As a travel writer, photographer and videographer I travel solo a lot. Like all female travellers, I try to be extra careful when I travel to destinations that have a reputation of being somewhat dangerous. Buenos Aires has had an increase in crime in recent years, and I wanted to share with you my own experiences and my personal tricks for staying safe.
Dress and Accessories:
One of my personal basic rules is I dress quite casually and try to avoid wearing anything that could attract undue attention to me. No low-cut dresses, high heels, overly sexy attire, no flashy jewellery or otherwise expensive looking accessories. This certainly dampens any male attention that might be coming my way, but by trying to blend in and by avoiding to be noticed I cut down on a lot of potentially unwanted encounters.
Purses and Valuables:
Local women always wear their purses over their shoulders and clutch them in front of their body. I personally like to leave my passport , most of my money and some credit / ATM cards in a safe place and only travel with a small amount of money. I wear a money belt which sometimes stands out since none of the locals wear a money belt. So when I feel slightly unsure in a certain area, what I usually do is I wear a jacket and slide my money belt over to one side underneath my jacket so it is not visible. I also wear my camera straps underneath my jacket so my camera cannot be torn off my shoulders. And I have a small backpack that only holds my guidebook and maps and no other valuables.
My guidebooks indicated that you need to beware of scams where somebody sprays mustard on you while another person helps to clean you off. These are popular ways of relieving you of your valuables. Also always be on guard on the subway and busses, they are very crowded most of the time and make great workplaces for pickpockets and petty thieves.
Times of Day:
Given that in the evenings I always have a ton of work to do processing photos, videos and writing travel summaries for the day, I don’t go out much later than 9 or 10 pm usually. That naturally keeps me out of a lot of trouble associated with the active nightlife of the city. But if you enjoy going out at night, I suggest that you use one of the official “radio taxis” if you plan to return late at night. In the past there have been some incidents of theft perpetrated by unofficial taxi drivers, but the government has been working hard to cut down on illegal taxies. Always make sure that the taxi you call is an official “radio taxi” and be careful about flagging down taxis in the street.
Choice of Accommodation:
To save money and to create connections with local residents, I had found a room in an apartment through www.airbnb.com. I chose a place with a female hostess, a young women in her early thirties with a 4 year old daughter in the Palermo Hollywood area. By staying with a local, I was able to ask her all sorts of safety-related questions. She was living in an apartment building with a locked front door and a separate lock for the apartment, so I felt much safer with this double layer of security. Make sure you research the area where you are going to stay.
Rely on Your Instincts:
As a woman who travels solo a lot, I strongly rely on my instincts. If a situation or neighbourhood does not feel safe, I try to get to a safe place as soon as possible. If I see a person that looks suspicious, I usually turn around and walk in the other direction or try to duck into a restaurant or store and wait until they pass. Interestingly, when I was walking around in the upscale Belgrano neighbourhood with my local language teacher and tour guide Ezequiel, we were speaking Spanish until he sternly said – in English – “Put your camera away!” I had felt completely safe in this posh area, especially since I was accompanied by a local, but he had spotted three suspicious looking men on the other side of the park and strongly urged me to put my camera way. And this was in one of the most upscale areas of Buenos Aires!
The Dangers of Uneven Pavement:
Also, in terms of health and safety, the pavement on the streets of Buenos Aires usually consists of square tiles, many of which are damaged and uneven. You always have to watch where you are stepping, otherwise you might trip, fall and badly twist an ankle or bang up a knee. Funny enough, this happened to me in San Antonio de Areco where I was walking with a friend and because I was distracted, I overlooked a round recessed planter that would normally hold a fully grown tree. But the tree had died and I didn’t notice the round hole, promptly stepped into in and fell over face forward onto my palms and knees and scraped myself up a bit. I even had my camera in my hand and fell on it, fortunately my little Canon SX 100 withstood the impact pretty well and didn’t break. I learned pretty quickly: it always pays to watch where you step.
Part II of this article is going to talk in more detail about different neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires that require a heightened sense of safety awareness or that should be avoided altogether.