The bodies of two young female French hikers were discovered on a hiking trail in Salta, Argentina last week. The women were shot to death at close range, one in the head, and the other in the back. One of the women appears to have been sexually assaulted. News reports say that the victims may have been held hostage for several days. The Argentine police are still looking for the killer in this northern Argentine region that is very popular with foreign and local tourists who enjoy the natural beauty of the mountains and hiking trails.
Salta is not known to be a dangerous area. In recent years, tourism in Salta has even gone upscale and many boutique hotels and posh restaurants have opened to cater to a wealthier class of tourists who love to hike and enjoy the outdoors.
Argentina much more dangerous than Chile; reports of armed robberies abound
Yet one must bear in mind that Argentina remains a dangerous place. Argentina has much more violent crime than Chile. In Mendoza, the wine capital of Argentina, a region known for posh wineries and restaurants, hotels keep their doors locked at all times, even during the day. The rich live in gigantic villas in barrios privados – gated communities with manicured lawns and swimming pools, fenced off from the hostile outside world by thick, high walls and armed guards. The most noticeable feature of Mendoza when you first arrive is how decrepit the public spaces are — the rundown buildings, poorly maintained and badly lighted streets, rotting public infrastructure, broken or non-existent sidewalks — in contrast to the luxurious, high-end design and interiors of expensive restaurants, hotels and wineries.
Commando style robberies in Mendoza targeted at expensive restaurants and luxury winery hotels, have created an image problem for the region. Reports of an armed gang attacking a wedding party at a luxury resort in 2008, robberies of guests at the famous 1884 Restaurant of Francis Mallmann (Argentina’s most well-known chef), and of foreign cyclists in Mendoza have done much to dent Mendoza’s image. There have been no armed gang attacks this year to the best of my knowledge, but then again, I don’t know if these incidents go unreported in the foreign press (note: if you want to know about the latest robberies and attacks, just do a Google search with the terms “robbery attack Mendoza Argentina”). The brazenness of these attacks tells me that the people who belong to these armed gangs are desperate and not afraid of the police.
[In another article I will discuss the security situation in Brazil, which is improving according to some, but is still very dangerous compared to Asian countries I've visited such as Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia and Burma.]
On a positive note, hotels in Mendoza have reportedly beefed up security but one should think very carefully about what security precautions one should take when holidaying in a place which has a tiny group of very rich people presiding over an overwhelmingly poorer population, and a weak central government that cannot enforce public order.
I still think Mendoza is worth visiting. I was just there last weekend and greatly enjoyed my stay. I will post my Mendoza recommendations for hotels, restaurants and wineries in the next article.
My advice to anyone visiting Mendoza is to stay in a less posh hotel, for example, a small boutique hotel that is not ostentatious and does not attract very rich people.