Latin America is home to beautiful landscapes, exciting cultures, glorious architecture, and delectable food. Unfortunately, it’s also home to some of the deadliest, poorest, and although most undesirable places in the world. Brazil, Guatemala, and El Salvador regularly rank among the most dangerous countries on earth, with Mexico and Honduras not falling far behind. The economic and political turmoil in Venezuela, meanwhile, has bought a formerly glorious country to its knees. And the less said about the situation in Haiti, the better. As to which are the very worst places to live in Latin America? Our guess is on these 20.
20. Soyapango, El Salvador
In Soyapango, the criminals don’t rely on their fists to get them out of trouble. Why would they, when they’ve got grenade launchers and fully automatic machine guns to fall back on? Unless something changes, El Salvador is never going to win any prizes for safety. But ultimately, some places are safer than others. If you’re intent on making it your home, you’ll be able to find somewhere safe, sunny, and soothing with the right amount of research and homework. Just stay far, far away from Soyapango.
19. Managua, Nicaragua
With its cool climate, scenic mountainside location, and affordable cost of living, Managua has a lot of appeal. Unfortunately, it also has a lot of violent crime, poverty, scam artists, and other unmentionables that anyone with a lick of sense would do well to avoid. There may be worse places to live in Latin America, but that doesn’t make it any more desirable.
18. Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
There’s no doubt that Lake Atitlan is a beautiful place. This huge, scenic lake is an outdoor lover’s dream, with endless opportunities for hiking, swimming, fishing, and recreation. The surrounding communities are equally enticing, with villages like Panajachel drawing armies of tourists to enjoy their delights every year. Unfortunately, all those tourists (not to mention the area’s long-term residents) need to keep their eyes peeled at all times. Thefts, muggings, and assaults are all daily occurrences. While the healthcare facilities and schools are better equipped than in certain other parts of the country, they’re a long way from being considered good.
17. Valencia, Venezuela
Drive around 172 km from Caracas and you’ll find Valencia. If you have any sense, you’ll keep right on driving. The third-largest city in Venezuela and the capital of the state of Carabobo has, like most of the rest of the country, been hit hard by years of hyperinflation and political upheaval. The poverty levels in this once proud, beautiful city are heartbreaking, while the ever-increasing numbers of robberies, kidnappings, rapes, and assaults make for sobering reading.
16. Natal, Brazil
Natal is the capital and largest city of the state of Rio Grande do Norte in northeastern Brazil. It’s big, it’s busy, and it’s a major tourist destination. Millions of people flood to its shores every year. With its beaches, its scenery, and its party atmosphere, it’s easy to see why. But beneath the pretty surface lies a dark secret. Natal is dangerous. Not dangerous in the sense that you have to look both ways before crossing the street, but dangerous in a very real, very troubling way. Criminal gangs have dominion, and if you get in their way, don’t expect them to be polite about it.
15. Alagoas, Brazil
If you value your safety, steer well clear of Alagoas. This is a place where crime isn’t the exception, it’s the rule. Finding a resident who hasn’t either done something terrifying or had something terrifying done to them is practically impossible. Even in a country with such a high crime rate as Brazil, Alagoas stands out as one of the most dangerous places.
14. Salvador, Brazil
Salvador is a gorgeous incredibly photogenic city blessed with a rich history, a diverse culture, and one of the prettiest centers of any city in Latin America. So, what’s the problem? In a word, crime. In fairness, the worst of the criminal activity is confined to the prisons, where gang rivalry is endemic. Unfortunately, enough of that lawlessness has spilled over into the city itself, with the result that even locals warn travelers to stay well away.
13. Lima, Peru
According to Forbes, Lima ranks as one of the worst places to live, not just in Latin America, but in the entire world. Most expats who’ve chosen to make the Peruvian capital their home cite worries about personal safety, unhappiness with local transportation, and expensive healthcare as their main causes for complaint. On the plus side, the cost of living is low. It’s just unfortunate that the living standards are too.
12. Rocinha, Brazil
As Travel Visa Pro writes, Rocinha used to be one of the safest and most tourist-friendly favels in all of Brazil. Not any more it isn’t. An ongoing power struggle between police and drug warlords has turned it into a no-go zone. The violence has got so bad on a few occasions, the army has been called in to intervene. With violence and poverty on every corner, this is a place you’d really rather avoid.
11. Fortaleza, Brazil
The state of Ceará lies in the northeastern part of Brazil. With its spectacular beaches, quaint fishing villages, party atmosphere, and low cost of living, it’s long been considered one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. Unfortunately, any tourist who decides to extend their vacation into something more permanent is in for a rough ride, particularly if they choose to base themselves in the state capital of Fortaleza. As borgenproject.org (borgenproject.org/10-facts-about-poverty-in-latin-america/) notes, the city has a chronic poverty level of 40 percent, one of the highest in the country. It’s not that much better elsewhere in Ceará – despite being home to 4.3 percent of the population, it contributes just 2.1 percent of the Brazillian GDP.
10. Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Unless barbed wire fences, packs of feral dogs, and chaotic, rubbish-strewn streets float your boat, stay well away from Tegucigalpa. It may enjoy a spectacular setting and a fresh climate, but those are about the only positive things you can say about it. The crime is astronomical: car thefts happen in broad daylight and without the perpetrators even bothering to mask up; most neighborhoods are no-go zones after dark (with some even off-limits during the day), and walking anyway alone is asking for trouble. Most Hondurans blame the police for the crime levels. The police in turn blame being outnumbered and out weaponed by the drug traffickers and criminals. Either way, it’s no one’s idea of a safe haven.
9. Port-au-Prince, Haiti
It may be nearly ten years since Hurricane Sandy wiped out 70% of Haiti’s food crops and left tens of thousands of people homeless, but the situation in this troubled country has far from improved. Extreme poverty is rife and, as so often happens, the crime rate has increased in line with the falling living standards. In the capital city of Port-au-Prince, robberies, carjackings, and murders are everyday affairs. The outskirts have given way to slums, corruption is rife, and the infrastructure is next to non-existent. There may be worse places in the world in which to live, but not many.
8. Acapulco, Mexico
Back in the 1950s, Acapulco was a favorite hangout with the jet-setting crowd. John F Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy even honeymooned there. But after that, things took a turn. The celebs moved out, and the criminals moved in. Despite its picture-perfect beachside setting, Acapulco is now a hotbed of crime. According to cheatsheet.com, the problems aren’t only related to drug trafficking but stem from various “social triggers, institutional ones, historical ones, and issues of land rights.” In general, tourists manage to escape the worst of the city’s problems. Long-term residents are less fortunate.
7. San Pedro Sula, Honduras
If you want to avoid living in one of the most dangerous countries in the world, stay away from Honduras. If you want to avoid living in one of the most dangerous cities in the world, stay especially away from San Pedro Sula. It may be a gorgeous city, but it’s rife with crime. Between 2011 and 2014, it had the highest number of homicides per capita in the world. Fortunately, the murder rate has declined a little in the subsequent years, but it’s still one of the highest in Latin America. Petty theft, pickpocketing, and other ‘daily dangers’ all contribute to making this city a no-go zone for the safety-minded.
6. Guatemala City, Guatemala
Guatemala is a country in crisis. It has the second-highest murder rate of children in the world (just behind El Salvador), appalling poverty, falling education standards, and very little hope of things getting better. In Guatemala City, the grim state of the country is plain to see. Violence is rife. The streets are congested and polluted. The architecture is dingy. It’s not even that cheap – sure, it’s affordable by Western standards, but if you stick to the more exclusive neighborhoods (and given what happens in some of the less desirable ones, you really should), you’ll pay a lot more for a good time than you would in somewhere like Mexico City… if you can find one at all, that is.
5. Los Cabos, Mexico
If you’ve ever visited the pretty beach city of Los Cabos and dreamt of living there, be careful what you wish for. As a rule, resort towns experience less violence and crime than border regions, but for every rule, there’s an exception. Los Cabos is that exception. As home to around 328,245 people, it has the most homicides in Mexico, with a rate of 111.33 homicides per 100,000 people. Tourists aren’t typically targeted, but an unfortunate number of innocent residents have been dragged into the turf wars between rival cartels.
4. Jose Calderas, Guatemala
As worldcitizenevan.com notes, Guatemala is one of those rare countries where rural areas are sometimes even more dangerous than the cities. The proof? Jose Calderas, a tiny town of just 3000 people hidden away in the Guatemalan hills about an hour from Guatemala City. Despite the tiny population, robberies, kidnappings, and even homicides are rife, resulting in a justifiably fearful community. If the crime wasn’t bad enough, the town also suffers from extreme weather conditions, heartbreaking poverty, and a complete lack of infrastructure.
3. Gros Morne, Haiti
In Haiti, human disaster has been quick to follow natural tragedies. While much press has (understandably) been given to the capital city of Port-au-Prince, the situation in Haiti’s rural villages and towns isn’t much better. In some cases, it’s many times worse. Surrounding the tiny town of Gros Morne are numerous communities that lack even the basic essentials of life. Roads are few and far between, healthcare is a luxury few can afford, and electricity is little more than a concept. Malaria is a risk, and even the drinking water is unsafe.
2. San Salvador, El Salvador
The small but densely populated country of El Salvador belongs to the Northern Triangle, a region that ranks as one of the most violent in Latin America. Since civil war bought the country to its knees in the 1980s, it consistently ranks as one of the most dangerous places in the world. While nowhere in the country is completely safe, few places are quite so frightening as San Salvador. On the surface, it’s a modern city with an exuberant nightlife, plenty of attractions, and an enticing food scene. Scratch beneath the shiny exterior, however, and you’ll reveal one of the highest homicide rates in the world. Over the past decade, the government has introduced various programs to steer the country’s youth away from crime. So far, they don’t seem to be working.
1. Caracas, Venezuela
Venezuela may have some of the most stunning landscapes in Latin America, but even that’s not enough to make up for its problems. As Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com/venezuela) points out, its image problem is compounded by political turmoil and hyperinflation, both of which have left living standards at an all-time low. Personal safety is a major problem, as is the supply of even the most basic goods. In the capital city of Caracas, the situation is particlaury dire. Unless blackouts, violent protests, and extreme poverty float your boat, keep well away.