From Natalie Holloway's tragic disappearance in Aruba to the murder of a honeymooning couple in Antigua to the oft-repeated advice of "don't leave the resort" in Jamaica, crime has colored the perceptions of Caribbean travelers. A few high-profile incidents can quickly get island visitors wondering what lurks beneath the sun-and-fun image promoted in tourist brochures.
In our experience, fear of crime in the Caribbean is generally overblown.
But that doesn't mean you should go walking around with blinders on, either. Violence is far more prevalent in some Caribbean nations than others. Even in the most troubled countries, violent crime rarely touches tourists. On the other hand, experts note, visitors are often more likely than locals to be victims of property crimes, and often are specifically targeted in locations known to be frequented by tourists.
The overall murder rate among developing nations in the Caribbean nears 30 per 100,000 inhabitants, four times that in North America. High rates of unemployment and a lack of economic development, along with narcotics trafficking, breed crime, violence, and gangs in many Caribbean nations. Thus, the best piece of advice about avoiding being murdered in the Caribbean is to avoid associating with criminals: don't buy drugs.
Crime can happen anywhere, and there are no guarantees.
However, experience and statistics indicate that the following nations are among the most secure in the Caribbean region:
Not surprisingly, these tend to be the islands that are either the most affluent or have the least tourism development.
On the basis of murder rates, the least safe countries include:
- Jamaica: has one of the highest murder rates in the world, but 70 percent of all crime is linked to the drug trade. Locals tell us that the country is generally safe outside known trouble spots in Kingston, Montego Bay, and other cities (in short: stay out of bad neighborhoods). We're inclined to believe that advice can be applied to other destinations on this list, as well.
- St. Kitts and Nevis
- Trinidad and Tobago
- Puerto Rico
- The Bahamas
- St. Lucia
- The Dominican Republic
As we noted, however, tourists are rarely targets of violent crime, so it's also helpful to look at property crime rates, like robbery. Crime research suggests that the Caribbean countries you're most likely to get robbed in include:
- The Dominican Republic
- Costa Rica
A Rise in Property Crime
Property crime has been increasing in the Caribbean in recent years, and experts say that the increase has been most pronounced in highly developed tourist destinations, including the Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI).
The U.S. Overseas Security Advisory Council's report, Barbados and Eastern Caribbean 2008 Crime & Safety Report (covering Antigua And Barbuda, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Grenada, Martinique, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St.
Lucia, Saint Martin, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines), warns:
"Generally, criminal individuals or groups are free to roam day or night with few restrictions; burglars and thieves target residential and lower-end hotel and resort areas for opportunistic crimes. Burglars and thieves typically rely on stealth to meet their objectives, but since 2002, reports reflect an increasing use of knives and handguns in the commission of crimes. Further, high-traffic business areas commonly frequented by tourists are targeted for opportunistic street crimes like purse snatching and pick-pocketing. Perpetrators committing street crimes in the public eye can become confrontational, but mostly they avoid gratuitous violence, which draws attention to them."
Moreover, "Generally, numbers of uniformed police are inadequate to have a substantial influence on crime deterrence and uniformed police response to alarms or emergency calls is often too slow (15 minutes or longer) to disrupt crimes in progress."
These facts are worth bearing in mind as you plan your Caribbean trip -- not to discourage you from traveling, but so that you take the standard security precautions seriously when traveling to a destination known to have a significant crime problem.