What are the most dangerous countries in South America?
The most dangerous countries in South America include Venezuela, Colombia, and Guyana, which face high crime rates, terrorism, and safety risks for travelers. Brazil, while less dangerous overall, has pockets of elevated crime, especially at night, and certain regions under level 4 travel advisories.
Additionally, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Paraguay all have their unique safety concerns, ranging from civil unrest to violent crime, making it important to exercise caution and stay informed about potential risks in these countries.
Visiting South America soon? Some countries should be off-limits for your trip due to higher crime rates, terrorism, and heightened risk for travelers.
So what can you do to ensure a safe and secure visit to this beautifully diverse continent? Learning the most dangerous countries in South America is a great way to start.
The 8 Most Dangerous Countries in South America
Organized crime and terrorist groups operate throughout parts of South America, trafficking drugs, targeting travelers and law enforcement, kidnapping and extorting travelers, and committing violent crimes.
Violent crime in South America is widespread in the most dangerous countries, with offenses like homicide, rape, assault, armed robbery, and carjacking being a concern.
That’s why it’s important to read about the safety risks of the most dangerous countries here before you plan any type of visit.
Below, we’ll cover the general risk for each country and highlight the most dangerous areas within them to give you a clear picture of where you should avoid when traveling to South America.
Venezuela is currently the most dangerous country in South America due to high crime rates and considerable safety risks for travelers and locals.
The U.S. Department of State has issued the highest level 4 travel advisory for Venezuela, citing increased crime, terrorism, kidnapping, civil unrest, and issues with law enforcement.
On the Global Peace Index, Venezuela ranks number 148 out of 163 countries worldwide, earning a GPI composite score of 2.79.
The major concerns in Venezuela relate to abuses by the Maduro regime – murder, kidnapping, and detentions of citizens and travelers – as well as terrorist groups that operate along the country’s borders.
There are also widespread infrastructure problems and shortages of essentials like food, medicine, electricity, and gasoline. Violent crime is also common in Venezuela, putting travelers at increased risk for crimes like carjacking, kidnapping, armed robbery, and homicide.
The most dangerous areas in Venezuela are:
- Land border crossing zones along the Colombia border
- Land borders between Brazil and Guyana
- Intercity travel
- Travel between Simón Bolívar International Airport and Caracas
Avoid taking unregulated taxis, especially from the airport, and don’t use ATMs in the area – they’re often watched by armed robbers.
Colombia is one of the most dangerous countries in South America right now, owing to high levels of violent crime, terrorism, kidnapping, and organized criminal activity.
The country is under a level 3 travel advisory, with the U.S. Department of State warning travelers to “Reconsider travel” to Colombia because of increased crime and risk of terrorist activity.
Violent crime is common in Colombia, with armed robbery, assault, and homicide being the main safety risks for travelers. Organized criminal activity can result in kidnapping, robbery, or extortion.
While the country as a whole is under a level 3 advisory, some areas are under a level 4 travel advisory and travelers are advised to avoid these areas altogether due to heightened risk and increased levels of criminal activity.
The most dangerous regions in Colombia include:
- Arauca, Cauca, and Norte de Santander
- The Colombia-Venezuela border region
Within the Cauca region, Popayán is the only area not under a level 4 travel advisory. Still, it can be risky traveling here due to the potential for detention, violent crime, or terrorist acts by armed groups.
Colombia ranks number 144 out of 163 countries across the globe on the Global Peace Index, earning a composite GPI score of 2.72. This means it’s generally considered unsafe to visit.
Right now, Guyana is under a level 3 travel advisory from the U.S. Department of State due to massive increases in violent crime across the country and a high homicide rate.
Some of the most common violent crimes in Guyana include armed robbery, murder, sexual assault, and assault. Some areas are more dangerous than others, with Georgetown (the capital) being especially risky after dark.
Guyana’s crime problem has worsened so much that even local police have been targeted. Police are cooperative, but just don’t have the resources or bandwidth to respond effectively to violent crime.
The most dangerous areas in Guyana include:
- Georgetown (especially Tiger Bay, Albouystown, Buxton, Agricola, and Sophia)
- Stabroek Market region
- All areas after dark
One issue with crime in Guyana is that the data isn’t properly documented. This means the current crime levels could be underreported, with general risk in the country being much higher.
Guyana currently ranks number 107 out 163 countries worldwide on the Global Peace Index with a composite GPI score of 2.14. Still, the recent increases in crime and ineffective law enforcement make it #3 on the list of the most dangerous countries within South America.
Brazil ranks as one of the most dangerous countries in South America, but it’s not considered quite as dangerous as Venezuela, Colombia, or Guyana – in most regions.
There’s currently a level 2 travel advisory issued by the U.S. Department of State warning travelers to “Exercise increased caution” when heading to the country due to increased levels of crime in certain areas.
Carjacking, armed robbery, assault, gang activity, organized crime, and murder are problematic throughout Brazil. Elevated crime risk occurs at night. While the entire country is under a level 2 travel advisory, some areas are under a level 4 advisory due to increased risk of crime, gang activity, and organized crime.
Areas within Brazil that are under a level 4 travel advisory (do not travel) include:
- Borders with Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Guyana, Paraguay, French Guiana, and Suriname
- Vilas, favelas, or conglomerados (housing developments)
- Satellite cities of Paranoa, Sao Sebastiao, Santa Maria, and Ceilandia after dark
The Foz do Iguaçu National Park and Pantanal National Park are not included in the level 4 travel advisory, though they are both near borders.
Brazil is technically the 3rd most dangerous country in South America according to the Global Peace Index, ranking number 130 out of 163 countries with a GPI score of 2.46.
However, the lower-level travel advisory in comparison to Guyana (level 3) lands it as #4 on the list of the most dangerous countries in South America.
Peru is considered one of the most dangerous countries within South America due to pervasive civil unrest and increasing levels of crime. Right now, Peru is under a level 2 travel advisory. The U.S. Department of State recommends using increased caution when traveling to and from the country.
But some areas within Peru are more dangerous than others with higher levels of crime, active armed terrorist groups, drug trafficking, and violent civil unrest.
The areas to avoid are under a level 4 travel advisory and include:
- Areas just outside Lima
- The Colombia-Peru border in the Loreto Region
- The Valley of the Apurimac, One, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM)
- Departments of Ayacucho, Huancavelica, Junin, and Cusco
- The Puno Region (including Lake Titicaca and Apurimac Region)
Criminals in Peru may be brazen, acting in daylight as well at night. But there’s another risk for travelers visiting Peru that is too often ignored: Ayahuasca ceremonies and retreats.
Traditional Ayahuasca and Kambo ceremonies involve ingesting plants with hallucinogenic effects while being monitored or “guided” through the process by a shaman.
U.S. travelers have reported being victimized or witnessing crimes committed against others while under the influence, including rape, assault, injury, and death.
Travelers should avoid partaking in these ceremonies and retreats to reduce the risk of becoming the victim of a crime. Right now, Peru ranks number 101 out of 163 countries worldwide on the Global Peace Index with a composite GPI score of 2.09.
Bolivia is another of the most dangerous countries in South America. The country is experiencing issues with civil unrest and heightened risk of crime in certain regions.
Bolivia is currently under a level 2 travel advisory, with the U.S. Department of State recommending travelers to exercise increased caution while in the country.
There is a level 4 travel advisory for one region in Bolivia due to high levels of violent crime: The Chapare region. A level 3 travel advisory has been issued for the Yungas region, where crime levels continue to increase.
Because of the increased risk of crime and heightened travel advisories, avoid these areas:
- The Chapare region
- The Yungas region
Roadblocks, violent protests, strikes, and demonstrations may occur in Bolivia as civil unrest continues. Violence can occur at these events, as well as extended travel delays and blocked flow of goods and food due to strikes.
Bolivia ranks as number 80 on a list of the 163 countries around the world with a Global Peace Index score of 1.98. This ranking combined with the heightened travel advisory warnings put it in the #6 spot on the list of the most dangerous countries in South America.
Ecuador ranks as one of the most dangerous countries in South America, though it’s a generally safe country in many areas. Crime and civil unrest are the main safety risks in Ecuador.
The U.S. Department of State has issued a level 2 travel advisory for Ecuador, citing violence and infrastructure issues due to civil unrest as well as increased levels of crime.
Some areas within Ecuador are more dangerous than others and earn a more serious travel advisory (levels 3 and 4) as a result. These areas include:
- Guayaquil, especially north of Portete de Tarqui Avenue (Level 3)
- Northern Esmeraldas provinces, Esmeraldas City, Sucumbios, and Carchi (Level 3)
- Guayaquil, south of Portete de Tarqui Avenue (Level 3)
Criminal groups, gangs, terrorist groups, and random acts of violence can be a problem in Ecuador. Violent crime like armed robbery, kidnapping, assault, and murder occur here.
The areas with more serious travel advisories (level 3 and 4) are generally the most dangerous in the country. These regions should be avoided by travelers. Ecuador is number 79 on the Global Peace Index out of 163 countries, earning a GPI composite score of 1.98 overall.
While these rankings don’t make Ecuador one of the most dangerous countries in the world, it’s still one of the more dangerous countries in South America.
Paraguay is last on the list of the 8 most dangerous countries in South America. For the most part, Paraguay is a safe country for travelers to visit and the U.S. Department of State recommends exercising normal precautions.
Crime in Paraguay is increasing, but crime here is typically nonviolent with criminals often targeting individuals they believe to be wealthy. Avoiding displays of wealth can help travelers reduce their risk.
Paraguay is currently under a level 1 travel advisory as a whole, but some areas of the country are more dangerous than others and are flagged with a level 2 travel advisory.
The most dangerous areas in Paraguay right now include:
- Northeastern border with Brazil
- Amambay, San Pedro, Alto Parana, Canindeyu, and Concepcion departments
These areas are known for trafficking illegal arms and drugs. The law enforcement presence in this region is limited, adding to the safety risk in the area. Paraguay ranks number 77 on the Global Peace Index out of 163 countries, earning a GPI composite score of 1.97.
This shows much safer conditions than the other countries on the list, though increased caution is recommended along the northeastern border with Brazil.
Things to Consider
When you’re considering traveling to South America, you have a lot to look forward to – and a lot of safety considerations to keep in mind.
While many of the most dangerous countries here are best avoided altogether, some are safe to travel to as long as you avoid specific regions and keep these tips in mind.
- Pay attention to travel advisories. South American countries with a level 1 travel advisory are generally considered safer for a visit, but there may be dangerous regions even within the countries where the U.S. Department of State only recommends exercising normal precautions. Read the advisories carefully to see if some regions have a heightened level 2, 3, or 4 travel advisory and avoid those areas if possible.
- Be smart with money, valuables, and documents. While traveling to South America, don’t wear expensive jewelry and clothing that attracts attention from thieves or criminals targeting wealthy individuals. Secure your passport and travel documents in a safe in your hotel room. Don’t carry a lot of cash with you, and if you’re confronted by a robber, don’t physically resist.
- Be cautious in the safest countries, too. Many countries in South America are considered safe to visit, but traveling anywhere requires taking some precautions and staying alert and aware of your surroundings. Don’t get lulled into a sense of false security just because the country you’re visiting is considered safe (like Argentina, Suriname, or French Guiana).
- Have a contingency plan. While it would be nice to rely on the U.S. government to assist you in the event of an emergency, the U.S. Department of State recommends having a contingency plan in place if the government isn’t able to help you. You might hire a security company, plan emergency travel arrangements, or determine the best exit from the country that won’t take you through the most dangerous areas along the borders.
- Steer clear of protests and demonstrations. Even if you agree with the demonstrators at these events, they’re not a safe place for travelers. Even peaceful protests and demonstrations can devolve into violence. Roadblocks and travel restrictions can also occur as a result, so steer clear of these events in South America.
Frequently Asked Questions
Travelers have a lot of questions about the most dangerous countries in South America. Check out the most frequently asked questions below to learn more!
Where to avoid in South America?
Venezuela, Colombia, Guyana, and Brazil are the top 4 most dangerous countries in South America. Venezuela and Colombia are best avoided altogether due to heightened risk of crime and terrorism.
Venezuela is under a level 4 travel advisory. Colombia is under a level 3 advisory with some regions upgraded to a level 4.
What country has the highest crime rate?
Venezuela has the world’s highest crime rate, according to the World Population Review. Papua New Guinea, South Africa, Afghanistan, and Honduras round out the 5 countries with the highest crime rates worldwide.
Venezuela’s crime rate for 2023 was 83.76 crimes per 100,000 people. Crimes may include murder, rape, armed robbery, assault, kidnapping, and drug trafficking.
Which country is powerful in South America?
Brazil is the most powerful country in South America. It’s the largest country on the continent, has the biggest economy, and a huge share of South America’s total manufacturing.
Brazil makes up around half of South America’s population, GDP (gross domestic product), and landmass, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
What is the number 1 country in South America?
Brazil is considered the number 1 country in South America for a few reasons. It’s the largest in population and landmass and is home to about half of South America’s residents and total land area.
Brazil is also the leader among South American countries because it contributes about half of the continent’s gross domestic product (GDP) due to its economy that ranks as one of the largest in the world.
What are the 2 richest countries in South America?
According to the World Population Review for 2023, Brazil and Argentina are the 2 richest countries in South America overall.
Brazil’s nominal gross domestic product (GDP) reached $1.80 trillion in 2023, while Argentina’s nominal GDP hit $545.87 billion. Venezuela is the 3rd richest country, but lags far behind at $291.38 billion.
Should You Avoid the Most Dangerous Countries in South America?
With so much to offer travelers, South America is an incredible place to create lifelong memories and gain a new appreciation for this continent. But like all other continents in the world, there are some countries that are more dangerous than others.
The most dangerous countries inside South America are Venezuela, Colombia, Guyana, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Paraguay. Does this mean you should never visit any of the countries on the list?
No! Some of the countries listed here are still considered safe to visit, at least in certain regions. It’s essential to do your research before heading to any country on this list.
If you see a level 4 travel advisory – like Venezuela or areas of Colombia are under – you should avoid visiting altogether. As long as you prioritize your safety and avoid the most dangerous areas, you can still enjoy a wonderful trip to South America.
Have a contingency plan in place and take normal precautions no matter where you visit – you’ll feel much more prepared and better able to enjoy your trip!