Traveling somewhere for the first time can be intimidating. And, the news does nothing to make us feel safer, both in our daily lives and when we are heading far from home.
Storms, gang violence, civil unrest and other news stories can make it seem like even an island paradise getaway is fraught with danger.
It’s understandable that you’d be looking for the safest islands if you want to go to the Caribbean. The good news is that there are plenty of places you can visit safely.
How Do You Know an Island Is Safe?
The US State Department only has one Caribbean country — Haiti — under a Level 4 (do not travel) advisory. A couple other countries are on Level 3 (reconsider travel), mostly due to violent crime.
Property crimes have a few others on Level 2, increased precautions. The remainder of the islands of the Caribbean are at Level 1, take normal precautions. Violent crime rarely affects tourists in the Caribbean.
First, as in most places, violent crimes most often occur between people who already know each other. If you are just passing through, you are unlikely to be involved.
Next, the areas tourists are most likely to visit are not the areas that are linked to high levels of crime. You also need to remember everyplace you visit has safe and dangerous areas.
Categorizing an entire country as “safe” or “unsafe” would be like saying it’s dangerous to visit Sarasota, Florida because New Orleans has a high murder rate.
During a visit to Belize in 2011, I floated along rivers in caves out in the country and felt completely safe the entire time. Belize City, however, remains subject to travel advisories due to gang activity and associated violent crimes.
When the bus took us back into the cruise port, I did not walk outside the gate. You can gauge an area’s safety by reading US State Department Travel Advisories online.
They rate countries and regions for general safety and issue specific travel advisories as needed. First-person reports from people on Reddit, Quora, and TripAdvisor can help you get more information about whether a destination is safe or not.
Travel Is Not Risk-free
Every day, we balance risks against potential rewards, often without a thought. While most people think only of crime statistics when asking whether a country is “safe,” crime is rarely the biggest risk when people travel.
Car accidents are more likely to cause injuries or death than just about any other factor when you are traveling. It makes sense: you’re on unfamiliar roads and in a place where driving laws may be different than you are used to.
People who are on vacation may also be more likely to engage in risky behaviors like getting behind the wheel when they’ve had too much to drink. All of this makes driving while traveling a potential danger, even when you are on the safest islands in the Caribbean.
The most common cause of death while traveling? Heart disease. Cardiovascular disease is responsible for about half of all deaths while traveling, and it’s the most common cause of death for travelers over 55.
However, the death rate isn’t any higher than it is for the same age group at home. So, this is not specifically a travel-related risk.
Severe weather can affect many parts of the Caribbean, especially during hurricane season. Watch the weather and be aware of the potential for developing storms.
The Safest Islands in the Caribbean in 2023
All that said, many (if not most) islands in the Caribbean are safer than most US cities. If you are looking for places to go where crime, poor infrastructure, and adverse weather are minimal risks, these are the islands to pick:
Anguilla often tops the lists when it comes to safety in the Caribbean. Crime rates are low and infrastructure is good. The island is known for spectacular, well-protected reefs that are popular with snorkelers.
Most times of year present mild weather and calm seas that offer safe swimming.
Travel to Anguilla does have some potential risks. This island is at high risk for hurricanes. Try to schedule your visit outside hurricane season, which runs from May to November.
2. St. Barts
Saint-Barthélemy is one of the few places in the world that can claim a 0 per capita murder rate. The island also has below-average rates of property crimes and other violent crimes.
A lot of this is down to the nature of the island. St. Barts is an overseas collectivity of France. Between low levels of natural fresh water and repeat natural disasters, the island was not widely populated until the 1960s.
It was then that organized tourism and hotels began to appear on St. Barts. It quickly became a luxury destination, and remains one today. The island is, however, somewhat remote. There is no direct air travel to St. Barts.
Instead, you must fly to St Maarten, then take a flight to St. Barts. The majority of travelers arrive there by boat. If you have a health emergency on St. Barts, it could take a bit of time to get to a hospital equipped for major emergencies.
Read Next: When to Visit St. Barts in 2023
Martinique has a few booming cruise ports, and cruise lines at every price point make stops here. Brush up on your French before you go, as French and French-Creole are the most common languages spoken.
Tourist areas are safe and typically free from violent crime. ATM fraud and petty theft are the most common crimes. Wear a hat and sunscreen if you are out in the hottest parts of the day.
The tropical location means high temperatures during the hotter months. While the murder rate has increased over the past couple of years, tourists are not considered at risk.
4. The Caymans
The Caymans are actually three islands: Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. All have extremely low crime levels that render them very safe.
Violent crime is so rare that, in April of 2022, a week with two murders was seen as a crime wave.
The country typically sees fewer than 10 violent deaths a year. In the wake of the 2022 murders, many residents expressed shock at seeing police armed with guns; this was not something they’d encountered on their island before.
As with any other destination, though, there are precautions you should take. Crime rates are low, but other mild risks exist.
First, if you are driving in the Caymans, remember to drive on the left side of the road. The Caymans are a British Overseas Territory and adhere to British driving rules.
Water is safe to drink in buildings connected to city water. There are a few places where you’ll find well or cistern water. Talk to your host to be sure that water is safe to drink. Exercise some caution with street food.
My first visit, I purchased a crab dish from a casual vendor outside a bank. It was delicious, but the bout of food poisoning that followed laid me out for a few days. (I’d still chance it again, though. YMMV.)
5. Abacos, Bahamas
There’s a lot of talk about the risks of visiting Bahamian destinations like Freeport and Nassau. However, the Out Islands of the Bahamas are all very safe, with crime rates that rival the quietest small towns in America.
Great Abaco and Little Abaco have a population of about 17,000 between them. The small islands are friendly and welcoming,
Like the rest of the Bahamas, the Abacos are in the hurricane zone and can take serious damage in summer storms. Plan your trip accordingly. Fishing is a popular activity, but be cautious when it comes to eating your catch.
Many large fish like barracuda, king mackerel, and yellow grouper can carry ciguatera, a toxin caused by microalgae. Ciguatera poisoning can cause nausea, vomiting, and pain and tingling in your fingers and toes.
Symptoms usually go away in a few days, but can last for weeks, months, or years. There’s no cure. A good rule of thumb is to skip eating big fin fish and stick to shellfish and smaller, plant-eating fin fish.
Don’t bring firearms to the Bahamas without a good reason to do so and a clear understanding of Bahamian law. A fellow sailor recently complained on a forum about being boarded by Bahamian police.
They asked to see his guns and ammunition and detained him for several hours when the number of bullets he’d declared did not add up with what they found on board.
He was eventually allowed to leave, but learned that, when you declare firearms in the Caribbean, be precise. Caribbean countries typically have strict gun laws.
The US State Department makes it clear US citizens are subject to the laws of the countries they visit. Unless you understand the laws of the place you are going and are sure your weapons comply with them, it’s probably safest to leave them at home.
Placid Aruba lies outside the hurricane belt, meaning it is unlikely to be affected by severe seasonal storms. Traffic is calm, with only 14 traffic-related deaths reported in 2022.
The country’s risk of serious violent crime is considered to be close to zero. It’s not just one of the safest places in the Caribbean, but possibly among the safest in the world.
There is a chance of petty theft, but that is common in most tourist areas. Lock up valuables in your hotel safe when you are not around. Don’t leave your wallet or your phone on your towel at the beach.
Read Next: The Best Time to Travel to Aruba in 2023
7. St. Lucia
This island has been specifically name checked as a safe Caribbean destination in multiple Reddit threads. It’s a prosperous island with very little crime.
English is the official language, which means you can communicate easily wherever you go. Like anywhere you visit, though, there are levels of risk.
The risk-level here is generally low, especially for visitors who stick to the safer areas and stay away from high-risk activities. A few sources have reported muggings downtown and in isolated areas such as the waterfalls around Anse La Raye.
Travel in a group when you go out and make sure someone from your hotel knows where you are going.
As with anywhere in the Caribbean, stick to licensed taxis if you are concerned about safety, especially if you are going outside the more populated areas. Roads tend to be narrow, which can make them dangerous. If you drive here, drive slowly and cautiously.
Read Next: The Best and Worst Times to Visit St. Lucia
Things to Consider
A few things to consider to stay safe when traveling in the Caribbean:
- Carefully and respectfully observe your host country’s laws, especially when it comes to things like drugs or firearms. Firearm laws in most Caribbean countries are stricter than they are in the US. Turks and Caicos, for instance, punishes possession of firearms with a minimum 12-year prison sentence.
- You can learn a lot about safety by visiting the US State Department’s page for any country you wish to visit. They categorize countries by risk level and share bulletins about specific concerns and risks.
- TripAdvisor reviews are another source of recent information. While most reviewers who post there go to all-inclusives, you can find some who will talk about an island as a whole and their experience outside the resorts.
Safest Caribbean Islands FAQ
Got questions? We have answers:
Which island has the lowest crime rate in the Caribbean?
Montserrat. Crime is nearly nonexistent, and traffic is calm and mild. However, the Soufrière Hills Volcano keeps it from being high on the list of the safest islands in the Caribbean.
What is the safest and least expensive Caribbean island?
The Caribbean, in general, is safe. It is, however, not cheap. The Dominican Republic is among the cheapest, but there are definitely areas that are not safe.
By contrast, Aruba is probably the safest, but it’s hard to visit for cheap. Research flights, accommodations, and destinations to find the right balance for you.
How can we stay safe in the Caribbean?
The advice for staying safe in the Caribbean is the same as the advice anywhere. Do not flash or flaunt cash, jewels, or electronics. Do not go walking in unfamiliar areas, especially at night.
If you are imbibing alcohol, do not overindulge. And, think twice before buying or consuming marijuana or other illegal drugs. When you are in another country, you are subject to that country’s laws.
Many Americans have been arrested for smoking weed in Caribbean countries. No matter what you think of the risks associated with marijuana, incarceration is one of them where it’s prohibited.
Is Aruba the safest Caribbean island?
Possibly. A low crime rate, protected resort areas, and a modern infrastructure makes this a low risk place to travel.
Summing Up: What Are the Safest Islands in the Caribbean?
|🥂 Safest Luxury Island||St. Barts|
|🗓️ Least Busy Island||Anguilla|
|👮 Strictest Gun Laws||The Cayman Islands|
|🚤 Most Popular||The Virgin Islands|
Most Caribbean islands are safe for tourists. A couple have risks associated with hurricanes and other severe weather. A few have poor infrastructure that could be an issue if you have a medical event.
In are few areas, gang activity or political unrest mean risk of violence. But, most places tourists will visit are kept extremely safe. These are islands where tourism is a key part of the economy.
You keep tourists safe if you want them to come back. If you are going to the Caribbean, exercise common sense. If an action is risky at home, it could be risky on a Caribbean island, too.
Activities and environments that would be safe at home are likely also safe when you travel. Don’t let a fear of the unknown keep you from exploring and enjoying another place and another culture.
By getting outside your comfort zone, you can get to know our neighboring countries and the beautiful destinations just beyond our borders. Happy travels!