Security and Bike Touring in Latin America

The first thing to think about when discussing security is safety on the road. We're far more likely to be hit by a car or truck than to be held up by a robber. And probably most accidents don't even involve a car. None of ours has. So route choice, careful riding, a good mirror, and the like are more important than thinking about weapons and robbers and assaults.

But we need to think about those things. They happen here, and so here is our thinking.

Some of our advice is easy: Learn as much of the language as you can so you can communicate about security and understand what people tell you. Don't get involved with crooks or narcotics dealers. Pretty obvious.


  • Ask the locals about the security situation and listen to them.
  • Don't listen to stories from other travelers unless the events happened to them personally. Only very rarely should you heed anything you hear about a country from people in another country. They just have built-in fears.
  • When camping, (at least from Mexico to Bolivia) either camp with a family or in a town if you can. Or if you're stealth-camping, camp where nobody will ever know you were there.
  • Try to find out about outrageously insecure areas (the road from San Cristobal to Palenque in southern Mexico, or the town of Paiján in northern Peru come to mind)
  • Never leave anything unattended, even if it's locked. There's kind of a philosophy in the Latin world that if you leave something unattended you didn't really want it. An unlocked bike watched by a little boy that you just met in front of a little store is immensely more secure than a bike locked with a fancy lock and left on the street. A shopkeeper will often watch the bike, and then it should be fine.
  • Know and understand the difference between petty thievery and assault. You may get something stolen off your bike sometime, or you might get pickpocketed, but that's not really all that bad. Avoiding assault is the real issue. You do that with knowledge and planning.
  • Hotels are really pretty good for security. We almost always try to put the bikes in the room, and not leave them where somebody can walk by and fiddle with them. If they are out where guests pass by, we remove all the accessories from them. We also remove the accessories when we're likely to be surrounded by a lot of people, on bus trips, in city centers or the like. Remember, though, that the hotel workers do go into your room, and if you leave valuables, they can disappear. If you have a stash of cash, make sure it's very well hidden. We did have an episode of this type at a hotel in Honduras.
  • Keep your stuff organized, battened down, and where possible, within your view. Things that are loose or behind you might disappear. We had a tool disappear from a seat-bag in a little village where we were surrounded by a crowd.
  • Traveling together with a partner and staying close to each other is a huge security win.
  • Be harmless. Harmless people are less likely to have problems.
  • Trust people. You usually can. Our philosophy is that if you've looked somebody in the eye, they're not the ones that are going to go after your stuff. It's the ones you didn't see that are the problem.
  • The police are your friends. Be aware that corruption happens, but it probably won't happen to you. Ask them about the security situation. We've camped at police stations too.
  • Have money and debit cards in more than one place, so that you have a chance of recovery if something does happen to you.
  • We use a laminated photocopy of our passports for almost everything. It doesn't work at border crossings, but it works for almost everything else. This lowers the likelihood of losing your passport or getting it stolen.

Update: The morning after I wrote this, Nancy's camera was stolen outside the market at Ayacucho, Peru. It was a distraction deal: I was watching Nancy's stuff, but a guy created a diversion, and when I looked back, the camera was gone. What went wrong? 1. We went to the market with our gear to get some bread. We shouldn't have gone anywhere near the market with our gear. 2. Nancy didn't have the camera well battened down in her bag (she left the bag open) and she showed it. So we live and learn.

If you have anything to add to this, please leave a comment!