It's easy to think negatively of South America. With many countries associated with notorious drug cartels, earthquakes, and political instability, travelers may choose to avoid South America altogether. However, the continent is also graced with sublime landscapes, friendly cultures, delicious food, and (yes) many safe cities. With a little common sense, any visitor to the cities listed below can safely experience everything from Peru's ancient Incan structures to Colombia's beaches to Argentina's wineries. So, fear not, for here are ten of South America's safest cities to visit that you shouldn't miss during your next vacation.
Updated by Lauren Feather, February 18, 2022: Despite its history of crime that ranges from drug gangs to copious amounts of murder, the continent of South America has transformed itself in recent decades, cleaning up its act and acquiring a new reputation as one of the world's most incredible - and safe - destinations for travelers of all ages. And as its countries keep on developing, many are only getting safer and safer and ultimately more appealing, which is why this list of the safest cities in South America has grown once again.
12 Copacabana, Bolivia
While Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, that has not led to an extreme level of crime. In general, the Bolivian people are very warm and welcoming, and the city of Copacabana is no exception. Sitting on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the views from the city are stunning, and the warmth of the sun seems to transfer to the people as they welcome tourists with kindness and hospitality.
11 Florianópolis, Brazil
While Rio de Janeiro tops the list in terms of exciting cities in Brazil, visitors looking for a safer destination should head south. Southern Brazil is considered one of the safest regions and is home to long stretches of idyllic beaches. Florianópolis, found on a small island just off the coast, has those dream beaches, as well as tons of hiking trails, rain forests, cafes, and restaurants all waiting to be explored. Here you'll find the fun of Rio without the high crime rates.
10 Cartagena, Colombia
The memories of the not-so-distant past still haunt Colombia as tourists' minds immediately jump to the drug cartels and violence that ravaged the country's streets for so many years. However, if visitors are willing to put aside their preconceived notions, many will find Colombia to be a beautiful, culturally-rich country that is ultimately quite safe to explore.
Cartagena, a port city in the north of Colombia, is not only graced with tranquillity and picturesque buildings and beaches but also one of the lowest crime rates in Colombia, allowing visitors to have an amazing vacation without feeling the need to look over their shoulder.
9 Medellin, Colombia
Medellin was once the home of Pablo Escobar’s enemy cartel and used to be one of South America's drug city kings. But the city has really cleaned up its act in the last decade or two, transforming itself from a cartel hive with slums to one of the continent's most innovative urban centers. Naturally, all crime hasn’t disappeared - it does take time for such a feat to naturalize, but its a darn sight better than what it used to be thanks to big governmental efforts to take over the streets once again from the clutches of the domineering drug cartels.
Intelligent urban planning has also seen Medellin rise from the ashes of its former gnarly self, becoming a significant South American tech hub with improved transport networks such as the impressive Metro cable commuter system - a futuristic and convenient "ski lift" that daily commuters can use to go to work.
8 Córdoba, Argentina
Argentina is known as one of the safest countries in South America, making it a popular tourist destination. Córdoba, its second largest city, has the fun and excitement of Buenos Aires with a slightly lower crime rate. The major problem here is petty theft, but that can be avoided with a good level of common sense. In general, visitors are free to enjoy the colonial history, European architecture, and active nightlife without fearing for their safety.
7 Santiago, Chile
Chile tops the list when it comes to the safest countries in South America. It has the highest Global Peace Index ranking of any South American country, and with a stable political situation, low crime rates, and a generally reliable police force, it is an ideal vacation spot for many travelers. The real threat doesn't come from humans but from nature as earthquakes are very common in the area.
Chile is an incredibly long country with landscapes ranging from deserts to arctic plains, but a good place to start is Chile's capital, Santiago. Visitors can explore San Cristobal Hill, wander through one of the many trendy neighborhoods, or move toward the cultural side of things in Santiago's art and history museums. It is also situated conveniently close to Valparaiso on the coast, another of Chile's beautiful (and safe) cities.
6 Cusco, Peru
With tourism being the main source of income for Cusco, violence against tourists is highly frowned upon and is rarely seen. As with most cities, petty theft is common, but normal precautions can significantly reduce the risk of this happening. Crime rates in Peru in general have also been dropping, making the country more attractive for travelers.
Cusco is also the base for those making their way to Machu Picchu. Besides that particular archaeological wonder, there are many more scattered around Cusco that can entertain anyone interested in Inca history and culture.
5 Cuenca, Ecuador
According to the Global Peace Index, Ecuador is only behind Chile and Uruguay in terms of safety in South America, occupying a space just above Argentina. Cuenca, situated in the south of Ecuador in the Andes, has a lot of the perks of Quito, the capital, without as much risk. It is generally ranked as one of the safer cities in Ecuador according to crime statistics.
Besides its safe streets, Cuenca also holds a special charm and well preserved history, and its many positive elements have led it to become a hot spot for expats seeking to settle abroad.
4 Mendoza, Argentina
Wine-lovers in particular will enjoy this next city. The lovely Argentinian city of Mendoza, famous for Malbec wines and the many vineyards scattered around the region, also offers a high level of safety for tourists. Apart from the occasional earthquake, visitors will find Mendoza to be a tranquil, modern city with trendy neighborhoods, bustling restaurants, and an exciting night life. However, those looking for some culture and history will also find it here in Mendoza's museums.
3 Montevideo, Uruguay
Uruguay's Global Peace Index is second only to Chile in South America, making it one of the safest places tourists can choose to go. Uruguay's small population, stable political situation, and low levels of inequality and poverty have led the Mercer Quality of Living Survey to consistently rank Montevideo, the capital, as the South American city with the highest quality of life.
Montevideo offers tourists the chance to safely explore a city whose architecture resembles that of Europe more than South America. With a long list of unique neighborhoods, access to cultural activities such as art museums and theaters, and an almost constant, mild climate, Montevideo should be on any South American traveler's list.
2 Pucón, Chile
After visiting Santiago, visitors to Chile can head south to Pucón, a picturesque city sitting on the shores of Lake Villarica under the watchful, active eye of Villarica Volcano. The only significant danger in Pucón comes from the volcano, which has been known to erupt or generate earthquakes without much warning.
A popular getaway for both foreigners and wealthy Chileans, the city is known to be a safe location full of opportunities to participate in adventure sports, relax, or do some hiking or shopping. There are also chances to take day trips to other lakeside cities such as Puerto Varas.
1 Punta Arenas, Chile
Punta Arenas is often used as a gateway to the Chilean Patagonia and as a base for venturing off to Mount Vinson and the South Pole. It's known for being really off the radar, but also for being incredibly safe, which is largely due to its low population of approximately 127,000 residents.
It isn't just safety that's almost guaranteed in and around Punta Arenas, it's also amazing adventures to the extraordinary Torres del Paine National Park and the mostly untouched Alberto de Agostini National Park that draw the most discerning travelers in to discover the region's mighty carved fjords and stupendous glaciers decorating its rugged terrains and icy scenery.