Female Solo Travellers in Latin America

Solo female travellers face risks wherever they travel and more so in some locations than others. Despite not featuring highly in rankings of the most dangerous places, Latin America is still full of risks. Global Operations Officer, Mikel Irizar offers some insights.
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In a perfect world, women travelling alone wouldn’t consider themselves at greater risk than their male counterparts. But unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. Ask any female traveller which countries she’d be hesitant to traverse alone and you may expect to hear the likes of Afghanistan, India, Sri Lanka or Arabic countries such as Egypt or Morocco.

Earlier this year, the Thomson Reuters Foundation published their 2018 survey of ‘The Most Dangerous Countries for Women’. This survey asks global experts in gender studies about the risks female travellers face and uses their testimony to rank countries by the threat they pose to women. Many of these experts identified the countries mentioned above as high-risk locations, alongside the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Syria and even the United States!

However, Latin American countries – which you won’t find on the Thomson Reuters Survey, apart from a passing mention of Mexico – should not go unnoticed. Solo female travellers face just as many risks in this part of the world as they do in elsewhere. Below I’ll outline a few cases from Ecuador, Peru and Brazil that will give you a better idea of the concerns women should be wary of before visiting these countries on their own. Let’s start with Ecuador.

Two years ago, two Argentinian, female travellers hiking across Ecuador were drugged, abducted, raped and killed by a group of men; some of those responsible for the crimes have still not been identified by security forces to this day. These killings resonated globally and highlighted the risks faced by women travelling to Latin American countries.

To further highlight the risks, we’ve recently had to issue risk alerts reporting on several recent incidents affecting female travellers to Ecuador.

Moving south to Peru and we find similarly worrying stories. One incident from 2017 stands out in particular. After months of grooming over Facebook, a Spanish teenager ran away to Peru to live with the spiritual charlatan who had been messaging her. The man, who according to reports believed himself to be an envoy of Satan on Earth, already had multiple wives and several children, all of whom lived in a small community indulging their captor’s fantasies. The teenager was already the mother of a child when she was eventually rescued. This incident serves to underline not just the risks abroad, but how pre-travel risks can impact women also, especially in the age of internet grooming.

In another incident a few months ago, another foreign national was found dead in Peru, her body found in a plastic bag near a riverside. The woman, who had been reported missing for weeks, died in a zip wire accident in the Sacred Valley near Cuzco. The zip wire business owners, who were not licensed to operate the attraction, hid the body for several days before ditching it in a nearby river. The FCO reported the suspension of tour activities in the area following the incident.

However, it is Brazil where female travellers should remain wary. The nation may be romanticised thanks to its well-known Carnival celebrations, but sexist violence remains prevalent in the country.

Sexism embedded into society can materialise in many forms, including music. The local music genre known as “funk carioca” or “favela funk” is inspired by gangsta rap and sings about gang-rapes and spiking women’s drinks in order to take advantage of them sexually. The fact that such sexual violence has been normalised within Brazilian society and it is now expressed through music is illustrative of the way in which society addresses sexist violence. Government bodies report that at least 10 women are gang raped in the country every day. According to the Applied Economic Research Institute only ten percent of all sexual assaults are reported in the country.

Major urban centres such as Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have been repeatedly mentioned for the severe risks posed for women. 20.4% of all rapes nationwide occur in Sao Paulo. Additionally, the city is also infamously known for holding the record in sexual abuse cases reported on public transport.

However obvious it may sound, mitigation measures need to be taken into account by any female solo travellers visiting Latin America. Typical travel safety advice should include ignoring most verbal harassment, keeping your own personal space, avoiding crowds of men and not venturing alone at night. In the unfortunate event of suffering an incident, inform your embassy or consulate as soon as possible. No attack should go unreported.

For more travel advice, download our new safety and advice guide for female, LGBT and disabled travellers now.


Author: Mikel Irizar, Global Operations Officer