The 10 Safest Countries in Latin America to travel to in 2021 (once you’re vaccinated!)
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When planning travels for once you’ve received the COVID-19 vaccine in 2021 and beyond, it’s really important that you take into consideration the political, economic and social risks of visiting a certain area of the world. Central and South America have a reputation for violence and unrest, so my advice is that you get a-learnin’ about the countries you’re considering long before you book those flights. To simplify this, here’s a list of the top 10 safest countries in Latin America to travel to in 2021 (and also the least safe countries, at the bottom of this page!). You’ll see that there are proportionately more of the top safest countries in South America than Central, but the Central nations that do well do very, very well!
For this list, I’m going to be using the results of the 2020 Global Peace Index, which weights 23 data points including political instability, militarisation, terrorism, incarceration effects, homicides, sexual assaults and ecological threats. Though obviously not statistically perfect, this is one of the most accurate indices for estimating which are the safest countries in Latin America to travel to.
Of course, COVID-19 will have had an impact since this data was put together, and I’m sure the Global Peace Index 2021 will reflect that. The problem with trying to gauge medical safety in developing countries during a global pandemic is that testing is not universally affordable – by the government nor the general population – and these countries’ lack of power and money on the world stage means they are often low in the pecking order to receive solutions once they are discovered.
For example, Nicaragua is said to have suffered only 163 coronavirus deaths nationwide from March to December (with 919 cases per 1 million people vs the worldwide average of 9711), but experts in summer estimated that their figures should be 20x higher than officially reported. Real-time COVID-19 data sometimes needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.
Interestingly, one of the key indicators holding nations back from being crowned the safest countries in Latin America to travel is the level of civil unrest, and at the start of 2020 some contenders saw their protestors agreeing to reduce or put a halt to protests. However, it is likely that the pandemic has only exacerbated issues, so we can expect unrest to return in full force to the most unstable countries.
After this post on the safest countries in Latin America to travel, you may also want to read:
Anyway, let’s get into the list of the safest countries in Latin America to travel to in terms of the Global Peace Index (now that a vaccine has been found I have hope that the medical safety of travel isn’t far off!). It’s worth noting that there wasn’t comparable data available for safety in some countries in Latin America, such as Belize, French Guiana and Suriname. And for reference, Canada scored a ranking of 6 in the 2020 GPI report, the UK came 41st, and the USA ranked 121st. Yep.
Safest countries in Latin America to travel to in 2021:
GPI 2020 Ranking: 90
Ecuador’s ranking of 10th in the safest countries in Latin America is heavily influenced by the protests it suffered at the end of 2019, focused around oil prices. Conflict is known to happen north in the Esmeraldas region, so tourists are generally told to avoid it, and I was specifically warned about muggings in Quito, especially in the highly touristic areas such as the Old Town where you’re a sitting duck. However, in much of the country popular with visitors, such as Otavalo, Baños and Cuenca, things feel pretty safe.
To tell the truth, this one sort of surprised me at first, but while petty crime is quite common due to the relative poverty in Bolivia, violent crime isn’t necessarily an everyday threat as long as you don’t get involved in the wrong crowd/cartel. Where Bolivia does not score well is in the militarisation indicator, especially in the wake of the ousting of their hero-turned-cray-cray-fraudster, Evo Morales, back in 2019. But aside from having to plan travel around road blockages and the like, this shouldn’t affect visitors too significantly.
I’m glad Peru didn’t rank too poorly on the list of safest countries in Latin America because it’s definitely a must-visit for tourists interested in the rich history of this region. Luckily, you can explore all the wonders of Machu Picchu, Cusco and Paracas without looking over your shoulder the whole time. Some parts of the cities of course get dodgy, so wise up on the safer areas before you travel to Peru (or anywhere else, for that matter).
Now, in all honesty, I’ve always be warned off travelling to Guyana due to safety concerns, so I’m surprised to see it sitting so well in the list of safest countries in Latin America. It seems its relative lack of militarisation and low levels of domestic and external conflict are pulling it up the rankings. Mugging risk for tourists is still high though, and solo female travel is not advised.
GPI 2020 Ranking: 75
I feel like Paraguay is one of those countries that just keeps its head down and gets on with things. One thing I noticed when I visited Paraguay was that the wealth gap is HUGE, so people are either São Paulo elite wealthy or La Paz hilltops poor. I definitely felt a little on-edge in some parts of Asunción, but it didn’t help that we arrived during a protest against political corruption. It doesn’t score too well on the economic cost of violence, which explores indicators such as armed conflict and internal displacement. However, in the richer parts of the city, people party like it’s an NYC rooftop, pulling up in their Range Rovers with not a care in the world. Pick your areas wisely!
Argentina is known for its political and economic instability, and as a tourist you don’t need to be too preoccupied with the risk of violent crime. Most crime towards foreigners is petty – whilst there, I was victim to credit card copying in a restaurant in Buenos Aires, and then accused of being the thief in Rosario when someone had cash stolen off their bed in a hostel (spoiler alert: I wasn’t). Again, protests can happen, and declaring bankruptcy every 5 years or so is a trick the Argentinian government is fond of which can make money hard to value and get hold of. COVID-19 may have sped up this pattern, so keep an eye on the economic situation before you travel.
Panama is just… I don’t know how to describe Panama without it sounding like a negative thing, but… neutral? Chill? Mild? Anyway, Panama’s reason for sitting near the middle of the top 10 safest countries in Latin America to travel is that it suffered unrest in 2019 and 2020 over reforms that the government tried to push through that were to have a significant effect on marginalised groups. These protests largely occur in Panama City, so are unlikely to affect travel across the rest of the country. Needless to say, the San Blas Islands are a very safe bet, and a great detour to when travelling from South America to Central!
GPI 2020 Ranking: 45
In the 2019 GPI, Chile scored the highest ranking of all the safest countries in Latin America to travel, ranking 27th worldwide. However, ongoing civil unrest in reaction to a very unpopular government means that it’s slipped from its pedestal. Away from the big cities, Chile’s most beautiful areas are still very much peaceful, so keep up to date with protests and plan your trip to the ex-safest country in South America accordingly.
Top of the safest countries in South America, Uruguay is famed for its political stability and relative lack of violent crime. The GDP per capita is much higher than some of its neighbours, so there’s less of a need for people to survive via desperate means. Education levels are high, and the climate is mild. Funnily enough, since arriving in Uruguay was the first time I ever stepped foot on South American soil, I remember being caught up in the continent’s bad reputation and feeling entirely on-edge for the first 2 weeks or so, even though it’s technically safer than my home country. Lols.
Long a safe haven for tourists wanting to dip their toes into Latin American travel without being too exposed to the dangers associated with this region, Costa Rica remains on top of the safest countries in Latin America to travel. It has gained this title despite an increasing homicide rate and big influx of refugees from its neighbour, Nicaragua. The biggest crime against tourists in Costa Rica is the price of tours + expectation for fat tips at the end. Don’t @ me, bruh.
And what about the least safe countries in Latin America?
For the nations that didn’t make this top 10 safest countries in Latin America to travel, let’s have a look at how they ranked on the 2020 GPI:
El Salvador 113
The one I’m most disappointed to see so low is Colombia, as it obviously has a special place in my heart. However, please don’t let this put you off travelling there: the guerrilla violence and cartel activity are concentrated to certain regions that tourists would/should never go, and much of the petty crime can be avoided by being aware of your surroundings and not drawing attention to yourself as a tourist. It has actually improved by a whole three ranks since the 2019 GPI. Check out safety tips for Colombia here.
Venezuela, however, is down at the bottom of the list of safest countries in Latin America for a very solid reason; unfortunately it’ll be a few years at the very least before it’ll be advisable to travel there.
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