How Bad is Crime in Buenos Aires?

Editor’s Note: I originally published this article back in 2009. Since then, I’ve received many comments and emails from both tourists and Porteños concerned about crime in the great city of Buenos Aires. Is the city safe? Is crime getting worse? Read below for the original story plus recently updated comments.

How bad is crime in Buenos Aires? The question is more difficult to answer than you might think.

On one hand, many people who have visited Buenos Aires will say things like “I walked everywhere in Buenos Aires at all hours of the day and night and never had a problem or felt unsafe. I saw women pushing their strollers at midnight for gosh sakes. It’s safe.”

On the other hand, you will hear people who have been touched by crime say things like “the crime here is horrible, especially against tourists. You wouldn’t believe the stuff that goes unreported.” And you can certainly read stories in the newspapers about robberies, murders and all manner of terrible crimes taking place with alarming frequency.

So who do we believe?

We could turn to official statistics and try to compare crime rates in Buenos Aires with that of other cities, but that won’t really answer our question. First of all, official statistics are probably not accurate. The police are not sufficiently organized to provide accurate statistics. Plus the government is notorious for reporting inaccuracies. For example, last year the government reported the official inflation rate at 8% when any objective measure will show that it was closer to 25%.

Another reason crimes rates aren’t that relevant is that most crime happens in parts of the city where tourists never go, in impoverished areas nothing like Palermo or Recoleta or other tourist zones.

So that leaves us with anecdotal information. Let me pass along a few personal stories and observations that I hope may answer the question about how bad crime is in Buenos Aires, in particular as it relates to tourists. I’m not out to scare anyone. I just want to try to answer the question posed in the title of this blog entry.

First of all, I wouldn’t even think about wearing an expensive watch in Buenos Aires. I know it would set me up as a target for robbery in any neighborhood. By comparison, I would have no hesitation wearing that same watch in any city in Canada or the United States. Does that mean that Buenos Aires is more dangerous than Canada or the US? In this regard, I would say yes. Money is tight and unemployment is high. That breeds desperation and crime.

Here’s another thing I wouldn’t do in Buenos Aires. I certainly wouldn’t go to a bank, withdraw a large sum of cash (thousands of dollars), then catch a taxi in front of the bank. I’ve read too many news stories of people being robbed or killed this way. Again, I wouldn’t have the same fear in New York or London or Tokyo. It’s different here.

Perhaps my cautious nature is paying off. I’ve spent a lot of time in Buenos Aires over the past few years and I’ve never had a problem. But I’m tall, male and speak Spanish. And I do think this city is more dangerous for women than men.

For example, last September Clarín (a local newspaper) reported on a taxi driver who would pick up lone female tourists outside a Palermo nightclub late at night and sexually assault them. The newspaper indicated that at least eight women were attacked before police captured the man.

Last month, in December, the newspaper also reported on not one but two, separate serial rapists committing a string of attacks on women in Recoleta. The attacks occurred in the daytime, even on a Sunday afternoon. The rapist would follow a woman into a building, pretending he lived there or was visiting a friend.

So women do need to take special precautions. But, sadly, isn’t this true in all big cities?

I do feel the level of crime in Buenos Aires is rising. A female Argentine friend of mine recently told me “this year for the first time I felt unsafe in my city. My grandmother has been robbed twice. It’s getting bad.”

But we need to put all the crime horror stories in perspective. Buenos Aires is a huge city of some 13 million people. Of course awful crimes are going to happen. They happen here but they also happen in Toronto, Munich, Sydney and Paris — in all big cities, everywhere.

To sum up, I believe the question “how bad is crime in Buenos Aires” is best answered by a quote I read in a report prepared by the US Overseas Security Advisory Council:

Crime is a serious problem in Argentina that can be managed with common sense precautions.”

I encourage you to read the report which includes advice on how to avoid becoming a victim.

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