Robbed in Valparaiso – How to stay safe and what to do if robbed

by Dan Fey on May 15, 2012

Valparaiso Graffiti

Valparaiso graffiti, one of the last pictures I took before I was robbed

It was about 12:30pm on April 25th, the day I arrived in Valparaiso via bus from Mendoza. I was walking around the beautifully colored houses sitting on Cerro Carcel (Carcel Hill) on a beautiful, blue sky day.

I was elated from my Adventures across Argentina and happy to be walking around alone to soak in the sights. Not many people were around. Though I was in a touristic area, it was low season and there were also student protests down in the heart of the city.

I walked down a hill and the back up in search of the Plazuella San Luis. The hill I walked up didn´t look very touristy, but I saw a nice church peaking up above some houses a couple streets over. I thought it might be the plaza, so I started walking over.

A few locals were working outside on a car when one guy with a rain jacket and shorts walked up to me and said:

“It´s not safe here. No es seguro.”

“No?” I asked with an instant bolt of thoughts stirring in my mind about how to get out and somewhere safe.

“No, it´s not safe here, baja,” he said gesturing me to go down the hill towards the city.

I looked down and started walking, my senses now heightened.

After about 30 seconds, the street merged onto another. I looked up and saw the same man walking down towards me. Maybe I was going the wrong way? Maybe he was coming this way too?

He got to me pretty quickly, pulled out a stick and commanded, “saca la mochila!”

I looked back at him, puzzled, not immediately understanding what was going on.

“Saca la mochila!” He now used his hands to physically remove my day pack from my back, which contained my laptop, fleece, and Patagonia rain shell.

Next, he uttered some things I didn´t understand. I put my hands up in a passive manner. I could have fought back, but my first instinct was survival. I was in a different country in a strange neighborhood alone and was not about to jeopardize my life over “things” that are totally replaceable.

The guy rifled through my pockets, pulling out my iPhone 4, wallet, and passport. He handed my passport back to me (luckily for me) and said “leave now”, pointing up the hill back to where I came from.

I started running, looked back, and saw the guy running in the opposite direction with all my stuff. As I ran, I felt something he missed, my camera. I probably would have been a good idea to take it out and snap a photo of him at that point, but it was the last thing on my mind.

I thought to myself, “shit, I was just robbed”.

That turned into “I´m glad I wasn´t hurt” and “I need to get off of this hill.”

Valparaiso Hill View

I ran down the hill toward the city of Valparaiso

I ran back down from where I came and continued down the hill for about 10 minutes. I arrived in Plazuella San Luis. It was nice, clean, and with lots of people.

“Ok, now I´m safe,” I thought to myself, “now where´s the police station. I need to report this for insurance.”

I walked up to a hotel door man and asked, “donde esta la policia?”

I followed his directions to La Policia de Investigaciones (PDI). After about an hour and a half, including a transfer to another station, they told me to go to the Carabineros about 8 blocks away.

After about another hour, I finally sat down and filed the report, recalling the incident and what was stolen.

I walked out of the station with only keys, a camera, and 900 Chilean Pesos (about $1.85) in coins. I didn´t know where I was in the city, but I knew I needed to save the coins for something important.

I spotted the big congress building near the place I was staying and started walking toward it. I stopped first at an internet café (I guess they are useful – I denounce them in this article about technology while traveling) and paid 200 pesos for 30 minutes.

I alerted Nestor, the guy I was staying with in Valparaiso, and my family of the robbery and began looking into filing an insurance claim.

After, I  continued walking, finding the important reason for saving my money, churros! Two with dulce de leche for 500 pesos and honey roasted nuts for 200 pesos. Yum… they warmed my soul.

I made it back to the apartment and started the process of canceling my credit cards and filing an insurance claim.

Determined not to have this make me down, Nestor and I went out that Wednesday night until 4am and had a great time in Viña del Mar.

What I learned

  • Don´t be alone on the street in a foreign city, especially if you don´t know it´s safe.
  • Don´t play with your life, it´s not worth it. Give the robber what he wants and head to safety.
  • Know where you are going. Carry a map and know where not to go.
  • Prior to your travels, document what you are taking along with original receipts for insurance.
  • It´s not the end of the world, life goes on.

The next day, I was off to La Serena to see stars from one of the clearest skies in the world.

P.S. After mailing in the police report, photo evidence of ownership, and original receipts, my WorldNomads travelers insurance paid out for everything that I had a receipt (didn´t have one for my day pack or ear buds).

Have you ever been robbed while traveling? Do you have any additional advice? Leave a comment here.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Crougar May 18, 2012 at 11:54 pm

How about “how not to get robbed while touring the world” What you learned is good, but should never be needed when being smart and using common sense. You got ripped off, respectfully, and please don’t take this the wrong way, but I think you failed to learn the big lesson. How not to get ripped off.

– Do not carry valuables with you, especially in these Latin American countries. A cheap cell phone is best. An old used one preferably that is multi band. Absolutley don’t carry a laptop or expensive camera. Cheap stuff only. Do not bring your wallet or ANY credit cards, ID etc.. only some spending cash.

– First rule and most important in travelling. When touring a city do not under any circumstance carry your passport with you. A copy is sufficient in 99% of the cases.

– Don’t look like a target (or perfect mark for a rip off artist)
You probably looked like the perfect mark – a tourist flashing a bright coloured bag with iPhone, taking pictures etc.. Sure you were in a strange part of town, but it could happen anywhere. Dress down, don’t look rich, blend in.

What to do when get robbed? I’ve never been robbed on the many tours to south east Asia and some of the more sorted places around. Because I was prepared and used common sense. My advice to you, investigate more ways to avoid getting ripped off.


Sanu December 11, 2012 at 5:49 pm

Hi Joe it seems that you have to be very careful in Spain. I was in Madrid last year, enerted the subway at the airport, and when I got out downtown Madrid, someone had taken my wallet out of my pants. So I was there without money and identity. Not brave enough to start a new life, though All the best, and hopefully we meet again in the Artland Heinz


Ed May 31, 2012 at 2:49 am

Also, consider keeping your essential valuables elsewhere. Leave the iPhone in your apartment and carry a cheap go-phone.

Put you actual valuables in a waste or shoulder holster underneath your shirt/jacket. I almost always carry a wallet with a decoy wallet with some money, copy of passport, etc. – then keep my real belongings in a pouch that ties around my waste or over my shoulder. Robbers are less likely to take your important valuables here.


crougar June 23, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Good point Ed.

While walking or motor biking around a town I always carry a minimum of cash with me. Some decoy cash in my shoulder bag and more cash in a money belt under clothing. A money belt is at most a 10 dollar item that could save lots of anguish and hard earned cash in the case one is faced with a robber. I only carry what I think I might spend in a day.

NEVER carry a laptop around. Lock in the hotel room with a security cable.

Also one thing I did not mention. Most hotels offer safe boxes for valuables so there is never any excuse to carry a passport and an excess of money while touring a town. If one is “couch surfing” most towns offers some sort of safe box service or lockers where one can safely leave valuables. So, there is never really any good reason to carry valuables. The only exception is when in transit between airport and hotels/lodging. When in transit between airport or on a bus to a new destination the money belt strategy is the best. I am planning a trip right now and I have my money belt ready to go. I’ll put some USD and travelers cheques in there. And as always put some in my regular wallet. If I get into a situation where I’m robbed they can have the wallet with 100 USD and a couple hundred in TC’s. The rest will be safely in my money belt.


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