When I first decided to venture to South America, I was nervous about travelling alone despite having been to so many other countries solo. This is due to an abundance of stories and information online on how unsafe South America is, and plenty of precautionary advice on how to avoid being targeted by thieves and unsavoury characters. As I had never been there before, I was quite put off by what I had found, and spent more time stressing on little things like where to hide money when going out. Someone even told me to stash money in my shoes!
Once I arrived there however, suddenly the city seemed like any other, and I felt that it was no more dangerous than any other city I had been to alone. As a solo female traveller visiting South America for the first time, Santiago, Chile is a very good place to start. I found it to be accessible and modern, and did not feel threatened during my stay there. Taxis are cheap and plentiful, drivers courteous and professional, and I never felt unsafe. If you are taking one from the airport, take TransVIP, a shared taxi service which only cost around US$12 to take you downtown.
Note #1: Similar safety and security measures should be applied regardless of where you go, whether it’s South America or anywhere else. However, try not to over-worry at the expense of enjoying your trip. Trusting your instincts and plain common sense usually does the trick.
Although I was couchsurfing with Seb, he had a full-time job so most of the time I went out to the city by myself. Walking through downtown Santiago as a solo female, I discovered the following:
- Despite the extremely hot weather, people here dress conservatively in long pants and long-sleeved tops, including women. If you’re a solo female getting ready to spend the day walking around in shorts, a tank top, and flip-flops, be prepared to be the only person wearing that. If you don’t want to stand out too much, dress like the locals, but sweat in your pants, literally.
- Take the metro as it is fast, efficient, and cheap. Signs and directions are clearly marked, with maps in every station to help you navigate your way.
- Other than people who work in the tourist areas, most locals don’t speak any other language other than Spanish. If you are alone and lost and don’t speak any Spanish, your best option is to know the name of a landmark, (for example Plaza de Armas) and try to get there somehow to find a local tourist information centre where you will find someone to help you.
I did not have to use the money belt after all as I found it cumbersome, uncomfortable, and too ‘touristy’. In the end I just brought my daypack, which was a great one as it had a zipped compartment at the rear where my valuables were kept against my back at all times. It was secure and worked for me.
Note #2: If you have more time to plan for your South American trip, learning some Spanish beforehand will be extremely useful. Also bring a phrasebook to help you along.
Other things you can enjoy doing as a solo female traveller
- Climb the hill of Cerro San Cristóbal. There you can find a good sunny spot on the lawns, and spend the entire day admiring the Andes while reading a good book. Plenty of locals go there during the weekend.
- Join a local tour out of the city. I always join local day tours outside the main city as it’s a good opportunity to interact with other travellers in a small private setting. At a local tourist agency I booked myself a day tour to Portillo and Viña San Esteban. It was quite expensive, at around US$120, but at the end of the day, I was convinced it was worth the money as it included all transfers, the tour guide spoke excellent English and was very knowledgeable, plus the destinations were absolutely stunning.
- If you will be couchsurfing like I did, get taken to local parties!
Other than slightly bland food, my verdict on Santiago, Chile is that it is perfectly fine for a solo female traveller. Happy solo travels!