Is it safe to visit the Caribbean? Essential advice for holidaymakers

Aruba is considered one of the safer Caribbean islands – Aruba Tourism

There are concerns about the safety of visiting the Caribbean following travel advisories for two popular holiday destinations recently issued by the US Department of State.

In the case of Jamaica, Level 3 guidelines for reconsidering travel have been issued due to the perceived risk to visitors of violent crime and the quality of medical care on the island. It also says that “sexual violence is common, including in all-inclusive resorts.”

Level 2 “exercise increased caution” directives have been issued for the Bahamas due to the threat of violent crime, some of which is “gang-on-gang” and “primarily affects local populations.” It also warns of recent fatal and non-fatal shark attacks.

The UK Foreign Office has its own independent travel advice platform that is constantly updated. It confirms that crime rates are high in certain areas of both Jamaica and the Bahamas and details the precautions to be followed – including avoiding trips outside the main tourist areas and beaches, especially if you are alone.

However, as the region’s islands enter their driest months and thousands of holidaymakers prepare to pack their bags, there is no blanket warning from either agency indicating that it is unsafe to travel on holiday in the Caribbean. Here’s everything you need to know if you’re planning a trip to the Caribbean.

Is it safe to visit Jamaica?

Yes, but always read the latest advice from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before you travel. Jamaica has the highest murder rate in the Caribbean and there were 65 murders on the island as of January 2024. None of these cases involved visitors and British travelers enjoying a rum punch by the pool, and may be wondering what the fuss is about. Many of us fly home with wonderful memories of a beautiful island that is rightly famous for its reggae music, delicious marinated dishes, beautiful beaches and charismatic people.

Asked by The Telegraph to comment on the US advice, Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica’s tourism minister, said its “toughness” was surprising, but “we recognize that things need to be done.”

Tourism is an important part of the Jamaican economy and the islanders work hard to ensure that visitors enjoy a satisfying and hassle-free holiday. The minister noted that of the 4.2 million tourists who visited the island last year, 42 percent were repeat visits.

Is it safe to visit the Bahamas?

Yes. As a Bahamian government statement in the U.S. advisory notes notes, “most tourist destinations” have a Level 2 rating. This includes Britain, France and Germany, due to the threat of terrorism.

The 700 islands and 2,400 bays that make up the Bahamas are not geographically part of the Caribbean, but do share its heritage and culture. Of these, 16 islands are tourist destinations and the US crime warning covers only two islands: the gateway island of New Providence (home to the capital Nassau) and Grand Bahama.

For many travelers, the best experiences in the Bahamas, including exceptional snorkeling and diving, lie outside these highly developed islands, such as Bimini, Eleuthera, Harbor Island and in the Abacos.

What does travel advice entail?

Travel advice is official advice from the government to the citizens of a country about traveling abroad, which is given per country. Safety issues are just one aspect of this comprehensive advice, which may also cover access protocols, health and local customs.

In addition to consulting the positions of the Department of State and the U.S. Department of State, it may also be helpful to look at the information provided to Canadian and Australian travelers if they are concerned about how safe it is to travel to to travel to a destination.

Is it safe to visit the rest of the Caribbean?

Definitely. Paul Cleary, CEO of British tour operator Caribtours, says: “I have been sending clients to the Caribbean for 25 years. In all that time, I have only reported two incidents of crime, both non-violent.”

The American advice has had “no effect” on business. “We’ve been here before with Jamaica,” Cleary believes, and “a crime in the capital Kingston should in no way impact a traveler vacationing in Ocho Rios or Negril.”

On which other islands is crime high?

Haiti, Trinidad and the Dominican Republic.

What is the safest island?

As the State Department warns, “No foreign travel can be guaranteed to be safe.”

Looking at the statistics, Montserrat, a small British Overseas Territory reached via Antigua, has an enviably low crime rate, but is also home to a closely watched active volcano. Other destinations to consider are Aruba, Bonaire, St. Eustatius, Saba, Grenada, Martinique, Anguilla, St. Barths and the Cayman Islands.

What can I do to stay safe?

Frank Harrison, regional director at global safety experts World Travel Protection, advises travelers to “be aware, reduce risk through pre-travel research and make informed choices”.

Here are a few tips:

  • Start by reading the Foreign Office advice for your destination.

  • Always make sure you have travel insurance and study the fine print of the policy.

  • Leave jewelry, expensive watches and other valuable personal items at home.

  • Make a copy of your passport, credit cards and important documents such as a driver’s license.

  • Use hotel safes.

  • Use travel guides and local tourist offices for advice on exploring your destination.

  • Book taxis and excursions through your resort.

  • Avoid recreational drugs, including marijuana, which is widely available in the Caribbean.

  • LGBT+ travelers should be aware that conservative attitudes and archaic laws still persist in some islands, especially Jamaica. For more information, see the Gay Travel Index.

Can I cancel my holiday?

You can cancel, but holiday providers and travel insurers will not offer refunds for what is called a “refusal to travel”. In some cases you can postpone or exchange your holiday, but this usually entails additional costs.

For British travellers, as many of us have learned during the pandemic, claims can only be made if the Foreign Office gives a specific instruction not to travel somewhere. Advice from the US Department of State and similar agencies has no influence on this.

Please note that if you book a package holiday, rather than a trip as separate elements (such as a flight, hotel and rental car), you will receive more support and greater financial protection.

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