As a woman and/or minority, are there any places you would not recommend traveling to?

Hi all!

So, I’m in Colombia at the moment and have experienced some really intense harassment and even violence here. I was shocked because it’s been recommended to me by so many people, and so I thought perhaps it would be useful to start a thread here where we (we being women and other minorities) can talk about places where we recommend either not traveling or being particularly on guard.

So, are there any places you’ve been where you’ve experienced more violence, harassment, or maltreatment? Are there any places that you recommend other women/LGBT/ethnic minorities be particularly careful or not travel to?

I don’t want this to become a super negative thing or a personal preference thing, but I am hoping to get some insight into areas that might be more concerning and/or unsafe for certain groups so that we can all make informed decisions about where we want to spend our time. I really wish someone would have been frank with me about the issues here in Colombia, so I’m hoping we can be frank with each other about places where we haven’t felt 100% safe.

So, I’ll start:

I’ve had little to no problems in other parts of South and Central America, but here in Colombia I have witnessed not only street harassment, but also actual violence and malice and, worse, have seen people who could do something to stop it shrugging it off and saying “it’s normal here.” I would not recommend it for women and particularly women traveling alone.

Similarly, in Morocco I felt very uncomfortable as a female traveler. There wasn’t as much yelling or in-your-face harassment, but there was a ton of staring, men invading my space (standing over me in a bus and staring down at me from less than a foot away, for example), and men treating me like a second-class citizen (refusing to let me pass them on the sidewalk and instead forcing me to go around them into a busy street). I was traveling with a friend and we were both pretty exhausted by the end of the trip.

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I am going to have to agree on Morocco. I did a trip a while back to Agadir, Essaouira, and Marrakesh. Although, I never truly thought I was in any danger, there were more than a fair share of uncomfortable moments like the ones you described. I was with a girlfriend at the time, and she had the same issues. I wouldn’t say it’s enough to not go, but just be ready for it :wink:

Aside from Saudi, as a woman there isn’t really anywhere I’m worried about traveling alone. And even there it is more because it is almost impossible than out of any kind of fear. You just have to know what to expect and be ready for it.

Sexuality, especially if it is overt, is a different matter imo as it can be much more life threatening in some areas. But since it isn’t something that impacts me directly I can’t comment with knowledge.

I’ve gotten a “why did you look me in the eyes if you didn’t want me to approach you?” (ie, hit on you with a lot of pressure), as well as a man openly hitting on me in front of his wife in Istanbul. And I was only there (during a layover) for 8 hours. I know some people, including solo women travelers, love Istanbul, but my experience and the cultural differences there were enough for me to say ‘no thanks’ to future visits. It’s not that I was worried as much as I just felt uncomfortable.

Also, if you go to certain parts of Barbados, expect a LOT of attention from the local men – relentless, really – and I was even traveling with two women on that trip. Most of the time we felt relatively safe but I was SO glad I didn’t go alone.

Regardless of these experiences, I managed to enjoy and appreciate a lot of things about both places.

@gigigriffis, thanks for sharing your experience and I’m sorry you’ve been through that.

I personally delayed going to South America due to safety concerns. Being an Asian female growing up in Southeast Asia, I’m used to bad traffic, catcalls and condescending views from men. However, from stories I have been told, the violence in South America is of different types and I wasn’t sure I could handle it. I hope to make it there this year though and I will be on the lookout for sure.

Another place I’m a little concerned about visiting is India/Pakistan. On the other hand I’ve met so many ladies solo-traveled there. I guess it depends on what actually happens to you there for you to form an opinion. I’m hoping to get there next year too, just with extra caution.

I haven’t been any place that I feel really in danger yet (I’ve been to SEA, Schengen zone, Russia, China, the US, Australia and NZ). So far it’s just the minor annoyances of pickpockets, catcalls, and sometimes aggressive homeless. The place I felt worst about is actually SF streets at night when a few drunk and aggressive homeless people approached.

@hungryzi - I didn’t think catcalls were part of the SEA culture? (Except maybe from badly behaved expats.) I didn’t experience that when I was there. However, I did read some personal bad experiences from women (and men) who visited Cambodia on some blogs, so I decided to skip it…

I also haven’t been up to traveling to India or South America solo, and have also talked to women who have, and have had an amazing time. I suspect many of them must have linked up with other backpackers so they weren’t really solo most of the time, but of course, we all have our different comfort levels. Like @gigigriffis, another friend of mine did not feel safe or comfortable in Colombia though.

@gigigriffis Thanks for sharing your thoughts about Colombia. I’m sorry to hear that.

I spent six weeks in Mexico City by myself a couple years ago. I met some lovely people and had some great food, but my experiences with men on the street marred my experience. A guy tried to grab my private parts on the subway. I warned him and moved away, but he persisted, so I screamed at him and got off the train. Another time a teenager pinched my butt and ran away. I don’t mind people looking, but some groups of guys would stare at me very intensely, which made me uncomfortable. I wasn’t catcalled myself, but I saw blonde, foreign-looking women get catcalled a few times.

People have different experiences, so I’m not sure if mine were typical of DF or not. That said, I’ve been in uncomfortable situations other places (India, Turkey), but it felt like it was more because I was foreign. In DF was the only time it seemed to be just because I was a woman.

As a member of the LGBT community, I don’t recommend going to Egypt. I did a week-long tour of Cairo, Luxor and Aswan this past summer with my partner. I’m planning on writing a more in-dept blog post about my experience, but in general I did not feel safe and I was very conscious of my behavior. I’ll update my comment with a link to the article once it’s up.

I’ve spent about 6 months traveling in South America solo and, in my experience, the safety situation varies widely, sometimes even within countries. Generally speaking, I felt pretty safe in Argentina and Uruguay, and least safe in Colombia and Peru. Traveling and/or going out with other backpackers will usually deter harassment in SA. However, India was a whole different situation; you have to be pretty thick skinned if you want to backpack there. Even if you travel with a guy (like I did) and dress very conservatively, you will experience a lot of harassment, like guys trying to touch you or hotel/guesthouse employees trying to enter your room, etc. It was really exhausting and made catcalling seem pretty insignificant. The only other country where I’ve had that experience is Morocco.

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I am in Colombia now and been here loads of times with my wife (woman and minority). What city have you noticed this? I know Cali, Bogota, Medellin and Cartagena. Cali semi sketchy and Bogota has its areas. But 99% of time it is fine.

Places a woman or minority may have issues is Cairo, parts of India and China and a few other Middle Eastern countries.

Sorry you are having a hard time in Colombia.

Personally, I lived in Medellin and it was not enjoyable for multiple reasons, but one was the shitty way women are treated both by the locals and the creepy gringo sex tourists.

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I am in Medellin right now. Been here for many weeks. Gringo tourists? Sounds like you are in Poblado. Which is pretty much time sq. You know what locals call that place. Gringolandia. Yesterday at dinner (in Pob) 3 prostitutes being sold to some businessmen. Its common but specifically in that area. Its only place you can speak english and everyone understands. That is a bit odd for a latin speaking country. It is definitly an outlier location.

But there are many barrios which are very very nice. Tried Envigado? Its awesome. Tried Las Vegas? Its modern and up and coming. 5 blocks sq from my house I have 30 restaurants, 20 haircut place, fast internet (fast-ish) and a cleaning person who comes daily for $10 USD a day.

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@antonioevans, as a guy, you’re much less likely to witness this kind of harassment in Colombia. Your very presence will likely prevent it from happening (unlike in some other countries). Women will be seen as easy targets when alone, after dark, traveling on a low budget, and so on. I had a lot of fun in Cartagena and the northern coast, but at the same time I had to be on guard whenever I was alone or just with other women. It was manageable, but very stressful. I definitively wouldn’t want to stay there for a month or anything like that.

If you see my note above my wife is one who wrote this. She usually isnt with me. she is about five two -ish and pretty. She never had any issue and been multiple times. We literally on a 3 month here then to Europe some. I know each person has had different experiences. I really respect yours. But for us ZERO negativity other then normal Latin American bs stuff.

And if you are here come hang with us. You might see a different view of the country. We been doing this “forever” so we are very accustom to becoming a chameleon.

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As others have eloquently expressed, your very presence as a man is likely to prevent or lessen the harassment, so it would be unlikely that you would notice it. My experiences are in Medellin and Guatape.

My wife wrote what I wrote. And I respect what they have said. We currently in party with 4 expats (3 female 1 male. Canada/UK/US/not sure where…). All agree with her. As I said I respect your point. But my data is not wrong.

I think the variation really depends on a lot of factors.

When I walked with my girlfriend she said the harassment would drop to about 10% of walking alone.

And it also depends on race, she’s Asian, and many Latin Americans (and other people) think Asians are easy and weak. Which is stupid.

Your milage may vary and everyone’s perception of how good or bad it is is literally relative (especially relative to your original culture, so if you’re from a Latin country yourself, it might be easier to adjust).

The only way to measure it would be to compare it to another country. So let’s pick The Netherlands. Compared to the Netherlands, Colombia has really bad female safety/friendliness. Compared to the Netherlands, Colombia is extremely sexist, patriarchal, macho and male-dominated. Before you get angry, there’s boat loads of data on this too as you can see below.

On its own, Colombia is fine. Compare it to other countries, not so much. Actually it’s called the #7 worst country to travel to as a female:

It is so bad that even women rights defenders who are women have been targeted and raped. Law enforcement has not been helpful in prosecuting attackers. Women who are sexually attacked have difficulty getting adequate medical treatment due to lack of facilities and interest in appropriate care after such an attack. (Source, Human Rights Watch 2014 report.)

There is a particular problem with the bus system - the main public transportation is unsafe since the buses are dangerous due to attacks and accidents as well as being filthy. In an amusing side-note, this country is so unclear on the concept of what women appreciate that one mayor hired male strippers to celebrate International Women’s Day. Local women and children were not amused.

Here’s some data from Hofstede’s cultural index:

It’s a strongly masculine society:

At 64 Colombia is a Masculine society – highly success oriented and driven. Colombians are competitive and status-oriented, yet collectivistic rather than Individualist. This means that competition is directed towards members of other groups (or social classes), not towards those who are perceived as members of your own in-group.

Add to that very strong hierarchical properties:

At 67 Colombia scores high on the scale of the PDI, so it is a society that believes that inequalities amongst people are simply a fact of life. This inequality is accepted in all layers of society, so a union leader will have a lot of concentrated power compared to his union management team, and they in turn will have more power than other union members. A similar phenomenon will be observed among business leaders and among the highest positions in government.

What does that combine into? Well, a disdain for women and seeing them as inequal to men.

How about human rights for women? Not 100% applicable to travelers but it gets us pretty far. This is from Human Rights Watch:

Gender-based violence (GBV) is widespread in Colombia, but studies show that it may be higher for displaced women and girls. The government has laws, policies, and programs to address such violence, and the particular risk to displaced women and girls. However, lack of training and poor implementation of protocols create obstacles for women and girls seeking post-violence care. These include the failure of health facilities to properly implement relevant laws and policies—with the result that women and girls may not be adequately screened for signs of GBV, may be mistreated, may face delays in accessing essential services or be arbitrarily denied medical care altogether.

Barriers to justice for GBV victims include mistreatment by authorities, evidentiary challenges, and fear of retribution. Women and girl victims of this kind of violence are at times not informed about their legal rights, including where and how to access services. Perpetrators of GBV crimes are rarely brought to justice.

Human rights defenders are routinely threatened and attacked by perpetrators who are virtually never brought to justice. On February 28, a pamphlet allegedly signed by the “Águilas Negras-Bloque Capital” paramilitary successor group threatened two United Nations agencies and numerous human rights organizations, including several women’s rights groups. Human Rights Watch documented several cases of rape of women human rights defenders in late 2011 and 2012.

I’m not a white knight. Just showing you the data. And honestly I’m a bit tired with people (especially in Latin America) denying any of these problems. The data shows there’s problems. You might not encounter them ever (esp. as a guy), but they’re still there.

I don’t have a vice against the country either, I had fun there, but Colombia is simply behind on this compared to other countries based on factual data. And that makes it harder for women to travel there than most other countries (except maybe India and the Middle East). It’s not that it’s a conscious thing of people to act in this way, it’s a cultural artifact that perpetuates through upbringing. And sometimes local cultural behavior (like sexism) goes against how the rest of the world is evolving (against sexism).

I don’t think it’s bad to express this either, by expressing it it makes people think about it and work on it. As much as it takes time to change it, there’s good will with Colombians to better the country. You saw that in the last decades how their country has relatively flourished compared to the bad times before. They want change. So let’s figure out where they need the change.

I lived in envigado, so yes, I’ve tried there. I also speak Spanish so I know exactly what’s being said. I lived in Mexico for 4 years. Treatment or women in both places is like night and day.

Anyone have opinions on Ecuador or the area around Machu Picchu?

I’ve spent a lot of time in Italy and in Spain and the cultures there are nowhere near what I’ve experienced here, oskar. It’s not even in the same category. Yet again, look at the data and please listen, rather than getting defensive, when women tell you that our experiences are negative. I know you don’t have to deal with it…and that’s precisely at the point. As a man, you have different experiences.

And please keep in mind that this wasn’t meant to be a thread where we debate the merits of a single place. It was meant to be a thread where women and minorities can share their personal experiences of places that haven’t felt safe to them. Whether you, as a man, feel Colombia is “the same” as Italy or Spain is irrelevant to the discussion.

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