Central and South America 11th October 2019

The best bits of Latin America are the rural areas. The topography and environment are diverse, there are many cultural and historical differences and most gappers,backpackes and year out travellers 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 it's important to prepared for higher levels of crime than in Europe.

It's vital for those planning a big trip to check out the weather. For example it's 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 due to high rainfall.

Every December and January, we have people arriving on our Gap Year Travel Safety Awareness course in London about to go to South America who have no idea of the weather patterns and therefore have not planned their 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. In August 2018, due to the exodus of citizen Venezuela's neighbours; Colombia, Brazil & Guyana have imposed strict border controls.  The FCO currently advises against all but essential travel to the Venezuela.

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 a significant increase in crime. 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 troops on to Rio's streets. 

Many attacks are initiated by false taxi drivers so only registered taxis should be used and it's often safer to book a taxi via a hotel, hostel, restaurant etc. where a known supplier will be used. All 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 since the impeachment of  President Dilma Rousseff. Presidential elections were held in October 2018 and the far right candidate and former army officer Jair Bolsonaro was elected. The country will continue to be politically divided and demonstrations will continue. Note: Those visiting Brazil need proof of onwards travel out of Brazil - a return ticket out of Brazil or from a neighbouring country; a bus ticket out of Brazil to Argentina, Parquary, Urauguay or Bolivia. 

The general economic situation in Argentina is poor despite some progress made last year under the president Macri and in 2018 the economic situation detoriated again. Interest rates are running at over 40% and street protests against austerity measures will continue. Relations with the UK over the Falkland Islands (known as Malvinas Island in Argentina) have improved, but all British visitors should have some knowledge of the conflict of 1982, especially the sinking of the cruiser Belgrano by HMS Conquerer. In Mid August 2019 the Peso & stock market declined sharply as a result of a poor showing for President Macri in a primary election prompting fears that the left wing candidate Alberto Fernandez might win in October. The Peso has lost 20% of its value against the UD$ recently.

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 strongly recommend no travel to Venezeula at present due to the instability of the country. 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 three or four years ago but jungle areas near both the Ecuadorian and Venezuelan border should be avoided. The FCO Travel advice website has a good map showing areas that must be avoided. The rebel grouping FARC signed a historic ceasefire deal with the government on 13 November 2016.  The other smaller rebel group, the ELN, also declared a ceasefire in September 2017 but this ended in mid January 2018 with an attack against the Army. On 18 January 2019, a car bomb at a police academy in Bogato killed 21 people.  Further attacks on the security forces may occur.  This may be a tactical move on the ELN's part to bolster its positions when conducting talks with the government but travellers must adhere to the FCO's advice as to areas to avoid. For those wishing to understand the background the civil war in Colombia, Tom Feiling's book  "Short Walks from Bogota" is a good read. So Colombia is much safer than a decade ago, is a wonderful destination but caution is required, there are high levels of crime in many urban areas.

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  The bus company Cruz Del Sur is recommedend, we have received some very postiive reviews on service and reliability. Bolivia holds a presidential election on 20th October 2019, President Morales is seeking a 4th term. 

Some young travellers have been robbed on buses or in urban areas. It's 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 2016, again for resisting a robbery. This just reconfirms the need never to resist a robbery, just comply with demands.

Ecuador is experiencing a period of unrest, masss demonstrations in early Oct 2019 have cuased the government to vacate its seat and more street protests are likely. 

Throughout the continent, but less so in Argentina & Chile, road safety is a significant issue. Two severe bus crashes have killed nearly 100 in Peru since the begining of 2018. Travellers should wear seats belts at all times and consider taking a cargo strap to make their own as many buses do not have seat beats, especailly in Colombia

The crime rate in Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras 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.

On 26th November 2017, Honduras held elections and there has been an increase in violence since then. We would not advise young travellers to visit Honduras except in transit. Costa Rica is more expensive than other Central American countries but is stable with superb national parks and opportunities for adventure activities.

El Salvador, we have heard numerous good reports from people travelling. The country held presidential elections on 3 February 2019.  Nicaragua was becoming very unstable in 2018 following growing street protests, over 300 people have been killed and violence flred up again in mid July 2018. Since then the situation has stabilised.

The whole of the western coast of South America is vulnerable to earthquakes, travellers should seek advice from the locals as to what to do in the event of a earthquake. On 16 April 2016, a large earthquake hit North West Ecuador, killing over 440 people and a powerful quake struck the Chilean Lake district in mid December 2016. Mexico was hit by two powerful earthquakes in 2017, the one on 19 September killed over 250 people.

Diseases

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, the state capital is Recipe.  Argentina, Uruguary and Paraguay have seen a significant rise in the number of cases of Dengue Fever in 2018. There has been a significant rise in the number of cases of Yellow Fever in Brazil's Minas Gerias and Sao Paulo state. The WHO is now advising visitors to Sao Paulo state to have a Yellow Fever vaccination. 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

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 improved but the threat of infections remain. 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 symptoms 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. In Puerto Rico there has also been an increase in the cases of Zika.

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 has unpredictable side affects, (of note, it's never given to tribal youngsters) and led to the death of a British traveller in 2014. 

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