Of the only two countries in North America*—Canada and the United States of America (US) —our pick for the best and safest country in North America for women travelers is Canada. According to the Global Peace Index 2017 (GPI), Canada is 8th out of 163 countries ranked. To put that in perspective, it is one of the top ten most stable countries in the world.
In addition to being stable and peaceful, Canada has wonderful things to see and do; and it is huge. According to Index Mundi, Canada is the second largest country in the world, half the size of Russia (which is the largest) and slightly larger than the US (which is third largest). Canada is about twice the size of the European Union.
With its vast wilderness regions, Canada is the adventure traveler’s dream, but it has numerous delightful cities to visit as well.
Toronto, the most populous city in Canada, is situated on Lake Ontario, one of the five Great Lakes, and is primarily English speaking.
Toronto provides big city amenities with lake shore ambience and island escapes. Visit the historic Distillery District, historic Old Town and its St. Lawrence Market. The Harbourfront Centre is a water front park and year-round cultural center (theater, dance, concert, and art) created out of a former industrial area. Kensington Market is a popular Bohemian neighborhood close to downtown with multicultural shops, restaurants, and bars. In the North York district of Toronto, don’t miss the Aga Khan Museum, with its collection of Islamic art and artifacts of Islamic history and culture. Photo attribution: Toronto Sun
Montréal, Canada’s second most populous city, sits on an island in the middle of the St. Lawrence Seaway and is French speaking.
Don’t miss Old Montreal with its historic buildings dating from the late 16th century and its winding cobblestone streets. The Notre-Dame Basilica and Montreal Botanical Garden are also must sees. Photo attribution: Go Montréal Tourism via Wikimedia Commons
Vancouver is the third largest city, and we love it…mostly. You can read about it here.
Outdoor travelers head to Banff National Park and Jasper National Park in the Rocky Mountains which offer hiking, backpacking, and winter snowshoeing near craggy mountain peaks and along crystalline alpine lakes. Photo attribution: Florian Fuchs via Wikimedia Commons
In the Yukon Territory, watch for wildlife (the animal kind) while you paddle your canoe across lakes and on rivers. You can find guided and self-guided multi-day to multi-week trips for beginners, intermediate, and expert paddlers. Or hire a guide to kayak with orca whales in British Columbia (BC). Hike at least part of the mostly completed 24,000km (15,000 mi) Trans Canada Trail, aka The Great Trail, which is the longest trail in the world. It spans Canada from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. Mind you, hiking the Great Trail takes an estimated 10 months, good gear, and some willingness to co-exist with bears and other wildlife (here’s some good tips.) Don’t forget to ski Whistler in BC, which is by far less time-consuming and offers easy as well as expert terrain.
Maybe getting close to grizzly bears, polar bears, and moose are not your thing? Visit Halifax, Nova Scotia and the maritime region along the Atlantic coast to sample some of the freshest lobster in the region or take a fishing tour to catch and cook your own seafood. Photo attribution: Tourist-destinations.net via wikimedia commons
Don’t miss the rocky cliffs on Cape Breton Island and while there, seek out some traditional fiddling and step dancing.
Safety: Canada is a relatively safe country for women travelers, though—like everywhere in the world—crime does exist. In 2015, police-reported crime in Canada increased for the first time since 2003. In 2015, there were almost 21,500 sexual assaults, an increase of three percent from the prior year, but remains significantly lower than in the prior decade.
In cities, take standard precautions—be situationally aware, don’t feed the bears, keep your purse and backpack close by, avoid men who have the look of a serial killer, etc. If you are visiting wilderness areas, know your skills and plan your activities accordingly. If you are new to the wilderness, National Parks often have short or moderate, well marked trails to viewpoints and features special to that park. If you want to try new outdoor wilderness activities, like backpacking, canoeing, fishing, or rafting; hire a guide and learn from the experts.
In winter; heavy snows are expected in much of Canada. Dress accordingly. There is a saying that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear. Listen to local weather authorities and follow advice regarding travel conditions from them. Photo attribution: Ice Concepts Inc. via Wikimedia
In Canada, travelers are not at risk of being infected with the Zika Virus, except via sexual transmission with an infected partner. (Yes, we really said that. But it’s true.)
- Languages: English and French (in eastern provinces)
- Currency: Canadian Dollar
- Driving: Drive on the right
- Visa: Check to see if you need a visa. Some tourists may need Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) to fly to or transit through the country.
United States of America (US)
We rate the US as the worst country in North America for women travelers, and not just because it is second of two countries. Based on a wide range of factors, the GPI ranks the US as 114 (out of 163), a rating between Rwanda and El Salvador.
The US is considerably more violent than Canada. According to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, in 2015 an estimated 1,197,704 violent crimes occurred nationwide, an increase of almost four percent from the 2014 estimate, and a reported 90,185 rapes. (According to Statista, in 2015 there were an estimated 368,921 rapes or sexual assaults in the U.S.) In Canada by comparison, there were 380,795 violent crimes and about 21,500 sexual assaults. And according to this 2017 Time magazine, crime is rising in many of the US cities. To be fair, violent crime tends to concentrate in specific neighborhoods. For example, in Chicago most violent crime is perpetrated in the South and West sides.
The US, sadly, is known for its obsession with guns and its associated gun violence. The BBC says there were 372 mass shootings in the US in 2015, killing 475 people and wounding 1,870. A mass shooting is defined as a single shooting incident that kills or injures four or more people, possibly including the assailant. There were 64 school shootings in 2015. Photo attribution: Huffington Post via Wikimedia Commons
The Global News states that the US has the world’s highest rate of civilian gun ownership, which translates into one of the highest rates of firearm homicides in the world. America is behind Brazil, El Salvador, Colombia and Iraq in firearm homicides but ahead of Somalia, Costa Rica, Argentina and India, among other countries. By comparison, you’re more likely to be shot to death in the United States than you are to die in a car accident in Canada. Rising opiate addiction in the US also contributes to the crime rate.
Distressingly, Black and Hispanic Americans are frequently the victims of gun violence, including encounters with police. Traffic can be particularly exciting and somewhat lethal, though mostly in the bigger cities and no worse than many other countries, except for road rage situations involving guns.
To head off the naysayers who think the US is a delightful travel destination, we agree that there are many friendly and generous Americans. And you may have had one or more wonderful holiday vacations in the US with no mishap. Unfortunately, anecdotal personal experiences, however, do not negate the statistics.
If you need or want to visit the US, we have some recommendations based on your interests. If you like outdoor adventures, vacation at any of the 59 National Parks or 129 National Monuments since they tend to have much better safety statistics (so long as you follow basic commonsense safety). Photo attribution: Andreas F. Borchert via Wikmedia Commons
National parks are popular destinations, so plan ahead. The Rocky Mountain region is known for its adventure travel whether in the summer or winter and—other than occasional encounters with mountain lions or bears—is relatively safe for women. If you are new to wilderness adventures, hire a guide so you can learn from an expert.
Beaches on either the Atlantic or Pacific coast are good options. Photo attribution: Nick Harris via Wikimedia Commons
Sharks frequent some beaches, however, so check here to see where these remarkable creatures have been spotted. The June to November hurricane season may effect on coastal regions. Be sure to monitor storm activity and follow the instructions issued by the local authorities, including any evacuation orders. The Great Lakes have much to offer visitors in regards to water sports, and occasionally, visitors can see the Northern Lights from the shores.
Safety: In cities, use standard precautions. Be alert to what is going on around you. If you sense danger, trust your instincts and go to a safer place. Avoid areas where there is known gang activity. Usually, tourist areas are safe, but protect against crimes of opportunity. Drink responsibly.
According to the UK Government, terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in the US. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners. You should monitor media reports and remain vigilant at all times. Mass shootings continue to occur in public places. Here is what to do in the case of a mass shooting.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, Florida and certain counties in Texas are places where travelers are at risk of being infected with the Zika Virus. The virus is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito and sometimes by sexual encounters. Because Zika infection in a pregnant woman can cause severe birth defects, pregnant women should not travel to these areas. All travelers should strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites and prevent sexual transmission during and after the trip. The Aedes aegpti mosquito also spreads dengue and chikungunya viruses.
During winter months, many parts of the US have snow and ice storms. Check with local weather authorities for related travel warnings and advice.
- Language: English
- Currency: US Dollar
- Driving: Drive on the right side
- Visas: A Visa is required, unless your country is a part of the waiver program. If your country is in the waiver program, you may need an ESTA (Electronic system for Travel Authorization. The US Government is issuing a variety of travel restrictions, some of which are being struck down by courts, so check the latest requirements before you travel to the US.
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 injured 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.
The following are pieces we have written regarding places in Canada and the US: Vancouver, BC–Two Views, Little-Known Places in New York City that Everyone Should See, Chicago — Cosmopolitan, Classy, and Gritty, Picturesque Washington DC, Heart of the Art–Santa Fe, New Mexico, Road Tripping Mid-America, Beseeching Mother Ocean in Hawai’i, Soloing in the Desert, Smartphones are our frenemies (when we travel), and Snowshoeing Basics.
* Technically, you can include Mexico and other countries. But most cartographers don’t so we won’t.