The name of the game here is don´t flash your fancy stuff or stumble around at night alone and you´ll pretty much be fine. I don´t want to scare people from coming here because it really is one of South America´s safer cities, but I´ve been mugged and robbed many times on a coupl’a continents so I guess you can say I learned the hard way. Even for those of us from cities who think we´ve got this urban thing down, there are ways that don´t occur to us for robberies to happen.
1. Pick-pockets: Don´t put things in your back pockets. It´s easier to grab things from them without you noticing. Chile has somewhat of an international reputation for skilled pickpockets. ¡Qué vergüenza!
2. Expensive devices: If you´re in a sketchy area (even tourist spots are targets because most carry iPhones and the like) do not talk on your phone or search the internet on a laptop or other device where you can be seen. While you´re busy talking and maybe not paying close attention to your surroundings, the would-be thief sees the perfect chance to snatch it right out of your hand and run. They will then sell it to some unwitting stranger along the road. Don´t buy stuff sold on the street randomly for this reason. It encourages more petty crime. If you need to use your laptop or tablet, go into a cafe, library or some other secure place with a security guard at the door.
3. Earphones: If you walk around with headphones on, hide the end of the cord so people can´t see where you stash your device. I was quickly relieved of a music device my second week here while riding my bike. In a hurry I stuffed my iPod in my front pocket and headed to work but the white cord gave it away. The thief grabbed me, grabbed it, turned and ran leaving my headphones dangling oddly about my face. I now keep my music player in my bra when outside in the world.
4. Cash: What in the States we call a fanny pack is here known as a banano and they are very popular. They look way better than the ones many of us are used to. I suggest getting one of these if you want to carry sunglasses and little notebooks or dictionaries, but keep the cash in your pocket, and not a lot of it. If someone slices it from your belt and runs, they won´t get much that way. Don´t walk around with credit cards either. If you need to take money out of the ATM, go with someone during the day in a safe area and withdraw. Banco Estado (for an ATM map, click on Red de Atención, and then select Cajero Automático) is the only bank I know of that doesn´t charge a withdrawal fee for international users. All others charge about seven to nine dollars! Like I said, most theft occurs without the victim noticing, but in the event there’s a weapon involved, it´s better to have very few valuables on your person. Money belts are a great tool in the event you have no choice but to carry cash.
5. Wandering: Don´t walk around alone at night. Standard advice anywhere in the world, but worth keeping in mind even in the tourist friendly spots that seem to be safe. The very fact there are foreigners in those areas (Providencia, Las Condes, el Centro, Bellavista, LaStarria) draws the occasional pasta base (like crack) addict looking to beat someone up and take their stuff. Cabs aren´t too expensive.
6. Cabs: They have meters, and must be used! If you are traveling alone try to get a general idea of where you are going before you get in the car. A few of these hard¡-working folk will try to drive you around in unneccesary circles to overcharge you. If you are with friends, be sure to pay attention to the street while talking so that you realize if you are moving in said circles. Pay in the smallest bills possible because many don´t like to or simply can´t make change. A five luka (5,000 pesos) bill is the biggest one to use for a short trip. If you hand the cabbie a ten or twenty, and they hand it back to you saying they don´t have change, make sure to inpsect the bill before handing him another one (I say him because I´ve yet to see a lady cabbie) – sometimes they´ll slip you a smaller bill and hope you don´t notice. This one usually works on drunk people.
7. Transantiago: Don´t sit on the back of the bus at night, unless of course you´re with people. It´s way to easy to rob people or worse, and the bus driver is unlikely to notice/care. Stay on the front half. If you´re on public transportation and it´s crowded, you must absolutely make sure that your zippers on any bag are fully closed, carry your bag/backpack in front of your body, and keep your hands over anything important in your front pockets. This is recommended for any time of day.
8. Personal belongings: If at a restaurant, cafe or public place secure your items to something. Some places have little plastic hooks that you can slip through the sling on your bag. I added my own to my backpack to I can hook it to the chair and no one can swing by and grab it. If you have no tie-down means, put your leg through the arm sling and let it dangle to the floor comfortably. Don´t get up and use the bathroom leaving your phone or other expensive item behind.
9. Gitanos (Romani in English, FKA Gypsy): They´re are many long-haired ladies with floor scraping skirts hanging around the park by Cerro Santa Lucia. They are always on the look-out for an idiot who will give in to one of the many ¨games¨ they have that involves somehow getting their hands inside your bag and snatching your money. You may think they won´t get you, but don´t even try to take them on. They are pros.
10. Alcohol: Drankin´is very popular here. Try not to get shit-housed and walk around with other shit-housed friends late at night. You could get robbed or run over by a shit-housed driver. The government just passed a new law a couple weeks back lowering the amount of alcohol legally allowed in the blood while driving. We shall see if this has the desired effect of reducing alcohol-related accidents by 20% by 2014. Again, there are taxis aplenty.
Questions? Comments? Complaints?