Coming from a country outside of South America, one of the most noticeably things when first living in Buenos Aires can be the edginess and fear in the city of getting robbed. During a Spanish course I did in Buenos Aires, three of the six students in the class had been, or were nearly, mugged during that one week. During the second week with different students, one pupil was pick-pocketed on her first day in Buenos Aires, while another’s friend was held at gunpoint and robbed. These anecdotal stories are not reflective of wider statistics on crime, but it seems a tourist who isn’t fully aware of the dangers gets singled-out. Here’s some of the strategies thieves use to steal your things.
1. Squirting Something: If you are walking down a relatively busy street and suddenly you feel you’ve been hit by ketchup or something other substance, just keep walking, don’t stop. This is a three-person job. One squirts you with something. Then another “helpful passerby” (likely to be a woman) stops and offers to help you clean up, while a third person comes from behind and takes whatever belongings you have in your bag while you are busy cleaning up. This happened to the above mentioned girl on her first day living in Buenos Aires, while this is also known to happen in parks (the squirter is up a tree above where you are sitting) and in train stations.
2. Squirting Something, a variation: A more popular version when there is two targets (usually a couple) is that at the same time as the squirter strikes one person, the second thief reaches into the bag or the pocket of the friend and quickly throws the phone, or whatever they grabbed, onto the ground. A third robber comes along in a flash and picks up the stolen good. This happened to an Argentinian student of mine. She’s a quick thinker though. When she was squirted, she didn’t shirk, she saw her boyfriend’s phone thrown to the ground and ran over and put her foot on it. The thieves got away, but empty-handed.
3. Asking for Directions: If someone stops and asks you for directions, happily help them but know where your bag or belongings are and make sure they cannot be reached from behind. Again, this is a two- maybe three-person job. One person asks you for directions and they usually choose a busy intersection, so you are even more distracted by the lights and cars going by. One asks for directions, while another comes up from behind and takes whatever they can. It’s possible a third person will be involved, who will “overhear” the conversation and offer their two cents on the best directions. This happened to a friend of mine and I was there too. While crossing Avenida Corrientes at the intersection with Avenida Callao, a woman stopped us, asking for directions. Meanwhile, someone came from behind and stole the purse from my friend’s bag. I could not tell you to this day who the second thief was. When my friend noticed her purse was gone, the woman they asked for directions off, was nowhere to be seen.
4. Crowded Undergrounds and Buses: Most buses and undergrounds are crowded throughout the day, not just at rush hour. They come at rather sporadic times, two or three could arrive at once meaning they are quite empty, while one might come after waiting 30 minutes, meaning it’s packed and most are forced to stand. Thieves usually target packed trains and while they may stick their hand in your pocket, it’s also known that they rip bags on backs open with a knife and take whatever is inside. Not a nice situation to be in. If you notice and react, and as you can’t really move on the crowded trains, you could end up with a stab wound not just lost valuables.
5. Held at Knife or Gunpoint at ATMs or on the street: Obviously common throughout the world, but in Buenos Aires, there’s a tendency that if you are to be robbed, it will be with a gun not a knife. Most ATMs are situated inside banks, so you have to enter with a card during non-opening hours. Once you’ve completed the transaction, or even more scarily before you’ve entered your card, a person pulls a gun on you from behind.
6. Letting a Stranger into Your Apartment Block: Most apartments blocks have multiple doors which you are required keys for each. Many also have doormen on them to make sure they know who’s coming in and going out. If they don’t, make sure you know the person who happens to enter the apartment at the same time as you and ask if they have keys. If not, tell them to wait outside for their friend to come down and get them. This ploy happened to a friend. He let two strangers in who pretended to be pizza deliverers, who then held him at gunpoint in his apartment for 15-20 minutes while they ransacked the place.
These are just some of the stories I’ve heard or experienced over the past seven months living in Buenos Aires. I’ve never been robbed, which I put down to luck more than anything else. Here’s some extra tips from my experience here, which might help.
1. Don’t look like a tourist: Most of the streets especially around the city centre are quite crowded, especially the main shopping street, Calle Florida. Try to avoid stopping and admiring buildings or activities while in the middle of the street. Keep your camera hidden away unless you want to take a photo and avoid stopping and staring at a tourist map.
2. Your bag goes on the front not the back: Make sure you can see the bag you have with you at all times and that it’s not exposed. It’s a bit annoying to do this, especially with a big bag. But you need to be especially careful when you are moving on and off the underground, and when the underground is packed.
3. Choose your area: You’re simply less likely to be held at gunpoint and mugged in more prosperous areas of the city. As a general rule, Buenos Aires is divided in to the prosperous north and more edgy south. Areas like Recoleta, Palermo, Nunez and Belgrano are relatively safe, while La Boca, Barracas and even San Telmo and Congresso are dangerous. What part of Buenos Aires you live in is key, choose wisely.
This is my two cents Any tips to add?