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Warning for Tourists going to South America!!

Travel Forums Central/South America & The Caribbean Warning for Tourists going to South America!!

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1. Posted by vincess (Budding Member 6 posts) 10y

This is just a warning for everyone travelling to places like Quito, Banos, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, Venezuela and the surrounding areas.

There has been an increase in missing backpackers in the last few months and only recently, the bodies of two Austrians were dug up in a shallow grave whilst our very own, Jenny Pope from England remains missing since January 2006.

I myself was born in South America, Guyana, but I must accept that there are increasing risks for packpackers in the above mentioned areas. There is an alleged new crime where men dressed in police clothing waits at the bus terminals with someone posing as another tourist and demand to see your documents. They then say they have to take you to the police station and a few minutes later, 2-3 other men jumps into the vehicle and that's it! You are forced to hand over your documents, mainly your credit card and pin number after which your account is systematically emptied and you, may never be seen again!

There is also claims of a new drug which they use to subdue you and it's effects are so fatal that apparently you can forget who you are for long periods and claims have also been made that many people end up in lunatic asylums as a result of this new drug. These are only reports I've read but you must check the various warnings from your own foreign offices before travelling as, forewarned is forearmed.

I am not saying that you should not travel to these places nor I am scaremongering,I just feel duty bound to post what I've heard/read. It would also be good if people on this forum can plan to travel in groups as it would be a lot safer.

For your own information and more on this, please visit the lonely planet travel forum at, There are lots of articles posted there including articles and letters from the families of the 2 Austrians and the son and husband of Jenny Pope who are still out in Banos, searching for Jenny.

I myself am hoping to go to either Peru or Patagonia later this year.


2. Posted by dbloom (Travel Guru 586 posts) 10y

It is good for travellers to be aware, but not paranoid. Most second class bus terminals in Latin America are dirty and noisy places with very little security. Usually when one arrives in a strange city after a long uncomfortable bus ride, they are somewhat disoriented. In my case in 1988 en route to San Pedro Sula Honduras, a group was planning to follow and rob me on arrival there, I had pretended not to speak or understand Spanish, on arrival jumped out of the bus, into a taxi and right to my hotel. If you don't speak any Spanish travel with someone who does. If you are travelling internationally use the first class and luxury buses, their terminals have good security and there is no changing buses at borders, borders can also be very dangerous places for lone travellers. As for the "new drug" or even standard rohypnol it is advisable not to go out drinking at night alone in cities and if you do don't accept drinks from anyone, recently in Antigua, Guatemala a bride to be from the US was given rohypnol and raped (she went out drinking alone after her fiance fell asleep)in a bar. Even in travel destinations take care. Basically just use common sense.

3. Posted by editor (Budding Member 6 posts) 10y

Chile is not on that list!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I have lived, worked, and traveled most every country in Latin America over the last 15+ years, and I as yet to find a country in Latin America that is as safe as Chile. Chile does not suffer from the "rob or your family starves" problem, even in Santiago. Outside of perhaps Canada, I can not think of a safer country in the Americas (including the U.S.A.).

The major deciding factor is poverty and coruption in Latin America. Chile has one of the cleanest and most helpful police forces in all of the America's, and a solid basic set of social programs and legal protections, in one of the most stable and growing economies in the Americas.

Try this for more information on the real situation in Chile:

Moderator comment: Promotional webistes arenot allowed in the open forum. Thank you.

[ Edit: Removed website link. ]

4. Posted by bentivogli (Travel Guru 2398 posts) 10y

As diverse and manifold the safety issues in South America may be, I honestly don't think that postings like these have much added value to the travel community at large.

Sure, travelling is never a risk-free affair, and some groups (women travelling solo, 'prototypical' western tourists, other solo travellers without any knowledge of Spanish) are somewhat vulnerable. But if you just stick to the standard precautions mentioned in every guidebook, there is a very small chance that anything worse than pickpocketing will happen to you.

[ Edit: Edited at May 16, 2006 12:52 AM by bentivogli ]

5. Posted by ChIqUiTtA (Respected Member 278 posts) 10y

wow, this is all really good to know... i think i'm a little naive about alot of what goes on in south america, or at least what CAN go on in certain places... i've never travelled to south america before, and i'm planning on travelling all over ecuador this summer with my mom. thanks for the advice and warning!

6. Posted by dbo (Full Member 34 posts) 10y

As a first time traveller visiting South America in September, these warnings are very much appreciated, and have certainly helped me to evaluate whether we should visit the places we had planned to. I've read so many threads and blogs saying that the likes of Bolivia and Peru are a MUST however, and so we've come the conclusion that these criminals should not stand in the way of our dream to see more of the world. It's possible we are taking it all too lightly, which of course is easy to do when you're
sitting in your office planning an amazing trip, but I personally have worked too hard and long to let them mess with my plans.

Although very real and frightening, and as someone who lives in a big city, I am hopeful that the usual precautions and common sense will suffice to see us safely through our trip. There is a spate of brutal stabbings in England at the moment, and it appears trendy for teenagers to carry blades wherever they go – sometimes carrying out senseless unprovoked attacks all in the name of 'fun'. It's sickening to think that these kind of things happen, but this is not the world it used to be unfortunately and whether you visit South America, the States or Europe (I'm sure these things happen in Oz/Canada etc but we never hear about them here - I would love to be proved wrong obviously), it now seems that to remain safe you have to take more care now than ever.

Our sympathies go out to the familes of the two Austrian backpackers (probably one of the most disturbing things I've read about on this site) and I hope that the familes of those missing find their loved ones safe and well - they may look at us like we're crazy for reading these things and still continuing with our plans, but the fact is that with the way things are declining even in modern western society, I could be robbed and killed for my iPod in my own street because someone happens to feel like it. Admittedly, the plots in South America sound much more organised, but if everyone stopped their plans because of these kind of incidents then tourism would die and I gather local ecomonies would feel the loss. Don't get me wrong, I'm a little nervous, and there's always going to be a 'what if it happens to me' scenario going on in your head, but we can't let these 'people' scare us into sitting at home...

Sorry to get on my soapbox there... thanks for the thread Vincess.

7. Posted by dbloom (Travel Guru 586 posts) 10y

It's not just South America, it is many places worldwide plagued by violence, as you said there are frequent stabbings now on the streets of cities in the UK. Remember the most violent segment of the population most anywhere are young men between 15 and 25, and you have to add in poverty and lack of education in Latin America where now in some countries 70% of the population is under 26 years of age due to very high birth rate. I was once a male teenager myself and although we did not stab people on the street nor carry weapons, we engaged in shoplifting, destruction of property, racing cars, binge drinking and the like. To avoid a theif one has to learn to think like a theif and when one sees a traveller from far away stranded in a bus station, one sees a dollar or euro sign. There are also many people in 'tourist areas' who make their living hustling visitors, like taxi drivers who'll drive you to a higher priced hotel if you happen to arrive late at night with no bearings or reservations, just to get a commision to fed his family, happens all over the world, in Guatemala City if your Spanish is limited to "Hotel" you are taken to the Biltmore - Camino Real $135+ rack rate and the driver collects their commision, so if don't speak nor understand the language, the culture and the customs, beware.
Again, bring those up to date print guidebooks and maps with you, if going to a popular resort area or city in high season such as Rio during Carnival, Buenos Aires during summer, Costa Rica in July-August or to Antigua Guatemala during Semana Santa make sure you have your lodgings reserved well in advance.

8. Posted by dbloom (Travel Guru 586 posts) 10y

Ecuador Travel Advisory from Foreign Affairs Canada

Just be aware and use common sense, especially if you don't speak Spanish...

OFFICIAL WARNING: Foreign Affairs Canada advises against all travel to the region(s) specified below. (IDW5)

You are advised against all travel to the areas immediately bordering Colombia (with the exception of Tulcán), Sucumbíos province, and the town of Shushufindi in Orellana province. Travel to and within these areas is dangerous because of the risk of violence, including during demonstrations, kidnappings, and armed assaults and extortion. Foreign oil workers are targets for kidnappers in these areas. There have been several reports of armed robberies at jungle lodges in the areas of Lower Rio Napo and Cuyabeno National Reserve.


The state of emergency that had been declared by the government of Ecuador on March 21, 2006, ended on April 7, 2006. Road transportation has since returned to normal and protests have stopped. That said, the situation in Ecuador remains volatile and further demonstrations could take place in the weeks ahead. Canadians in Ecuador should avoid large gatherings and public areas where disturbances could occur, expect travel delays, monitor local news reports and contact the Embassy of Canada in Quito should they require assistance.

Demonstrations are a frequent occurrence in Ecuador. Canadians travelling in Ecuador should follow media reports and avoid locations where demonstrations are taking place.

Following attacks on female travellers, Canadians should avoid hiking to the antennas of Volcán Pichincha via Cruz Loma, west of Quito. Foreign Affairs Canada publishes a booklet, Her Own Way: Advice for the Woman Traveller, specifically targeted at female travellers. Its prime objective is to inform and help Canadian women travel safely.

There are landmines and unmarked minefields in the Cordillera del Cóndor near the Peruvian border. Off-road travel south of Cuenca, including the provinces of Zamora-Chinchipe, Morona-Santiago, and El Oro, should be avoided.

OFFICIAL REGISTRATION RECOMMENDATION: Foreign Affairs Canada offers a registration service for Canadians travelling or residing abroad. Canadians who choose to travel to the region(s) specified despite this warning should register with the responsible Canadian government office in this country. Registration can be done on-line or by calling the responsible Canadian government office abroad to request a registration form. Canadians visiting other areas of the country for three months or more should also register. Canadians visiting for less than three months are strongly advised to: (a) leave a detailed travel itinerary and contact information with family or friends in Canada; (b) provide family with the emergency number for Foreign Affairs Canada (1 800 267-6788 or 613-944-6788); and (c) keep the phone number of the responsible Canadian government office on hand (see Section 7 below).



Demonstrations, protests, marches, and strikes, some violent, may occur at any time in the capital, throughout the country and on main highways. Local transportation services can be disrupted. Roadblocks may occur on main roads at any time and often cause traffic disruptions. Canadians should not attempt to cross blockades, even if they appear unattended. Curfews may also be in effect.

Because of the unpredictable nature of these demonstrations and the potential for violence, Canadians in or travelling to Ecuador should exercise caution, avoid large gatherings and demonstrations, and monitor local news reports.

Street crimes, including purse snatching, car break-ins, thefts, pickpocketing, and violent carjackings, are daily occurrences in major cities. Thieves often work in teams, in which one thief diverts victims' attention while another snatches their possessions. Most recently, there have been numerous reports that groups of street children who sell candy are engaged in these types of team operations. Ensure personal belongings, passports and other travel documents are secure at all times. Luggage theft is common at airports, bus terminals, and other transit points.

Armed assaults have increased in public parks and in and around transportation terminals, especially in Cuenca, Quito, and Guayaquil. In Quito, exercise caution in the areas of El Panecillo, Carolina Park, Old Quito, South Quito, and particularly the popular tourist sector of Mariscal Sucre. In Guayaquil, tourists should be vigilant when visiting the downtown area, the waterfront (El Malecón), the market area, and the Christ Statue (Sagrado Corazón de Jesús) on Cerro del Carmen. The Colonial Hill district above Las Peñas should be avoided.

Kidnapping for ransom and express kidnappings, often in connection with carjackings, have increased in Guayaquil. Express kidnappings involve the brief detention of an individual, who is only released after being forced to withdraw funds from an ATM or after arranging for family to pay a small ransom. Armed gangs have followed and attacked travellers, including Canadians, en route to and from Guayaquil's Simón Bolívar Airport.

Random attacks at gunpoint, robberies, and sexual assaults involving Canadian citizens have occurred in the Riobamba area. Assaults and armed robberies continue to be reported regularly on intercity and urban Guayaquil buses, especially after dark. In August 2003, three Canadians were assaulted and robbed on buses leaving Guayaquil and Manta, and one near-fatally shot. Bus drivers often make illegal stops to pick up new passengers on express routes. The routes between Guayaquil and Cuenca and between Guayaquil and Riobamba have been affected more than other interprovincial routes. Travel after dark, either by long-distance or international coaches, must be avoided.

Resisting a robbery or assault has led to serious physical harm to Canadians. It is advisable to hand over items to thieves without resistance.

Do not accept food or drink from strangers even if sealed or wrapped, as it may be drugged. Incidents can occur in various locations, including buses, nightclubs, and bars.

Exercise extreme caution when swimming in the ocean, rivers, or lakes. Always seek advice from local authorities about riptides, currents, undertows, stingrays, and piranhas before swimming.

Strikes and disturbances by local fishermen in the Galapagos Islands sometimes impact the movement of tourists and access to some sites. Tourists travelling to the Galápagos Islands should obtain written confirmation from their travel agent or tour operator that their tour vessel is certified by the Ecuadorian Navy (Armada del Ecuador) to meet the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention standards.



Drive defensively, as traffic accidents are a common cause of death and injury. Road travel is slow due to poor conditions, unmarked speed bumps, and frequent military or police roadblocks.

Boaters should be aware of the risk of attacks and armed robberies against ships in Ecuadorian waters.

An International Driving Permit (IDP) is required. The IDP is an internationally recognized document that, when accompanied by a valid Canadian (i.e., provincial) driver’s licence, allows you to drive in over 160 countries without a specific test. Its purpose is to overcome difficulties that you may have while travelling in other countries with widely varying licence requirements. It is printed in the six United Nations official languages (Arabic, English, French, Spanish, Russian, and Chinese), plus German, Italian, the Scandinavian languages, and Portuguese. The IDP can also be a useful form of picture identification in case of a lost or stolen passport. An IDP is valid for one year from the date of issue. The Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) is the sole issuer of the IDP in Canada.

9. Posted by stephies7 (Budding Member 5 posts) 9y

Me and 3 friends (4 girls) are going to travel south america, we are going to do one of the tours. has anyone heard any horror stories about these in regards to safety? i.e. murders, hostage etc. I know I am probably being really paranoid but just would like to know ;) x

10. Posted by PeteW27 (Budding Member 50 posts) 9y

I think it's always a good idea to remember what COULD go wrong, but keep a sense of perspective, else you will end up not enjoying it. I have always thought it's a good idea to "blend in" as much as is possible. If I was Canadian, maybe I would not have your flag on every back-pak, even though being English, I truely understand your reasons for doing so! It's surely a good idea to learn the basics of (in this instance) Spanish (or of course Portugese if in Brazil) and just remember that we are all very lucky to have these opportunities, whilst even in places like Argentina, I would imagine there will be areas of abject poverty that will shock us all. I can't wait till August or early September when I go to B.A and the Lake District in N. Patagonia.