One of the most commonly asked questions I see posted on travel forums is along the lines of “How safe is it for a solo female traveller to visit X?” Here I’ll try to comprehensively answer that question, as well as offering some safety tips for solo travellers and advising on the few regions that it’s best not to venture to.
My guess would be that most people who would ask the question “how safe is it to visit X Latin American country?” haven’t ever been to Latin America. Once you have visited, you understand the reality - and in reality, all countries in Latin America are perfectly safe to visit (except Haiti perhaps). There’s not a single country I would advise a solo female traveller not to visit. There are, however, a few regions that I would advise a little extra care to be taken in:
1. Certain Big Cities in Central America - certain parts of larger cities in Central America such as Belize City, Guatemala City, Tegucigalpa, Managua, Mexico City etc. aren’t particularly desirable. My advice would be to stick to the more upmarket or modern parts of these large cities. Many of these little Central American countries are the poorest in Latin America.
2. Certain Big Cities in Brazil - parts of Sao Paulo, Salvador, Rio de Janeiro and other large cities in Brazil are best avoided. Stick to the touristy areas and you’ll be fine though. Take local advice. Take extra care at night. Never visit any of Rio de Janeiro’s beaches after dark. But don’t be paranoid either - it’s only certain bits of these cities that are best avoided, just as certain parts of cities in Europe, or North America, are best avoided.
3. Border regions of Colombia - although it is a hell of a lot safer to visit Colombia than it was 10 years ago, certain bits should be avoided. Generally speaking, anywhere that tourists are visiting - it is safe to do so. If you read about somewhere in a travel guide, it’s almost certainly safe to visit. The only places not safe to visit are a few really obscure, off the beaten track destinations. As a general rule, the less safe parts of the country are the region of the Pacific Coast, plus areas bordering the Ecuadorean and Venezuelan borders (on either side of the borders). Main roads running through these borders are fine though. You might be surprised to learn that Ecuador, Venezuela, Brazil and Mexico all have higher kidnapping rates than Colombia (more info on this article). So don’t get paranoid about Colombia - to many people the country has a bad image, but this is totally unwarranted nowadays.
4. Parts of Venezuela - Venezuela has one of the highest crime levels in South America. President Chavez’s antagonistic stance with the West serves to stoke up an anti Western feeling amongst the less educated people in Venezuela. The top tourist destinations are all fine to visit, but take care in more obscure parts of the country and large cities, especially Caracas.
Tips for solo female travellers
1. Dress conservatively if in doubt. You’ll attract less unwanted attention from the local men. If you do get unwanted attention, just ignore it or act coldly towards those local machos.
2. Getting drunk and then walking to your hotel late at night is asking for trouble. Get a taxi - ideally one that has been pre-booked (ie. phoned for by the restaurant or bar).
3. Don’t accept food or drinks from unknown people on public transport or in the street - as it might be laced with a drug that could knock you out for days. Chances of this happening to you are very slim, but it’s worth bearing in mind.
4. If, for whatever reason, you just don’t like the idea of travelling around developing countries on your own, consider taking a group tour. There’s a ton of well respected tour operators that offer group tours to South America.
5. See the earlier article on more general tips for travelling safely in Latin America.