In Part II of the article on travel safety in Buenos Aires I will talk about some of my personal experiences in different parts of the city and provide some practical advice on how to stay safe.
Ironically, on the day that Part 1 of this article was published I got a message from one of my friends in Buenos Aires , saying that one of her colleagues from the language class had been robbed that morning. He had been wearing earphones and fell victim to a scam where one person sprays something like mustard on an unsuspecting stranger and a second “helpful” person comes in to clean off the mess, all the while relieving the victim of his or her valuables. It is important to be vigilant at all times, and better to leave the earphones (or anything else that could distract you) at home.
Buenos Aires, like all big cities, has some safer areas and others that are not so safe. Generally, the northern areas of the city (Recoleta, Palermo, Belgrano) are higher income neighbourhoods and safer. Areas to the south of the city are generally more dangerous, particularly La Boca.
Advice from local experts is always the best way to learn about which areas of the city are less safe than others. I asked my local language teacher / tour guide Ezequiel if it was safe to take passenger trains in the city. He said that the trains going north from downtown were quite safe, but strongly cautioned me against taking any trains that were headed into the southern, poorer parts of the city.
The area surrounding the Retiro Train and Bus Stations is another location you have to be really careful in. Not only are there thousands of people milling about, trying to catch trains or buses and making the area an ideal destination for pickpockets, but one of the city’s most notorious slums, Villa 31, is located right around the corner. Villa 31 is one of several large “villas miseria” (slums) in Buenos Aires where people exist in substandard housing without sanitation and by illegally tapping into the electricity system. These shantytowns become catchment areas for poverty-stricken locals as well as poor immigrants from Bolivia, Peru and Paraguay who live in precarious circumstances. Locals warned me in no uncertain terms to stay away from these neighbourhoods since they are a haven for thieves, robbers and drug dealers.
Other areas that are considered less safe include the Once / Balvanera neighbourhood. While I had felt quite relaxed and safe in upscale Palermo and Belgrano, Once was quite a different story. After my return from Montevideo on my last day I had booked a budget hotel in this neighbourhood without having done sufficient research about the area. The neighbourhood did indeed look a little rough around the edges and the hotel manager suggested that I only take specific streets to get to the subway on Rivadavia Avenue. She was referring to moving around during the day time, and that was certainly a bit of a warning sign right off the bat.
My hotel manager also recommended me to visit the Abasto Shopping Centre, which is truly one of the most magnificent Art Deco buildings I have ever seen. I felt quite safe walking in the area during the day time, but when I later did more research about this location I learned that it is considered quite a dangerous area. It always pays to be very careful.
Later in the afternoon I walked around the Avenida Puerredón near the Plaza de Miserere which features many older arcaded buildings full of retail shops that are also flanked by retail stands on the street side. Hundreds of people were squeezing through the narrow walkway between the buildings and the stands, a place that would be ideally predestined for pickpockets. Needless to say I clutched my money belt and my camera even more tightly in this area. The same goes for the insanely busy Calle Florida in downtown Buenos Aires.
On my last evening took the bus from Once to Palermo, and on the way back after midnight woman in the bus warned me several times “be very careful, it’s a dangerous area”. I had to get off at the corner of Alsina and Mathieu, and the bus stop was literally less than 10 metres from the entrance of my hotel. But there were 3 strange looking guys hanging around, so I got scared and I asked a couple that had gotten off the bus with me to accompany me the few meters to my hotel’s front door. Fortunately the couple complied and watched over me until I had let myself into the hotel. In hindsight I probably should have taken a radio taxi.
So, like in any large city, particularly any Latin American city, you have to be careful in Buenos Aires. Keep in mind though that tens of thousands of tourists travel to Buenos Aires without incident every year. Be careful, listen to your instincts, avoid certain areas, follow common sense safety guidelines and enjoy an exciting and vibrant city.