Image caption: Houses of La Paz, Bolivia.
Throughout 2019, political unrest and protests have swept through countries across Latin America, including Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, and Ecuador. With the media coverage of citizens' street demonstrations in these countries, anxiety around traveling is understandable. However, there are also many misconceptions surrounding the realities of political unrest in Latin America. Here are some things to know while you consider your travel plans.
Safety comes first.
We prioritize your safety and the safety of our travel partners throughout our entire trip-planning process. We will never send travelers to an unsafe place, and we are constantly in contact with locals on the ground, such as our hotel and excursion partners, who swiftly update us on how situations change.
Demonstration in the streets is much more common in Latin American countries.
While it might be alarming for people from the United States to see photos and videos of masked citizens waving signs and taking the streets en masse, it's important to recognize that part of Latin American culture is emphasis on the populus having a voice. Historically, demonstration is just part of the political process in Latin America.
Remote areas are extremely peaceful.
Even if Bolivia's capital city of La Paz is seeing lots of demonstrations, the Uyuni Salt Flats, for example, are still as beautiful as ever. As long as flights and airports to and from capital cities are functioning normally, your trip can be arranged to avoid areas of unrest and still be very enjoyable.
Even the capital cities are not dangerous.
Because of the locations of major airports, you may have to spend the night in a hotel in a major city, but it is nothing to be worried about. Protesters do not generally target tourists or Americans, and protests may not even be violent -- the nights just might be a bit loud (there is a Latin American custom of banging on pots and pans as a form of noise-making protest.)
Travel agents can support you if your travel plans need to change.
As we noted in our blog post on why you should use a travel agent, travel agents can help you switch your travel plans in case a concern arises, or can advocate for you in case of an emergency. Travel agents have their finger on the pulse of evolving situations in various countries, and can offer you the best advice for how to proceed if things get rocky.
What has happened in each country, and what is the situation now?
In mid-November 2019, violence erupted over disputed election results of former president Evo Morales. A possible coup was alleged, protests continued to take place throughout November. Evo Morales has since resigned, fled the country, and now resides under political asylum in Argentina.
There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the situation in Bolivia currently, but another election will be held on January 22, 2020.
As far as we know, areas such as the Uyuni Salt Flats, Lake Titicaca, Sucre, and Potosi are still safe to traverse. The US Travel Advisory board has not updated their travel advisory since violence first broke out in November 2019.
In mid-October 2019, protests took place Chile in backlash to a rise in fare for public transportation that would drastically change the lives of Chile's low-income population. These protests were mainly focused in Santiago, but smaller demonstrations took place all over the country. Chile has the one of the most significant rates of economic inequality in the world. A state of emergency was declared and travel was disrupted for a short time, but both the state of emergency and curfew were lifted in early November.
Demonstrations are still underway in major cities, and The Undersecretary of Tourism and the National Tourism Board recommends "to gather background information about destinations that will be visited and to be permanently informed, in addition to adopting a behavior of self-care and being respectful of the rules stipulated by local authorities."
In mid-November 2019, the people of Colombia initiated a general strike and broke out in anti-government protests across Bogota. A curfew was put in place. The strike has now continued for several weeks. Protests have generally been peaceful, and it currently is safe to travel to most parts of Colombia, including Bogota.
A transportation strike took place in Quito, Ecuador in early October 2019. The strike began and ended during the month of October, and no disruptions have occurred since then.