Latin American Ladies Solo Travel – Safety Tips For Women

Latin American Ladies Solo Travel – Safety Tips for Women

A common question on many travel forums is “How safe is it to travel to X (a Latin American country) as a solo female traveler?” It’s totally understandable why traveling alone to Latin America can seem intimidating, especially if you’re a woman. However, women who have already visited this region of the world know that there is no need to post this kind of question. All countries in Central and South America are generally safe to visit as a solo traveler. However, there are some areas that are dangerous and should be avoided.

Many of the big cities in Latin America have particularly undesirable areas and you should stick to the main tourism or modern parts of these cities if you visit. This includes all major cities in Central America (such as Belize City, Guatemala City, Managua, Mexico City, Panama City, San José, San Salvador, and Tegucigalpa). There are also certain parts of South American cities that should be avoided such as Rio de Janeiro, El Salvador, Sao Paulo in Brazil, and Caracas in Venezuela. As with major cities in Central America, stick to the tourist areas and you’ll be fine. You should also be careful when visiting certain regions of certain countries such as Colombia and Venezuela. For example, it is not a good idea to wander around the border regions of Colombia or travel to obscure places far from the busy paths. Although Colombia and Venezuela get some bad news, they are relatively safe to visit if you stick to the top tourist destinations mentioned in reputable travel guides. If a place is mentioned in a reputable guidebook, it is definitely safe to visit.

This leads to an important point in the discussion. It is very easy to get paranoid about visiting certain countries and cities but it is completely unjustified. Remember that it is best to avoid only certain parts of these countries and cities, just as it is best to avoid certain parts of cities in Europe or North America. In fact, it is much safer and more enjoyable to travel around most of Latin America than around many parts of Europe or North America. In addition, as Susan Griffiths rightly points out in her book Traveling Solo As a Woman in Asia, “there is a pernicious myth surrounding the lone traveler, whether it be as a wanderer around Britain or a traveler in Southeast Asia. Many people immediately exaggerate the risks and focus on the vulnerability of single women. This death-stricken response is often just an excuse for her shame of the soul.” Don’t be paranoid: Latin American countries are no more dangerous than many other countries in this world, and in fact you are more likely to run into problems than some European or North American countries.

Going back to the classic question seen in travel forums (i.e. how safe is it to travel to X as a solo traveler), it’s worth mentioning one’s responsibilities and abilities. Safety is inherently about knowledge and experience. When you are planning a trip to Latin America or anywhere else in the world, it is absolutely essential that you do your research. Experiment and find out as much information as possible about the country or countries you would like to visit. Travel guides such as those produced by Lonely Planet and Footprint will help you decide which places you want to visit and which you may or should avoid. The Internet is also an invaluable source of information, and there are many websites dedicated to the concerns of women traveling alone. We often hear people described as “streetwise”; If the definition were applied to travel rather than the urban environment, some travelers could easily be classified as “travelling” (that is, having the intelligent awareness, experience, and resourcefulness needed to survive a difficult, and often dangerous, external environment). Travel experience (especially in the third world) goes a long way in ensuring safety. This is because people with extensive travel experience assess risks more effectively and measure situations more successfully. Thus, it is fair to say that general safety depends in part on the qualifications (age, knowledge, experience) of the person asking the question.

Safety is very much just a state of mind and staying alert. For example, flimsy items such as expensive cameras, jewelry, or cell phones are more likely to attract opportunistic thieves. Likewise, putting your day bag on the luggage rack on a public bus instead of keeping it on your lap or on your feet is a hassle. The main message here is not to take any unnecessary risks. You might fancy a late paddle boarder on Copacabana Beach (Rio de Janeiro) but any travel guide will tell you not to visit this area after dark. You may want to go to the bars and clubs in Quito but leave your valuables at your hotel. You may want to get drunk at the nearest disco but don’t try to get back to the hotel late at night. It’s all about common sense really.

The main issue for solo travelers is the threat of sexual harassment from local men and even male travellers. While male travelers may be an issue on some occasions, you should be aware of the cultural differences between Latin American men and those from your country. Somewhat masculine attitudes are prevalent among men in Latin America and it is advisable to follow local practices and take your cues (eg how local women handle prolonged eye contact, etc.) from the local woman if you do not want to be an object of curiosity. Appropriate dress and demeanor attract less unwanted attention from local men. It is a sad fact that many local men view Western women as slutty. This impression is largely due to the way some women dress. Acting a bit drunk and wild is bound to create the kind of attention you’re trying to avoid. You need to balance your sense of adventure with an awareness of cultural differences. It is also important to listen and trust your instincts. If you are in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable as a woman, follow your instincts and leave.

Most of the countries in Latin America are well established on the “gringo trail” and therefore, there will always be opportunities to connect with other travellers. This will greatly reduce any hassles you may encounter. This should not stop any woman from traveling alone as this can be a rewarding and empowering experience. There is perhaps nothing more satisfying for a solo female traveler than knowing that she has forged her own path.

While it is true that there are specific concerns for female travelers, the risks that exist should not stop you from hitting the road. There are thousands of female solo travelers exploring Latin America right now and you could be one of them.