Out of the 12 countries in South America, below are our four picks for the best and safest places for women travelers.
- Argentine Republic
Argentina is located on the eastern coast of South America stretching from Iguazu Falls in the north to the Patagonian region in the south; and from the Andes Mountains on the west to the Atlantic Ocean on the east. It is the eighth largest country in the world and second largest in South America. Argentina is a modern country that is reasonably stable (Global Peace Index 67 out of 163) and generally prosperous. According to the World Bank, in 2015 the country had over 5.7 million international visitors making it the most popular tourist destination in South America.
Argentina is famous for the highest mountain outside of the Himalayas, Mt. Aconcagua, which is 5,969 m (22,831 ft) above sea level; and the massive and powerful Iguazu Falls which have 275 falls and span 27 km (17 mi). Don’t miss the urbane capital, Buenos Aires, with its sophisticated restaurants and museums along with colonial as well as modern architecture. The country is also famous for its red wines found in the region near Mendoza. There are ski resorts (Lake District near San Carlos de Bariloche), beach resorts (the very popular Mar del Plata), and trekking in Volcan Lanin on the Chilean border. Within Patagonia, El Chalten and El Calafate are also popular places to hike and from which to tour Glaciares National Park. Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world, and is the port from which most visitors sail to Antarctica. From this port you can see the Beagle Channel and take day trips to Tierra del Fuego National Park or to Isla Navarion to explore the Yaghan archeological sites. There are enough wondrous things to see and do in this amazing country that you could spend weeks, if not months, touring Argentina.
Safety – According to the UK government, “The most common crimes are distraction theft, bag snatching, pick pocketing and armed robberies.” This type of street crime is common in Buenos Aires, Rosario, and Mendoza. Like visiting any city in the world, be aware of your surroundings. Don’t pack valuables in checked luggage. Many passports are stolen, so take appropriate precautions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Argentina has a risk of Zika.” Our favorite grisly data comes from what we call the Dead American Stats (US State Department), which gives us an indicator of the level of danger in a country. From January 2015 – March 2016, only one American died (of drowning.) From the various reports and alerts, Argentina appears to be relatively safe.
According to the WEForum Travel & Tourism Index (T&T), Argentina is a rated 3.9 out of 7 and is 57th out of 141 countries rated. Its safety & security rating is 5.0 and prioritization on travel and tourism is 4.5. Its various ratings indicate it has a good infrastructure to support tourists.
- Currency: Argentine peso
- Official language: Spanish. Many people speak some English, German, French, and Italian
Photo Credit:By Miguel Vieira – Own work, via Wikimedia Commons,
Is your life stressed and harried? Do you want a laid back holiday? Uruguay is the destination for you! It is a progressive, secular, relatively safe, and stable (GPI of 35) country, located on the eastern coast of South America, north of Argentina and south of Brazil. This is the smallest country on the continent with a population of only 3.4 million, of which half live in Montevideo, the capital, which has a relaxed feel to it. You might think Uruguay is a little off the beaten path–and it happily is not overrun with tourists–but this is where many Brazilians and Argentineans escape for romantic weekends and restful holidays.
There are many fabulous beaches along the coast, and you may find some where you are the only person on it. You can stay in luxurious resorts, quaint seaside villages, or rent a beachside house. Alternatively, head out to the countryside to sample the local Tannat wines from small family vineyards. For outdoor adventures try horseback riding in the pampas grassland, bicycle tours in Punta del Este, kite boarding at Laguna Garzon, or scuba diving down to wrecks at Isla de Lobos. And yes, there are festivals—a multi-month Carnival starting in January, La Patria Gaucha (goucho festival), Goddess of the Sea festival, and more.
Marijuana is legal, but only for Uruguayan citizens. Unless you become a citizen, avoid the jails by sticking with the fabulous wines.
Safety – Petty crime can happen anywhere, but according to the OSAC, street crime is common in Montevideo and is often opportunistic. Therefore, do not carry valuables openly in your hands or in your vehicle, and do not leave valuables in your vehicle. Some crimes become violent when victims resist. Take usual precautions and be aware of your surroundings. According to the Dead Americans Stat, only one person died (of an auto accident.) According to the CDC, “Uruguay has no known risk of Zika from mosquitos.” Uruguay appears to be reasonably safe.
According to the WEForum T&T Index, Uruguay is rated 3.7 out of 7 and is 73th out of 141 countries rated. It received 5.4 on safety & security, and 5.4 on prioritization on travel & tourism. Its various ratings indicate it has a good infrastructure to support tourists.
- Currency: Uruguayan peso
- Official language: Spanish. Some English is spoken in tourist areas and many restaurants
- Flights: Most likely you will not be able to fly directly to Carrasco International Airport, the airport that serves Montevideo.
Photo Credit: International Living
With a Global Peace Index rating of 27 (out of 163), it arguably is the most stable country in South America with amazing things to see and do. Chile is located on the western edge of South America bordering the Pacific Ocean. You can explore the 6,000 km (3,700 miles) of rugged coastline; head inland to hike beautiful valleys; or trek, climb, and ski in the Andes Mountains.
Santiago is the capital, a sophisticated, tropical city (think palm trees) with fascinating museums, restaurants with fabulous food. Another option is to visit Puerto Varas with its charming German architecture and food, and to explore the nearby Llanquihue Lake, volcanoes Osorno and Calbuco, waterfalls, and national parks. If you are into outdoor adventures, tiny Pucon is an excellent base for your adventures into the Andes of the Patagonia region. Lake Villarrica and Villarrica volcano are just two of the many features to explore there. Do make sure you visit Santa Cruz, the portal to the wine region, from which you can take day trips into the Colchagua Valley to sample the region’s rich red wines.
Safety – According to the US Overseas Security Advisory Council, “Chile is moderately safe, with comparatively less violent crime than in other Latin American countries. Pick pocketing, telephonic scams, vehicle thefts, and residential break-ins are the most common crimes against tourists.” Credit card fraud is an issue. In Chilean cities be aware of your surroundings, like in any large city in the world. From January 2015 – March 2016, there was only one dead American reported which was due to suicide. According to the CDC, “Chile has no known risk of Zika from mosquitos.” It looks like Chile is relatively safe.
According to the World Economic Forum T&T Index, Chile comes in at 4.0 out of 7 and is 51st out of the 141 countries rated. It rates 6.0 on safety and security, and 4.9 on prioritization on travel & tourism. Its various ratings indicate that it has good support for tourists.
- Currency: the Chilean peso
- Official language: Spanish.
Photo Credit: By Rodrigo Carrasco from Santiago, Chile, via wikimedia (Editor’s note: corrected photo)
South of Ecuador and north of Chile, with a coast along the Pacific Ocean, Peru is filled with wonders from archaeological ruins and desert oases in the north to the Andes Mountains running along its spine to Lake Titicaca in the south. It is a fairly stable country (GPI 81 out of 163).
Lima, the capital and 2nd largest city in Latin America, is located in the central west part of the country on the Pacific coast. It is a destination in its own right with trendy restaurants, nightclubs, galleries, bohemian shops, and the beach. First, go to Museo Marco to learn about the Peruvian culture and the forces that shaped it. Then explore the city’s neighborhoods.
One primary reason to travel to Peru is to tour the world famous archeological site of Machu Picchu, the center of the ancient Incan civilization. Some might think this is the highlight of their trip to Peru, but there are many other fabulous places to see in this beautiful country. A don’t-miss destination is Colca Canyon, which is twice as deep as the US Grand Canyon. This is also the place to see pre-Incan Mollepunko 6,000-year-old cave art and the majestic condors. Nazca is the area to see the 2,000 year old geoglyphs, which are geometric shapes. For a one-of-a-kind cultural experience, visit Puno and Isla Taquille on beautiful Lake Titicaca. The latter is a good place to pick up souvenir textiles and local knitting. And did we mention that the head waters of the Amazon River start in northern Peru (Mantaro River)?
Safety – The Australian government says there is a high degree of violent crime in Peru and to pay close attention to your personal security at all times. Be sure to order taxis from the airport or hotel; do not hail taxis from the street. Do not carry your passport when you go out. Take normal precautions when in a city. Avoid the border with Colombia. According to the Canadian government, avoid the border with Ecuador, especially the Cordillera del Condor area, as landmines pose a security threat. Instead cross at official border crossings. The Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) terrorist group continues to be active in Peru, particularly in the coca-growing areas. According to the Dead Americans Stat, from January 2015 – March 2016, only seven Americans died (3 of auto accidents, 2 suicides, and 2 other accidents.) According to the CDC, “Peru has a risk of Zika. However, this is a high-elevation area where mosquitoes that can spread Zika may not live. Travelers, including pregnant women, who never go below 2,000 meters elevation, are at lower risk of getting Zika from a mosquito.”
According to the WEForum T&T Index, Peru rates 3.4 out of 7 regarding travel and tourism and is 38th out of 141 countries rated. Safety and security rates 4.4 and prioritization on travel and tourism is 4.7. Given the various reports on safety and the WEForum’s ratings, Peru is not as safe as Argentina and Uruguay, but with precautions, it is safer than many if not most of the other countries in South America.
Official language: Spanish; in certain areas Quechua, Aymara languages, and aboriginal languages are also official.
Photo Credit: Peru Adventure Tours
Republic of Ecuador
If you want a nature holiday, Ecuador is your destination! It is ethnically diverse, fairly stable (GPI 75), and is one of only 17 countries in the world to be considered a mega diverse country. It deeply values and protects its biodiversity. Because of this, tourists can see more plants, animals, aquatic life, and birds (including Andean condors!) than almost anywhere.
The country is located on the northwest corner of South America, along the Pacific Ocean. The equator runs through the country, which means you can stand with one foot in the southern hemisphere and one in the northern. You can tour colonial buildings in the capitol of Quito, go bird watching, canoeing, trekking, or relax in hot springs, and visit ecological reserves and national parks with rain forests, lagoons, along with active and extinct volcanoes.
Safety – This is a moderately safe country, but not as safe as Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina. Crime is fairly wide spread (pick pocketing, robbery, hotel room theft, and express kidnapping, which is a criminal gets into a taxi and forces victims to withdraw money from an ATM). Avoid hailing taxis from the street; instead schedule your transportation from your lodging. Sexual assaults and rapes do occur, even in tourists areas. Do not go within 20 km (13 mi) of the northern border with Colombia. According to the CDC, “Ecuador has a risk of Zika. However, this is a high-elevation area where mosquitoes that can spread Zika may not live.” WEForum does not include statistics on Ecuador.
Editors’ advice: the best way to see the wonders of Ecuadorian biodiversity is to leave the cities quickly and spend your time in the national parks and ecological reserves.
- Official Language: Spanish
- Currency: US dollar
Photo Credit: By David Torres Costales(Own work) via Wikimedia Commons
How do we select the best countries for women to travel? We have several criteria:
- Amazing things to see and do. We check many sources to determine this.
- Number of dead or badly mangled tourists, particularly women. We do this by reviewing one of our favorite gruesome sites, the US State Department statistics on dead Americans reported out of country. The winning countries don’t have many or any for the most recent 16 months we can get statistics.
- Easy and safe to travel there based on things like roads and infrastructure that work. For this we use the World Economic Forum tourism and competitiveness index.
- We determine if this is a peaceful and stable place by using information from the Global Peace Index.
- World Tourism Organization provides statistics about travel by country.
- Centers for Disease Control World Map Areas with Zika
Editors’ Tips: Remember to take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance. Check to see if you need a visa to enter the country you want to visit. Pack your bags and head out on a fabulous trip!
If you are new to travel, here are our tips for Newbies, but truthfully there is a lot of info in this piece even for savvy women travelers.