Canadians Address Spring Break Dangers
The recent attack on Ottawa's Terry Schwarzfeld and her daughter-in-law while walking along a Barbados beach is the latest incident that draws attention to the potential dangers of vacationing in the Caribbean and Central America.
A 2007 report by the World Bank and the United Nations said the Caribbean murder rate has risen to the world's highest, thanks largely to drug trafficking. Assaults also occur more frequently than the global average.
On certain islands, though, hurricanes, mudslides, or volcanic eruption rate higher risks than armed robbery or a beachfront mugging. And most all-inclusive resorts are walled compounds with extensive security.
But no country is crime-free. And prudence is needed even in supposedly safe areas, according to Inder Handa, president of Ottawa-based Handa Travel.
"The best way to know is through local people," Handa said.
"There is no safe place. It doesn't matter where you are. You have to be very, very careful."
Still, some sultry destinations are considered more dangerous than others by the Department of Foreign Affairs, the U.S. Department of State, and Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
As seen by departments of foreign affairs:
Some petty and drug-related crime, but overall a low threat level.
2. Antigua and Barbuda
The overall crime rate against tourists is low, despite a recent increase in violent incidents. Two Britons died last July after a shooting in their room. An Australian yacht captain died after being shot in January.
Considered safe, as is the case with other Dutch Caribbean territories. But the island has been earning unwanted publicity since 2005, when American teenager Natalee Holloway disappeared.
4. The Bahamas
Considered fairly safe for tourists. Crime that does occur is usually non-violent. Outer islands report fewer incidents.
Barbados has a lower violent crime rate than many of its Caribbean neighbours. But violent crime against tourists is increasing, according to Foreign Affairs, who specifically point to the dangers of Long Beach, where the attack on Schwarzfeld took place. Police commissioner Darwin Dottin countered in a recent report that attacks on tourists are highly unusual.
Violent crime and sexual assaults against tourists have risen in recent years, the American government reports. Crime is rarely reported in resort areas, but can be a problem in larger cities. Armed gangs are known to prowl where tourists congregate, though.
Despite an image of shorts and scooters, tourists here are told to avoid deserted beaches and unpopulated areas after dark. Most crime is drug-related, according to the British government.
8. Cayman Islands
Some reports of robbery, assault, and sexual assault.
9. Costa Rica
Popular with adventure seekers, an increasing number of armed robberies and carjackings have been reported there, along with kidnappings where tourists are forced to withdraw money from automated bank machines. Sexual assaults on tourists have also been reported at beach resorts but remain rare.
Reports of violent crime have increased, but the island is generally considered safe for tourists. Muggings and other attacks tend to occur in large cities. The Cuban government's full employment policy means all- inclusive resorts are heavily patrolled by armed security guards.
Robberies can occur in tourist areas, but the region is considered safe.
12. Dominican Republic
Crime has increased recently. Violent attacks occasionally occur against tourists, including sexual assaults at resorts.
Considered far safer than many other Caribbean islands, though street crime is common.
All non-essential travel is discouraged, but adventurous tourists do visit the troubled country. Foreigners have been kidnapped, and gang violence continues despite UN efforts.
Violent crime is most common in urban areas, especially Kingston. But armed robbery and purse snatching occur throughout the country and can turn dangerous. Most resorts have significant security measures in place.
Mexico's crime rate has earned plenty of attention in Canada. Foreigners can be targeted for violent assaults and robberies -- sometimes by hotel and resort employees. Kidnappings are common in large cities, but tourists are not specifically targeted, according to Foreign Affairs. Robberies can also happen on long-distance buses. Drug-related violence has plagued border regions with the United States. Women travelling alone are considered to face greater risk.
Crime is less of a concern here than hurricanes or the occasional volcano activity.
18. Puerto Rico
Occasional riots can spread to tourist areas.
19. Saint Lucia
The overall crime rate is low for the region. There are occasional muggings and armed robberies in tourist areas, and a few sexual assaults against visitors have been reported over the past year. Andrea Muizelaar, a former winner of Canada's Next Top Model, and a friend were assaulted last year by three men with knives after leaving their cruise ship.
20. Trinidad and Tobago
Gang violence is most common in Trinidad's inner-city neighbourhoods, and violent crime is on the rise -- including the use of firearms. Tobago is considered safer, but solo visits to beaches are discouraged. Attacks increased in 2008, including home invasions; a Swedish couple were murdered in their villa in October.
21. Turks and Caicos
Considered safe and a popular destination for Canadian tourists. This is not surprising, because ever since the First World War, a number of Canadian politicians have floated the idea of bringing the islands into Confederation.
The home of Hugo Chavez also has one of the world's highest crime rates. Murders and armed robberies occur in and around resort areas and national parks. There have been reports of foreign women being drugged and assaulted.
British and U.S. Virgin Islands, Antigua, Aruba, Curacao, Guadeloupe, Netherlands Antilles, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Martinique, Saint Martin, Saint Vincent and The Grenadines
These islands, many of which remain British, French, or Dutch possessions, are considered safe compared to their Caribbean neighbours.