7 Essential Tips for Staying Safe in Buenos Aires

The Argentine capital Buenos Aires
The Argentine capital Buenos Aires | © Hernán Piñera/Flickr
Sorcha O'Higgins

Buenos Aires is a wonderful city, and by many South American standards, is pretty safe. However, as with any place, it is always smart to keep your wits about you if you wish to emerge unscathed from the Argentine capital. Here are our top tips for keeping mind and body intact in Buenos Aires.

Carry only the cash you need

Many visitors are unaware that cash is king in Argentina. A lot of places, whether shops, cafes or restaurants, don’t accept cards, and often offer discounts for cash payments. Also, ATMs will give you a terrible rate, so you are better off just bringing cash with you as a general rule of thumb. However, modern-day consumers are used to flashing plastic, so it might be disconcerting to suddenly have to carry around a day’s worth of cash, especially if you are on holiday and want to live it up. If you can, break your day into segments and only take as much cash as you will need for each part, that way if you do get pickpocketed you cut down on your loss. Leave the cards at home unless you really need them.

Keep those pesos close

Don’t wear expensive jewellery in public

If you have a look around at the locals in Buenos Aires, you will notice that none of them really wear any expensive-looking jewellery, and this is probably not because they can’t afford it. In more upmarket areas like Recoleta you may see older women walking around dripping in diamonds and gold, but they are usually only walking their tiny dogs around the block. As a traveler it is wise to leave any hefty watches, that look like they might go for a pretty penny, at home, and eye-catching earrings or necklaces are best left in the hotel safe.

Use your phone sparingly outdoors

While robberies in Buenos Aires are no more common that other big cities in the region, a favourite of local thieves is to steal the phone out of your hand while you are absentmindedly texting on a street corner. As hard as it is these days when we are almost surgically attached to our phones, try to be vigilant when wandering the streets of Buenos Aires that you limit your phone usage, and always put it back in your bag or pocket when you have finished instead of holding it in your hand.

Keep an eye on your phone

Watch out for tag-team motorcycle thieves

Another common trick for local thieves is to operate in teams of two on a motorcycle, and it is surprisingly effective. No terrain is inaccessible if you are a motochorro, or motorcycle thief, be it the sidewalk, bike lanes or even cafes. Motochorros have been videod robbing tourists of their rental bikes and backpacks, and they are notorious for phone snatching. There will be two riders, and often the one on the back won’t be wearing a helmet, so keep an eye out for these crafty crooks.

Watch out for the mustard trick on public transport

Something that often catches tourists by surprise is the one-two blow of having a helpful local point out a mustard (or washing up liquid, or some sort of staining substance) on your jacket on the subway, help you to clean it off, and then for the visitor to realise afterwards that they have made off with their wallet or their watch. If this happens, presume that something untoward is going on. Luckily, many locals are aware of this trick, and if it happens, hopefully someone will see and a band of heroes will come to your rescue, as Argentines don’t sit by idly when someone gets robbed.

Don’t answer the door unless you are expecting someone

In other cultures, there is perhaps a certain curiosity when the doorbell rings. “Who could that be?” the resident wonders. Not so in Argentina. If a doorbell rings and the person at home isn’t expecting anyone, they won’t even pick up the intercom to see who it is. It could be someone innocently looking for spare clothes, but it could also be someone looking to rob your house. So ingrained is this attitude that Halloween isn’t a thing here at all, because Argentines would consider it madness to spend an evening opening the door to strangers. You have been warned!

Wear bags to the front on public transport

If you get the bus or the subway at any stage during your trip, you will notice that all of the locals will swing their backpacks round to the front of their bodies. Not only does this help to make space on a crowded train or bus, but it also helps you keep an eye on your belongings. It is much easier to spot someone rifling through your bag from the front than it is from the back, and in fact it’s far less likely to happen. So do like a local and wear your backpack or handbag around at the front of your body.

Hold onto your bag on public transport

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