Whether they like it or not, female travelers tend to stand out in Central America, especially in less touristy regions. And while most women visit Central America without incident, certain extra precautions are necessary to ensure a safe trip.
Understand cultural differences:
Machismo — defined by Wikipedia as “prominently exhibited or excessive masculinity — is a deep-rooted (and often irritating) part of many Central American cultures. Men tend to be more vocal when addressing women, and whistles, hisses and catcalls are the norm. While the feminist inside you might be screaming, most seasoned travelers recommend ignoring the hecklers. Any response could be taken as encouragement.
This doesn’t mean female travelers must wear long sleeves and slacks under all circumstances—on islands like Ambergris Caye, spaghetti straps and sarongs are the unofficial uniform. But know that in most Central America destinations, the amount of skin a woman traveler shows is directly proportional to the amount of unwanted attention she attracts. When in doubt, dress like the locals.
Take a cab at night:
It’s just not smart for women to walk alone at night in Central America, especially in urban areas like San Jose or Antigua Guatemala. Even if your destination is just a few blocks away, take a cab.
Don’t resist a mugging:
If you’re held up on the street, don’t resist. Hand over your bag. Clear your pockets. Defying a mugger just isn’t worth the risk — many incidents of violence in Central America occur because a mugging victim resisted a robbery.
Be extra careful on overnight buses:
Nighttime bus rides are notorious for petty crimes. Thieves wait until passengers fall asleep, and then ransack carry-on bags and purses. Women should avoid overnight buses if they can. If you have no choice, store your primary bags beneath the bus if possible, and wear your underclothes money belt. Keep any carry-ons on your lap with your hands wound through the straps. Using small padlocks on the zippers doesn’t hurt, though they won't deter the most determined thieves.
Never ignore your instincts:
Instincts can be a female traveler's strongest defense. Always stay aware of your surroundings. If a situation just doesn't feel safe, avoid it.
About.com’s Guide to Student Travel offers some additional travel safety tips for women.