Though we may prefer to see the Caribbean solely as an island getaway filled with sandy beaches, strong cocktails, and tans that will live on in infamy, it is important to remember that these islands are not merely tourist attractions, but living, breathing countries with the same crime and violence that every other country in the world experiences.
Does that mean you should hunker down inside your hotel when visiting places with high murder rates?
No. As in most other places, murders in the Caribbean are often linked to the drug trade and largely confined to known trouble spots -- typically poor communities. Tourists are rarely victims of homicides, which is why such killings spark headlines when they occur.
According to the latest statistics, Honduras, with 92 murders per 100,000 population, and
Jamaica, with 40.9 murders per year per 100,000 people, are among the nations with the highest murder rates in the world (although Jamaica's homicide rate has declined somewhat in recent years).
Other destinations in the Caribbean region with murder rates significantly higher than the United States include:
- U.S. Virgin Islands: 39 murders per 100,000
- St. Kitts and Nevis: 38 per 100,000
- Guatemala: 38 per 100,000
- Colombia: 37 per 100,000
- Belize: 30.8 per 100,000
- Trinidad and Tobago: 35 per 100,000
- Bahamas: 27.4 per 100,000
- Puerto Rico (a Commonwealth of the United States): 26 per 100,000
- Mexico: 24 per 100,000
- Dominican Republic: 25 per 100,000
- St. Lucia: 25 per 100,000
- St. Vincent and The Grenadines: 22 per 100,000
- Panama: 22 per 100,000
- Dominica: 22 per 100,000
According to the latest available data, the murder rate in the United States was 4.7 per 100,000 population. Caribbean destinations with murder rates about the same as that in the U.S. (under 10 per 100,000) include Martinique, Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Cuba, Guadeloupe, Haiti, and Turks & Caicos.
The rest of the Caribbean nations fall somewhere in the middle (e.g. between 10 and 20 murders per 100,000), according to data from the United Nations.
Of course, the United States is a much bigger country than any in the Caribbean, and there are many U.S. cities where the murder rate is equal to or higher than even the most violent nation in the Caribbean. For example, the murder rate in St. Louis, Mo., is 59 per 100,000 residents, while the rate is Baltimore is 54 per 100,000 and the rate in Detroit is 43 per 100,000.
The above list is incomplete: crime reports from some Caribbean nations fall under those of their parent nations, such as France or the Netherlands, and some nations may underreport or fail to report crime data.
Also, it's important to note that violent crimes rarely involve tourists even in the most violent countries. It is sadly universal that most homicides involve poor people victimizing other poor people, notable within the illicit drug trade.
Finally, remember that statistics for small countries can be greatly affected by relatively isolated incidents. For example, a single murder in Montserrat in 2012 inflated that nation's homicide rate to 19.7 per 100,000 population.
When traveling to Caribbean islands, it is important to make sure you continue following normal safety protocol that you would typically enforce at home. This includes: not traveling alone at night, not traveling in unknown places at night, always making sure to have a cell phone on you or letting someone with a cell phone/emergency contact know where you are at all times, avoid interaction with strangers, especially in unknown areas, and avoid confrontation with strangers and third parties at all times.
For more information on safe travel to the Caribbean and how to stay safe on your Caribbean vacation, please look at the following links: