Central And South America 20th September 2017

The best bits of Latin America are the rural areas. The topography and environment is diverse, there are many cultural and historical differences and most gappers have a superb time. Our rural highlights would be the Pantanal in Brazil, the Andes, Chile's Atacama Desert, Patagonia, the Chilean and Argentinian Lake District. Of the big cities Rio, BA, Medellin and Cartegna are great fun and rewarding but its important to prepared for higher levels of crime than in Europe. Its vital for those planning a big trip to check out the weather. For example its wet in Bolivia and Peru from January to March but cold and dry April to July.  On an annual basis the Inca Trail is generally shut in February do to high rain fall. Every December and January we have people arriving on our course in London about to go to South America who have no idea of the weather patterns and therefere have not planned thier route accordingly, do call for advice. We advise against all travel to Venezuela,  the country is currently very unstable with mass protests against the government, food shortage and general chaos. The US has imposed further sanctioned following the constitutionalvote held on 31 July 17 which gives President Maduro more power.   

In recent months Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador have experienced some civil unrest, generally related to worsening economic situation. These conditions are likely to continue, therefore we advise travellers to constantly check the situation.  Within the rural areas of Peru there has been a increase in drugs related violence, extreme caution should also be exercised in the rural provinces of Ayacucho, Huancavelica, Huanuco, Junin and Huallaga due to the presence of narco-terrorists  In Brazil there is a significant risk of being mugged in the big cities and in some cases where the victim is marched to an ATM machine. The current poor economic situation is leading to an increase in crime. Since 2015 there have been many cases of mass robberies of people on the beaches of Copocabana and Ipanema beaches in Rio. In an attempt to curb crime in late July 2017 the government deployed 10,000 on Rio streets.  Many attacks are initiated by false taxi drivers so only registered taxis should be used and its often safer to book a taxi via a hotel, hostel, restaurant etc where a known supplier will be used. Travellers must comply to all demands from criminal assailants.  However, don't be put off, Brazil is a wonderful country to explore, you just need to be careful. Brazil is also more expensive compared to other countries in the region, although the Real is now falling in value. The Brazilian economy is in significant decline and politically the country is very unstable following the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff. The new government under President Michel Temer is attempting to introduce austerity measures which is leading to further protests, daily protests have occurred in Nov 2016. However a further period of political instability is expected with many pro and anti government marches expected. There has been a significant rise in the number of cases of Yellow Fever in Minas Gerias. In addition there has been a fatality from Yellow Fever in the Cochabamba province in Bolivia. As a result the Bolivian authorities are likely to be stricter about enforcing the need for a Yellow Fever certificate. Bolivia is currently facing a water shortage in many districts, some protests have occurred. In mid March 2017 there was severe flooding in Peru. Paraguay is generally a stable country although rioting broke out in Asuncion on 31 March 2017 as protest stromed Congress building in protest of the president's plan to change the constitution to seek a 2nd term.

The general economic situation in Argentina is poor but hopefully will begin to improve with the new president Macri as will relation with the UK over the Falkland Islands (known as Malvinas Island in Argentina). Politicaly the country will remain unstable as protests against his economic reforms start. British visitors should have some knowledge of the conflict of 1982, especailly the sinking of the cruiser Belgrano by HMS Conquerer. The whole of the western coast is vulnerable to earthquakes, travellers should seek advice from the locals as to what to do in the event of a quake. On 16 April 2016 a large earthquake hit NW Ecuador, killing over 440 people and a powerful quake struck the Chilean Lake district in mid December 2016.  

Relations between Colombia and Venzuela remain poor but seem to be improving since Santos became Colombia's President. Venezuela is in a very fragile state with high levels of crime, civil unrest and economic stagnation due to lower oil prices. We do not recommend travel to Venezeula at present. The border areas must be avoided between Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador as they are unsafe and havens of numerous guerrilla groups including FARC. Colombia is certainly safer than it was 3 or 4 years ago but jungle areas near both the Ecuadorian and Venezuelan border should be avoided. The FCO Travel advice web site has a good map showing areas that must be avoided. The rebel grouping FARC signed a historic ceasefire deal with the government on 13 Nov 2016.  The other smaller rebel group, the ELN, is in negotiation with the government and on 4th September 2017 announced a temporary ceasefire. However the threat of more violence remains and travellers must adhered to the FCO advice regarding safe areas. Travellers crossing from Ecuador will notice that Colombia is more expensive. For those wishing to understand the background the civil war in Colombia, Tom Feiling's book  "Short Walks from Bogota" is a good read.

Some young travellers have been robbed on buses or in urban areas. Its essential to ensure your valuables are split up - not all eggs in one basket! In popular tourist areas across South America (Buenos Aires, Cuzco, Quito) travellers face a significant threat of being mugged - always comply. A US national was shot dead outside a hotel in Medellin, Colombia in late September 2015 during a robbery and a Mexican businessman was killed in the same city in June 16, again for resisting a robbery. This just reconfires the need never to resist a robbery, just comply to demands.

The crime rate in Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador is of particular concern, travellers need to be prepared to minimise the chances of becoming a victim of crime but also be  prepared to get mugged - just comply. During the summer of 2015 El Salvador, especially in San Salvador there has been an increase in inter gang violence, a number of bus drivers have been murdered. Tourists have not be targeted but should be aware of the escalated violence. Mexico has been hit by 2 powerful earthquakes in 2017, the one on 19 September killed over 250 people. 

Since 2014 there has been a rapid increase in cases of Chikungunya Fever across Central America and Caribbean, caused by day biting mosquitos. Chikungunya has similar symptoms to Dengue Fever which is also a continued risk in Central and South America.  Brazil is reporting a well above average number of cases of Dengue Fever and Chikungunya, especially in Pernaambuco state, who's state capital is Recipe.  Uruguary amd Paraguay have seen a significant rise in the number of cases. 

The Zika virus, spread again by Aedes mosquitoes, is infecting many across the continent. Brazil suffered from a serious outbreak in 2016 but the situation has now imporved but the threat of infections remains. Any women planning to get pregnant or who are pregnant should seek medical advice and may wish to avoid the regions. For most people however the symptions are mild and much less severe than Dengue or Chikungunya Fever but the long term consequences of the diseases are still being explored. In May 2017 the Brazilian health authorities announced the Zika emergency as having finished. Dengue Fever poses a risk to all travellers and Brazil reported a significant rise in the number of cases in 2016 & 2017 complared to previous years. In Puerto Rico there has also been an increase in the cases of Zika. There may well be an increase in Zika infections when the wet season returns at the end of 2017.

A number of travellers visiting the Amazon areas of Latin America have tried the local Ayahuasca (known as Yage in Colombia) drug. This is a tribal hallucinogenic drug which we strongly advise not to be taken. It was very powerful and unpredictabel side affects, (of note, its never given to tribal youngester) and led to the death of a British traveller in 2014. 

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