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

Turquoise waters and a gleaming white sand beach
Aruba is considered to be among the safer Caribbean islands - Aruba Tourism

Concerns about the safety of visiting the Caribbean have been raised following travel advisories for two popular holiday destinations recently issued by the US Department of State.

In the case of Jamaica, Level 3 “reconsider travel” guidance has been issued because of the perceived risk to visitors of violent crime and the quality of the island’s medical care. It also states that “sexual assaults occur frequently, including at all-inclusive resorts”.

For the Bahamas, Level 2 “exercise increased caution” guidance has been issued because of the threat of violent crime, some of which is “gang-on-gang” that “primarily affects the local population”. It also warns of recent fatal and non-fatal attacks by sharks.

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 follow – including avoiding venturing 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 body to suggest that it is unsafe to travel in the Caribbean region on holiday. 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 Foreign Office advice before travel. Jamaica has the highest homicide rate in the Caribbean and there were 65 murders on the island in January 2024. None of these involved visitors and British travellers enjoying a rum punch by the pool may well wonder what the fuss is about. Many of us fly home with happy memories of a super-scenic island justly famous for its reggae music, delicious jerk dishes, superb beaches and charismatic people.

Asked by The Telegraph to comment on the US advisory, Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism, said its “harshness” was surprising but “we recognise there are things to be done.”

Tourism is a major part of Jamaica’s economy and its islanders work hard to ensure visitors enjoy a satisfying and trouble-free holiday. The minister observed that of the 4.2 million tourists who visited the island last year 42 per cent was repeat business.

Is it safe to visit the Bahamas?

Yes. As a Bahamian government statement in the US advisory notes, “most tourism destinations” have a Level 2 rating. This includes the UK, France and Germany, because of the threat of terrorism.

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

For many travellers the best experiences in the Bahamas, including exceptional snorkelling and diving, lie beyond these heavily-developed islands, for example on Bimini, Eleuthera, Harbour Island and in the Abacos.

What does a travel advisory mean?

A travel advisory is official government guidance to a nation’s citizens on travelling abroad, given on a country-by-country basis. Safety issues are only one aspect of this comprehensive advice, which may also cover entry protocols, health and local customs.

As well as consulting the views of the Foreign Office and US State Department, it can help to also look at the information issued to Canadian and Australian travellers if concerned about how safe it is to travel to a destination.

Is it safe to visit the rest of the Caribbean?

Most certainly. Paul Cleary, the chief executive of UK tour operator Caribtours, comments: “I’ve been sending clients to the Caribbean for 25 years. In all that time, I’ve only had two cases of crime, both non-violent, reported.”

The US advisories have had “no effect” on business. “We’ve been here before with Jamaica,” Cleary feels, and “a crime in the capital, Kingston, shouldn’t in any way affect a traveller holidaying in Ocho Rios or Negril.”

Which other islands have high crime?

Haiti, Trinidad and the Dominican Republic.

Which is the safest island?

As the Foreign Office cautions: “No foreign travel can be guaranteed as safe.”

Looking at the statistics, Montserrat, a tiny British Overseas Territory reached via Antigua, enjoys an enviably low crime rate but is also home to a closely-monitored 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, a regional director at global security experts World Travel Protection, advises travellers to “be aware, mitigate risks through pre-travel research and make informed choices”.

Here are a few tips:

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

  • Always have travel insurance and study the policy small print.

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

  • Make a copy of your passport, credit cards and important documents such as a driving licence.

  • Use hotel safes.

  • Make use of guidebooks 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+ travellers should be aware that conservative attitudes and archaic laws persist on some islands, notably Jamaica. For further guidance consult the Gay Travel Index.

Can I cancel my holiday?

You can cancel, but holiday providers and travel insurers don’t offer refunds for what’s termed a “disinclination to travel”. In some cases, you may be able to postpone or switch your holiday, but that usually involves additional expense.

For British travellers, as many of us learned during the pandemic, claims can only be made if the Foreign Office issues a specific instruction not to travel somewhere. Advisories from the US Department of State and similar bodies don’t have a bearing on this.

Note that if you book a package holiday, rather than travel as individual elements (such as a flight, hotel and hire car), you will have more support and greater financial protection.