How safe is Buenos Aires for outsiders with an adventurous spirit? What are the best ways to avoid unfavorable incidents like scams, harassment, or even a robbery?
Let us give you our best insider tips to navigate this urban jungle unscathed.
Just to be clear, I have never been a victim of unwanted violence in my almost decade of living in Buenos Aires. I have witnessed my fair share of “snatch-and-flee’s” to which often ended with some unmerciful street justice, but I have never been the one they were running from. I’ve heard plenty of stories from friends who have unfortunately been in such unpleasant situations and being that we work with travelers every day, we have heard of every trick in the book. However, it is important that you understand that the absolute majority of Argentinians (Porteños) are quite curious and welcoming to their worldly visitors. Thank you Buenos Aires for “la buena onda” and for eagerly showing off your city to us!
Of course, it’s always important to take proper precautions no matter where you travel. Below is a list of some clever tips to navigate the city and best avoid scams and not cool situations that are particular to Buenos Aires.
1. Understand the city’s layout.
Luckily, Buenos Aires makes sense on the horizontal scale (not so much vertically). Criss-cross, “decently-lit” streets act as a grid to help guide people about, so it’s not so easy getting lost (unless you end up in the Labyrinth of Parque Chas). Every neighborhood also has it’s own identity and some say that you can practically live anywhere in the world under one sky. We suggest you find your ideal accommodation by looking for the neighborhood that excites you the most. The best thing you could do is take the one of our Buenos Aires Bike Tours right away to scout out your favorite part of the city and then decide. Our personal favorite is San Telmo!
2. Know where you’re going ahead of time.
The more you look like you know where you’re going, the less of a target you become. Memorize and write down your address to keep with you at all times. Practice saying both the street name (good luck if it’s Pueyrredon) and the closest cross street. Obviously biking about the city is easier to navigate but if you’re not lucky enough to be on two wheels, we suggest taking the Subte (Subway). It’s easy to navigate and blows pass the chaos in the street above ground. Make sure you avoid rush hour or you’re bound to get an armpit in your face. Bonus Tip – Uber is much more reliable and honest than taxis.
3. Carry small bills in your back pocket.
A five peso note is great to have hanging out in your back pocket for those situations where you are approached by a relentless beggar. They usually leave you alone if you ignore them but it’s great to have something to give them immediately when you’re having great conversation and you don’t want to pull out your wallet in public. Smile and say “buena onda” and that should buy you a smile from a stranger in need.
4. If someone is trying to help clean something off of you, you’re being robbed.
The locals, or Porteños, are absolutely lovely people, but I promise you that they aren’t going to randomly stop you to help clean mysterious “bird pooh” off your clothes. This is quite a clever scam. As you’re distracted with the unpleasant dilemma of foreign substance caked on your left back shoulder, they are simultaneously robbing you blind. You will most likely be directed in broken English to remove your jacket so they can help you clean it off. By that point, they already have your prized possessions as they say, “nooo it’s no problem, my friend.”
5. Make eye contact.
Confidence is key when moving about the metropolis. Even though a large percentage of Porteños have what’s called a “cara de culo” (their version of resting “bitch face”), they do enjoy connecting with people, especially strangers. Their curiosity tends to cause a staring problem so don’t let that alarm you. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch eyes with the old man out for an afternoon stroll staring at you from the corner. No doubt he’ll change directions just to come talk to you and ask you the same succession of questions as the last old man you met: 1. Where are you from? 2. What are you doing in Buenos Aires? 3. Do you like Buenos Aires?
6. Palermo is not a safe haven.
Even though most tourists and expats lay their weary heads in the popular neighborhood of Palermo, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bubble of immunity. In fact, research has proven that this area has, since 2016, the most amount of recorded robberies than any other neighborhood of Capital Federal. And really, it makes sense. Thieves or “chorros” typically go where the money is. They understand that unsuspecting foreigners with dollars are easily distracted in the quaint, unassuming streets of this charming “barrio.” Igual, stay in the present moment no matter which street you’re on!
7. Keep phone usage to a minimum.
If you do end up becoming a victim of theft, your grief will almost always be from the loss of your precious phone. Being that advanced technology has difficulties reaching Argentina, a new iPhone can easily go for 4 month’s rent on the black market. Menacing “moto-chorros” are crafty crooks who ride on motorcycles skilled at snatching purses, phones and anything of value, right out of your hand, driving past you at 20km/h. It’s ideal to keep your touchscreens hidden and carry your purse on the opposite shoulder to the street.
8. Leave your jewelry at home.
Unless your strutting your fancy self down the streets of Recoleta or Puerto Madero, leave your valuable bling-bling at home. It’s better to avoid risk altogether and a flashy thing hanging from your neck or wrist will always turn unwanted heads. Think minimal and you won’t draw their attention.
9. Learn useful vocabulary.
The more you comfortable you feel conversing with the public, the more confident you’ll feel overall. Fortunately, you don’t need a pocket translator to get by. Here are a few of our favorite expressions that will have you practicing your Castellano with your new friends in the beer line –
- “Todo bien?” / “Todo bien.” (All good? / All Good.) Both a question and a response. You don’t even need a prior “hola” before spitting out a “todo bien” when striking convo.
- “Buena onda!” (missing translation). This gem of a word combo has loose meaning and can be used in most scenarios. It mostly signifies good vibes, or right on!
- “Que se yo.” (What do I know) Not to be said as question and used in practically every Argentine sentence, it’s a great filler expression for us foreigners too, since really, what do we know?
10. Stick to groups.
Strength is always found in numbers so make sure you go out and come back with your crew. I, too, am a fan of the “Houdini Exit” from wherever I don’t want to be at the hour that is forgivable to throw your smoke bomb. Igual, try to not find yourself walking alone in the dark at that hour, or the very least, let somebody know (hopefully sober enough to remember) that you’re leaving and hail a taxi or Uber.