Buenos Aires is my place of birth. I spent 29 years living in the city before moving to London in 2014, so I have a fair share of experience on the topic of safety. When people ask me ‘Is Buenos Aires safe?’… My usual answer is ‘Well, it depends’.
Decades of corruption and government mismanagement have led to outrageous poverty and escalated crime rates. Petty theft is a daily occurrence but so are violent crimes such as armed robbery. This is not meant to scare you. Buenos Aires is a beautiful city and one I recommend you to visit. But you should be careful. And be informed!
Avenida 9 de Julio, a major thoroughfare in the city of Buenos Aires
Is Buenos Aires safe? Tips from a local
How to stay safe in Buenos Aires
Millions of tourists visit the country every year and most visits are problem-free. The most common incidents involving tourists usually revolve around bag and phone snatching, pickpocketing, and distraction thefts.
Follow the tips below to learn how to stay safe in Buenos Aires:
Phone snatching is very common. Avoid using your phone on the street or public transport whenever possible. And don’t leave your phone just sitting on the table in bars and restaurants.
Pickpocketing and bag snatching are also frequent occurrences. Wear your backpack in the front and use cross-body bags both on the street and on public transport. Don’t leave your bag just hanging from a chair in bars or restaurants.
If you are sitting outside in a bar or restaurant, chances are you’ll be approached multiple times by people trying to sell you things or ask you for money. Most are harmless but proceed with caution if you reach out for your wallet. Keeping some change in a safe pocket or bag compartment may come in handy.
Watch out for motorbikes, especially when ridden by two people. Theft involving bikes can happen, and tourists are a common target. Motorbike robbers are commonly referred to as motochorros. Whilst one of them drives the bike, the other will snatch whatever is on sight. This also goes if you are in a car, so don’t keep windows open or leave any valuables in sight.
Window-washers will frequently approach cars at red lights. Whereas some are just trying to make some money, others may attempt to rob you.
Football is truly ingrained in our culture and a big part of our national identity
Driving in Buenos Aires is not for the faint-hearted. Road rage, roadblocks, and accidents are all far too common. If you are just spending time in the city, you can certainly do without a car. As a pedestrian, I’d suggest you always check traffic has stopped before crossing the street, as to some motorists, unfortunately, a red light is just a suggestion.
Gender violence is a sad reality in Argentina. Catcalling, especially when walking past construction sites, happens a lot. As annoying as it is, the best thing to do is to ignore it completely.
Avoid using ATMs at nighttime. This makes for a perfect opportunity to get mugged. On a side note, you should avoid ATMs altogether in Argentina as there are very low withdrawal limits and the fees and exchange rates are quite outrageous. Bringing cash to exchange in the local cuevas works best. Beware, however, of counterfeit bills. Ask around before and do some research before exchanging your money.
Try not to look like a tourist. Pretend you know where you are and where you are going and be aware of your surroundings. Avoid wearing jewellery, expensive watches, or designer bags. You’ll make yourself a target.
Buenos Aires’ neighbourhoods
Stick to safe neighbourhoods. Unless you are going with a local or visiting a tourist site during daytime, you should refrain from certain areas, especially towards the southern edge of the city. Be extra cautious in the Constitución and Retiro train station (avoid altogether if you can), San Telmo, Florida Street, Avenida de Mayo, La Boca, and Avendia 9 de Julio around the Obelisco. The best neighbourhoods to stay in when visiting Buenos Aires are Palermo, Recoleta, and Belgrano, all well-located affluent areas. You should nonetheless still exercise caution after dark.
There are several slums or villas miseria scatted around the city of Buenos Aires. The most popular due to its size and visibility is the Villa 31, dating back to the 1930s, which at some point became a tourist attraction, receiving guided tours on a daily basis. I’d advise you to stay well clear of the slums and don’t partake in any tourist activity.
Basílica Nuestra Señora del Pilar in the Recoleta neighbourhood
Hanging out with locals
Argentinians are friendly (and a bit nosy even), and most mean well. But avoid sharing too many details of your travel plans and personal circumstances, especially if travelling by yourself.
Public transport in Buenos Aires is generally ok to use but keep an eye on your belongings and try to avoid it after dark or during rush hour.
Taxis are broadly available and are reasonably priced. Licensed taxis are yellow and black and metered. Although most taxi drivers make an honest living, some may take you for a ride in order to charge you more. Getting a local SIM card and using a ride-hailing app is a great alternative to prevent this. Cabify is the most popular among locals, although Uber is also available. There’s been tension in the past with local taxi drivers due to the competitive rates offered through these apps. For that reason, you may be asked to pretend you’re in a ‘friend’s car’ and sit in the front.
Protests are common, especially around the Presidential Palace and Plaza de Mayo. Avenida 9 de Julio is also a hotspot for demonstrations. Avoid them at all costs, as these can occasionally turn violent and lead to roadblocks. Keep an eye on the local news, especially if you are airport-bound.
Football violence in Argentina is a serious issue. So much so that away supporters were banned from matches following a fatal shooting in 2013. Even after such extreme measures, there are still occasional episodes of violence. The country has some of the most dangerous organised supporter groups in the world, commonly known as barra bravas. But football is a big part of our culture, and enjoying a Superclásico (Boca Juniors vs River Plate) is an absolute must if you love team games. But to do so safely, you may want to consider using an reputable agency to arrange transfers, tickets, and a guide.
Distraction techniques can be used as a means to rob you. The popular ‘mustard scam’ involves someone spilling a nasty liquid on you. A seemly polite stranger may approach you to offer help and in fact pickpocket you, or alternatively, distract you whilst someone else stills your stuff. People posing as friendly tourists in busy hotel lobbies to steal other people’s belongings is another frequent scam.
The Dr. Alfredo Roque Vítolo pedestrian bridge overlooking Avenida Figueroa Alcorta
Other safety concerns in Buenos Aires
Even though terrorist attacks have happened, this is not a palpable concern at present time.
Buenos Aires can be seasonally affected by Dengue fever, so wear mosquito repellent, especially during the summer months.
Other than that, I’d advise you to exercise normal precautions and follow your instinct. If walking down a certain street doesn’t feel right, don’t! Remember to always store money in a couple of different secure places and keep a copy of your passport.
Pro tip: dial 107 for medical emergencies and 911 for general emergencies.
Busy La Boca neighbourhood and its popular street market
So… Should you visit Buenos Aires?
The answer is absolutely yes! Buenos Aires is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in South America. It has so much to offer, that you could easily spend months exploring its beautiful parks, quirky shops, and traditional cafes. With some precaution, having a safe stay in Buenos Aires is totally possible, and hopefully a most memorable experience.
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