A popular cruise ship destination, Barbados is often thought of as a paradise. From above, it’s a small green island surrounded by all shades of blue and bordered by coral reefs. Down below, the shores are dotted with palm trees, resorts, and luxury homes with views of the sea. In urban areas, the streets are full of activity and when the sun goes down, the island’s nightlife comes alive. But like most Caribbean islands, Barbados raises safety questions from is prospective visitors. With that in mind, we’ve decided to investigate. So, is Barbados safe? We have the breakdown for you.
Caribbean islands can be a little tricky when it comes to safety. They have a tendency to lure you into letting your guard down with their laid-back vibes and warm weather. Once your guard is down, someone on the street snatches your wallet or some beach vendors start harassing you. Maybe you’re told to stay at the resort and not venture into town. That’s all fairly common in the Caribbean as it is generally a high-crime area, due in large part to many islands’ roles as transit hubs for drugs flowing from South America to the U.S.and Europe.
So where does Barbados fit into all of that? The answer is pretty positive. Barbados does not have the extreme crime that plagues other islands. It’s actually pretty easy for visitors who keep their head on a swivel and stick to common sense rules. As long as you’re aware of some basic threats, you can spend more time lounging under palm trees listening to crashing waves than worrying about locals stealing your belongings.
Crime in Barbados
While not a major concern for visitors, violent crimes on the island are certainly not unheard of, although they generally take place in areas outside of tourist areas. According to the U.S. State Department, Barbados’ homicide rate is around 11 per 100,000 residents. This is on par with American cities like Jacksonville, Louisville, and Orlando.
These murders tend to be drug-related and rarely involve tourists. They also tend to take place in non-tourist areas where local law enforcement doesn’t have as great a presence.
Robbery is probably the tourist’s greatest crime concern during a visit to Barbados. Large crowds often hide pickpockets looking to capitalize on the absent-minded tourist that sets their backpack down or leaves their phone sticking out of a pocket. Armed robbery is significantly less common than the subtle pickpocket.
Walking solo away from crowds or walking solo or in small groups at night also increases your chances of being caught up in a robbery. Leave valuables locked up in the hotel room just to be extra-safe.
Also, be careful with local vendors. Many are out to take advantage of tourists unfamiliar with the currency (Barbadian dollar) who can be talked into paying ridiculous prices out of ignorance. While not technically robbery, this certainly counts as getting ripped off and is best avoided by not buying from vendors.
Sexual Harassment and Assault
These types of crimes are also worthy of concern. Tourists have reported being victims of date rape drugs such as roofies, PCP and Scopolamine. Of course, this threat can come from locals and fellow tourists alike. It’s best to keep an eye on your drink when at a bar or a club.
Barbados’ nightlife is one of its main attractions and can make it easy for someone to lose control. Enjoy it, but always party safe. The main nightlife areas are St. Lawrence Gap and St. Michael Parish. You’ll find the party here but also some the negative stuff that comes with it.
As is the case with robbery, sexual harassment and assault are more likely to occur at night, especially when walking alone or in a small group. The large group and busy street combined defense is the way to go. During the day the threat decreases, so if possible, save most of your exploring for the daytime.
Law Enforcement and Medical Facilities
The Royal Barbados Police Force is generally well-respected, albeit sometimes slow in responding. Expect to see more officers and quicker responses in major tourist areas, but know police presence and response time will be worse the farther you venture from those areas.
In tourist areas, you’ll see police stations and smaller outposts that you can enter if you have an issue. Once again, they’ll be harder to find as you venture out.
Keep in mind that they are not funded nor trained to the level of police in America or in Europe, so that will likely be reflected in how they resolve problems. Local authorities will show up and do their best to address the issue, but there may be some limitations.
Dial 211 in for emergencies requiring a police response.
Medical facilities in Barbados have a solid reputation and will be able to deal with a wide range of medical problems ranging from small-scale ankle sprains and cuts to trauma and more severe medical emergencies.
Ambulance arrival times will likely be slower than what you’re accustomed to, so if the person can be safely transported sometimes it’s best to bring them to the emergency rooms at FMH Emergency Medical Clinic or Sandy Crest Medical Center. If the incident is more serious, wait for the ambulance to transport the person to Queen Elizabeth Hospital where the staff is fully prepared to handle a wide range of emergencies.
Dial 311 for medical emergencies.
Being an island in the Caribbean, Barbados has to deal with the threat of hurricanes. June through November is the storm season. Of course, a hurricane of significant magnitude can be devastating and any decision to try and “ride one out” is extremely ill-advised. It may be a long time before electricity and water are fully restored and getting off the island may become a challenge.
The best way to mitigate the hurricane threat is to pay attention to the weather and consult with U.S. embassy staff as to whether or not it is safe to stay.
Public Transportation and Roadways
Like most issues of safety in Barbados, the risk increases the farther you venture from popular tourist areas. Roads in Bridgetown and other cities are adequate, but some of the more remote towns will test your driving skills. If you plan on exploring beyond the urban areas, it’s best to bring a local guide as many of the streets may not be marked. Someone who knows the lay of the land will be handy.
Public transportation has a solid reputation as both taxis and government-operated buses are safe and reliable.
While Barbados is by no means a major drug stopover, drugs and drug dealers/traffickers do have a presence on the island. Many tourists come back with stories of being harassed by locals selling drugs in the touristy areas and especially in areas known for lively nightlife.
Aside from the concerns that come with date-rape drugs, any sort of drug transaction invites problems. Local dealers are always looking to take advantage of tourists and a deal could easily turn into a robbery.
Health Risks and Zika
There is a risk of Zika virus transmission in Barbados and the best way to prevent it is to consistently apply strong, long-lasting insect repellent. Repellent containing at least 20 percent DEET is the way to go.
Aside from Zika, travelers should be up to date on all basic shots and should avoid interaction with stray animals that may carry diseases.
State Department Information and The U.S. Embassy
For more information check out the U.S. State Department’s Travel Advisory (Barbados is a level 1) and it’s Crime and Safety Report. The embassy is also located in Bridgetown on the south coast. It has a website with contacts and all sorts of relevant tourist information.