Is It Safe in the Caribbean?

Wooden boardwalk with danger sign in Caribbean
Sabína Vrbenská / EyeEm / Getty Images

Safety and security are always a concern when you travel, and a Caribbean vacation is no exception. It's a fine line between relaxing and letting your guard down, so while it's fine to chill out and have a good time on your island adventure, there are a few sensible precautions you should take before leaving home and once you arrive at your destination.

Travel Advisories

The U.S. State Department publishes individual travel advisories for all nations, so look into the country you plan to visit before you go. As of November 23, 2020, only Haiti, Cuba, and the Bahamas have the highest Level Four "Do Not Travel" warning, Haiti due to civil unrest and the latter two due to COVID restrictions. Almost all other Caribbean nations have a Level Three "Reconsider Travel" warning due to COVID restrictions, with the exceptions of Sant Lucia, Saint Vincent, and Grenada, which have a Level Two "Exercise Extreme Caution" advisory. The State Department does not include advisories for Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands, which are both U.S. territories.

Is the Caribbean Dangerous?

The Caribbean is a large and diverse geographic area comprised of hundreds of islands and at least two dozen countries or territories. While some islands are known to be more dangerous than others, travel to the areas most frequented by tourists is considered to be relatively safe from serious crime. However, tourists are often robbed—sometimes through violent means—and some basic safety procedures should be followed regardless of where you visit. Avoid wearing flashy or expensive jewelry, and don't carry around expensive technology items that may draw attention from would-be thieves.

Another danger of the Caribbean has nothing to do with crime, but rather the weather. The Atlantic hurricane season officially lasts from June 1 to November 30, although storms can happen at any time of the year. The most active period is usually around mid-August to mid-October, so be extra mindful of weather forecasts if you're traveling during this time.

Is the Caribbean Safe for Solo Travelers?

Even though most of the tourist areas are safe for those traveling alone, solo travelers do need to keep some things in mind. First and foremost, walking around alone makes you an easier target for thieves. Meeting fellow travelers to explore with is a great way to join a group, but if you are mugged, don't fight back and give them what they ask. Look up dangerous neighborhoods in the places you'll be visiting before you arrive so you don't accidentally stumble into one, and avoid walking alone at night.

Most Caribbean trips include time at the beach, but be wary of what you bring if you're going alone. Keep your valuables safely locked away in your hotel room and don't leave anything important in a parked car, which is often a target for thieves in beach parking lots.

Is the Caribbean Safe for Female Travelers?

Women traveling around the Caribbean should practice the same safety measures that they would in most big cities. The most common form of harassment is catcalling on the street, which is an everyday occurrence in many countries but usually doesn't escalate from there. If you find yourself the object of unwanted attention, politely but firmly say no. Smiling back out of courtesy may encourage the men, even if that isn't your intention. If you need to and are able to, remove yourself from the situation.

When out at night, don't accept drinks from strangers and don't leave your drink unattended. To be safe, order drinks yourself at the bar so you can watch while it's made.

Safety Tips for LGBTQ+ Travelers

The Caribbean is by and large a conservative region and not always tolerant of LGBTQ+ visitors or locals. However, it's also a diverse region and attitudes fluctuate greatly. For example, LGBTQ+ travelers to Puerto Rico will find it's not very different from visiting a progressive city on the mainland, with all of the same laws as in the continental U.S. In general, islands that are oversea territories of Western countries typically have more relaxed views, such as the British Virgin Islands, the Dutch island Curaçao, the French island St. Bart's, and St. Marteen/St. Martin.

However, some islands are not quite as welcoming, with Barbados, St. Lucia, and Jamaica considered three of the most dangerous countries for the LGBTQ+ community not just in the Caribbean, but in the world. All three of them still have official "anti-buggery" laws on the books dating back to their colonial pasts, effectively outlawing sexual intercourse between same-sex partners.

Safety Tips for BIPOC Travelers

The Caribbean isn't just culturally diverse, but it's very ethnically diverse as well. Of course, diversity doesn't preclude racism, and there is still an insidious discrimination throughout the region, especially against dark-skinned Afro-Caribbeans. However, BIPOC travelers are more likely to be seen as foreigners, offering a degree of separation from racial dynamics on the islands.

Safety Tips

  • Most importantly, learn about your specific destination or destinations before you go, including neighborhoods to avoid and emergency phone numbers.
  • Ask a trusted local source for information, such as your hotel concierge or Airbnb host. They should be able to tell you where to go and where to avoid.
  • Many beaches don't have lifeguards, so take extra precautions when swimming in the ocean, especially with young children.
  • Make sure you remember to lock the windows and sliding doors in your accommodations before you leave, and use the room safe to store valuables if one is available.
  • Don't bring valuable items to the beach if you'll be leaving them unattended while you're in the water, and don't keep them in your parked car, either.
  • Even though you may see drugs being sold or used, they are illegal across the entire region. Don't get mixed up in something illegal and risk getting involved with law enforcement.
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