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Safety in Buenos Aires, Argentina

July 8, 2013

Let’s start with a basic concept that works all around the world: don’t be stupid! Use common sense. The only times I have ever had stuff happen to me in Buenos Aires is because I was being stupid and I gave a criminal an opportunity.

Every big city around the world, regardless has bad neighborhoods, pick pockets, and criminals who are waiting for opportunities. If you walk around texting on your iphone, wearing jewelry, at night, in La Boca (not a good neighborhood) then your chances of getting robbed are way way higher. If you are sitting at an outdoor cafe, with an ipad or laptop and your cell phone at your side and you are gabbing away in English via skype into your computer, you are making yourself a very obvious target.

I look like a foreigner, and despite speaking perfect Spanish with a near perfect accent, most portenos can tell within the first conversation with me that I am not from here. That means that I need to take extra precautions.

I was robbed in my apartment, while I was there, in early 2007. It was an extremely traumatic experience to see a stranger at the foot of my bed at 330am with my laptop. When he saw me wake up, he ran onto the balcony and basically jumped down the 20 or so feet that it was to get to the ground because by the time I got to the balcony he was gone.

But this robbery happened because I was careless with my windows on my balcony. We had left our sliding glass door open to let the air in on this 100+ degree day, and had fell asleep with it open. My wife, who is Argentine, had repeatedly told me that if we did that that we would be robbed.

But besides this one incident I can categorically say that I have not had one other single run in with thieves or criminals. But I can also tell you that this is because I take precautions to protect myself. Stay in groups. Don’t walk home alone at night. Don’t speak English super loud on the bus or subway, which is obviously a place where pick pockets can thrive. Lock your windows and doors. Keep your purses, wallets and backpacks strapped to your front, diagonal across you, or when sitting on the street, looped through the leg of a table or chair. Just don’t be stupid!

11 Comments leave one →
  1. augustusclyde permalink
    July 17, 2013 4:34 am

    You are understating the situation here. I fail to see how someone sleeping with their own windows open (especially with the degree of weather you mentioned) constitutes carelessness. Either this has to be an extreme situation, a situation possible only because of where you resided, or the city/that particular area of the city is just out of hand. Please shed some light on this.

  2. augustusclyde permalink
    July 17, 2013 5:21 pm

    Reblogged this on Augustus Clyde's Journal of Journals and commented:
    I found this to be a very interesting read. I’ll leave you to your own conclusions.

  3. July 17, 2013 6:42 pm

    You’re right, this is very good advice in all places when traveling, and we follow it wherever we go. What I’d like to find out about is clothing for men and women. How can I find out what type of clothing will fit in in Buenos Aires, including shoes. If I don’t open my mouth, I might be able to blend in, at least to some degree.

    • July 17, 2013 6:46 pm

      Thanks for your comment Jennifer!

      Unfortunately you are asking the wrong guy. I am about 6 foot 5 (nearly 2m) and thus to do not buy any clothing whatsoever in Buenos Aires. The best country in general for clothing is the USA because of selection, quality and price. If you are looking for tailor made then Thailand or China is the way to go. Sorry I can’t help!

      • July 17, 2013 7:14 pm

        Thanks for replying Daniel,
        My apologies if I was being obtuse, but it’s not so much where to buy clothing. I’d really like to know what people wear in Buenos Aires. What does your wife wear, for example? Do women there wear jeans and athletic shoes, or do they prefer dress slacks and boots, or is it a mix of styles in the city? Here in Honolulu, for example, local people wear mostly shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops except when they’re dressing up to go out in the evening.

      • July 23, 2013 1:41 pm

        Well here it is like any other temperate major city. Now, in winter, its jeans or pants with jackets and scarves and boots. Scarves are huge here. In the summer, dresses and skirts with heels or tennies. It really depends on the crowd you run with too as there is a little bit of everything. The way to blend in is to make sure you don’t wear stuff that is obvious: baseball hats for men, birkenstocks (which basically don’t exist here), hats in general, nice handbags. You will understand when you get here. Cheers!

  4. July 23, 2013 11:26 pm

    Thanks so much Daniel. That does help. We’ll be there in November, which is your Spring. I’m glad to hear tennies are good as they are so comfortable, and I’ll be sure to bring some scarves.

  5. August 16, 2013 3:52 pm

    I think the crime here is getting worse every year. I am a very careful traveller but, like you, I slipped up. Yesterday I went to get some stuff printed in Belgrano. I was at the computer and I took my wallet out to see if I had enough to print a large document. I put my wallet down next to the computer to check what I had already printed was ok and then a message came up on the computer saying ‘confirm with reception that you want to print this document’. I walked 2 meters to reception and confirmed with the lady behind the counter. when I walked back to the computer my wallet had disappeared =(

    I quickly checked that it didn’t fall on the floor and then I said in a loud voice (in spanish) ‘Who has taken my wallet? Give it back now or there will be trouble’ or something to that effect. All the other customers were shocked/confused as to what I was talking about but they started to help me look and eventually it was decided that the young lady who left quickly after I finished talking to reception had taken my wallet.

    This is the first time I have ever had any problems in Latin America (except for an incident in Devoto, but that’s another story altogether), but like you I was not being conscious and made a silly mistake (as every single Argentinian I tell has told me over and over and over and over again).

    At least now I have been reminded that I have to be careful ALL of the time.

    • August 16, 2013 3:58 pm

      Thanks for the comment Reshi! This is *exactly* how stuff works here. I’d like to make another comparison that I was just discussing with my wife. The premise is that I would take crime in Argentina over crime in the USA any day. Why? Well in Argentina there is more crime, but it is largely petty crime, like the stuff you describe with your wallet. It happens all the time and the burden is on you as an individual to prevent that crime. It happens a lot because Argentina has a lot of people in need and because the police are pretty terrible at their jobs.
      In the USA, though, there is way less crime. However, the crime that does happen is millions of times worse than what happens in Argentina. People getting shot at school or shot in general is what I am referring to.

  6. November 13, 2013 9:56 pm

    Buenos Aires is a crazy place. I live in the “Interior” (Santa Fe), and have never been robbed! Really, it’s like a totally different country, people leave their cars parked with engines running, or unlocked and with the keys inside, you can leave your bike outside or leave the windows, hell, the front door open all night and nothing happens! Seriously, I think the worst places to live in Argentina are Buenos Aires, or other big cities like Cordoba, Rosario or Tucuman. People over here watch the news and comment how Buenos Aires is like a kennel full or rabid dogs.

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