
While I don’t see the city exploding into chaotic violence and martial law, there will likely be large political protests leading up to the elections on October 27th. These events will stay concentrated downtown in and around Plaza de Mayo.
This is very specific, but if you’re in Buenos Aires on 12/12 avoid 9 de Julio. The famous futbol team, Boca, follows the 12th man tradition (just like my university back in Texas, Gig’em!). The fans are the 12th player and December 12th is their day.
The rowdy hooligans that make up the 12th man celebrate by wreaking havoc downtown. It gets chaotic and quickly. So, aim to get your snapshot in front of the obelisk on the 11th or 13th instead.
More Buenos Aires Resources:
Is Buenos Aires safe for Solo Female Travelers
Yes, if you’re a solo female traveler exploring South America, come on down to Buenos Aires! Operate with the same safety principles you would anywhere else.
I do recommend being more cautious at night. Avoid walking alone down dark streets, instead spend a few extra dollars for a taxi or Cabify back to your hostel.
If you want to check out the city’s famous nightlife, get a group together. Skip going to the telo (by the hour hotels) with the seemingly charming Argentine at the club and get a taxi back to the hostel with the others (mom moment over!).
Also, don’t drink the local brand alcohol. This is safety related, but also just a friendly word of wisdom. That stuff will make your head spin (might as well drink prison vodka like Orange is the New Black!). Splurge on the labels you recognize and you’ll keep your wits about you much longer. You’re welcome.
Is the Water Safe to Drink in Buenos Aires
Tap water is potable in Buenos Aires. It’s what we drink at home. Whether it tastes good or not is whole other debate.
If your Airbnb is in a very old building, ask the owner first. Most likely, the plumbing has been renovated and the water is potable. However, in old buildings there is always the possibility of lead pipes, so ask just in case.
In summary, yes! Argentina is Safe to Visit!
I’ve been living here for 10 years now and have never felt afraid. Yes, this city has its problems and you should exercise caution, but you shouldn’t be afraid.
Buenos Aires is safe for tourists to visit and millions of visitors every year agree with me. Come, eat all the steak, drink all the wine, and enjoy yourself!
If you still have any concerns or questions about safety in Argentina or just planning your trip in general, let me know in the comments. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can!
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