Is Delhi Safe for Solo Female Travellers?
Guest post by Suzanne Hooker
Delhi is almost unavoidable if you are flying into India – it’s the major gateway to the most visited parts of the country such as Agra, Kerala and Goa. But is Delhi safe for solo female travellers? Should you get out of Delhi as quickly as possible, or spend a few days in India’s capital city?
I’ve lived in Delhi as a single female for the last 3 years and yes, Delhi is safe for solo female travellers. It is no more unsafe than any other international major city. In fact, Delhi is one of the most diverse and historically significant cities in the world and it is worth spending a few days here. These are my tips for staying safe and enjoying this fabulous city.
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How to get into Delhi from the Airport
Indira Gandhi International Airport is modern and efficient, but as soon as you exit those doors it’s kind of pandemonium. Taxi drivers and porters will immediately try to get your attention and business. Ignore them all. There are several ways to get into Delhi from the airport.
If you have a local SIM card, order an Uber (you can get a local SIM at the arrivals level of the airport, near the exit doors). Taxis at the airport charge about triple the going rate, so Uber is a much better deal. The Uber pick up spot is to the far right once you exit Terminal 3 – just follow the signs. Make sure you select the correct terminal for pick-up.
There are a couple of pre-paid taxi booths just outside the exit doors on the first median. This is not my top choice because they overcharge, but it’s fairly safe. Do not listen to the driver if he tells you your hotel is closed because of fire, etc. Insist that he drive you to your requested destination.
I have also used the female only taxi company, Sakha Cabs. They have a booth just outside the exit doors. Their rates are higher than Uber but if you’re more comfortable being driven by a woman, this is a great alternative.
The Delhi metro has stations at Terminals 1 and 3. The Delhi metro is one of the best systems in the world and a fast way to get into the city. The airport line runs from 5:15 am to 11:30 pm. It’s very easy to use, cheap, clean and efficient. If you don’t have loads of luggage it’s a really good way to get into Delhi.
Airport Hotel Pick-Up
Many hotels offer airport pick-up for their guests. Most charge a fee which is substantially higher than Uber, but it’s very convenient. Confirm with your hotel if the driver will be inside or outside the terminal to meet you, and at which exit or column.
Where to Stay in Delhi as a Solo Female Traveller
The best areas to stay in for convenience and safety are South and Central Delhi. Both areas are central, close to many monuments and attractions and well serviced by the metro.
Many visitors end up in Paharganj, the backpacker area, and Old Delhi. Do not stay in either of these! They are congested, noisy and not the safest parts of town to return to at night. Both have lots of budget accommodation but you will end up hating Delhi if you stay there.
South and Central Delhi are better parts of the city where most expats and the diplomatic community live. There are many wonderful guest houses and hotels to suit every budget in these areas. My top picks are:
The Hosteller (hostel with dorm and private rooms)
Prakash Kutir Bed & Breakfast (family run guest house)
Bungalow 99 (luxury guest house)
[email protected] (mid-range hotel)
Hotel Palace Heights (mid-range hotel)
Bloomrooms at Janpath (mid-range hotel)
Imperial Hotel (luxury hotel with female only floor)
Taj Mahal, New Delhi (luxury hotel with female only floor)
Keep in mind that neighbourhoods in Delhi are gated. Most have several gates which close after dark. If your accommodation is in one of these neighbourhoods (and it will be, unless you are staying at a major hotel or on a main thoroughfare), find out which gate is open after dark, and where it is so you can get back in easily.
How to Get Around Delhi as a Solo Female Traveller
Delhi is home to 33 million people – it has to have great transportation systems or the city would come to a stand still.
For short distances (5 km or less) auto rickshaws are very convenient. They’re perfectly safe to take during the day and it’s fun booting around in one, especially the area known as Lutyens Delhi. Rickshaw drivers are notorious for overcharging foreigners, so unless you know what the fare should be, check how much Uber charges for the same route so you don’t get ripped off.
Uber or Ola
These are the two widely used ride share apps in Delhi. Uber has cash and credit card options so I usually use that one. Both are safe and a good option at night when it’s not as safe to take an auto rickshaw or the metro.
Often called the lifeline of the city, the metro is the most efficient way to move around Delhi. It’s modern, clean, efficient, inexpensive and very easy to use. Currently there are 12 lines and it’s almost 400 km long, but everything is in English and Hindi and it’s colour coded, so very easy to navigate.
The first coach in the moving direction is for women only. Unless you’re only going one or two stops, use the women’s coach – it’s less crowded and you won’t get stared at. I wrote a whole article on how to use the Delhi metro. The metro is safe to use until about 8 pm (if you are alone); after that it’s better to take an Uber. There are auto rickshaws outside all metro stations to take you right to your door.
Do Not Use Buses or Hail Taxis in Delhi
Delhi buses can be very crowded and not entirely safe for women – I recommend avoiding them.
Interstate buses between cities and Indian states are safe to use. I’ve taken the government overnight buses numerous times between Delhi and the northern state of Himachal Pradesh and never had an issue.
Taxis on the street are not trackable – do not use them. It’s safer to use Uber or Ola.
Is it Safe to Visit Monuments and Attractions in Delhi as a Solo Female Traveller?
Yes, absolutely! I live here and am constantly exploring the city. I regularly visit way off the beaten path sites and congested urban villages where I am the only foreigner, and have never felt unsafe. My best tips are:
- dress conservatively (especially in the urban villages which are predominantly Islamic)
- do not flash a lot of money
- be culturally respectful and polite (cover head and remove shoes in mosques and gurudwaras etc.)
- if alone, visit monuments and attractions during daylight hours
Indians do have a fascination with foreigners, so be prepared to be asked for a lot of selfies while visiting the sites. My general rule of thumb is to allow photos with women and children, but decline requests from men.
How to Dress as a Solo Female Traveller in Delhi
India is a conservative country and it’s best to dress modestly so you don’t attract the wrong kind of attention. Shoulders and knees should be covered and absolutely no cleavage. This is starting to change, and you will see Indian girls in shorts or tank tops occasionally, but as a foreigner it’s best to be conservative.
If you are going out to a bar or club (and not riding the metro) it is perfectly acceptable to dress in something more risqué.
It’s a good idea to carry a dupatta with you. A dupatta is a large Indian scarf that can be used to cover your head in a gurudwara or mosque, as a wrap or to cover shoulders. It’s a very versatile Indian fashion accessory and can be bought in any ethnic clothing shop and almost all street markets.
Food and Water Safety in Delhi
Delhi is the foodie capital of India. The restaurant and street food scene is amazing. Most restaurants are safe to eat at but make sure to wash your hands first.
Street food is one of the best things about Delhi. There are stands everywhere: along major roads, outside office buildings, beside metro stations, next to monuments and tourist sites. Most of the time it’s very fresh (food is prepared right in front of you), inexpensive and delicious. In fact, some of the best food I have ever had in Delhi has been on the street. The best ways to avoid Delhi belly are:
- make sure your hands are clean (carry disinfectant wipes or hand sanitizer)
- only eat at stands that are busy (ingredients will be fresher)
- do not eat anything with water, like golgappa – the spicy water filled balls
- in summer use extra caution – food spoils quickly in the intense heat (avoid foods with lots of yogurt sauce)
- do not eat street meat
- avoid lassi (yogurt based drink), unless in a sealed bottle
- absolutely no ice
- roasted and fried foods are usually fine since cooking kills bacteria
- street chai is safe because it is boiled vigorously, but always get it in a paper cup instead of a clay cup (the clay cups are single use, but some vendors secretly re-use them)
Tap water is not safe to drink in Delhi. Always drink bottled or filtered water. Most hotels, restaurants and apartments have RO systems which filter and clean the water (this water does not come out of the tap – it comes from a separate wall mounted unit). If not drinking bottled water, just confirm the water is filtered.
How to Deal with Scammers in Delhi
Petty crime against visitors is not that common. There are pickpockets and theft does happen, but if you exercise the usual precautions you should be fine. The real problem in Delhi is the scammers.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of touts who see tourists as a walking target. Just assume anyone who gives you a price, from the auto rickshaw driver to the shop assistant at the Indian clothing store is adding a ‘tourist tax.’
Always look for a posted price and pay attention to what locals are paying. For auto rickshaw rides, check to see what Uber charges for the same route. In shops without posted prices, bargain and shop around to see what similar items cost at other places.
Scammers are a major nuisance. They are particularly bad in the area known as Connaught Place, the unofficial centre of Delhi. Scammers may approach you and start a conversation, asking where you are from and if you need any assistance. They may tell you a monument is closed or your hotel burned down. Do not believe any of it! These touts get paid for bringing visitors in the doors of shops, restaurants and travel agencies.
The best way to deal with this annoyance, is to ignore anyone who approaches. If you hear “ma’am, ma’am” don’t even look and just keep walking. Eventually they will give up and go away. This is not rude – this is Delhi survival!
Health Care in Delhi for Solo Female Travellers
Most visitors are surprised to find out that Delhi has excellent health care. The private medical sector in Delhi is excellent, better than what I have experienced in Canada. In fact, I now get all my dental and most medical things done in Delhi. It’s professional, efficient and cheap.
Prescription medicine is also very inexpensive in India. So if you do get sick in Delhi don’t worry, there is wonderful medical care. Here are the best places to go if you need medical assistance:
Max Super Specialty Hospital (private hospital, recognized as one of the very best)
Dr. Poonam Batra Multispecialty Dental Clinic (clientele is almost all expats and diplomats)
Dr. Lal PathLabs (for x-ray and pathology – they will come to your hotel or home)
Back in Motion Physiotherapy and Chiropractor Clinic (one of the very few formally trained chiropractors in Delhi)
India is the birthplace of ayurvedic medicine and Delhi has some excellent clinics. The one I like is:
Arya Vaidya Sala Kottakkal (I go to the clinic in South Extension)
There is a Lot of Security in Delhi
Delhi has a lot of security. Hotels, malls, major tourist sites, bus and train stations, and the metro all have airport style security. You don’t have to take liquids out of your purse, but bags get x-ray scanned and people are patted down with a metal detector.
Security is always segregated. At the metro there is a separate line up for women and at all other places women go into a private booth for metal scanning.
Last Thoughts on Is Delhi Safe for Sole Female Travellers
Delhi is safe for solo female travellers if you practice common sense and take the same precautions you would take anywhere in the world.
It’s a fascinating and culturally rich place with a lot to offer. So if you have to fly into Delhi, spend a few days here – it is one of the most interesting cities in the world.
About the Author
Suzanne Hooker is a Canadian and the writer of the Delhi travel blog Suzanne Wanders Delhi. She lives in Delhi with her dog.
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