South America is a continent of mystery and legends, ancient civilizations, and awe-inspiring natural scenery. Stunning islands, mountains reaching into the heavens, colorful cultures and lively cities beg to be explored.
But for many people, South America is intimidating and synonymous with violent crime. The South American narcotics criminal rings and notorious drug lords dominate pop culture. And headlines of unrest and instability may have you thinking twice about planning a trip there anytime soon.
It’s not all narcos and gangs, though. In fact, some of the safest countries in the world are in South America. Here you can marvel at the natural wonders and dive into traditions without constantly looking over your shoulder.
Keep reading for a guide to the six safest countries in South America. These are spots where you can travel safely, having unforgettable experiences and creating long-lasting memories along the way.
Safest countries in South America to visit:
1 – Uruguay
Uruguay may be an underrated destination, often looked over by people traveling or dreaming about traveling to South America. But this small nation is a top contender for the safest country in South America.
It has a Global Peace Index (GPI) rating of 35, which is incredibly good. It means the country is the 35th safest place in the world (for reference, the USA is 121). It’s also famous for being the most laid back place on the continent. Beyond being a peaceful country with minimal violent crime and unrest, Uruguay’s geography is such that there is no threat of natural disasters.
The most you need to worry about is pickpockets in the big cities, which can be avoided by keeping savvy and aware.
Must-see places and attractions in Uruguay
If you’re heading to Uruguay, make the most of this beautiful country with some, or all, of these things to do.
- Montevideo: Don’t miss out on the juicy steaks and buzzing markets in the country’s capital city.
- Colonia del Sacromonte: Meander the cobbled streets of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The picturesque city makes for an excellent day trip from Montevideo.
- Punta del Diablo: A haven for surfers and beach bums, the fishing village is the embodiment of Uruguay’s chilled out nature.
- Playa Chihuahua: Drop your shorts, if you dare, at the nudist beach.
- Cerro Arequita: Hike the rolling hills of Minas through the enchanting Ombú forest.
- Quebrada de Los Cuervos: Go on a hike in the hopes of spotting Uruguay’s incredible bird and wildlife.
- Hot Springs: After a long day of exploring, soak in one of the many natural hot springs. The most popular resorts to do so are Dayman, Arapey, and Salto Grande.
2 – Chile
Chile is not only one of the safest South American countries, but it’s also one of the safest countries in the world. Up until recently, it had a BETTER GPI rating than Uruguay which took a huge knock due to violent protests in 2019. The country still has an impressive rating of 45. And with phenomenal, diverse scenery it attracts adventurers and nature lovers from all over the world.
The biggest worry for travelers is getting lost while hiking the dramatic landscapes…and the occasional earthquake. The country is a hot spot for earthquakes and there’s a big chance you’ll feel a slight rumble on your travels. Earthquakes of very high magnitude are not very common though.
Grab a good hiking map, hold onto your things when the ground shakes a little, and try to pick your jaw up off the floor as you explore the wonders of Chile.
Must-see places and attractions in Chile
There are so many memorable activities and spectacular sights in Chile. From the southern tip of Patagonia to the border of Peru in the North, the 2600 mile stretch is chock-full of excitement. Here are just a few of the best things to do and see in Chile.
- Santiago: Soak up the sprawling city, visit museums, and feast on Chilean cuisine.
- Valparaíso: A bohemian, rustic, and colorful town that meets the ocean. Witness one of the biggest firework displays in South America on New Year’s Eve.
- Torres del Paine National Park: The journey to this remote corner of the world is long but so worth it. You’ll feel like you’ve reached the end of the earth. Explore the Patagonian park on foot, by boat, or on horseback.
- Atacama Desert: A stark contrast to Patagonia, this is one of the driest places on earth. Its harshness is striking and beautiful.
- Easter Island: Visit the famous archeological site and monolithic stone statues. Learn about the history of the Rapa Nui, the island’s aboriginal people.
- Marble Caves: Paddle through the mesmerizing marble caves. A true expression of art in nature. This unusual and stunning cave system is reached by boat on the biggest lake in Chile.
3 – Argentina
The most visited country on the continent and one of the top three safest places to travel in South America, Argentina has so much to offer any type of traveler.
The Global Peace Index ranking is 74, which is considerably higher than Chile and Uruguay. But it’s still a lot lower than the USA, and the country is generally very safe. The biggest concern is petty crime and Dengue Fever. And its popularity among hitchhiking travelers is a testament to the low-risk environment.
In recent years, Argentina has experienced an economic decline that perpetuated inequality and protests. Even so, it has not succumbed to the violent atrocities that plague other countries in South America.
Keep your wits about you in Buenos Aires and your mosquito repellent on hand in the northern regions and you should have a stress-free trip.
From bustling and colorful cities to the peaks of the Andes, Argentina has much to discover.
Must-see places and attractions in Argentina
The second-largest country in South America is a playground for the curious, the nature lovers, and the culture enthusiasts. These are my top picks of things to do in Argentina.
- Buenos Aires: Learn to dance the Tango in the high-energy capital city. Soak up the palpable atmosphere that makes this one of the liveliest cities in the world.
- Córdoba: With the impressive Sierras Chicas mountains as its backdrop, visit this city to get your authentic culture fix.
- Mendoza: Explore the lush vineyards and art deco architecture. You can ride a bicycle through some of the country’s best wineries.
- Los Glaciares National Park: Visit the breathtaking, ever-growing Perito Moreno Glacier. It’s expanding around 6 feet every day which is a miracle in the age of climate change.
- Fitz Roy: If you’re going to climb one mountain in Argentina, this should be it. The striking scenery is otherworldly. The Patagonian landscape with glaciers and jagged peaks is gorgeous.
- Iguazu Falls: Tick this off your list of the seven natural wonders of the world. The chain of hundreds of thundering waterfalls will leave you humbled by their power.
- Velle de la Luna: Like something out of your favorite fantasy novel, the Moon Valley is a place dinosaurs once roamed. It boasts the most complete fossil record from the Triassic Period.
4 – Paraguay
Squashed between three countries, including two giants of the continent, Paraguay is one of the safest countries in Latin America. With a GPI ranking of 75, it is a peaceful country to visit yet doesn’t garner the type of tourist attention that its neighbors do.
Because it doesn’t draw the massive tourist crowds, the cities haven’t become hotspots for petty crime and scams. Among the biggest safety concerns in Paraguay are hooliganism associated with soccer games, corrupt police, and traffic accidents.
For an off-the-beaten-track destination in South America, Paraguay is a fantastic choice. The capital city, Asunción, is steeped in history that’s tangible in its crumbling, charming architecture. And for the outdoor lovers, there are stunning national parks and wetlands to explore.
Must-see places and attractions in Paraguay
Don’t let Paraguay slip under your radar. You may just miss out on an exceptional South American experience that is undeniably unique. Here are my recommendations for the best things to do in the small South American country.
- Asunción: Stroll through the capital city admiring 17th-century buildings, museums with ancient art, and tons of spots to try traditional food.
- Encarnación: The pride of Paraguay and the country’s prettiest city is one of the cheapest places to shop in the world.
- Eco Reserva Mbatoví: This ecologically diverse park offers an excursion for the brave and those looking to spot the native rabbits and armadillos. Get your heart pumping for the 344-foot zip line, or swing across the four hanging bridges.
- Estancia Aventura: This is South America as you imagine it. Here you can have a quintessential ranch experience complete with horse riding and fishing.
- Saltos del Monday: Take a trip to the powerful waterfalls. You can choose to simply marvel through observation or challenge yourself to abseil down the rock walls.
- Ybycuí National Park: There’s no better spot to enjoy the endemic wildlife. Spend time splashing in natural pools and looking out for capuchin monkeys and coati.
5 – Peru
If you’re drawn to the secrets and mysticism buried in Peru’s archaeological wonders, you’ll be happy to know it’s one of the safest places to visit in South America. It ranks 84th on the Global Peace Index.
The cities of Peru sit in the heavens, high above sea level. This comes with the risk of altitude sickness for travelers not used to such extreme conditions. The wildness of Peru is what makes it such an attractive destination. But the creatures of the Amazon and the remoteness of some destinations pose a risk to travelers.
Avoid areas on the border of Colombia and Peru where narco-trafficking takes place. And keep your personal belongings close to you in Lima. If you take these precautions you can keep yourself safe while uncovering the magic of Peru.
Must-see places and attractions in Peru
Peru is an archeological wonderland and most people have Machu Picchu high on their travel bucket lists. But there is plenty more to experience in the stunning country.
- Lima: Discover the tastes of Peru as you eat your way through the capital city.
- Cusco: Translating to ‘belly button’, you can learn more about the Inca people in the city they considered to be the center of the World. You won’t run out of things to do in Cusco.
- Machu Picchu: The mystical main attraction in Peru, hike the Inca Trail for a fully immersive experience.
- Rainbow Mountain: Take a day trip from Cusco to the ethereal mountain swirling with multi-colored spirals.
- Colca Canyon: Twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, hiking here will reward you with mind-blowing views and sightings of the biggest bird on earth; the condor.
- Titicaca Lake: Visit the highest navigable lake on Earth. Here you can stay in a homestay and get a feel for authentic Peruvian life. Choose to go by train over the Andean altiplano for a stunning journey.
- Manu National Park: For a truly wild adventure, take a tour into the Amazon Rainforest. Here you can catch a glimpse of the plethora of colorful birds and wildlife that call the jungle home.
6 – Ecuador
It may be small but it sure is mighty. Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse environments in the world and is considered one of the safest countries to visit in South America, holding position 90 on the GPI. It is here that you can venture onto the Galapagos Islands to search for rare wildlife or climb the dramatic peaks of the Andes.
Due to its location along the ‘ring of fire’, Ecuador is at risk of numerous natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and earthquakes. It’s important to arm yourself with the knowledge of safety procedures in the event of a natural disaster.
The tap water throughout the entire country is not drinkable and food poisoning is common in Ecuador. But with good judgment and by taking a couple of precautions this can be avoided.
As for crime, it is generally non-violent and petty crime in cities such as Quito and Guayaquil. The northern areas of Carchi and Sucumbios, which border Colombia, have high rates of organized crime and it’s best to avoid these places altogether.
In 2019 the country experienced nationwide protests which turned violent in some areas. Always avoid protests of any kind in a foreign country.
Must-see places and attractions in Ecuador
There are so many opportunities to trek the spectacular landscapes, revel in wildlife, and get your heart pumping in Ecuador. These activities are just the tip of the volcano, so to speak.
- Quito: The second highest capital city in the world, the history is tangible in the capital of Ecuador. The entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and there are plenty of things to do.
- Cotopaxi: Hiking this active volcano will leave you speechless with wonder. It’s indescribably beautiful and home to Ecuador’s unusual wildlife such as wild horses and llamas.
- Galapagos Islands: These prehistoric areas are among the safest places in Latin America and offer a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience. Here you can snorkel with Hammerhead Sharks or hike an active volcano, among other adventurous activities.
- Devil’s Nose Train Journey: You’ll have expansive views from the train of the Andes mountains, rivers, gorges, and waterfalls.
- Ingapirca Ruins: Dive into the Inca history in Ecuador where llamas roam among the ruins. After a visit to the ruins, stop by Cañar village where the age-old traditions are still alive.
- Mindo Cloud Forest: For keen birders, this is an opportunity that you cannot miss. It’s one of the best birding destinations in the world with the most bird species ever counted.
- Baños: Adventure seekers and adrenaline junkies will love the adventure capital of Ecuador. With a backdrop of a smoking volcano, you can do tons of thrilling activities and the Swing at the End of the World.
Which of these safest South American countries will you visit?
Are you surprised by the Global Peace Index rating of many of these countries? All of the safest countries in South America rank better than the United States! Of course, when visiting a new country there are always precautions you should take. Keep an eye on your belongings, remaining aware of potential pickpockets and dangerous situations.
It’s important to keep in mind that the social stability of these countries is always changing. Stay ahead of the game by referencing the advice of your home country and keeping up with the news. And be sure to book some travel insurance to be extra safe.
Now that you know you’ll be safe traveling these places, you just need to choose the best country in South America according to your daydreams and bucket list. Will you choose to dance the night away in Buenos Aires or seek a tranquil retreat in the ranches of Paraguay?
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