Some of the so-called most dangerous countries in North, Central, and South America that you could travel safely
Even though the surface covered by Latin, Central, and North America is huge, there are only 33 countries in these continents, including the Caribbean, 15 more states are dependencies (like Puerto Rico depends on the USA and Martinique from France).
Despite its fame of dangerous continent, only five American countries rank in among the 50 most dangerous according to the GPI (Global Peace Index), with Colombia (17th) being considered the less peaceful, followed by Venezuela (21th), Guatemala (47th), El Salvador (49th), and the USA (50th).
Some of the safest countries in the world are also American, with Canada ranking 8th most safe, followed by Chile (23rd), and Costa Rica (33rd) (again according to the GPI).
So, what should we do? Should we mind this kind of rankings when we travel?
According to the media, we should stay at home. Even our governments, on their official pages, advise not to travel to a great number of countries. We are bombarded every day by news of wars, murders, violence. Looks like all the world is conspiring to harm us.
Although it’s undeniably true that there is a lot of bad stuff going on on this planet, the world is still a fairly safe place to visit. If we take a look at the numbers, the amount of people intentionally harmed during their travels is ridiculously low.
This article is a collaborative effort, a bunch of travelers share their experiences in some of the so-called most dangerous countries in the Americas. Our aim is not to say there is absolutely no risk involved in traveling to those American countries, most of them require a good dose of awareness, but yet they are all beautiful countries worth visiting.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are not our own, each section’s contributor expresses his/her own.
Some Advice on how to stay safe when traveling
Be prudent, attentive, smart, trust your guts, don’t get drunk, don’t get high (or at least do that only if you really really trust the people you’re with, and the place you’re in). Study the place you’re going to travel, gather as much information as you can, be careful of sensitive topics, respect local customs.
Just exerting these precautions will make you safe almost everywhere, things can happen of course, but they can happen even if you’re not traveling
9 American countries perceived as dangerous you could travel to
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Venezuela is unlike any other country in South America and if you use common sense and some basic safety precautions, you can visit and I guarantee you’ll be blown away by its surreal landscapes and nice people. Whatever you like doing, you will find it in Venezuela.
Caribbean beaches – Choroni and Chichiriviche de Falcon are most likely the most budget-friendly places in the Caribbean.
Angel Falls – it’s the world’s tallest waterfall and unlike many popular sites in South America, you won’t find any gift shops and crowds of tourists here. You need to fly into Canaima National Park, take a four-hour boat through the jungle, and after half an hour hike, you’ll see and can swim right under the waterfall. Read our post for more details.
Mount Roraima – is one of the oldest formations on Earth. You can hike up this famous table mountain, bath in the pools on top, visit caves and see surrounding jungle during a 5-day trek (as you can see in the picture).
Orinoco River Delta – it’s like Amazon jungle but lesser-known. You can visit a village where Warao Indians live and see macaws, toucans, monkeys, and pink dolphins. Check out our photo essay of Warao Indians.
Most people are concerned about flying into the capital Caracas. The actual airport is on the coast and divided from the capital by mountains so you don’t even have to go to Caracas.
All mentioned places are considered safe for tourists. Due to the economic crisis in the country and brutal inflation of Venezuelan currency, you have to bring all the cash you’ll need and change to local currency on the black market.
Also, you won’t find here any imported products and many grocery stores have limited food. But restaurants and hostels we stayed at offered meals during our stay.
When we announced, three years ago, that we were adding Guatemala to our Central America itinerary we were immediately bombarded with warnings.
The words “dangerous” and “high crime rate” were thrown at us from many directions. However, we did our research and had spoken with many fellow travelers who told us it was a great place to visit, so we went ahead with our plans.
We are so glad we did. Guatemala is still one of our favorite travel experiences and we won’t hesitate to recommend visiting this sometimes challenging country. Armed with the appropriate understandings and precautions of course.
Let’s start with some of the places that make this country so worth visiting. There is beautiful and historic Antigua, a small, easy to navigate the city with lovely architecture, lots of local culture and great restaurants.
Then there’s the fascinating UNESCO site of the Tikal Mayan ruins and the colorful and authentic villages around Lake Atitlan in the Sierra Madre mountain range. And our personal favorite adventure, the stunningly beautifulSemuc Champey, with its caves and idyllic turquoise stepped pools in the middle of a dense tropical jungle.
But what about the warnings? Well, it’s true that there is a lot of poverty in Guatemala and poverty does tend to lead to higher crime rates. This is the case with many countries and Guatemala is no exception. However, in our experience, and that of many other travelers we have spoken to, it is still fairly rare to have any major issues.
A standard amount of common sense and research should ensure a crime-free experience. For example, don’t be flashy with your money, avoid secluded places alone after dark, do some research to know where the higher crime rate is known, and in our opinion don’t bother spending much time in Guatemala City. Just be sensible and aware, as you would anywhere you travel, and be prepared for Guatemala to win your heart as it did ours.
Some people think the States is the safest country to travel; others, however, are aware of the dangers it presents. While hitchhiking in the States I found that I was completely safe, it was the Americans who were terrified.
They had all heard such perilous stories of hitchhiking and murders, that they had no idea that there were normal people, just like me, who had no intention of harming them. I just needed a ride. It was almost as if the Americans themselves were more scared, albeit unknowingly, of their own country than anyone else was.
I love visiting the States as it’s always an adventure. Being from Canada I find the minor culture shocks fascinating, as you would not expect them. It’s such a vast country there are just so many different things to do and lands to experience, not to mention how different people can be from state to state.
It’s safer than most assume because it’s really the Americans scared so much of each other, rather than an actual dangerous place to visit. Sure, you should stay out of sketchy neighborhoods in Chicago or New York City, but as long as you don’t find yourself in these places, it really is very safe.
Just don’t get into an accident without insurance, while the hospital will take care of you, you’ll have a nasty bill to pay afterward! But, at least they’ll tend to you regardless of insurance.
Despite so many Americans carrying guns, I was never really afraid. No one was out to get me, they just wanted to protect themselves as they live in a culture of such fear.
Many are very kind people, they have just been brainwashed by the media into thinking everything and everyone is a threat. So they carry guns. I was never concerned one would be used against me.
As for the police, I never had any bad encounters with them at all. They were there to protect, not to harm me, and I don’t get myself in situations where the police would be angered by me.
How dangerous is El Salvador? The Murder Capital of the World
Exercise a high degree of caution… highest crime rates…highest homicide levels in the world… extortion, assault, and robbery are common. And so the government advisories for travel to El Salvador continue.
This Central American country of 6 million people is sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean, Guatemala, and Honduras and we think you should visit.
There’s a low cost of living here – we spent US$37.93 per person/day while traveling here, our second cheapest Central American country.
Salvador is located on the Pacific Ring of Fire and you’ll get your fix of volcano hiking here. The superb Volcan Santa Ana hike is a gorgeous day trip from Santa Ana. It’s perfectly doable by public bus – get directions from and stay at possibly the world’s best hostel, the Hostal Casa Verde in Santa Ana.
Travel the glorious Ruta des Flores and chill out in one of the villages on this famous route. Stop in Juayua for the fantastic weekend Feria Gastronomique to sample any and all the Salvadorean dishes your belly can handle.
After one taste of the national favorite, the Pupusa, you may be spoiled for anything else. This is Salvadorean coffee country, so you should take time for a tour of a plantation and be sure to taste test. We recommend Lechuza in Juayua.
If you’re reasonably proficient in Spanish you’ll enjoy Salvador and her people all the more. Perhaps because they don’t see so many visitors the people go out of their way to be welcoming, friendly, and helpful.
Salvador’s reputation as the murder capital of the world precedes it. However, most of the crime and violence problems are gang on gang. You should avoid certain areas (check with your hostel) of the capital San Salvador and take the usual precautions when traveling here. But travel here you should, and before the rest of the world discover it.
Jamaica is often viewed as dangerous, some say you shouldn’t go off the all-inclusive, because it’s dangerous. Well, that’s wrong. Getting off the all-inclusive resort is a must and probably will make it the best time of your vacation. We’ve been to Jamaica 5 times and even brought 50 people there for our beach wedding, which happened to be not at a big resort.
We’ve spent most of our time inNegril Jamaica. For the most part, if you are staying in one of the popular tourist areas like Negril, Ocho Rios or Montego Bay, during the day you are fine to walk the beach and explore. Like any country, if you have to use some common sense and street smarts. If something doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t.
The locals most likely will approach you as they would like to sell you something or have you come to their bar or restaurant. The people in Jamaica are really nice. We’ve made good friends with a few and have been invited to their homes for a truly local experience.
At night we avoid walking the beach alone, but we do that in many countries, not just Jamaica. I also wouldn’t bring anything too flashy (diamonds etc) or carry a bunch of money, but again this is something I wouldn’t do in many countries.
If you don’t get out and explore your missing some amazing waterfalls, cliffs, beaches, etc in the beautiful country of Jamaica.
While traveling through Colombia, I met several travelers coming from Ecuador telling me all these horror stories about Ecuador (in particular about its capital Quito).
The internet is full or travel warnings and bad press about the country, people recommended skipping it. I even stumbled upon an article stating the multiple criteria a taxi in Quito has to fulfill in order to be safe – including two cameras inside the taxi and a red panic button under the passenger’s seat.
“If the government sees the need for these safety measures, then the situation has to be really bad” – that’s what I was thinking.
Needless to say, I was very anxious when I traveled overland from Colombia into Ecuador on my journey through South America.
But was it really that bad? – No!
I traveled all around Ecuador for a few weeks and nothing ever happened to me. I explored Quito as well as smaller places such as Banos, I did a trip into the Amazon rainforest and went on several treks and hikes in Ecuador’s beautiful countryside. It was a wonderful time!
In my opinion, Ecuador is certainly a country where you need to be cautious – don’t show off expensive things, don’t walk around at night, don’t wander into dark alleys and be especially careful on buses – don’t put your bag down or up, always keep it on your lap.
Be careful with alcohol (if you need to get back to your accommodation in the middle of the night) and rather use Easytaxi than random street taxis.
There are sketchy areas (especially in Quito) and several popular scams are common, so it makes sense to do some research on the internet to be prepared. However, if you behave smart, cautious, and if you’re well prepared, you can minimize the risk immensely. Ecuador is a beautiful country and you shouldn’t skip it!
I wrote an extensive guide about how to stay safe in South America – Have a look here!
Unfortunately, some countries need time to shed their bad reputation; Colombia is one of them! Yet Colombia is a beautiful country to travel in, and its people are among the friendliest in the world.
The security situation is constantly improving, most notably since the peace agreement of late 2016. The general crime rate against tourists (like robberies and assault) is much lower in Colombia than in neighboring countries. You won’t read about armed hold-ups of tourist buses, which sadly is too often reported from Peru. Colombia has so much to offer: beautiful Caribbean beaches, well preserved historic towns, vibrant cities, high Andean mountains with glaciers, the colorful small towns of the coffee region, and the lush green Amazon jungle.
We are constantly amazed by locals, who welcome us with a smile, and who show an honest interest in our travels and our thoughts about their country.
At the end let me add a few words of caution:
Some barrios(neighborhoods) of large cities aren’t safe at night, so use cheap taxis to move around, don’t walk alone (the same applies in other countries)!avoid the Pacific region in the South, particularly in the departments of ,Cauca, and Valle de Cauca.< In some remote towns a power struggle, between rivaling gangs, erupted after the peace deal.if you are driving yourself, like we do, listen to advice from police and army, who maintain regular checkpoints along all roads.
These posts are an indication of how much the situation has changed for the better: in 2008, when we last traveled through Colombia, the military were dug in behind thick sandbag walls, with their weapons at the ready. Now they just stand around, guns leisurely over their shoulders, giving you a ‘thumbs up’ to indicate that everything is safe…So visit Colombia now, before it gets overrun by tourists!
Guyana, an often overlooked Latin American country
Guyana is a small country on the east coast of South America. Squished in between Suriname and Venezuela. It is not in Equatorial Africa as some assume. A small geographical mishap that I spent months correcting my mother, after breaking the news to my family that I was moving to Guyana to complete a three-month volunteer program teaching HIV/AIDS prevention.
Now as a 5’5, 110 pounds, Caucasian young lady the worst was assumed by all. For months I was swarmed with people insisting that I don’t go due to safety concerns. It wasn’t safe for a white woman.
It wasn’t safe for me to go to the jungle. No matter how much I tried to convince people that it was an acceptable country to go to, people just did not believe me. At the time Guyana had one of the highest crime rates per capita. Which wasn’t that difficult to achieve with less than 750,000 inhabitants.
One of the main reasons people were petrified that this white woman was going was the Jones Town Massacre. For those who don’t know this was a cult group from America who moved in and did what cults like to do – sacrifice themselves. Which wasn’t exactly the reason why I wanted to travel to Guyana.
During my time in Guyana, I felt safe. Yes, I did, as well as my companions, stick out like a sore thumb compared to the Caribbean beauties however the color of our skin didn’t make us any more of a target.
The Guyanese people are warm and welcoming. The country has some of the world’s most magnificent waterfalls and jungle that you will ever see. If you are lucky enough to get into the interior you might even see the giant otters.
Mexico may well be one of the most misunderstood countries in the world. The common misconception is that Mexico is dangerous. A recent press conference held at WTM where the Tourism Board of Mexico City presented all the news for the upcoming years saw several journalists raising questions about the safety of the city.
But really, Mexico is just as safe as other countries around the world and one only has to use the common cautions when walking around, either during the day or at night – dress modestly, don’t carry around valuables, generally keep a low profile and avoid areas that are known to be dangerous – ask the locals for them, and trust their advice.
Mexico is a great country that has a lot to offer to visitors: incredible archaeological sites of different civilizations (Mayans, Zapotecs, Teotihuacanos among others); beautiful colonial cities; a great, rich culture; incredible, varied, delicious and cheap food; breathtaking landscape; unique places such as cenotes (underground lakes) and the jungle; gorgeous beaches; wildlife; and kind, warm and welcoming people.
While Belize has become more traveled in the last few years, it still has a bit of a bad reputation when it comes to crime. It’s not entirely undeserved, to be honest: Belize City has one of the highest murder rates in the world.
That said, if you’re traveling to Belize, you likely won’t be spending more than a few minutes transiting through Belize City — there’s not much to see in this rundown former capital. And even if you do, most of the violence is between local gangs, so avoid picking sides in gang disputes and you’re likely to be just fine.
Most travelers to Belize go to the islands (particularly San Pedro and Caye Caulker), where violent crime is low and life is relaxed. The water on these Caribbean islands is so many stunning different shades of blue. You can snorkel or dive, kitesurf, or just relax with a bucket of beers all day in an inner tube.
If you want some adventure, the jungle interior around San Ignacio is also a good bet. You can go river tubing, caving (or combine both with some cave tubing), explore Mayan ruins, trek through forests, and more while you’re there.
While the risk of violent crime is lower in on the islands and inland, scams and fraud still exist. The possibility of ATM scams is high, so always check the card reader before putting your debit card in to make sure the ATM is legit.
If you’re a woman, I will warn you that street harassment is common, though generally more “good-natured” (for lack of better words) and less threatening than in other countries I’ve traveled to and lived in. Still, after two visits and having spent more than a week there solo, I’d say Belize is plenty safe for a solo female traveler.