In two long trips, I have now spent over a year (14 months in all) traveling alone in Latin America and I already know that I will be back. Only know the following countries for the moment: Colombia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia, but I hope to discover other countries soon, including in Central America. Traveled alone in Latin America by bus, plane, and hitchhiking. Have lived in several cities, Have passed through dangerous neighborhoods, I have passed through cities considered to be among the most dangerous in the world and I would like to give you an unvarnished account of my experience. While nowadays some accuse rape and robbery victims of being stupid in traveling alone in the area,
So how did I experience these mother daughter trips in US? How do I feel there daily? Has something ever happened to me? Is it dangerous to travel alone in Latin America? What are my tips for getting started on this adventure?
Traveling alone in Latin America and South America
When I went around the world, I got it into my head to start with South America, to keep the best for the end (Asia in my opinion at the time). When I found a cheap flight to Colombia, I didn’t hesitate for a second and took the plunge, unsheathed my credit card, and bought my first flight.
Colombia was therefore my first country outside of Europe and North America. For some, it may seem a little crazy, especially at the time (the tourism and political situation in Colombia has changed a lot since 2013). I was not afraid, I read many articles on security in Colombia, I laughed at the exaggerated advice of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and I tried to convince my relatives (with success … and assurance) that Colombia, was super-safe and that the media, as always, exaggerated a lot. On that, I was right. But I’m not sure I would recommend Colombia as a first solo destination to someone who is a little scared …
The risks of a trip to Latin America
South America and Latin America are a bit the top level of the traveler, after Asia. The culture is closer, there are many famous world travelers as well, but there is a kind of permanent feeling of insecurity, floating and strong depending on the place. You learn to tame this feeling of insecurity, to keep it in mind to stay on your guard, but you also learn to continue living and not to stop doing something because there is some danger. This is how the inhabitants of dangerous cities live and I find it quite reasonable. We know there is a risk of a car accident, but that doesn’t prevent us from driving. On the other hand, we know that there is bad luck, but that there are also safety instructions to apply so as not to force one’s bad luck.
In countries where the standard of living is very low, in countries where the permanent devaluation of the currency impoverishes the population, the theft of a phone, a wallet, a camera or other can pay off many. There are other problems, like the FARC, organ theft, drugs, corruption…, but these are more localized problems that do not always affect tourists.
Yes, we hear a lot of stories, and they are often all true, but it’s also like reading the various facts in newspapers in France: there are always specific cases, bad luck, but most of the time there is nothing is happening. It is well known that great stories are not read in the newspapers, nor are they the favorite subject of gossip. I knew a Canadian who had had her big backpack stolen at the youth hostel and her purse in the streets of Montevideo. I have heard stories of armed robberies in Argentina, Colombia, and Central America. Pickpockets, snatching, machete attacks, scams, rapes, or attempted rapes. Yes, I have heard all this from the mouths of victims, of travel bloggers I have met on the road. Deaths in bus accidents as well. Unfortunately, this is part of the risks of travel and the risks of life.
As of today, I haven’t had anything stolen from myself, nor have I had to live in more serious situations and I had to get out of some average situations, but nothing more! I tell all this in this article on insecurity, bad adventures, and travel scams., but I assure you, this does not happen only in Latin America, and it is even sometimes in France. Yesterday, I got out of the metro in Santiago, in an upscale neighborhood, with all my stuff. I was a little lost, tired and I was looking at the map on my phone. It was clear that I was lost and that I was a tourist and that probably explains why someone tried to steal my things.
However, Santiago is a bit safer city than other South American capitals … Basically, they tried a common scam, which is to throw some product on your big backpack (in my case, black ink), to help you wash it, while an accomplice steals your small bag full of your valuables. An old man came to tell me in English “Pardon mademoiselle, your bag is dirty, like pigeon poop, can I help you clean it up? “. I’m not sure what happened in my brain, I knew the scam but had never been a victim and without thinking in Spanish, I replied, “Thank you, but I don’t care” and I continued my way, feeling the sticky product running down my fleece, my legs, and my leggings… Instinct, no doubt…
The road is also very problematic. But it is valid all over the world and there is a time when one cannot stop living and traveling. We can minimize the risk, but no more. Two us travel bloggers that I had met a week before. Died in transport accidents, one in Laos, the other in Argentina. In Bolivia, the roads have a very bad reputation and accidents are frequent. When possible or too dangerous, take the train or the plane, because what is the point of taking unnecessary risks? Also, pay attention to travel agencies when you organize excursions to isolated places. I am of course thinking of the excursion to the Salar de Uyuni and Sud Lipez. Where there was a fatal accident two weeks after my visit. Choose your agency wisely, putting security before price: I explain all this in detail in my dedicated article.
Brazil is scary, especially Sao Paulo and Rio, two of the only places I have visited in this country. When I announced that I was going to go during the Olympics. I received an incredible number of emails and warnings from friends and acquaintances. Even for Colombia, I had never experienced this. And this, on behalf of people who watch too much TV and had never set foot in Latin America. I still booked my trip at the last minute. But I didn’t have peace of mind when I arrived in Rio de Janeiro. Directly, an adorable family helped me find my way around and. In the metro, several locals told me to be careful. It smelled bad. Finally, I relaxed very quickly. Yes, that sucks, but not from there not to come. Besides, despite its bad reputation, I like Sao Paulo!
Traveling alone in Latin America, a state of mind
Being a solo woman or a man in Latin America comes with the same risks. And I have heard stories from both men and women. White trafficking and rape are of course separate subjects.
In my opinion. Traveling alone in safety in Latin America is above all a state of mind, a question of trust. Not to look like a tourist or a foreigner is mission impossible, and no one is mistaken. It is only in Argentina or Brazil that I am often taken for a local. But elsewhere, I am far too white, far too tall, far too blonde and my eyes are far too blue. My hiking boots and my North Face parka are also a sign. But I admit it’s comfortable and I don’t want to change that. On the other hand. It is better not to look like a wealthy tourist and adopt the penniless, relaxed, even hippie tourist style.
The colorful Patagonia outfit from top to bottom, the big Reflex camera around the neck, the Rolex on the wrist. The security pocket on the jeans (yes, yes not hidden), iPhone in hand, wearing jewelry, backpack… it’s not a good idea! Try to blend in as little as possible. In Colombia for example, at least in Bogota, people wear backpacks on the front. Do the same. In Argentina, girls do not often take handbags and put everything in their pockets. Do the same…
Hitchhiking alone in Latin America
I tested hitchhiking alone and with others in Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile. I never felt in danger. Of course, I follow the safety rules. And wouldn’t go hitchhiking in the heart of Lima or in the middle of the night. I have known girls who traveled solo and hitchhiked all over Latin America without worry. To cross the Brazil-Argentina border. I didn’t want to do it alone and I just grabbed a German and “forced” him to hitchhike with me!
Friendship and romantic relationships
It is very easy to forge a friendship with locals, who want you to discover their culture, their friends. I now have so many “families” in Latin America who have opened their hearts and homes to me very naturally. Don’t be afraid to learn Spanish and mingle with the locals, it’s a very rich experience.
On the love side, in my opinion, it is important to learn the local customs and codes. So as not to make mistakes. Ask your new friends to orient you! Be careful, the danger of having your heart broken in Latin America is very real. Men are not known to be very faithful. Cliché certainly, but to continue in the cliché, there is no smoke without fire.
Cruising is very present, especially if you are alone and you must get used to it. I admit, I get angry inside regularly and there are a few middle fingers that get lost. The only cure is to ignore it and keep walking with your head held high. In Colombia, it was on every street corner, the sweet words (or not!) And the sounds of the mouth. In Chile and Argentina, it’s the honking, perverse looks, whistles. And other celebrations, whether you are in a skirt or dirty coming back from a hike (true story). It’s hard at first, but better to build a shell and forget. The culture of machismo is very strong in Latin America.
My advice for traveling alone in Latin America
- Have confidence, walk confidently, and without doubt
- Use common sense and follow your instincts in any situation
- Learn Spanish to understand your surroundings and learn about the country’s culture.
- Take some self-defense lessons (I’m a black belt in karate and it helps my confidence, that’s for sure).
- Don’t go out with all your valuables. leave everything at the hostel and take only the money you need and your camera if needed. Put everything in a locker, there are also dishonest travelers.
- Your best bet is to have a camera that fits in your pocket. I had personally chosen an expert compact.
- In transit, don’t leave all your valuables in your small bag: carry your passport, cash, bank cards. And SD cards in your seat belt. If you don’t feel safe, hide some money in a ziplock in your shoes. I have done this regularly in Colombia.
- Don’t sleep on night buses in Colombia. Keep your little bag on your knees (like the locals do) and watch the cargo hold.
- Take your bags and your small bag everywhere with you: to the toilets, to border crossings… everywhere!
- Some night buses are not recommended, check well in advance.
- Make sure you know where the terminal is and how to get into town and avoid arriving at night. Although this is not always possible. If this is the case. Make sure that the youth hostel can accommodate you at night and find out how to get there safely (on foot, by taxi, etc.)
- Show no signs of wealth and try to blend in as much as possible.
- Ask for and listen to advise from locals, friends, fellow family travel bloggers, and hostel managers. Know how to balance things, because the locals, depending on their background. Are sometimes as scared as the parents of your solo adventure.
- Choose the right neighborhood for your hostel: the old center of Montevideo. For example, is dangerous at night and on weekends.
- Keep a few bills in a pocket to give to an abuser. If he wants more, give everything, your life is worth more than the material.
- In some places that are not recommended, do not go hiking alone, there are sometimes machete robberies.
- Read all you can about a country’s known scams and know how to get out of them: for example. Fake cops.
- Do not go out alone at night if it is not recommended, make a group of friends. Or take the official taxi.
- By day, I trust myself and the public transport system more than I trust a taxi. Do like the locals!
- Don’t tempt the devil, don’t go to bad neighborhoods.
- Take safe, official taxis from airports and into town. In Colombia, for example, you should never hail a taxi in the street.
- Getting to know women and families on the buses, just to have allies if something happens.
- Do not get drunk or take drugs alone or without someone you trust outside the youth hostel.
- Do not get in a taxi with several men in it (this does not apply in Chile with taxi buses.).
- And above all, have confidence in yourself, follow your instincts and everything will be fine!
- Much of this advice is just common sense and can be applied to other areas of the world. Above all, don’t panic, don’t be paranoid, and relax. Traveling alone in Latin America is a great experience that I live every day and it is not that dangerous. Live your dreams and go on an adventure in Latin America, you won’t regret it for a second.