Tips for Women Traveling Alone
Costa Rica is a great country to explore on your own—especially if you’re independent, experienced traveler that already has her own agenda of things to do and see. Besides the general tips on traveling alone to any country:
- keep in touch with your family/friends,
- share the details of your trip with some of them and
- travel light with any valuables safely left at home,
here are few more on women traveling alone to Costa Rica.
1. Read, plan your trip thoroughly and then read some more
Read everything you can find on destinations and topics you’re interested in. Read travel guides, frequent forums, ask questions. Detail out your route far in advance, book and schedule all your accommodations and transport. And once you hit the road you won’t be stressing over where you’ll end up tonight. If you don’t like strict plans, have a good idea what destinations you want to visit and single out few possible options where to stay per destination. Once you make up your mind on where you want to go next, book your room before getting there. Many hotels in Costa Rica are small properties with less than 20 rooms on board. They get booked far ahead in high season, so have that in mind when planning.
2. Travel during the day
Majority of Costa Ricans are used to somewhat unusual schedule of starting their day as early as 5am. By 7-8am sun is already merciless, so everyone tries to get their morning chores done beforehand. During the dry season, it will stay scorching hot throughout most of the day, unless clouds start rushing in the early afternoon to give some shelter. Sunsets are not to be missed—but also come in early, at 6pm year-round.
If you decide to travel by shared shuttle transfers, you’ll have a bit more relaxed schedule, but if taking buses—opt-in for the ones that start early, usually at 5:30 or 6 am. Yes, you might be less sociable that morning, but you’ll arrive early to your next destination. Which will give you more time to pick and choose if you already don’t have a place to stay. Also, you will avoid slow traffic coming in and out of the Central Valley. Getting early bus is a must if you travel across land borders—going to both Nicaragua and Panama—as the lines in front of immigration can get long and slow.
3. Find mind-like travelers along the way
Some guidebooks offer info on meeting places for independent travelers. Another good resource is couchsurfing community, that’s fairly active in Costa Rica. If you’re staying in boutique hotels and hostels, getting to know fellow travelers is easy, just use your common sense when arranging your joint activities. If you’re in somewhat remote area (and there’s plenty of those in Costa Rica) you already have a lot in common with people that chose to be there as well. In more popular destinations, and especially San Jose area, there’s plenty social gatherings, that you can join and meet international travelers or locals.
4. Just say no
You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do! Once you get that gut feeling that something’s probably not good idea for you—even if you previously thought it was—follow your instincts and just say no. It’s simple as that. In the worst case scenario you’ll come off as uptight snob, but that’s nothing compared to a worrisome day or night. Or, worrisome day and night.
It’s also OK to ignore any argument or explanation, you don’t want to get involved into. Ticos are generally not too aggressive at selling you anything, and you won’t have to fight anyone off. Except—maybe—taxi drivers and tour guides in popular tourist areas.
5. Avoiding unsolicited attention isn’t hard
Costa Rica is country where you can wear anything you want, and you’ll see some locals dressing with passion for fashion, too. Nobody will ever scold you, or give an evil eye for wearing casual clothes, but you will get reaction from passers by if you dress up. Catcalling, honking and passing comments of ‘mi reina’ (my queen), ‘que linda’ (how pretty), ‘preciosa’ (beautiful) and ‘muneca’ (doll) are all standard repertoire of Ticos. If you ignore them, that’s all there is to it. A loudly expressed opinion on your looks, take it as a compliment and move on. There’s no need to wear a wedding ring to put someone off—Ticos aren’t famous for fidelity, so the ring won’t faze them much. Just be confident and state your intentions, and as they ARE non-confrontational they’ll take a hint.
6. Take everything with a grain of salt…
… and a dose of humor to it. Ticos are extremely (for Western standards) laid back people. They won’t understand why you’re obsessing on bus schedules (any kind of schedules for that matter) or words they said last night—although those might have sounded like promises to you. For them, it was just a way to be polite and take part in conversation. Yes, they mentioned they’ll show up then and there, but in no way they feel obliged to do so.
For Costa Ricans is important to make the other person happy when engaged in conversation, even if it means slightly overstating something. Was that a genuine promise or polite statement? It’s not easy to tell. So, don’t get too hung up on Ticos’ words. Also, don’t get upset if it takes forever for the bus to arrive, or a server to come to your table. Ticos take their sweet time when doing something, don’t take it personally or it will ruin your day. Just kick back and relax, enjoy the view and find something else to keep you occupied while you wait.
7. Take care of yourself, be confident and use common sense
Like in any other country in the world, there are people in Costa Rica who’d like to take advantage of tourists—if the right opportunity presents itself. To cut down the risk of something like that happening, avoid walking alone in the risky areas. Ask the hotel staff if you plan to go somewhere, as they are best informed what’s happening in the area.
Pay special attention to your belongings in bus stations and on buses—keep your carry-on bag next to your feet, not above the head compartment. Do not leave expensive belongings on the beach while you swim/surf, and be sure to use safety lockers in hostels or safes in hotels. If you get to an unfamiliar area, walk with confidence, even if you don’t have a clue where you are. Don’t panic, just enter the first shop and ask for directions. It helps a lot if you know some Spanish, but many young Ticos know basic English and are willing to help you.