Women Traveling Alone
This is a tough one. Women who travel alone in Panama are likely to be safer than in many other countries, but it’s still not the safest way to go.
On the one hand, it’s unusual for any traveler to face serious harassment in Panama. It’s an easygoing, live-and-let-live kind of place. On the other hand, it is a macho country, and women are subject to lots of cat-calling, honking horns, smooching noises, and other obnoxious behavior from dudes on the street. Generally, that’s as aggressive at it gets, but it can certainly make women who travel alone feel unsafe, sometimes with good reason.
Women are most likely to encounter this nonsense in Panama City. Some women have also reported unwanted attention in Bocas del Toro and Boquete, where a sudden influx of foreign tourists has collided with provincial attitudes. A woman friend was practically stalked in Bocas by a few eager guys a couple years back, so much so she cut her visit short. More recently, there have been reports of attempted rapes in Bocas. In one case, a woman woke up to find men she’d met earlier had gotten into her room; screams scared them off. Rape is punishable by 1–5 years in jail, but convictions are rare.
Common sense can reduce the risk of ugly encounters. Never tell a casual acquaintance the name of your hotel, and certainly not your room number. Women who travel alone should be especially alert in Bocas and Panama City. The Calidonia and Casco Viejo neighborhoods of Panama City are not the best places for women traveling on their own.
Panamanian women who get bothered on the street tend to ignore the culprits completely. That’s probably the best tack to try at first. Try not to lose your cool. Knowing at least some Spanish and appearing confident and at home can also help diffuse unpleasant encounters. Befriend fellow visitors and travel in groups if possible.
Cabs are probably safer than walking at night, but avoid taking them alone. Women who go to bars and discos alone are often assumed to be looking for sex, and there will be no shortage of guys eager to help them find it. Especially outside sophisticated circles in Panama City, the same goes for a woman who agrees to visit a man’s home or allows him into her room late at night.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition