Official advice for New Zealanders living and travelling overseas

  • Reviewed: 8 April 2015, 15:39 NZST
  • Still current at: 6 December 2016

Security

Violent crime is a significant problem in a number of South American countries.  "Express kidnappings", where people are abducted and forced to withdraw money from ATMs, occur in many countries.  Illegal armed groups and criminals involved in drug-related activity have a presence in a range of South American countries, including Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.  Drug cartels and criminal gangs also have a major presence across parts of Central America and violence associated with these groups can occur without warning.

Several Central American countries have very high levels of violent crime.  Honduras, El Salvador, Belize and Guatemala consistently have some of the highest homicide rates in the world.  Much of this violence is drug and gang-related and tourists and foreigners are rarely involved, although there is the potential to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Travellers are more likely to be affected by petty crime, which is common in most Central and South American countries.

Criminal and terrorist groups have in the past been linked with terrorist attacks, kidnapping and other serious violence.  Foreigners have been caught up in kidnappings and bombings in a number of Central and South American countries, most notably in Colombia and Peru.

Health

Medical facilities in Central and South America vary widely in quality. In large cities and tourist areas, clinics often provide high quality care for routine and emergency issues.  In smaller centres or rural areas access to supplies and a standard of medical care similar to New Zealand is likely to be more difficult to find. New Zealanders travelling or resident in Central or South America should hold a comprehensive travel insurance policy that includes provision for medical evacuation by air.

A number of mosquito-borne illnesses, including Dengue fever, Chikungunya, Malaria and Zika virus, are common throughout parts of Central and South America. Travellers are advised to use insect repellent, wear protective clothing, and stay in lodgings where there are mosquito screens on windows and doors. The Ministry of Health website contains more advice on avoiding mosquito bites while travelling. 

In some South American countries, especially Peru and Ecuador, shamans and other individuals offer ‘spiritual cleansing’ rituals which involve serving Ayahuasca tea. This tea contains dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which is a hallucinogen. While not illegal, ayahuasca tourism is not regulated and consumption of the tea does present certain risks. Although deaths from ayahuasca remain uncommon, there have been reports of psychological damage, and assault, theft and rape of people under the influence.

Altitude sickness

The Andes mountain range is a prominent feature of South American geography and many parts of the continent are above 2500m. This includes some urban areas, such as Bogotá (2640m), Quito (2850m), Cuzco (3399) and La Paz (3690m). Additionally many tourist attractions, like Macchu Picchu, Lake Titicaca and Colca Canyon are found above this altitude. Travellers who ascend to altitudes greater than 2500m, especially if the ascent is rapid, are at risk of developing altitude sickness.

Altitude sickness can affect anyone, even those who are physically fit, and in certain circumstances can be life-threatening. Those more at risk may have had altitude sickness before, have health problems that affect their breathing or who exercise or drink alcohol before adjusting to the altitude. If you plan to travel to high altitude areas, you should consult your doctor prior to travel and get advice specific to your medical situation.

Local laws

A number of countries in South America are large producers of cocaine and other narcotics.  There are severe penalties for drug trafficking and you should make sure that you are aware of the contents of all of your bags, particularly when crossing international borders. You should also never agree to carry items or luggage for others or become involved in the trafficking of drugs of any kind.  Harsh penalties apply for those convicted of drug related crimes and the standard of prisons is very different to what you’d find in New Zealand and they are often very over crowded.  New Zealand does not have prisoner transfer agreements so if convicted you will have to serve your sentence in a foreign prison in difficult conditions.

Hurricane season

Each year the Caribbean region experiences hurricanes and these storms have the potential to create high winds, heavy rains and flooding, resulting in widespread damage to countries on the Caribbean coast.  The hurricane season normally runs from June to November and the risk level varies between countries, as well as from season to season. 

New Zealanders are advised to monitor local and international weather reports to keep up to date with developments. If you are staying in a hotel, you should follow the guidance of hotel management or your tour operator. Otherwise, heed any instructions issued by the local authorities. Do not go outdoors during a hurricane and remain well away from the sea.  For further information, including on the likely path of a hurricane, visit http://www.nhc.noaa.gov.

Extreme Risk

Destinations in Central/South America where we advise against all travel.

Ecuador

There is extreme risk to your security within 20 kilometres of the border with Colombia due to the threat from kidnapping and organised and drug-related crime and we advise against all travel to this area.

Panama

There is extreme risk to your security in the Darien Gap, south of the town of Yaviza, due to violent crime and the presence of drug traffickers and armed guerrilla forces.  We advise against all travel to this area, which includes the Darien National Park, nature reserves and tourist resorts. 

Venezuela

There is extreme risk to your security within 80 kilometres of the border with Colombia, particularly in the states of Zulia, Tachira and Apure. Drug traffickers and illegal armed groups operate in these areas and there is a risk of kidnapping. New Zealanders should not cross the Venezuela-Colombia border by land and we advise against all travel to these areas.

High Risk

Destinations in Central/South America where we advise against tourist and other non-essential travel.

Colombia

There is high risk to your security in the departments of Arauca, Caquetá, Cauca, Chocó, Guainía, Guaviare, Meta, Nariño, Norte de Santander, Putumayo, Vichada and rural areas of northern Antioquia, southern Bolívar, southern Cordoba and southern Valle del Cauca due to the presence of illegal armed groups, drug-related criminal activity and threat from kidnapping.  We advise against all tourist and other non-essential travel to these areas. 

There is high risk to your security within 20 kilometres of the border with Venezuela in the departments of Boyaca, César and La Guajira due to the presence of illegal armed groups and drug-related criminal activity and we advise against all tourist and other non-essential travel to these areas.  

Ecuador

There is high risk to your security in northern provinces of Carchi and Sucumbios due to the threat from kidnapping and organised and drug-related crime and we advise against all tourist and other non-essential travel.

Peru

There is high risk to your security within 20 kilometres of the border with Colombia due to the presence of drug traffickers and the occasional presence of armed guerrilla forces.  We advise against all tourist and other non-essential travel to these areas and against crossing the border with Colombia by land. 

Some Risk

Destinations in Central/South America where we advise caution.

Argentina

There is some risk to your security in Argentina due to criminal activity and we advise caution. 

Bolivia

There is some risk to your security in Bolivia due to the potential for civil unrest and violent crime and we advise caution. 

Brazil

There is some risk to your security in Brazil due to violent crime and we advise caution. 

Chile

There is some risk to your security in Chile due to the potential for violent civil unrest and we advise caution. 

Colombia

There is some risk to your security elsewhere in Colombia due to violent crime and the threat of terrorism and kidnapping.  We advise caution.  

Costa Rica

There is some risk to your security in Costa Rica due to violent crime and we advise caution. 

Ecuador

There is some risk to your security elsewhere in Ecuador due to violent crime and we advise caution.

El Salvador

There is some risk to your security in El Salvador due to violent crime and we advise caution.

Guatemala

There is some risk to your security in Guatemala due to violent crime and incidents of civil unrest and we advise caution.

Honduras

There is some risk to your security in Honduras due to violent crime and the potential for civil unrest we advise caution.

Panama

There is some risk to your security elsewhere in Panama due to criminal activity and the potential for civil unrest and we advise caution. 

Peru

There is some risk to your security elsewhere in Peru due to violent crime and we advise caution. 

Venezuela

There is some risk to your security elsewhere in Venezuela due to violent crime and the potential for violent civil unrest. We advise caution. 

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