When planning a trip to Latin America, there are several things that need to be kept in mind, especially in this time of political unrest. Here are a few tips.
Always know what type of taxi you are getting into.
In countries such as Mexico, there are several types of taxis. There are private taxi services provided by hotels and resorts, licensed city taxis, and then there are unscrupulous “private” taxis that should be avoided. If you are taking a taxi from the airport, bus station, or nightclub, often times there is a taxi stand that will help you get a legitimate taxi. They should always be licensed by the city, whether or not they are private taxis. Before you get into a cab, ensure that you understand the rate, the taxi is licensed by the city (look for the registration number and possibly the required paint scheme), and the taxi drive knows where you are going. It is normally safe to hail a cab off of the street, as long as they are licensed and you ask the questions listed above. Never, under any circumstances, get into an unregistered cab or any cab that makes you feel uneasy. Taxis are plentiful in Latin America. There are always safe, reliable taxis at reasonable prices.
Be on guard at airports, bus stations, and nightclubs.
Airports, bus stations, and nightclubs are probably the biggest tourist gathering places in Latin America. As a result, they get a lot of crime. Petty theft is most common, but more serious crimes have been committed in such areas as well. It is always advised to not go alone, try to blend in, and not carry much cash if possible. If you must travel to these locations alone, know where you are going and stay in well lit, heavily traveled areas. If you find yourself stranded at a nightclub (and this can happen more easily than you’d imagine), leave via taxi as soon as possible. Go back to your hotel, resort, or hostel. Chances are that it is already very late. No need to keep yourself in such a vulnerable situation longer than necessary. It simply isn’t worth it.
Research the monetary system before you go.
In some countries, it is more convenient to use an ATM/Debit card for your cash needs; in others, it can be much more convenient to carry traveler’s checks. By doing a little research prior to traveling, you can save yourself a lot of stress. It might just prevent you from having to call someone to wire you money. For example, during my semester in Ecuador, I brought both an ATM card and traveler’s checks. I was able to cash traveler’s checks very easily at the university at which I was studying at the time. Unfortunately, finding an ATM machine that would accept my card, even though it should have been simple, proved to be a nightmare. Always check! Never, and I mean never, bring large amounts of cash.
In the end, these simple tips will help your trip to Latin America go much more smoothly.