As a woman traveling alone to South America, I was prepared for piropos—compliments that trail a woman like an all-male chorus through machismo territory. “Marry me!” went the refrain. My comeback, learned from a friend in Senegal: “Thank you, sir, but I already have five husbands.”

But what could prepare a woman for the tour guide who corners her with serenades? Or the policeman who takes the report on her stolen wallet: “Name? Birth date? Most important: single or married?” He detained me for hours, investigating my interest in Argentine men and salsa dancing.

Fortunately, being a solo women traveler also granted me access to experiences I couldn’t have had otherwise. When I was stranded in Ica, a family took me in as though I were a long-lost daughter. Another time, in Cusco, a group of local women invited me to salsa. “We never talk to foreigners,” they said. But I was alone, unintimidating. It was my first girls’ night out, and with a group of new girlfriends surrounding me and showing me new steps, I was able to let my guard down and have fun. Sure, the men still asked me to dance, but I was ready: “Gracias, señor, pero ya tengo cinco esposos.

>>Next: I Dug Deep on a Farm in Tuscany.