Latin American countries tend to have a reputation for being dangerous destinations plighted by civil unrest and violence. And while many of the 21 countries considered a part of Latin America have earned this reputation, many others have become popular tourist destinations promising plenty of safety for exploring their vibrant culture.
South and Central American countries, once known for crime and political stability, have since become some of the safest countries in the world. Meanwhile, other destinations have fallen into political conflicts, with crime and violence on the rise.
Before visiting anywhere in Latin America, it is critical to stay up to date with the region’s political landscape and to be wary of any security risks that may be prevalent throughout your holiday.
To help you enjoy the most rewarding and comfortable exploration of these cultural destinations, I have created this list of the 13 safest countries in Latin America using my personal experiences traveling across South and Central America along with the Global Peace Index that evaluates 23 quantitative indicators to provide a numerical safety score.
The 13 Safest Countries in Latin America
1. Costa Rica
Global Peace Index: 1.73
With a Global Peace Index of 1.73, Costa Rica is the safest country in Latin America and is even the 39th safest on the entire planet.
Considering the Central American country has long served as a backpacker’s paradise, this reputation as being the safest destination in Latin America is unsurprising to most. Still, With its peaceful political climate and reduced crime rate, Costa Rica continues to be one of the best and most secure destinations for enjoying your first foray into Latin American culture.
On top of its high safety levels, Costa Rica also happens to be one of the most beautiful Central American countries, promising plenty of adventures through its biodiverse rainforests, world-class coastal beaches, natural volcanic hot springs, and rich cultural communities.
With that said, like any destination, Costa Rica is not without any crime, with the most common security threat to tourists being theft. So, while it is safe to let loose, practice diligence and secure your valuables, especially in dense tourist areas.
Global Peace Index: 1.8
Uruguay comes in just behind Costa Rica as the second safest country in Latin America and is the safest destination to visit in South America, offering a little more security than neighboring Argentina.
Known for its political stability, visitors to Uruguay are welcome to explore its cities and cultural havens without the threat of political demonstrations or violent crimes.
Additionally, Uruguay boasts the highest GDP per capita of any South American country, meaning that its residents have less need to commit petty crimes and theft than in less well-off South American destinations.
This isn’t to say that these crimes don’t happen, and visitors should still practice a certain degree of caution to protect themselves and their valuables.
However, as the 50th safest country in the world according to the Global Peace Index, Uruguay does provide a secure setting to relax and unwind as you explore the cultural marvels of Latin America, from exploring the vibrant cultural attractions of its capital city in Montevideo to its untouched landmarks and hot springs of its natural landscapes.
Global Peace Index: 1.84
Like neighboring Uruguay, Argentina is one of the safest Latin American countries and is the 54th safest country in the world, according to the Global Peace Index.
What’s more, Argentina is even more popular as a tourist destination than its neighbor thanks to its natural landscapes, which include the Andes Mountains, Pampas grasslands, and Iguazu Falls.
While comparable to Uruguay in terms of safety levels for tourists, Argentina does rank below its neighboring country due to the fact that it experiences a little more political instability, and political demonstrations, while not particularly common, can occur.
Luckily, Argentina still promises plenty of safety for visiting tourists, with the biggest security risk to tourists being petty crimes and theft. Additionally, these crimes tend to be concentrated around popular urban tourist areas, such as Buenos Aires and Rosario.
Global Peace Index: 1.87
While once considered the safest country in Latin America, Chile has experienced a slip in its Global Peace Index in recent years due to the local government’s lack of response to reforming the country’s national police following its repressive actions against social protests in 2019.
Still, when compared to other South American countries, Chile is still a relatively safe destination to visit, with the majority of its security risks being attributed to civil unrest in its dense urban areas.
Beyond political protests and demonstrations, the biggest concern for visiting tourists is acts of petty theft, which again are more prevalent in larger cities, including the capital city of Santiago.
Luckily, Chile’s most alluring tourist attractions primarily lay outside of the country’s main urban areas and maintain the country’s peaceful reputation before the political unrest. These areas include the regions around Torres Del Paine National Park, the Atacama Desert, and Easter Island.
Global Peace Index: 1.94
Panama is another country that has experienced a bit of a decline in its safety levels as a result of civil unrest in recent years. Still, despite the occasional political protests and demonstrations, the country still makes for a great and secure travel destination and is the fifth safest country in Latin America and the second in Central America.
Additionally, the majority of this unrest is contained within Panama City, leaving the country’s tourist destinations to maintain the carefree, relaxing atmosphere that they have come to be known for.
While Panama City boasts many popular attractions, current trips to the country are better suited to regions less influenced by political protests, with the San Blas Islands boasting a sense of political isolation perfect for a safe and enjoyable holiday.
Global Peace Index: 1.94
With a Global Peace Index of 1.94, Paraguay is tied with Panama in terms of safety. Still, I have it ranked just below the Central American country as Paraguay features a less developed tourism infrastructure.
Despite not being as popular a tourist destination as its neighboring Latin American countries, Paraguay is one of the safest destinations in South America and promises less crowds and a sense of exploration while providing a relative sense of safety and security for your adventures.
Unfortunately, Paraguay has one of the lowest GDP per capita in South America. So, while this often means an affordable travel experience, it also means petty thefts can be common, particularly in major cities. This can be avoided by practicing caution and securing your valuables when in these urban areas.
Paraguay’s road standards are another point of safety concern for travelers, with many locals practicing dangerous driving tactics. Renting a car or motorcycle should be avoided if you are not experienced with driving in these conditions.
Global Peace Index: 2
Arguably the cheapest country in South America to visit, Bolivia comes in as the seventh safest Latin American country. While the country does have some civil unrest, the breadth of Bolivia’s top attractions and sites tend to concentrate around natural areas free from the political demonstrations that can occur in more urban areas.
However, like any destination, Bolivia does have some regions that are best avoided, primarily the big cities of El Alto and La Paz. Like most major cities, these areas are known for their petty crimes and pickpocketing, and extra caution should be practiced when visiting.
Still, visitors don’t really need to worry too much about these crimes when visiting less urbanized areas, such as the Uyuni Salt Flats or the regions around the Amazon Rainforest.
Another thing to be wary of when visiting Bolivia is the country’s state of militarisation. While this doesn’t immediately concern tourists, it does provide a sense of edginess and requires a higher degree of foreplanning to avoid roadblocks.
8. Dominican Republic
Global Peace Index: 2.02
Set within the breathtaking waters of the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic boasts a Global Peace Index of 2.02, making it the eighth safest country in Latin America. With pristine white sand beaches, rows of palm trees, and luxury hotels, this Caribbean haven has become a world-famous resort destination and holiday hot spot.
Still, travelers should practice a degree of caution when going beyond the main resort hubs of Punta Cana, Santo Domingo, and Playa Dorada. With its civil unrest and high poverty levels, petty thefts and armed robberies are known to occur in the country.
However, if you avoid traveling outside of the main tourist areas and only stick with hotel-designated transportation, the majority of these crimes can be avoided. Overall, the Dominican Republic is still the 83rd safest country in the world to visit, according to the Global Peace Index, and makes for a fantastic resort holiday to the Caribbean.
Global Peace Index: 2.1
Ecuador has experienced a fairly significant decline in its Global Peace Index in recent years, falling to be the 97th safest country in the world from its 73rd spot in 2022. This decline in overall safety can largely be attributed to civil unrest and a series of protests addressing major concerns such as oil prices and the government’s pandemic mandates.
Beyond these political demonstrations that can largely be avoided by staying away from major urban areas, other safety concerns in Ecuador include gang conflict, which tends to concentrate around the Esmeraldas region. Muggings are also common within the major tourist centers of Quito.
With all of this said Ecuador does promise fantastic tourist destinations that provide a sense of safety and security, primarily within the Otavalo, Banos, and Cuenca tourist hubs.
Additionally, Ecuador’s most famous attractions is perhaps the Galapagos Islands, which maintain their safe and welcoming reputation isolated from the conflicts of the country from over 1,000 km off of the mainland’s Pacific Coast.
Global Peace Index: 2.1
Known for its beautiful white sand beaches meandering into the turquoise waters of the Caribbean, Cuba has long served as one of the premier resort destinations in the world.
And while many of the island’s holiday goers would advise against leaving the comforts of your resort when visiting the island, Cuba has become one of the safest countries in Latin America in recent years, promising a sense of security when touring its cultural hot spots.
Touring the colonial buildings of Havana and trekking through the Vinales Valley are among some of the most popular activities on the island. However, like with all major tourist cities, petty theft can occur when visiting the capital.
It is important to practice caution and secure your valuables when traveling outside of the major resort areas.
Global Peace Index: 2.13
While Guatemala is known for having violent crime, high homicide rates, armed robberies, and drug traffic, these activities are largely the result of gang activity and tend to be contained to Guatemala City. As a result, I suggest not spending much time in the city, and instead plan to spend your holiday in a tourist area.
Outside of the country’s capital city, crimes are much less prevalent, particularly in the major tourist areas of Antigua, Lake Atitlan, and Flores. Still, crimes can occur in these areas but can be avoided if proper precautions are in place.
Beyond thefts and violent crimes in the city, another safety risk to visitors is Guatemala’s driving standards. Roads in the country are not well-maintained in all areas, and the roads often feature sheer cliffs with no barriers. Driving should be avoided if you are not experienced in Latin America.
Global Peace Index: 2.13
Like Ecuador to its north, Peru has experienced a fairly significant decline in its Global Peace Index and overall safety levels in recent years. This can largely be attributed to an increase in crime that resulted from the way the country handled the COVID-19 pandemic and is expected to revert back to its pre-pandemic levels now that the effects have largely abated.
Still, at the moment, Peru is home to above-average crime and terrorism levels, but these are largely confined to main urban centers. These crimes are most prevalent in the area around the Colombian border and the Valley of Apurimac, Ene, and the Mantaro Rivers, and these regions should be avoided.
Meanwhile, Peru’s most popular attractions, such as Machu Picchu, Cusco, and Paracas, continue to provide awe-inspiring destinations where threats of crime are not of immediate concern.
Overall, Peru still makes for a great travel destination and is the 12th safest country in Latin America.
13. El Salvador
Global Peace Index: 2.28
With a Global Peace Index of 2.28, El Salvador just beats out Nicaragua for the 13th spot on this list of the safest countries in Latin America.
However, while El Salvador gets a bit of a bad reputation for its high crime rates and homicides, these are largely contained in downtown San Salvador and don’t often affect tourists. Still, it is a good practice to avoid this region of the capital city and instead visit the country’s less urbanized destinations.
The safest areas of El Salvador to visit include Escalon, La Cima, San Benito, and San Francisco, where you will find plenty of plantations, ruins, and breathtaking natural scenery to explore.