Since the 1980s, the Caribbean region has been struggling against its own inner demon: crime. Citizens of the Caribbean have quickly learned that rising crime rates on one island can negatively affect other islands in the vicinity. While the islands still offer some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, travelers can sometimes feel insecure about their surroundings, making relaxation more of a challenge.
Several recent news stories about crimes in the Caribbean, including the highly covered disappearance of Alabama teenager Natalee Holloway, have reignited the debate over how to keep the islands safe for travelers. Concern for safety has even inspired a conference in late October, the second Caribbean Conference on Crime and Criminal Justice, and a statement by the Caribbean Commissioners of Police about ways travelers can stay safe. These efforts are visible steps officials are taking to help travelers feel more secure about their vacations, especially as the Caribbean's tourist season approaches.
One of the biggest problems in studying crime among the islands has been that, until recently, few efforts had been made to distinguish crime against island residents from crime against visitors. Obtaining clear and specific crime data has become an important step toward fighting crime in the islands, and newer studies have revealed that violent crimes against vacationers in the Caribbean islands are indeed rare occurrences. While Jamaica, for example, may be known for its high murder rates, the vast majority of murders are crimes by Jamaican nationals against Jamaican nationals.
Vacationers planning a trip to the islands are more likely to encounter petty theft and other nonviolent crimes than anything else. However, as recent events have shown, this is not a certainty. Some believe that areas inundated with tourists have higher crime rates against tourists because there are as many visitors as residents, while others believe that the relaxed attitude of most travelers is the main contributing factor in these crimes. Although there are several different theories about this, one thing is certain – travelers who take precautions generally do not experience such problems during their stay.
The best way to be safe during Caribbean travel is to avoid making the mistakes most vacationers make – just because you're on vacation doesn't mean you shouldn't be cautious. Leaving valuables in plain view in a hotel room or rental car, leaving doors unlocked, displaying too much wealth, and wearing flashy jewelry are all ways to attract thieves. Remember that you are far from home, and replacing valuables, such as a stolen wallet, will be even more difficult. Take the same precautions you would take at home or in any big city to avoid losing important items.
Another way travelers can stumble upon trouble is by walking into "bad" areas of town. It's common sense to avoid walking down a dark alley in most cities, but vacationers may not always recognize a part of town that locals know to avoid. If an area makes you feel uneasy, or would make you feel uneasy at home, it's probably best to avoid that area, especially at night. Women particularly should take extra precautions at night and avoid walking alone.
While some believe that tourist-heavy areas inspire more crimes against tourists, these areas have established more rigid security measures to help travelers stay safe. It is difficult to determine whether these areas are more or less safe than any other location. However, one certainty is that most travelers to the Caribbean have never experienced any sort of crime.
Travelers who return year after year to experience all the Caribbean offers rarely tell stories of vacations turning into horrible experiences. So with just a bit of caution in mind, it's still safe to relax on a Caribbean vacation while the island governments work to put a stop to the troubles that can keep travelers from their shores.