Newbies, especially, take note. There is a lot of crime in Latin America because of the great poverty and the spreading drug trade. You can reduce the chances of being a victim by taking to heart the following advice when you're South of the U.S.A.: 1) Try dressing inconspicuously. Avoid day-glo. Standard slacks or jeans, and bermudas and shirts in neutral earth tones are good choices. Be observant and, as soon as possible, try to imitate the way locals of your age-bracket dress, especially when it comes to footwear (a dead giveaway). Besides keeping you safe, this can give you a great opportunity to indulge that urge to shop!!! 2) DO NOT wear any visible jewelry on the street, particularly necklaces or bracelets, which are easy targets for muggers. Wear a cheap plastic digital watch, if you're going to wear a watch at all. You don't want to get mugged for a counterfeit Rolex or Cartier, do you? 3) Keep your camera out of sight when you're not using it. (This is easier in the era of small digital cameras.) If it doesn't fit in a pocket inconspicuously, carry it in a plastic shopping bag from a local supermarket or down-market chain store, like Lojas Americanas in Brazil. These are so common that they don't attract attention. This is a good technique for transporting anything else of value on the street, too. 4) If you're not familiar with the city you're visiting, try going out taking pictures with at least one other person who can keep their eyes peeled while you're busy taking photos. The same applies when you go to the beach, so you can watch each other's stuff when one of you takes a dip or a stroll. 5) NEVER, EVER leave your hotel or lodging with more money than you'll need for that day's expenses. Hide the rest somewhere in your room. Only take one Visa and MasterCard with you on the street. (Personally, I wouldn't rely on hotel room or desk safes to keep valuables. I've heard too many stories of money being taken from locked hotel safes. Hiding money and valuables in inconspicuous places in my hotel room has worked fine for me.) 6) NEVER flash wads of cash. Duh? 7) NEVER take cash or valuables of any kind to the beach. Leave them in your hotel room. Take only your towel, suntan lotion, etc. and just enough cash (R$20 - 30, at the most, in Rio) for refreshments and chair/umbrella rentals. 8) ALWAYS leave your hotel key at the front desk when you go out (unless your hotel uses magnetic key cards for room entry). 9) If you live in a big city, or are familiar with them, use the same street smarts in large Latin American cities that you'd use in any other large urban area. Be alert to your surroundings. Don't walk down dark, abandoned streets at night. Stick to areas with lots of light and pedestrian traffic. Avoid lollygagging -- if you look like you know where you're going you're less likely to be a "mark." 10) DON'T invite anyone you don't know or who hasn't been well-vouched-for to your hotel room. Even if you do, be sure your valuables and other stuff are always put away out of sight. There's no need to tempt your guests. A better idea is to get together with new acquaintances at a rooms-by-the-hour "motel" or "albergue," or one of the non-escort saunas where you're less likely to get ripped off. If you must have someone spend the night with you, have them check in at the desk. This is for your own protection, as the hotel will take your visitor's ID information as part of the process. People who've sneaked guests into their rooms have been known to regret it later!!! 11) DON'T accept food or drink from anyone you don't know well. There have been more than enough cases of people being drugged by someone putting things in their drinks, or offering them doctored candy or chewing gum. At bars and clubs, buy your own drinks and keep your eye on them at all times. 12) Avoid taking city buses if you're new to a city. Stick to the metro and taxicabs. After dark, especially late at night, catch a cab back to your hotel rather than walk, even if it's only a few blocks. In virtually all large Latin American cities there are special desks in airports where you can buy pre-paid vouchers for cab or express bus service into the city. Most will accept payment by credit card. This may be more expensive than a common street cab, but it's also MUCH safer, especially when you're arriving in a strange country where you don't necessarily speak the language, worn out after a very long flight, and loaded down with your Louis Vuittons! With a pre-paid cab you'll get taken directly to your hotel, and not have to deal with long detours to run up the meter, let alone a mugging by an unlicensed cab driver! In some cities you can make round-trip arrangements, but it's safe to take a metered cab back to the airport that your hotel arranges for you (there's usually a cab stand in front and the porters/doormen know the drivers.) You definitely want to take a special airport cab when you arrive in Rio or Mexico City. The international airports in Buenos Aires and São Paulo are a long way from town, so unless you're traveling with someone else the most reasonable way into the city is on the airport express bus service to the center of town or directly to major hotels. In B.A. look for the Manuel Tienda Leon booth as you leave Customs. In São Paulo look for the Airport Express booth. In Rio, there are taxi co-op booths immediately outside the Customs area. 13) In Rio and some other places, be particularly careful on the beachfront avenues after dark. Stay on the sidewalk and NEVER go on the sand after dark. Major trouble spots along the beachfront in Rio seem to be near big international hotels and the discos catering to horny heterosexual tourists (Iike "Help" or the joints around the Praça do Lido). These can be problematic not only after dark but even in broad daylight, so be particularly alert when you're in the vicinity of such places. The same applies in other Latin American destinations. Criminals who want to prey on rich tourists have figured out the kinds of places tourists congregate and where they stay. Be particularly alert at big tourist attractions and around big-name international chain hotels. 14) Treat sauna guys and other escorts (and everyone else) you meet courteously and respectfully (NOT like servants). This will reduce the chances of your offending someone's honor or dignity so that they want to take revenge against you. Offenses to honor and dignity are very serious matters in Latin American culture, so avoid committing such offenses, at all costs. The consequences of offending someone can be dire! 15) If you're robbed or assaulted, go to the police. They may not be paragons of virtue themselves, but generally they'll consider you as a guest in their country and treat you well. They also know that their countries WANT tourists. In many big tourist destinations (like Rio) there are special tourist police forces and/or stations with cops who speak English or other languages. If you act promptly, and can describe the muggers, there's actually a chance that the thief may get caught and you might recover some of your belongings. Often they're known to the police, who know where they might be hanging (or hiding) out. Even if the police do nothing, be sure to get a copy of the police report to make an insurance claim later, if you've lost objects of considerable value. 16) Of course, if you are held up on the street in spite of all your precautions, DON'T resist. The muggers are usually armed, nervous and frequently high on drugs or glue fumes. This isn't the time for heroics. It's a good idea always to have a small amount of money on you (R$20 - 50 in Brazil) that you can give a thief so they're less likely to get angry and attack you in frustration. 17) Locals may use drugs, but YOU shouldn't under ANY circumstances, and you shouldn't buy drugs in Latin America, either. Foreigners get busted or entrapped all the time, and you never, EVER want to find out how the criminal justice system works in Latin America from the inside! If you do get arrested, you can try to call your consulate, but they'll be of very limited help to you. They can't get you out of jail. They probably can help you find a lawyer and get a message to friends/family at home. Otherwise, you're on your own. 18) If you use alcohol, DRINK ONLY IN MODERATION. Latin culture despises drunks, and you will rarely see a Latin American drunk in public. It's considered deeply shameful and disgraceful to be out of control, making a spectacle of yourself. If you're a foreigner, being drunk in public will definitely make you a "mark" for those with bad intentions. It doesn't take much imagination to realize what an easy target a loud, drunken gringo makes when weaving down the streets, especially after dark! And if you allow yourself to get out of control and something bad happens to you, you'll have little sympathy from locals, because they'll consider you to have been asking for trouble! By all means, if you enjoy a drink, have a margarita or caipirinha or a frosty beer or two. But know your limit and stop well before getting drunk. Switch to soft-drinks, bottled mineral water, fruit juice or coffee, which are available at virtually every bar and restaurant from Tijuana to Tierra del Fuego. If you observe carefully, you'll see many locals doing exactly the same thing after they've had a few drinks. Follow their example!!! 19) DO NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT HAVING SEX WITH MINORS! (In Brazil, those under 18.) Child prostitution has become a big issue in Latin America, and foreigners are arrested with depressing regularity for having sex with underage partners (some of whom don't look like children). You also become exposed to the possibility of blackmail by an underage partner, and in this case you CAN'T go to the police. Before going with anyone you have even the REMOTEST doubts about, ask to see their national ID cards, which all Latin American countries issue, and which people are required to carry with them in public. Be sure the picture matches, and check the birthdate! In Brazil you can avoid these problems by using the saunas or escort agencies, whose owners/management check the IDs of the guys who work there closely to avoid these kinds of problems for themselves. And I'm serious about the 'even thinking" part of the warning. The U.S. and many other countries are now cooperating to end exploitative "sex tourism," and men have been arrested at their departing airport because they had been in contact with travel agencies catering to pedophiles, or carrying photos of minors, etc. The standard of prood seems to be VERY low to result in such an arrest, so be warned. In most, if not all, of Latin America adult prostitution is perfectly legal, although profiting or benefitting from it as a third party (i.e., as a pimp or madam, or the owner of an establishment that promotes prostitution) may be against the law. But you can't be arrested for having commercial sex with someone with whom you've directly negotiated the transaction. 20) Do yourself a huge favor and don't drive in Latin America if you can possibly avoid it. In the cities traffic is either dizzyingly fast or maddeningly bottled-up (especially during and after rainstorms, in rush hour, on the eves of holidays, and just about every other time!). Besides the crazy traffic, the driving customs are different and the cities are often difficult to find your way around when you're a stranger. Signs can be confusing, and you can easily find yourself lost in parts of town that are extremely inadvisable for gringo tourists! Then there's parking, which can be an utter nightmare! Highways are usually not up to first-world standards (think "potholes of death") and even on freeways or toll roads you will often find pedestrians and animals on the right of way, or crossing in front of you! Never drive at night, when you face all of the above hazards plus few lights and services and, in some areas, the extra added attraction of highway bandits, who usually are NOT cute! In cities use cabs or subways to get around safely. For sightseeing you can hire a car and English-speaking driver for an extremely reasonable amount, particularly if you share the expense with another traveler. Please, let an experienced local do the driving for you! For intercity travel, take a plane for long distances. If you want to travel by road to see the scenery, take the bus. Bus service is extremely well-developed in most Latin American countries, and these days service between major destinations is in comfortable, air-conditioned coaches with toilets and entertainment systems featuring dubbed action films. Deluxe services often offer snacks, stewards, and fully reclining sleeper seats for overnight journeys. Most importantly, the drivers know the way, so you can lean back and enjoy the views! You can also check your baggage. You'll be given receipts which you'll have to surrender at your destination to claim your bags. Take as little as possible on board with you, as there's not much room in the overhead racks, and be careful of your belongings and valuables when you get off the bus at the rest stops (typically every three or four hours to stretch your legs, use the john and get something to eat). Avoid accepting food and drink from strangers on a bus; bring your own snacks/bottled water and buy food at the rest stops. (When in doubt at the rest stops, a grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich and a café-au-lait are always safe choices.) At big urban bus stations there are often pre-paid taxi booths in the terminals that work the same way as at the airports. These are the safe choice for getting into the city, as bus stations are frequently on the outskirts of town these days, or in questionable neighborhoods (like in Rio). All of this must seem pretty obvious, but some visitors, even experienced travelers, find themselves dazzled by the gorgeous scenery, the exotic atmosphere and the awe-inspiring beauty (and virile charms) of the local inhabitants! Distracted by the wonder of it all, they drop their guard and find themselves being victimized. Of course, even if you follow all of this advice something could happen to you, but the probability is much lower. So please pay heed. You want to have a wonderful experience in your adventures South of the U.S.A.! If you use common sense, good judgement, treat everyone you meet with dignity and respect, and stay alert to your surroundings, you're certain to have a memorable stay!