This advice is intended to help you stay healthy, safe and happy whilst on holiday in Latin America.
If you have any concerns about travelling – or any of the information below – before, during or after your trip, please get in touch with us immediately and we will be happy to help.
Information in these notes is for information purposes only and is provided in good faith.
Travel to Latin America is a wonderful chance to experience a stunning array of cultures,landscapes, ecosystems and activities.
At the heart of this experience are the differences between our ways of life. You should understand that this means that standards of health and safety will not be the same as the UK/Europe/your home country, and may often be lower.
When you arrive in a hotel, take a moment to familiarise yourself with the fire procedures and your escape routes and nearest fire exit. Be especially careful about this if you are staying in a hotel that is more than two storeys high. Take a torch with you and have it within reach by your bedside.
Balcony heights and distance between the rungs can vary considerably from country to country. Do take care around balconies, particularly if you are travelling with children. If you are unhappy with the balcony height, or any other aspect of it, you should request a suitable alternative room.
Lift safety regulations also vary from country to country. Be aware that safeguards required in the UK may not be present.
Trips and Slips
Guards and warnings of wet floors, uneven steps, holes, or other trip hazards are often not provided. Watch your step!
Be aware that plate glass windows are not usually provided with safety markings to warn against walking into them and may shatter dangerously.
The vast majority of pools will not have lifeguards, depth markings or non-slip surfaces around them. Take a moment to familiarise yourself with the layout and depth of the pool. Be aware of any hidden and/or submerged objects. In the event of an emergency, know how to get help. Avoid using the pool when alone, at night and after consuming alcohol.
Again, you are unlikely to see any lifeguards on beaches in Latin America. Take time to familiarise yourself with the beach and also take local advice particularly regarding swell and currents. On sandy beaches one way you may be able to identify strong currents is by looking out for distinct sandy patches in the face of breaking waves – avoid these stretches. If you are caught in a current, do not panic, swim sideways out of the current – do not swim back against it. Take great care in areas where there are motorised craft of any sort sharing the water with swimmers. If in doubt, don’t bathe.
Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a chemical compound of carbon and oxygen. It has no colour, taste or smell and is extremely poisonous. Gas stoves, fires and boilers, gas powered water heaters, paraffin heaters, solid fuel powered stoves, boilers and room heaters are all capable of producing CO if not appropriately installed and maintained. You can tell if a gas appliance is working correctly by observing the flame. A yellow/orange flame is evidence of possible CO presence. A ‘healthy’ flame should be crisp, vibrant and blue.
Symptoms of CO poisoning can easily be confused with flu, severe headaches, nausea, dizziness, general lethargy. Severe CO poisoning makes the body turn a cherry-red colour. If you suspect CO poisoning get out into fresh air as quickly as possible and call for medical help. If you can, open doors and windows.
Please exercise caution when using electrical appliances. When using your own appliances be sure to use relevant adapters and converters.
You should always seek immunisation advice from a trained medical professional at least 6 weeks prior to travel. Make sure you take medication appropriate to your destination.
The sun in Latin America is stronger than we are used to in the UK. Be aware that the effects of sun are even stronger at altitude and in the south of the continent (Patagonia and Antarctica) where the ozone layer is thinner. Use a high factor sunscreen, avoid unnecessary exposure to the sun in the middle of the day. Take a broad-brimmed sun hat, a baseball cap is rarely sufficient. Cover up with appropriate clothing. Drink bottled water. Stay in the shade.
Food and Drink
Use your common sense when selecting where and what to eat. Ask your guides for advice. Drink bottled water. Always wash your hands before eating. Anti-bacterial hand wash is worth having.
Take note of what is going on around you and keep away from any situations where you do not feel comfortable. Keep up to date with local and regional events in the media. Leave your jewellery and valuables at home if you can.
Leave paper valuables in hotel safe (caja fuerte), taking only what you need for the day. Carry a copy of passport (leave original in safe). When travelling, carry paper valuables in a money belt under clothing, not in a ‘bum-bag’.
Be suspicious of ‘overly-friendly’ locals or ‘tourists’ who might be con-men/women. Beware bag-snatchers on the beach. We suggest you do not exchange money on the street. Use either a casa de cambio (bureau de change) or bank, ATM machine.
Only take a daypack if you’re in a group. We suggest you carry this on your chest. Carry camera in bag, replacing after use. Take special care in markets, busy streets and bus stations. Never carry a bag or valuables in these areas, as bag-slashers, watch snatchers and pickpockets operate. Beware of distraction techniques. At night, avoid quiet streets or streets with poor lighting, especially if alone; it’s best to use taxis at night, wherever you are. NEVER leave your bags unattended.
Respect local customs particularly when visiting religious sites, markets and rural communities. It is hard to generalise but you should at least be prepared to cover shoulders and knees when visiting churches.
Shortness of breath is normal when first arriving at altitude.
The most common cause of altitude sickness is dehydration. Physical exercise, hot sunshine and dry high altitude air all combine to cause you to lose fluids rapidly. Take a water bottle (1.5 litre capacity) and water purification tablets and ensure that you drink plenty, possibly 4-5 litres per day. When you go to the toilet check the colour of your urine. If it is clear like water then you’re fine but if it is dark yellow then you are dehydrated and need to drink more.
Extremes of temperature can also lead to sickness. Try to stay out of the sun as much as possible. Use a sun hat and sun cream and protect the back of your neck.
When at altitude the secret is not to overstrain yourself since you don’t make such a rapid recovery upon resting as you may at sea-level. Instead, try to make trips (even going up and down stairs) in small, manageable sections, at a good, slow pace.
Listen to your heart rate and when it feels as if your heart is going to jump straight out of your chest it’s a sure sign to stop and rest for a few minutes until it returns to normal. Make frequent rests and take your time to enjoy where you are.
Activities and Excursions
Among the great appeals of travel to Latin America are the extraordinary experiences you can enjoy from riding through caiman filled lagoons in the Pantanal to walking on top of a glacier in Patagonia. Local safety standards that apply to these activities will not be the same as in the UK and may be significantly lower. For instance, you will normally not be offered a helmet when riding horses or bikes. Before you go you might like to check such details with your tour operator and, if necessary, take appropriate equipment with you. Whilst on holiday you should use your common sense. Always follow the guides’ instructions. If you ever have cause to feel nervous about the safety of an activity or excursion then do not go. Report your concerns to your guide, local contact and/or tour operator at the earliest opportunity.
Remember that if you choose to take an excursion or activity on holiday which is not arranged as part of your package, your tour operator will not accept any responsibility.
When travelling by foot, be careful crossing roads in Latin America, particularly in cities. When travelling by taxi, make sure it is licensed, ideally you should ask your hotel or restaurant to call one for you.
When travelling by coach or minibus, we recommend that you use seat belts when they are provided. If there are no seat belts then try to avoid the front seats, seats by emergency exits and seats in the middle of the back row. When travelling by train familiarise yourself with safety procedures on board and locate your emergency exit route. When travelling by hire car, familiarise yourself with local regulations and laws before setting off.
Check all tyres for tread and air pressure, including the spare. Check oil, water and petrol. Always obey speed limits, never drink and drive. Drive in the daytime whenever possible and be aware of distances between petrol stations.
Drive defensively and be aware that pot holes and random speed bumps are common.
Pre-existing Medical Conditions and Disabilities
Please make sure that your tour operator is aware of any pre-existing medical conditions or disabilities which could affect your holiday. Please ensure that you travel with sufficient supplies of medication. When flying always pack enough medication in your hand luggage to tide you over should flights be delayed or your hold luggage go missing.
Have a check-up with your GP/doctor before going on holiday. Check with them that you are in suitable health to undertake all activities you wish to take part in.
Access to Medical Facilities
During your holiday you are likely to be travelling in areas well away from medical facilities such as doctors, pharmacists and accident and emergency units. Your travel insurance must include sufficient cover for emergency medical evacuation, by air if necessary.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you are fully and adequately insured for the duration of your holiday. Take time to confirm that all activities, excursions and destinations are included. Be particularly careful of any altitude exclusions. Ideally your cover would include, but not be limited to adequate: medical, legal, cancellation, delay and personal possession cover.
Know Before You Go
Please check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel website or call 0845 850 2829 to help you make informed decisions about your safety abroad.
Letting us know
You should always use your common sense whilst on holiday. If you ever have cause to feel nervous about the safety of an activity, excursion, mode of transport or hotel then please report this immediately.
Report your concerns to the supplier on the ground (this could be your hotel, bus driver or activity leader for instance).
You should also inform your guide, local contact and/or contact Andean Trails at the earliest opportunity.
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