In every part of the world, there are cities and countries that are safe for women to visit. In compiling a list of destinations, I spoke with several women’s travel experts about their favorite places, and spotlight some of their recommendations here. Although the destinations I detail are generally considered safe, remember that there are risks wherever you go. Even when you’re in a safe” place, it’s important not to let your guard down and always use common sense as you’re sightseeing, shopping and dining.
Best and Worst Destinations for Women Travelers
Most cities in Western Europe are considered safe for women to visit, either alone or with companions. Public transportation is generally safe, English is widely spoken, and European women have many of the same rights as American women. However, the same cities and countries kept coming up in my discussions with women travelers, including Amsterdam.
Evelyn Hannon, editor of Journeywoman.com, a comprehensive online resource for women travelers, says “From experience, I suggest Amsterdam … English is spoken everywhere. The Dutch are completely pragmatic and believe that women should be independent. I seldom experience male harassment in that city.” Phyllis Stoller, president of Women’s Travel Club, a tour provider that organizes group trips, agrees with Hannon’s assessment and remembers that she felt very comfortable in Amsterdam. Stoller says, “the Dutch are the most angelic people in the world. [Amsterdam] is a very friendly city where everybody speaks English.” SmarterTravel.com Editorial Assistant Kate Hamman took a month-long trip to Europe that included three days in Amsterdam. It defied her dubious expectation of a city that revolved around sex and drugs. Hamman says, “I thought I might be harassed, but I actually found it to be an excellent place to wander around alone … I wouldn’t recommend wandering around the Red Light District alone at night, but there’s so many great areas that most people overlook. “Ireland is another destination that came up again and again in my conversations about safe destinations for women. It is known for its friendly people, beautiful countryside, and pubs that keep the Guinness flowing. When asked about women-friendly countries, travel expert Pauline Frommer says, “Ireland, absolutely. [It is] a very welcoming destination where everyone is really made to feel like family and the pubs are friendly, non-threatening places to party.”” She goes on to recommend Ireland’s many family-owned B&Bs that allow travelers to feel part of the local culture. B&Bs are also good for meeting locals and other travelers who can share insights about where to go for a good meal, or off-the-beaten-path attractions to visit.
SmarterTravel Associate Editor Molly Feltner agrees with Frommer. In her experience, “Irish people, both men and women, are very gregarious, and the women feel no need to edit themselves or be quiet in the presence of men. The women also feel very comfortable initiating conversation with men in pubs and asking them to go on dates. There also isn’t a stigma attached to women drinking.” Unlike in some countries where women consuming alcohol is taboo, it’s generally safe to have a beer in a pub in Ireland without attracting unwanted attention or feeling like a target.
Much of Latin America has a bad reputation as being unsafe for women, with tales of “forward” men, pick-pocketing, and harassment prevalent. However, Costa Rica has been increasingly popular with Americans, and it’s considered one of the safest Latin American destinations, particularly outside of San Jose, the capital. Editor-in-Chief of travel-girl magazine, Stephanie Oswald, recommends Costa Rica based on two visits to the country. Before she and a girlfriend left for Costa Rica on one of her trips, other friends were concerned about the two women traveling without other companions. But the trip went smoothly, with Oswald and her friend driving both the city streets of Quepos and unpaved, mountainous roads to Monteverde, without incident. Oswald says that she found the locals to be friendly, and had a particularly positive experience that might have turned out differently in another country. At a restroom stop, Oswald left her wallet behind, complete with at least $100 and her passport. When she contacted the U.S. Embassy, the wallet had already been returned and the person who returned it also included a small handcrafted wall hanging. “”I have it hanging in my kitchen to remind me of how nice the people are,”” Oswald says.
Costa Ricans have adopted the motto “pura vida” or “pure life,” which has various meanings, but roughly translates to “living the good life.” Many locals with this attitude seem very laid-back, and go out of their way to help visitors. I had several positive experiences with locals, and one in particular has stayed in my memory. In La Fortuna, as my friend and I descended a steep hill on a hot day, a man in a pick-up truck pulled over and offered us a ride. In the U.S., I never would have accepted the ride, but I felt so safe in Costa Rica that I hopped in. The man dropped us off a few blocks from our hotel with a wave. Costa Rica is also a good destination for women on a budget. Comfortable, safe accommodations are available for less than $40 per night, and Costa Rica has plenty of ecotourism and luxury accommodations as well. Shared vans shuttle small groups of tourists around the country so you don’t have to rely on public buses or a rental car.
India has been popular with backpackers for years, but now both business and leisure travel to India is beginning to boom. U.S. carriers are consistently adding service to India, and low-cost carriers within the country have sprouted up to make traveling long distances easier. But India is not for the faint of heart.