Bahamas Travel Advisory Issued Amid Spate of Violence—What You Need to Know
We spoke with travel advisors and travelers in the Bahamas to get a sense of the current situation on the ground after the U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory due to an uptick in violence.
In January, the U.S. State Department raised its travel advisory for the Bahamas to a Level 2 following 19 reported killings so far this year, recommending that travelers exercise “increased caution.”
The majority of the crime has occurred on the islands of New Providence, where the capital city of Nassau is located, and Grand Bahama, home to the seaside city of Freeport, the Associated Press reported, with “retaliatory gang violence” behind most of the killings.
The updated State Department alert made headlines in part because it’s an unusual one for the Bahamas, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Caribbean, which is generally considered safe and ranked at a Level 1—that is, travelers should exercise normal precautions. More than 7 million travelers visit the Bahamas each year by air and by sea for the sparkling turquoise water, sun-bleached powdery sand, and endless selection of relaxing resorts and vacation rentals.
With the reported increase in violence, travelers may be wondering if it is safe to travel to the Bahamas right now. AFAR spoke with travel advisors and visitors on the ground to get the latest insights.
Is it safe to travel to the Bahamas right now?
On January 24, the U.S. Embassy in the capital city, Nassau, issued a security alert advising tourists to take the following actions:
- Exercise extreme caution in the eastern part of New Providence Island (Nassau)
- Use caution when walking or driving at night
- Keep a low profile
- Be aware of your surroundings
- Do not physically resist any robbery attempt
- Review your personal security plans
Other major tourist destinations with Level 2 warnings include the Dominican Republic, Denmark, Maldives, Costa Rica, Turks and Caicos, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and many others. The U.S. State Department recently issued a Level 3 travel advisory for Jamaica, urging visitors to reconsider travel there due to an uptick in crime and the lack of medical services.
Bahamas travel advice from travel advisors
It’s also important to understand what a Level 2 warning is and to put it in context with regard to safety and security for travelers throughout the world.
“In all honesty, a Level 2 typically does not deter most people from traveling,” said Ragan Stone, founder of bespoke travel agency Ragan Stone Travel. “If you look at a Level 2 list, there are quite a lot of countries on that list and countries that you perhaps would not perceive as dangerous. [For countries that] have a Level 3 or 4, I would not recommend traveling to those. Level 4 is a place like Israel right now or Somalia. If you compare [to] those situations, the Bahamas is quite different.”
As for the Bahamas, it helps to understand just how big the Caribbean destination is. The Bahamas is an archipelago of nearly 700 islands. About 30 of them are inhabited, and there are 17 principal islands for tourism. New Providence and Grand Bahama are only two islands among this sprawling island country. And even on those two islands, there are only select areas where travelers are advised to travel with increased caution.
“My colleagues on the ground have not reported any changes. The areas which were directly mentioned are Freeport and Nassau,” said Stone. “Typically, those are less popular tourist locations than where a lot of people are traveling, like Eleuthera and the Abacos. You’re not seeing the same warning in those areas.”
Nassau is a top tourist destination in the Bahamas, home to two major resorts: Atlantis and Baha Mar.
Stone added, “If you’re traveling to Nassau, my advice is to consult your resort and make sure security is at a level you feel comfortable with. Both Atlantis and Baha Mar have quite a bit of security and gated access. As a traveler, you can still go to Nassau and feel comfortable, but with the knowledge that you don’t need to explore outside the grounds.”
Margie Hand, a Caribbean specialist with Andavo Travel, a Virtuoso travel agency based in Salt Lake City, Utah, echoed a similar sentiment. “As far as what I am seeing, it is business as usual [in the Bahamas],” said Hand. “However, many travelers are choosing to do a resort versus a private villa rental because of the increased security in a resort setting.”
Hand, who also works with cruise lines, is seeing that cruises to the Bahamas are operating as usual.
What travelers who have recently been to the Bahamas are saying
Paul Rubio, AFAR’s special correspondent for points and miles, is recently back from a trip to the Bahamas, where he visited Nassau.
“I was at Baha Mar and it was business as usual,” Rubio said. “Nobody seemed particularly concerned and there was no extra security. We didn’t leave the property, which was always the plan and not a direct result of the advisory.”
Pema Chinyam, a photographer and content creator for travel blog Journey Era, was recently in the Bahamas, as well, and reports that things there appeared normal and secure.
“My experience traveling in the Bahamas was extremely relaxed. Everyone I met was helpful and laid-back. I didn’t notice any heightened security and felt quite safe,” she said.
Chinyam was in Nassau for five days, followed by Harbour Island (another island in the Bahamas) for another six.
“I didn’t get far off the beaten path in Nassau, but my friend left his camera bag on a shuttle, which was returned to us the next day. It had several thousand dollars’ worth of equipment. The locals at a popular dive site also watched our gear while we were in the water, and we felt very safe to do so,” said Chinyam.
The only word of advice she received was from an employee at her Nassau resort, who told her group not to go out drinking on the main part of the island.
No matter how safe a destination is (or isn’t), the decision to stay or go or how to proceed while there comes down to each traveler’s individual comfort level. Feeling confident wherever you are traveling is what helps to make it an enjoyable vacation. If you’re feeling wary about any travel destination, it’s always OK to change the plan and go somewhere else.
“It is important for travelers to feel comfortable with their trip so they can go with peace of mind and enjoy themselves,” said Hand of Andavo Travel. “If that is not the case, then I want to help them find an alternative.”