Before budget travelers can be sold on the merits visiting Latin American destinations, the issue of crime must be addressed. Unfortunately, a certain percentage of would-be travelers to these value-packed locations won't even consider a trip because they've heard crime is out of control and that tourists are frequent targets.
Clearly, there are areas that present significant danger. For example, the rain forests of Panama's Darién Gap region near the Colombian border are not safe to explore without an expert guide. Large sections of the coastal city of Colón are not safe for walking, day or night. Do these concerns make it unsafe to visit Panama? Absolutely not.
Throughout Mexico, Central America and South America, it pays to take a few precautions. Don't carry large wads of cash, and keep your passport secured at all times. When someone warns you that a given area might be unsafe, weigh their advice carefully with your need to be there.
That list of precautions applies to anywhere in the world, not just Latin America. Be aware of your surroundings and don't take foolish chances.