South America is an amazing destination, packed with gorgeous national parks, enticing cuisine, and chic cities – and that’s just for starters! However, it also has the misfortune of some pretty deep-rooted safety issues, ranging from crimes of convenience to more serious issues around natural disasters, drug trafficking, and gang-related violence.
While it’s really important to keep safety in mind while traveling the continent, this shouldn’t prevent you from visiting. To help you kickstart your trip planning, we’ll introduce the safest cities in South America and share our best tips and tricks to help you stay safe while you travel.
If you take proper precautions, you can have the time of your life and stay safe in South America!
Related: (opens in new tab)
- The Safest Countries in South America
- Best Places to Live in South America
- Safety Tips for South America Travel
13 Safest Cities in South America
1. Montevideo, Uruguay
Uruguay is often ranked as the safest country in South America per the Global Peace Index, and its capital city is a good indicator of this ranking. Montevideo is a great option for travelers seeking beachfront vibes, thriving food culture, and a mix of colonial architecture with newer construction amid a relaxed and laid-back atmosphere.
The city still feels charming, despite being home to half of Uruguay’s population. Its proximity to popular places like Punta del Este, Colonia del Sacramento, and the Argentine capital Buenos Aires, makes Montevideo a great stop along any itinerary.
Violent crime is rare due to a comparatively higher standard of living in Uruguay as a whole, and the country is at a lower risk for natural disasters. However, it’s important to keep in mind that crimes of convenience can be quite common, especially petty theft and pickpocketing.
Travelers are advised to avoid wearing flashy clothes or jewelry and be vigilant around ATMs. The US State Department gives Uruguay a rating of two, in particular, due to muggings conducted via drive-by motorcyclists or randomly at local businesses – both heavily likely to target bystanders.
Top Things to Do in Montevideo:
- Explore local markets – Sundays at La Feria de Tristán Narvaja or daily at Mercado del Puerto
- Go for a stroll or a bike ride along the beachfront Rambla
- Check out historic architecture at Teatro Solís, Palacio Salvo, and Plaza de la Independencia
- Visit the site of the 1930 World Cup Final in Parque Batlle
2. Santiago, Chile
Chile follows Uruguay as the second-safest country on the continent. Its capital, Santiago, is jam-packed with things to do, but sadly it’s one of South America’s most overlooked cities. From its museums to its cuisine, green spaces, and proximity to gorgeous national parks, Santiago shouldn’t be missed.
Even better, Santiago is definitely one of the safest cities in South America. It feels calm despite its size, and most of its attractions are located in well-trafficked areas. Travelers can feel more at ease by taking a few precautions – taking taxis or ride-shares at night and avoiding empty parks or streets where pickpockets could lurk. The neighborhoods of Lastarria, Italia, Providencia, and Bellavista are best suited for tourists, and the northern part of the city is best avoided.
Lastly, in the past few years, Santiago has been the setting of a number of protests, some of which turned violent. It is critical to avoid getting involved in these protests, including filming or posting on social media, and it is best to avoid the area around Palacio de la Moneda altogether on protest days.
Top Things to Do in Santiago:
- Visit the Museum of Memory and Human Rights
- Explore the Plaza de Armas, with its beautiful cathedral and museum of history
- Climb the Cerro San Cristobal or Cerro Santa Lucia for sweeping city vistas
- Check out Nobel laureate and native son Pablo Neruda’s beautiful home, La Chascona
3. Mendoza, Argentina
Mendoza, the wine capital of Argentina, is atop many bucket lists for its top export: malbec wine. Packed with vineyards, idyllic surroundings, and close proximity to hiking, horseback riding, and trekking in the nearby Andes, Mendoza is a total gem.
Coming in third place on the Global Peace Index for South America, Argentina is overall a safe place to travel when taking the right precautions. Mendoza in particular is quite safe, but car burglaries and petty theft can still occur. Lock your rental car if you have one and avoid leaving valuables in your hotel room. Otherwise, Mendoza is definitely a place you can wind down in.
Top Things to Do in Mendoza:
- Visit the ample vineyards in the area, sampling their delicious wine offerings. Consider taking a bike tour for an experience you won’t forget!
- Explore the nearby Andes, skiing if you visit in winter, or hiking, swimming, or horseback riding in the summertime
- Check out Mendoza’s charming town square, with leafy colonial plazas and museums
4. Arequipa, Perú
Arequipa is Perú’s second-largest city (only behind its capital, Lima), but has a very distinct and different vibe. Aptly nicknamed the ‘White City’ for its stunning volcanic-rock buildings, it is surrounded by volcanoes but often ranked among the safest cities in South America.
Many visitors are surprised to learn that the city has over a million inhabitants because it has the vibe of a small town – the locals are friendly and open, the weather is beautiful year-round, and there are ample restaurants, treks, and walking tours available.
While the city’s laid-back vibe may entice you to let your guard down, it is still good to be vigilant – crimes of convenience like pickpocketing do occur, as well as recurring protest movements sometimes targeting airports and train stations. Protests are often announced with little to no notice and can turn violent quickly. It is essential to avoid large crowds, and if you are traveling, consider adding in a buffer if your original travel plans must change.
Top Things to Do in Arequipa:
- Hike the Colca Canyon or the Cotahuasi Canyon, two of the world’s deepest canyons
- If you’d rather hike volcanoes than canyons, consider nearby El Misti or Volcano Valley, which boasts over 80 volcanos
- Visit the Santa Catalina Monastery, dating back to the late 1500s, and the vibrant city center
- Be the only tourist and wander around Salinas Salt Lagoon
5. Florianópolis, Brazil
Often considered one of the best-kept secrets in Brazil, the stunning city of Florianópolis is a must-visit for those seeking the paradise of Brazil in a more relaxed environment than Rio or São Paulo.
Florianópolis (Floripa to locals) has almost 50 beaches, fun nightlife, and delicious cuisine, perfect for a sunny getaway. The city is split between the mainland and the island of Santa Catarina, making it a hotspot for gorgeous beaches in a much smaller and more manageable package than Brazil’s bigger cities.
While the US State Department ranks Brazil as a number two (‘exercise increased caution’) due to robberies, carjackings, and violence targeted at tourists, this is particularly the case in larger cities. While you should still exercise a lot of caution, violent crime is less common in Floripa.
Visitors can stay safe by avoiding walking on the beaches at night, as well as leaving any valuables at home. The best way to get around town is via Uber or adding on extra insurance if you’re renting a car. Lastly, the most common scam is ATM fraud – avoidable if you use ATMs inside banks.
Top Things to Do in Florianópolis:
- Choose (or try to choose!) among its many, many beaches – perfect for tanning, swimming, and adrenaline sports like sand-boarding or paragliding
- Learn to surf at the beautiful Praia Mole
- Party at its many bars and restaurants, enjoying the island’s famous nightlife
6. Cuenca, Ecuador
It’s hard to prioritize where to go in stunningly-diverse Ecuador, but if an Andean escape is up your alley, check out Cuenca. Considered Ecuador’s most sophisticated and chic city, Cuenca is very down-to-earth, a hotspot for retirees and expats. Its proximity to hot springs and national parks, as well as the wealth of cultural opportunities inside the city, make it an appealing place for just about anyone.
Cuenca is also quite safe – it has a very high standard of living compared to the rest of the country, as well as lower rates of petty crime. A new tramway makes transportation easy and is a good option to rely on while you adjust to the city’s higher altitude.
While you shouldn’t let down your guard entirely, Cuenca is often considered a smaller and more manageable Quito, with many of the capital’s perks without the downsides of increased crime. Normal safety precautions should be fine here.
Top Things to Do in Cuenca:
- Visit Cajas National Park, packed with lakes, waterfalls, and stunning landscapes
- Check out the largest collection of Incan ruins in Ecuador on a day trip to Ingapirca
- Explore the city’s various markets, museums, and churches
SafetyWing is the travel insurance of choice for scores of backpackers!
- Subscription style insurance
- Cheap and flexible
- Available after your trip has started
7. Sucre, Bolivia
Sucre is often called the ‘True Capital of Bolivia’, despite the seat of government sitting in La Paz, and it’s easy to see why. The UNESCO World Heritage Site oozes charm and class, beckoning visitors to its leafy parks, beautiful churches, and laid-back atmosphere.
While other cities in Bolivia suffer from high rates of petty crime or diseases spread by insects, Sucre’s smaller size and moderately high altitude largely avoid both these issues.
Avoid arriving via bus late at night or early in the morning, as would-be thieves often hang around bus stations. You should also take the usual safety precautions concerning valuables and ATM withdrawals.
It is not advised to drink tap water in Bolivia in general so bring a filtered water bottle. It’s also best to exercise a lot of caution with the fresh foods you consume to avoid tummy issues.
Top Things to Do in Sucre:
- Climb up the Recoleta for beautiful views of the city
- Witness a traditional Bolivian dancing show while you eat a delicious meal at Espacio Cultural Origenes
- See the world’s largest collection of dinosaur footprints at the Parque Cretácico
8. Córdoba, Argentina
The beautiful city of Córdoba is one of Argentina’s highlights and the country’s second-largest city behind the capital Buenos Aires. Córdoba has a rich history and is home to colonial architecture, a gorgeous university, and a 17th-century Jesuit complex called the Manzana Jesuítica. People from Córdoba, or cordobeses, are known for their distinctive accent, which sets them apart from the rest of the country.
While petty crime certainly does occur in Córdoba, it is mainly limited to pickpocketing or bag-snatching. This usually does not turn violent, but it’s best to always remember not to fight back if it happens to you.
A few neighborhoods in the city, particularly San Vicente and Circunvalación, should be avoided, but otherwise, the city is easily transited by taxi – just make sure to always take a licensed cab, as taxi scams are quite common. Córdoba suffers from high flood risk seasonally, so it’s a good idea to always know evacuation routes.
Top Things to Do in Córdoba:
- Explore the charming city center, particularly the Plaza San Martín and the Cathedral of Córdoba
- Visit the Manzana Jesuítica, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with cloisters and the original setting of the city’s university
- Go on a day trip to another UNESCO site, La Cumbrecita, for hiking and picturesque chalet architecture
9. Bucaramanga, Colombia
Colombia is not necessarily the first place you think of in terms of safety, but the country has been working hard over the last few years to improve its image, and Bucaramanga is a great example of this effort.
Known as the ‘City of Parks’, Bucaramanga is home to a whopping 10 universities and a fabulous, student-centric vibe. A much more manageable city than Bogotá, it also has much lower rates of violent crime, with pickpocketing being the main cause for concern.
It’s generally not advised to wander around the city on foot at night, but there’s a great public transit system, and licensed taxis or Uber are also both viable transportation options.
Note that Bucaramanga is fairly close to the Venezuelan border. Authorities like the US State Department urge travelers to stay away from the border for several reasons, particularly kidnapping, violent crime, and large public demonstrations. While Bucaramanga is a good place to be, avoid going too much further north in the Santander province.
Top Things to Do in Bucaramanga:
- Meander through its many parks, like Parque del Agua, the Eloy Valenzuela Botanical Garden, or Parque San Pío
- Explore Colombia’s adventure capital in nearby San Gil, for paragliding, rafting, ziplining, and more
- Check out the huge Catedral de la Sagrada Família and quaint Capilla de los Dolores in the city center
10. Cusco, Perú
It goes without saying that Cusco is a bucket list destination like no other – home to the Inca Trail and, of course, the iconic Machu Picchu. Just in case that wasn’t cool enough, Cusco is a really great place to be in general.
Packed with restaurants, markets, and nightlife, you can pair trekking to your heart’s content with all the trappings of a city, without too many of its associated risk factors. Of course, any tourist destination comes with its touts, pickpockets, and scammers, but paying attention to your surroundings is a good way to avoid these. The main risk factor inherent to Cusco is the altitude. Be sure to give yourself time to acclimate before attempting too much trekking!
Also, as mentioned above, Perú as a whole is the site of many recurring protest movements that often converge on airports and train stations. This can sometimes lead to the closure of Machu Picchu and/or the Inca Trail, the main claim to fame of the area.
Top Things to Do in Cusco:
- Hike all or part of the Inca Trail
- Spend a day in Machu Picchu
- Visit one of the rainbow mountains (Vinicunca or Palcoyo)
- Check out the picturesque towns in the nearby Sacred Valley
11. Medellín, Colombia
Often considered the safest big city in Colombia, Medellín, nicknamed ‘The City of Eternal Spring’ has a lot going for it. However, this wasn’t always the case. In the 1980s, Medellín was known as the ‘Murder Capital of the World’ due to entrenched cartel activity and violence.
Today, it is a city transformed – full of museums, breweries, cafés, and parks, all super accessible via the city’s great public transit. The tap water is safe to drink, and the city is a mecca for great weather, beautiful scenery, and a fun and easygoing vibe.
While crimes of convenience certainly exist, people overall feel quite safe and comfortable in Medellín. This is particularly when walking around during the day, as it’s still best to take licensed taxis or ride-shares at night and avoid the downtown area (Candelaria). If you want to cut down on travel time, consider staying in the popular area of El Poblado, which is home to most of Medellín’s hostels and nightlife.
Top Things to Do in Medellín:
- Check out the impressive Parque Arví, located a cable car ride into the mountains and packed with opportunities for hikes and bike rides
- Learn Spanish at one of the city’s many language schools, one of the most popular places in South America to do so
- Take a day trip to nearby Guatapé to see the Piedra de Peñol and other neat sights
12. Asunción, Paraguay
Regrettably, Paraguay is often passed over by tourists as a whole, and its capital Asunción is only seen as a jumping-off point to other places. This is a mistake, as the city offers something distinctly different to travelers than South America’s other hotspots.
Since tourism rates are so much lower than in the continent’s other capitals, visitors are often seen as something special and welcomed with open arms. The risk assigned by the US State Department remains at level one, the lowest possible level, only recommending that the border with Brazil be avoided.
Asunción is the oldest continuously-inhabited city in South America, called the ‘Mother of Cities’. Full of restaurants, museums, and historical sites, the city is packed with culture and fabulous architecture.
Crime is low in comparison to other cities of its size, and the vast majority of crime that occurs is nonviolent. Just be sure to keep an eye out for pickpockets and bag thieves, and stay aware of your surroundings.
Top Things to Do in Asunción:
- Visit the seat of government at the eye-catching Palacio de los López
- Walk, bike, or rollerblade along La Costanera, a riverfront promenade along the Río Paraguay
- Continue further into Paraguay on a visit to the Gran Chaco region
13. Buenos Aires, Argentina
Argentina’s vibrant capital city, Buenos Aires, is a feast for the senses. Known as the ‘Paris of the South’ for its sprawling boulevards, café culture, and general European vibe, Buenos Aires is a top-notch travel destination.
While not as safe as the other South American cities on this list, it’s still totally possible to visit Buenos Aires without any mishaps. With inflation and poverty levels both high, crimes of convenience are very common in Argentina’s big cities as a whole, with drive-by thefts via moped particularly common.
To stay safe in Buenos Aires, it is crucial to avoid areas like Caminito and La Boca, Villa 31, and Bajo Flores at night. La Boca is a must-see tourist destination, but you must plan your visit during the day. Consider staying in more upscale neighborhoods like Palermo, and avoid walking anywhere alone at night.
Taxis are a good bet, but make sure they’re licensed: keep an eye out for black taxis with yellow trim that say Radio Taxi on the top, or take a ride-share.
Top Things to Do in Buenos Aires:
- Visit as many of the city’s 48 barrios as you can, in particular San Telmo, La Boca, and Puerto Madero
- Stroll through the Recoleta Cemetery, admiring the artfully-adorned mausoleums and headstones (including Eva Perón’s tomb) at this peaceful final resting place
- Enjoy the city’s iconic nightlife: check out tango performances (called milongas) or dance the night away at a club
South America is a huge and varied place in terms of geography, weather, and activities, but also in terms of safety. While not all places are 100% safe for travelers, there are loads of safe cities in South America which should provide a trouble-free visit.
Researching the safest destinations will not only help you stay safe and give you peace of mind but will also ensure you make the most of your trip.
What is the safest city in South America that you’ve visited? Share it with us in the comments!
2 thoughts on “13 Safest Cities in South America”
I have travelled (on multiple trips) to Medellin, Quito, Lima, Buenos Aires x2, Iguazu Falls, Cusco x2, Machu Picchu, Ollataytambo, Urubamba, Santiago x2, Ushuaia, El Calafate, El Chalten, Puerto Natales, San Pedro de Atacama, and Colonia del Sacramento without one problem. I have visited 69 countries on six continents and South America has been among the highlights of my travels.
The only issue I did have was in Rio de Janeiro. My debit card was “cloned” (at a bank ATM, no less) and was used by the perpetrators for 48 hours. My funds were restored by my bank and, other than the inconvenience, that is the worst that has happened to me while traveling in South America. Of course, this can happen anywhere.
South America will satisfy any type of traveler. Stunning scenery and nature, cities, great food, adventure, sports, shopping, beaches, museums, fascinating indigenous culture, interesting history and historical sites, lovely people, and more.
Do your research as there are some places best avoided; but using normal safety precautions and common sense, you should have a memorable time in South America.
Thanks for sharing your experiences with us! Sounds like you’re quite the world traveller!
We love South America (but obviously we’re a bit biased 😉) and we’re glad to hear you love it too! Keep travelling and stay safe – maybe we’ll bump into each other and share a Cusqueña on the road one day!