Thinking of traveling somewhere for the first time alone? The number one concern that comes to mind for most new solo travelers is, “Where should I go??”
With so many destinations to choose from and safety being top of mind when venturing out alone, it can be overwhelming to decide where you want to take your first solo adventure.
But have no fear! In this post, I’ll share with you five destinations that are not only great for new solo travelers, but come highly recommended by yours truly!
Curaçao is a great destination for new travelers because the island is small and jam-packed with so much to do. There are all sorts of activities to add to your itinerary - like swimming with dolphins or touring the African Culture Museum. If you’re not big on planning an itinerary and would rather just go with the flow, Curaçao makes it easy with over 40 beaches to hop and explore!
The island is rich in history, with ties to The Netherlands and influences by cultures from other parts of the world like Africa, Brazil, and Latin America. You can expect to hear all sorts of languages while you’re there, such as Dutch, Portuguese, and Spanish, in addition to their official language, Papiamento. Curaçao is an ideal destination for first-time solo travelers because the last thing you’ll have to worry about is any language barriers. Despite the vast range of languages spoken in the country, the majority of the people also speak English. Additionally, they are friendly and known for their welcoming nature, so you’ll have no problem conversing with the locals during your stay.
This mix of cultural influences doesn’t only show up in the island’s languages. You can expect the food to be diverse and delicious with all sorts of cuisine options. There wasn’t a single meal I regret having there. Curaçao’s cuisine offers a unique blend of flavors and foods with Dutch, Spanish, African, Asian, Indian, and Caribbean influences. Everything on the island tastes like it was made with love!
The size of the island makes it easy to navigate, so getting lost will be the least of your worries while you’re alone. The most common mode of transportation is by car and it’s highly recommended that you rent a car while visiting since public transportation isn’t very reliable. My solo trip to Curaçao was actually the first time I had ever driven outside of the US! Admittedly, I was a little nervous before I went, but I was pleasantly surprised by the experience.
In general, I’m not a huge fan of driving but in Curaçao, it wasn’t bad at all. The car renting process was smooth and driving around the island was a breeze since most roads only have two lanes. Having autonomy over my transportation and not having to rely on anyone to get around, brought a whole new level of freedom to solo travel. I’d recommend it to any solo female traveler - new or experienced!
But if driving is out of the option for you, don’t rule Curaçao out just yet. As an alternative, you can find accommodations close to town or opt to stay at a resort. Most excursions will offer transportation, some hostels offer bike rentals, and most of the resorts are centrally located so you won’t really need a car unless you want to venture out to the other side of the island.
I was also surprised to find that a lot of places accepted cards, even the beaches that had entry fees. You won’t have to worry about the hassle of having cash unless, of course, you rent a car. It’s recommended that you return the car with the same amount of gas as when you got it and gas stations only take cash.
Lastly, Curaçao makes for a great first-time solo destination because it’s quite affordable in comparison to its neighboring Caribbean islands, Aruba and Bonaire. As long as you can find a cheap flight - usually flights out of Panama are fairly priced - you can expect to have an enjoyable solo getaway that won’t break the bank.
Antigua is another destination that should be on your radar if you’ve never traveled solo before. The locals, known as Antigueños, are all about warmth and hospitality, so you'll find yourself in good company while exploring the charming historic city. They openly embrace diverse cultures no matter what your background, so you’ll be able to roam freely without fear of judgment or discrimination. The city also highly prioritizes safety, with cameras and police officers located on most streets. This makes it not only an excellent choice for solo travelers but even more so for Black solo travelers.
When it comes to language, Spanish is the native tongue but no need to worry if your Español is a little rusty. Antigua offers the opportunity to practice and improve your speaking skills, but it's not a requirement to get by. The popular city attracts tourists who speak all sorts of languages and English serves as the universal connection when it comes to communicating. During my time there I was shocked to meet people from places I would have never imagined coming across in Latin America, like Belgium and Ethiopia. If you’ve never traveled internationally before, Antigua is a destination where you can encounter new dialects and cultures and not feel held back by language barriers.
Although the colonial city attracts a variety of tourists from everywhere, overall the vibes of the city are relatively slow-paced. There you’ll discover there’s no need to rush and you can take your time when exploring. With so much to do and see, you’ll appreciate the slower pace to fully take everything in. Whether you’re into hiking and seeing erupting volcanoes, shopping for artisanal clothing and jewelry, deep diving into the history of the UNESCO city’s sites, or enjoying a luxurious spa day, there’s something for every travel style in Antigua. You can also catch beautiful views of the three surrounding volcanoes from almost anywhere around the city, so it doesn’t take much planning to really enjoy Antigua’s beauty.
Affectionately known as “Old Guatemala”, the city is relatively simple to navigate, in a grid-like layout all centered around a central plaza. The streets are made of cobblestone and the main modes of transportation are motorcycles, tuk-tuks, and walking. When it comes to exploring outside of the center city, there are taxis available for shorter distances and buses for day trips. I highly recommend setting a few days aside on your itinerary to visit Lake Atitlán, a picturesque lake located just two hours away that offers yogi vibes and the opportunity to be fully immersed in nature.
When it comes to food, I can’t say enough about how delicious Guatemalan food is! The food is influenced by Spanish and Mayan cultures, so you can expect lots of beans, rice, and yummy handmade tortillas. One of my personal favorite dishes was Pepián, a flavorful, traditional stew with lots of spices, vegetables, and some version of meat, whether it be chicken, beef, or pork. It’s commonly served with rice, tortillas, or both, and you can find the dish on any menu at a typical restaurant or street food vendor.
The streets of Antigua are also where you’ll find plenty of other tasty traditional cuisines, like pupusas, hilachas, rellenitos, empanadas, and so much more. The city is known as the birthplace of chocolate with cacao being a huge part of their local history. During my trip, I spent a night just wandering the streets and tasting food from every vendor that I saw. If you’re a foodie like me, you’ll love how easy it is to indulge in good, delicious food in Antigua!
Lastly, it’s good to note that when it comes to costs, Antigua is what you make it. With free walking tours, lots of hostels, plenty of cheap street food eats, and their haggle-friendly culture, visiting Antigua on a budget is certainly doable. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a getaway to indulge in self-care or luxurious dining experiences, you can certainly find that as well. A solo trip to Antigua can be adjusted to fit whatever budget you desire!
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Puerto Viejo 🇨🇷
If you’re looking for a tropical escape for your first solo travel experience, then Puerto Viejo is just the destination for you! The beach town is located in the province of Limón, on the southeast side of Costa Rica. It’s well-known for its Caribbean vibes and laid-back atmosphere, making it the perfect getaway vacation for travelers who want to relax in solitude. Relaxation is just one of many ventures Puerto Viejo has to offer. You could wake up every day and do something different or just take it easy and bum it out on the beach.
The waves are perfect for thrill-seekers who love to surf or want to learn how. Nature lovers can get up close with sloths, monkeys, birds, and other types of exotic animals. There are several spa locations for those who are into self-care and food lovers can enjoy some of the best casados in Costa Rica - the traditional dish that consists of rice, beans, salad, plantains, and your choice of protein.
There’s also a vibrant nightlife for travelers who love to party and several volunteer opportunities for those who like to give back. No matter how you want to enjoy your vacation, Puerto Viejo’s laid-back atmosphere makes it easy to be spontaneous, without needing to plan much in advance. This is why it’s such a great destination pick for new solo travelers.
The small town is also extremely easy to navigate. There’s one main road that runs through the entire town, so you’d have to try really hard to get lost. The main modes of transportation are by foot, bike, and tuk-tuk. Personally, biking was my favorite way to get around. It made it so easy to just get up and go, and with so many beaches to hop to, I liked being able to do things on my own time. There are also buses to and from Limón that are affordable and easy to follow, so if you decide to venture out and explore more of Costa Rica, navigating to other cities shouldn’t be too difficult either.
Although Costa Rica is known to be more expensive in comparison to other Central American countries, it still offers a more affordable cost of living than many states in the US. Lots of places in Puerto Viejo take card payments, so you won't have to worry about carrying loads of cash. However, it is a good idea to have some small bills in USD handy, as they're widely accepted in the country. If you’re looking to make your first solo trip more cost-effective, you’ll be happy to know that Puerto Viejo also has a plethora of free beaches. Beach hopping is a fun, budget-friendly way to pass the day, and Puerto Viejo has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
My personal favorite was Playa Negra. It was the first beach where I experienced black sand and it was so unbelievably soft! Some other noteworthy beaches are Playa Cocles, which is great for mingling, and Playa Manzanillo, ideal for peaceful solitude. All three beaches are spread apart from each other but fortunately, you can easily bike from one to the other and even stop by a few other beaches on the way.
Puerto Viejo is a magnet for solo travelers, so loneliness is one of the last things you’ll have to worry about on your journey. I met so many people during my two-week trip. There are hostels all around the town, making it really easy to socialize and meet new people. Communication will also be a breeze. Though you should absolutely take advantage of the chance to practice the region’s main language of Spanish, English is fairly common due to the town's popularity with tourists.
If there’s one Spanish phrase you should commit to memory, it’s their motto "Pura Vida," meaning a pure, or simple, lifestyle. It’s all about taking it easy and soaking in the good vibes. Puerto Viejo is where you can go to embrace the moment and let go of stress, making it an optimal location for travelers exploring a new destination all on their own.
If you’re anxious about flying and prefer a solo travel destination that won’t require a long flight from the US, then Tulum is one place you should certainly consider. Flights from the United States to Tulum are usually quite affordable. Their close proximity allows you to spend more days enjoying the destination, instead of traveling there.
In addition to sharing a border, Mexico and the US share other similarities that might be reassuring if you’re exploring solo for the first time. Depending on where you live in the United States, it's not uncommon to see and experience influences from Mexican culture in things like celebrations (think: Cinco de Mayo and birthday piñatas), music and pop culture (RIP Selena), and, of course, the food. I mean, who doesn’t love Tex-Mex and tacos?! This level of familiarity can be helpful when traveling somewhere new by yourself.
Tulum is also known as a hub for expats and attracts many tourists all year round. So while Spanish is the official language, you likely won’t run into too many situations where language presents a barrier. Many locals are well-versed in English and are happy to speak it with you; although it’s always good travel etiquette to practice speaking the local language whenever you can.
As far as what to do in Tulum, there really is a little something for every type of traveler. The tropical beach town offers activities from adventure to wellness and everything else in between. Visiting the Mayan Ruins is a must on your first trip to Tulum and, as an extra bonus for history lovers looking to check a wonder off their bucket list, Chichen Itza is just a day trip away. Adventure seekers can fill their day diving and snorkeling in the countless cenotes. If you’re more of a self-care girlie and want a relaxed solo getaway, you can partake in a wellness ritual, energy healing ceremony, or a tranquil spa day. There’s also the SFEK IK multidisciplinary museum and the Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve for solo travelers seeking itinerary ideas that are off the beaten path and more immersed in the culture.
Travel foodies will be pleased to discover that Tulum offers a wide variety of options, in both cuisine and dietary preferences. Popular Mexican dishes like tacos, burritos, and quesadillas are often made with chicken, pork, or beef, but these dishes can just as easily be enjoyed without meat as well. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you’ll be happy to know that Tulum has plenty of options for you too. Although I am a meat-eater, I was surprised to find that some of my favorite restaurants were actually veggie-friendly, such as Burrito Amor and Raw Love Cafe (I highly recommend the coconut vegetable curry at Raw Love)!
Navigating around Tulum is fairly simple and ideal for a new solo traveler. The town consists of two parts, the Pueblo, or main town, and the Playa, the beach area. In between the two, is one main road to get to and from each side. Most places you can get to by traveling on foot or cruising around on a bike or scooter. It's relatively easy to catch a taxi anywhere, though they can really start to add up if you take them often. For day trips and commuting to and from the airport, the local shuttles known as colectivos or an ADO bus, are more affordable alternatives for longer distances.
Cash is king in Tulum, so you’ll want to be sure to have pesos on hand for your solo trip. The cheapest and easiest way to do this is to withdraw money from an ATM at the Cancun airport. This ensures you get the most bang for your buck in terms of conversion rate and avoid having to keep up with cash while you travel. There are also ATMs in town but it’s not uncommon for them to be backed up with long lines, or worse, run out of cash. Bring USD as backup and withdraw the majority of what you think you’ll need while at the airport. Keep in mind that the costs of things change often, but this a good article to reference to estimate how much you might need for your solo trip.
If budget is top of mind, Tulum has lots of hostels that can help make your trip more affordable. Hostels are also a great way to connect and make new travel friends. Just because you’re traveling alone doesn’t mean you have to be lonely. Tulum has a vibrant social scene, providing the perfect setting to meet fellow solo travelers. Aside from hostels, you can meet new people around the town, on excursions, and most definitely on the beach.
You’ll want to keep in touch with any new friends you make so staying connected is essential for an enjoyable trip. Most US phone providers include Mexico in their data plans, sparing you the hassle of needing to purchase a local SIM card. Alternatively, Airalo offers eSIM cards with flexible data plans that you can purchase as you go. Use the code ARIANA0931 to get $3 off your first eSIM purchase!
Last but certainly not least on my list of destinations for new solo travelers is Cartagena, Colombia! Cartagena has a special place in my heart because it was one of the first places that I ever traveled to solo. Initially, I had planned to visit Cartagena with a travel group but decided to arrive a day or so earlier to take advantage of a cheaper flight.
Immediately I was fascinated by the coastal town’s lively energy, friendly people, and vibrant, colorful street art. I spent the day roaming the streets of Getsemani and was even surprised to find that I felt completely safe doing the same at night. My first trip there as a solo traveler was short but I knew I would be back again. Since then I’ve returned to Cartagena four more times, half of them being solo getaway trips and all of them attributed to the fact that I live just an hour plane ride away in Medellin. 😅
This being said, Cartagena is a destination I’d highly recommend for new solo travelers. Similarly to many of the destinations above, it’s a great place to meet and mingle with other tourists, solo wanderers, and locals alike. Generally speaking, Colombians are naturally warm and friendly, and in a place where the sun is always shining and the party never stops, you can expect this tenfold in Cartagena. Especially as a Black solo woman traveler! With almost half of the population being Afro-Colombian, and Palenque, the first free African town in the Americas, located just an hour away, it’s no wonder why Black people are celebrated so strongly. Seeing the art, hearing the music, and tasting the food, it goes without saying that the culture has a heavy African influence.
Another great bonus to Cartagena is its affordability compared to other travel destinations. It’s the ideal location for someone sponsoring an entire trip on their own for the first time. Direct flights from the US are fairly reasonable when traveling from an international hub like Miami. The flight duration from Miami is also just under 3 hours, so no need to let flying anxiety hold you back. As far as navigating in the town, you can pretty much walk everywhere if you choose to stay within the Walled City, also known as El Centro Histórico.
If you decide to stay outside of the Historic Center, you have the option to use taxis, buses, a private driver, or a rental car. Excursions that are further out normally include transportation but if not, you can also catch the bus for longer trips outside of town. While Uber does exist in Colombia, it sort of lies in a legal gray area. If you’re not comfortable taking taxis and want a ride-share alternative, check out apps such as DiDi, InDriver, and Cabify.
In Cartagena, you can curate your own experience. Whether you prefer a more local immersion or a touristy adventure, the city offers a range of possibilities to suit your solo travel needs. There are a variety of museums for the art connoisseurs. Beyond the Walled City, there’s even more for adventure travelers to explore, with places like the Pink Sea and Mud Volcano. The Palenque tour is a great addition to your itinerary if you want to take a deeper dive into Afro-Colombian history and culture.
It goes without saying that the seafood is fresh, flavorful, and Caribbean-inspired, so if you’re a foodie fan you won’t be disappointed by the cuisine. Cartagena has some great beaches too, but the real gems are outside of the city, like Barú and the Rosario Islands. The nicer beaches offer clear waters and fewer crowds but they do require some time to get to, so you’ll want to start your day early. For a nice beach that’s not quite as far, you can check out Tierra Bomba. As for nightlife, the parties are non-stop and you can find lively energy at any time of day within the Walled City.
It’s perfectly fine to explore Cartagena solo without a guide, but if you’d like to hire a tour guide, I recommend finding one who is also a photographer. I found a photo shoot tour on Airbnb Experiences and got some amazing photos while learning all about the history of Getsemani. As a solo traveler, having someone you can rely on to help you capture moments of your trip is invaluable.
Card payments are accepted in most places, but it's always best to have pesos on hand. ATMs are conveniently located around town, ensuring you can access your funds as needed. Just be sure you have a good international debit card like Charles Schwab to avoid paying fees on every transaction. While Cartagena is generally safe to explore, as with anywhere you should always stay vigilant and keep your belongings secure while roaming the city. Check out my list of favorite travel items for bags that I use to guard against pickpocketers.
Cartagena is known for having pushy vendors and relentless street rappers, so as a new solo traveler, this might be a little intimidating. If you find yourself in this situation, the best response is to avoid smiling, look the person straight in the eye, and state plainly, “I don’t have any money” or even better, “No tengo dinero”. Though Cartagena is a touristy city and a lot of the locals know at least a little English, knowing a few phrases in Spanish will enhance your experience and maybe even make it a little easier.
That concludes my list of top destinations to visit as a new solo traveler! Hopefully, this article has helped you to decide which destination is best for you. If planning your solo trip has you feeling overwhelmed, check out my curated travel guides that do all the work for you and help new solo travelers plan their trip with ease.
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