This is an issue I am getting about asked often by my friends and family. Yes, I am of course wary about safety while traveling in Central America, particularly as a solo woman. However, I am also conscientious, take warnings seriously, and will be proactive about being safe. I’ve spoken with women who have recently traveled alone in Central America and also read travel blogs, online forums, government travel warnings, and media assessments to get as much insight and advice on the subject as I can. The consensus seems to be that yes there are things to be concerned about, but in most areas common sense practices go a long way towards reducing risk.
Some actions I’m taking include:
- Connecting with other travelers as either short term or, if I’m lucky, longer term travel partners, and traveling in groups as much as possible. I’m purposefully selecting hostels that look like good place to meet such people. I have confidence in my ability to make friends on the road and think I have a lot to offer as a travel companion; I am hopeful I will find people to link up with.
- Starting the trip in safer areas; the Yucatan and Belize have no serious safety warnings beyond basic issues a tourist could encounter anywhere. So I will gain my travel legs in the most secure areas in the region and be acclimated by the time I move to sketchier places.
- Flexing my itinerary to stay out of particularly dangerous areas, in a micro and macro sense. I am keeping up on current situations and will be talking with other travelers and locals on the ground about specific safety warnings. When I arrive in a new city, I’ll ask my hostel staff to circle on a map places I shouldn’t go. I have heard strong enough warnings to keep me out of a few areas altogether–for instance, the northwestern Guatemala/Mexican border, certain capital cities, or throughout Honduras–and will be cautious about choosing where to go or where to skip.
- Heeding warnings about how and when to travel. Depending on the place, choosing my method of transport based on safety (this varies greatly by region and is something I will have to stay on top of, aka sometimes busses are ok, sometimes not; the most legit type of taxi seems to differ from place to place). I plan to only travel long-haul early in the day so as to not arrive anywhere at night. Night travel is something I will try to minimize in general, and am picking hostels with self-contained bars, hangout areas, and kitchens on site so that it will be possible to have a social night life close to home.
- Adjusting my appearance to look like a less appealing target. I plan to dress modestly, not display overt signs of wealth (jewelry/electronics/flashy clothing), and not carry valuables. Will likely acquire some clothing there to better blend in. Yes I know, I’m tall and super white, but every little bit helps, right?
- Registering my trip and estimated itinerary with the State Department. I’ve enrolled in STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Plan) and am receiving current travel/security updates.
- Being medically prepared too: I’ve got all my vaccinations, malaria pills, insurance, and emergency medication.
- Maintaining common sense practices about awareness, staying out of dangerous situations, etc, just as I would at home.
- Continuing to listen, watch, feel, and adapt.
I know safety is serious, and really don’t want anything bad to happen to me. I am taking precautions but I also don’t want fear to dominate my experience. I mean, in San Francisco there are areas I don’t go to at night or alone, but I still live here and enjoy it. I’m not naive, but am optimistic that I can balance this all in a responsible way and still have fun.