The various countries of South America feature a wealth of tourist attractions ranging from ancient ruins and jungle safaris to sun-soaked beaches, haute cuisine, and the largest carnival in the world. However, some South American countries are notably less safe than others, especially for travelers who may be less aware of which locations and situations merit extra caution in a particular country. Uruguay, for example, nearly ranks in the top 25% of the world's safest countries—however, at least two South American nations (Colombia and Venezuela) rank among the world's most dangerous countries. The Peace Corps has a presence all across South America, which includes many poor and developing countries.
The safest countries in South America as measured by the Global Peace Index
One of the most comprehensive and well-respected comparisons of country-to-country safety is the Global Peace Index, which is released annually by the nonprofit Institute for Economics and Peace. This index monitors more than 20 metrics including the perceived criminality in society, the number of police officers, rate of homicides and robberies, and terrorist activity to determine which countries are the safest. While none of South America's countries rank in the top 25% of all countries, six rank in the top 50%.
Top 6 Safest Countries in South America (2022 Global Peace Index):
- Uruguay — 1.795 (lower is better)
- Chile — 1.840
- Argentina — 1.911
- Paraguay — 1.976
- Ecuador — 1.988
- Bolivia — 1.989
The safest countries in South America by various crime statistics (United Nations)
It could be argued that some of the high-level metrics the GPI tracks, such as military spending and political stability, are less important to the average tourist than ground-level stats such as the rates of homicides and robberies. However, focusing on a single statistic can be misleading. A quick comparison of data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime illustrates this point. Note how Venezuela, the only country in South America to earn a "Level 4: Do Not Travel" advisory from the U.S. Department of State, has the lowest incidence of serious assault on the continent:
|1||Chile (4.4)||Venezuela (6.5)||Paraguay (76.8)|
|2||Argentina (5.3)||Paraguay (8.3)||Bolivia (132.2)|
|3||Suriname (5.4)||Uruguay (15.2)||Guyana (140.4)|
|4||Ecuador (5.8)||Ecuador (37.6)||Peru (222.9)|
|5||Bolivia (6.2)||Suriname (63.1)||Colombia (244.4)|
Note: All data per 100k residents
Country profiles: The safest countries in South America
Uruguay (GDI 1.795)
Uruguay ranked as the most peaceful nation in South America for 2022 despite earning a Level 2: Exercise Caution travel ranking from the U.S. State Department (robberies are a particular concern). Visitors and residents alike can enjoy a mild climate, low-cost healthcare, and friendly locals. Attractions include natural hot springs in Salto, stunning beaches in the resort town of Paloma, shopping in Rivera, and enjoying the mountains, lakes, and waterfalls of Lavalleja.
Chile (GDI 1.840)
The wealthiest country in South America, Chile has a high standard of living, friendly locals, and a low cost of living. Chile is also very geographically diverse, with more than 6000 km (3728 mi) of coastline and points of interest ranging from the jagged glaciers and mountains of Torres Del Paine to the beaches of Valparaíso—and also man-made attractions such as the stone Moai sculptures of Easter Island and the culture of Santiago. Like Uruguay, it earned a Level 2 travel ranking from the U.S. State Department, largely due to occasional protests and demonstrations.
Argentina (GDI 1.911)
Although less than 1/3 the size of the massive (but less safe) Brazil, Argentina is nonetheless the second-largest country in South America. It also enjoys a Level 1: Exercise Normal Precautions travel rating from the U.S. State Department as of late 2022, which is better than that of both Chile and Uruguay, illustrating the fact that GDI ranking does not always parallel other moment-to-moment metrics. Tourist attractions in Argentina include the massive Iguazú Falls, Patagonia's Los Glaciares National Park, the Art Deco architecture of Mendoza, and the beaches of Mar del Plata.
Paraguay (GDI 1.976)
Paraguay is one of the least-visited countries in South America, but also one of the safest, with a Level 1 travel advisory as of late 2022. Saltos Del Monday is known for its landscapes and waterfalls, the city of Encarnación offers attractions from beaches to timeless Jesuit ruins, and the vast plains of Gran Chaco features scenic landscapes and wildlife viewing.
Ecuador (GDI 1.988)
Arguably the leading attraction in this South American country is the Galápagos National Park, home to marine iguanas, sea lions, and Galápagos tortoises. However, attractions such as the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Cuenca, the Nambillo Waterfall Sanctuary in the Mindo cloud forest, and Cotopaxi (one of the world's tallest active volcanoes) are close behind. Ecuador had a Level 2 travel advisory as of late 2022, due to civil unrest and crime in certain areas
Bolivia (GDI 1.989)
Bumping Peru off the 2022 list of safest countries in South America is Bolivia, a country with a wealth of worthy sights. Attractions in Bolivia range from the Uyuni salt flats, which turn into "the world's largest mirror" when the rains come, to tours of the Amazon jungle and pampas complete with jaguars, anacondas, and pink dolphins; the colorful Oruro carnival; the surreal Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) near the capital city of La Paz, and mountain bike trips down the aptly named "Death Road", a narrow mountainside road said to be the most dangerous in the world. As of late 2022, Bolivia enjoyed a Level 2 travel advisory, due to civil unrest and the possibility of demonstrations.
Countries formerly in the Top 6 Safest:
Peru (GDI 2.03)
As of late 2022, Peru's ongoing struggles with COVID-19 had largely abated, but the country retained its Level 3: Reconsider Travel advisory from the U.S. State Department thanks to above-average levels of crime and terrorism in some areas.
Once these issues are handled, Peru will likely leap to the top of many tourists' wish lists thanks to attractions including the Incan city of Machu Picchu, the sparkling blue Lake Titicaca (shared with Bolivia), the mysterious Nazca lines, and landscapes ranging from the penguin-inhabited Ballestas Islands to the sand dunes of Huacachina and on to the Amazon jungle.