Sep 9, 7 years ago

Stay Healthy While Traveling in Latin America

Stay Healthy While Traveling in Latin America

Staying healthy throughout your travels isn’t difficult, but it does take a few proactive moves and diligence when you are in country. I’ve put together a few key points to consider based on my personal travel experiences.


I like to start with the ‘Travelers’ Health’ page on the CDC (Center for Disease Control) website. They operate an extensive and accurate website, but in my opinion their advice on vaccinations is quite conservative, often suggesting vaccinations that may not be unnecessary. For example, the CDC will recommend malaria drugs for all areas they have found “Malaria transmission occurs in some parts,” but these drugs are expensive, have nasty side effects, and can be completely unnecessary depending on your specific location and the season in which you travel. The best thing you can do is conduct a little internet searching to learn from other travelers to the area. Even better, contact someone living in country to get the best information and make an informed decision that best suits you.

Pre-departure medication

Make your life simple and bring along anti-diarrhea tablets so you don’t have to run out to find a farmacia at an inconvient time. Also, see if your doc will prescribe you Cipro, a general antibiotic that can squash any kind of stomach bug quickly.

Prepare your stomach

You’ll invariably encounter new bacterias which are foreign to your body while traveling – it’s part of the game. Prepare your gut to handle it by boosting your ‘good bacteria’ with yogurt or a good pro-biotic.


All jokes about Montezuma’s revenge aside, water is the most likely culprit to sicken travelers. You can’t make any assumptions, so the best thing to do is ask if the tap water is drinkable. For example, most of Chile and Argentina has drinkable tap water whereas in most of Central America you’ll be drinking bottled. Generally speaking, more prosperous countries and larger cites with sophisticated infrastructure are more likely to have clean tap water. A few tips:

  • don’t swear off drinks with ice, but do verify that it is made with clean water – agua purificada or agua limpia
  • give any raw fruits or veggies a good rinse in clean water
  • fruits or veggies with a husk, rind, or peel are a good bet (bananas, oranges, avocados, pineapple)
  • any kind of cooked food is generally safer


Even with clean ice, contaminated water can find its way into your glass during the washing process, so anything in a bottle is the safest. I just go with my gut feeling about the general cleanliness of the joint. Any place that serves tourists won’t be in business very long if their patrons are falling ill.

Be Sensitive

Lastly, please exercise sensitivity while you’re a guest in someone else’s country. More often than not, travelers who fall ill are not victims of food poisoning, but their bodies are just adjusting and reacting to foreign bacteria. For example, my Mexican friend got violently ill in Germany of all places, not from bad food but from different bacteria.

All this being said, hanging out in Gringo hangouts and paying triple isn’t much cooler than sitting on the toilet for half a day. Exercise common sense, but please don’t cheat yourself of authentic experiences because you’re fearful of an upset tummy. Follow my personal rule of eating at the restaurant in town with the most locals inside – it rarely disappoints.

Lead Image: CC Image Courtesy of Luz Adriana Villa A. on Flickr


Ryan is a writer, photographer, and teacher living and volunteering throughout Latin America.

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