A frequently asked question on many travel forums is “How safe is it to travel to X (one of the Latin American countries) as a solo traveler?” It is fully understood why traveling alone in Latin America can seem like a daunting prospect, especially if you are a woman. However, women who have been to this part of the world before know that it is not necessary to post this type of question. All countries in Central and South America are generally safe to visit as a solo traveler. There are, however, some areas that pose a risk and these should be avoided.
Many large cities in Latin America have areas that are not particularly desirable and you should stick to the main touristy or modern parts of these cities if you visit them. This includes all major cities in Central America (i.e. Belize, Guatemala, Managua, Mexico, Panama, San Jose, San Salvador, and Tegucigalpa). There are also parts of South American cities to avoid such as Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and Sao Paulo in Brazil and Caracas in Venezuela. As with the big cities of Central America, stay in the tourist areas and you will be fine. You should also be careful when visiting particular regions of certain countries like Colombia and Venezuela. For example, it’s not a good idea to hang out in the border areas of Colombia or travel to obscure and off the beaten track destinations. Although Colombia and Venezuela get bad press, they are both relatively safe to visit if you stick to the top tourist destinations mentioned in reputable travel guides. If somewhere is mentioned in a reputable guidebook, it is almost certainly safe to visit.
This leads to an important point of the discussion. It’s very easy to be paranoid about visiting certain countries and cities, but it’s totally unwarranted. Remember that only parts of these countries and cities are to be avoided, just as parts of cities in Europe or North America are to be avoided. In fact, traveling throughout most of Latin America is much safer and more enjoyable than traveling in many parts of Europe or North America. Furthermore, as Susan Griffith rightly points out in “Traveling Solo as a Woman in Asia,” “there is a pernicious mythology surrounding the lone traveler, whether as a hitchhiker in Britain or in Southeast Asia. perils and stress the vulnerability of an unmarried woman. Often, this doomed response is just an excuse for their own shyness of mind. “Don’t be paranoid: Latin American countries are no more dangerous than many other countries in this world, and in reality you are more likely to run into problems in certain European countries or North American states.
Referring to the classic question seen on travel forums (i.e. how safe is it to travel to X as a solo traveler), it is worth mentioning the responsibilities and abilities of the ‘individual. Safety is intrinsically linked to knowledge and experience. Whenever you are planning a trip to Latin America or anywhere in the world, it is absolutely essential that you do your research. Try to find as much information as possible about the country or countries you want 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 ones you want or should avoid. The Internet is also an invaluable source of information, and there are many websites dedicated to the concerns of female travelers. We often hear people referred to as “streetwise”; If the definition were applied to travel rather than the urban environment, some travelers could easily be characterized as “ travelers ” (i.e. having the awareness, experience and ingenuity to survive in a difficult and often dangerous overseas environment). The 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 assess situations more successfully. So, it is fair to say that overall security depends in part on the qualifications (age, knowledge and experience) of the person asking the question.
To a large extent, safety is just about being sane and staying alert. For example, presentation items such as expensive cameras, jewelry, or cell phones are likely to attract opportunistic thieves. Likewise, putting your backpack on the luggage rack of a public bus rather than keeping it on your lap or at your feet is problematic. The key message here is not to take unnecessary risks. You might want a late paddle on Copacabana Beach (Rio de Janeiro), but any guide will tell you not to visit this area after dark. You might want to go to the bars and clubs in Quito, but leave your valuables in your hotel. You might want to get drunk at the nearest nightclub, but don’t try to get back to your hotel late at night. It really is a matter of common sense.
The main issue for female travelers alone is the threat of sexual harassment from local men and even male travelers. While male travelers can be a problem at times, you should be aware of the cultural differences between men in Latin America and those in your own country. Attitudes of machismo are quite prevalent among Latin American men and it is advisable to follow local practice and take your cues (i.e. how do local women deal with prolonged eye contact etc.) from the local woman if you don’t want to be the object of curiosity. Appropriate dress and behavior will attract less unwanted attention from local men. Sadly, many men in the region view Western women as a trustworthy man. This impression is largely due to the way some women dress. Acting drunk and a little bit wild is also bound to create the kind of interest you’re trying to avoid. You need to balance your sense of adventure with an awareness of cultural differences. It is also important that you listen and trust your instincts. If you are in a situation that makes you uncomfortable as a woman, you have to go with your gut and go.
Most Latin American countries are well established on the ‘gringo trail’ so there will always be opportunities to connect with other travelers. This will greatly reduce any hassle you might have. This should not deter any woman from traveling alone as it can be a rewarding and stimulating experience. There is probably nothing more satisfying for a solo 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 prevent you from hitting the road. There are thousands of solo female travelers currently exploring Latin America and you could be one of them.