Heading off to sunny climates is likely on the agenda for many this March Break, but some popular destinations do involve risks, including safety and health concerns.
The recent case of a Richmond Hill man’s brutal robbery while on vacation in Mexico is a harrowing tale for travelers. Mexico is among the destinations where the government of Canada advises visitors to exercise “a high degree of caution” because there are “identifiable safety and security concerns or the safety and security situation could change with little notice.”
Here are the travel advisories issued for five popular March break destinations:
More than 2.1 million Canadians travel to Mexico each year, the vast majority of them without incident, but a high degree of caution is advised nonetheless.
According to the government of Canada’s travel advice and advisories, Mexico not only has high levels of criminal activity, but also protests and occasional illegal roadblocks across the country. All non-essential travel should be avoided across the northern and western states.
Recent security incidents include the detonation of an explosive device on a popular tourist ferry in Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, in February. Twenty people, including tourists, were injured. Authorities found another explosive device on a ferry also operating out of Playa del Carmen on March 1. Travelers are advised to avoid tourist ferries in the region until further notice.
- Theft ranging from pickpocketing and purse snatching to armed robbery is common.
- Foreigners have been physically and sexually assaulted – in some cases by hotel employees or taxi drivers.
- Mexico is also included on the Public Health Agency of Canada’s list of area’s where Zika virus is a concern. Travelers are advised to take special health precautions and women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should avoid the area altogether.
The government of Canada’s travel advice and advisories suggests exercising a high degree of caution when travelling to the Bahamas, especially in Nassau and Freeport.
- There has been an increase in robberies, home invasions and sexual assault targeting tourists in Freeport and Nassau.
- Sexual assault occurs frequently, often near hotels, in hotel rooms, casinos, on the beach and on cruise ships.
- Petty theft and purse snatching is common in tourist areas.
Normal security precautions are advised in Cuba, which means there are no increased or significant security concerns but travelers should still take everyday safety precautions.
- Pickpocketing, purse snatching and assault can occur – usually in tourist areas, beaches and crowded markets.
- Cuba is included in the Public Health Agency of Canada’s list of area’s where Zika virus is a concern. Travelers are asked to take special health precautions and women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should avoid the area altogether.
The Dominican Republic reportedly has a high crime rate and a high degree of caution is advised.
- Petty crimes like pick-pocketing and bag-snatching are common across the country.
- Theft occurs at hotels and resorts as well as at airports and on public transit. Rental cars are also a common target. Drive-by robberies where thieves snatch valuables while on motorcycles occur frequently.
- Incidents of crime tend to rise during popular holiday seasons like Christmas, Carnival and Easter.
- The Dominican Republic is on the Public Health Agency of Canada’s list of area’s where Zika virus is a concern. Travelers are asked to take special health precautions and women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should avoid the area altogether.
Jamaica has a high level of violent crime and a high degree of caution is advised. A state of emergency was declared for St. James Parish which includes Montego Bay because of a marked increase in violent crime. Military forces have been brought in to stabilize the situation
- In larger cities, particularly Kingston, Spanish Town and Montego Bay violent crimes like robbery and murder is a big concern, usually involving firearms.
- Pickpocketing and bag-snatching are common in major tourist areas and there is a risk of credit card and ABM fraud in Jamaica.
- Jamaica also features on the Public Health Agency of Canada’s list of area’s where Zika virus is a concern. Travelers are asked to take special health precautions and women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should avoid the area altogether
While listing them out in quick succession makes traveling to these countries seem daunting, travel expert Barry Choi says it’s important to keep things in perspective.
“These security concerns or incidents are usually very isolated,” he says. “It’s not something to avoid an entire country over, in my opinion.”
Choi says it’s important to keep some basic yet often forgotten tips in mind to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable trip:
Leaving your hotel
“Don’t just start walking down the street or hail a random cab off the street,” says Choi. Have your hotel book a cab or other type of safe transportation for you. The same applies for when you’re heading back to your hotel – ensure you book ahead and have a safe ride back.
“Never carry huge amounts of cash with you,” says Choi. Also be extra cautious when withdrawing money from an ABM and store any cash in your hotel safe. Choi also advises carrying only a single credit card with you and keep a back-up credit card in your hotel room in case your primary card gets lost.
Tours and excursions
Book excursions and tours of the city through your hotel. Avoid impromptu, unplanned trips or tours offered by unknown or unofficial guides. “I’m sure some of them are very safe, but at the same time you want to do your due diligence and make sure you’re getting a safe trip,” says Choi.
“If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel,” says Choi. Travel insurance is a small investment with a big pay off. Medical bills outside Canada can run into thousands of dollars, so it’s essential to cover that base.
“Think about local diseases and vaccinations,” says Choi. There are several different travel vaccinations and it’s important to protect yourself from diseases specific to the region. In addition, while the hysteria might have died down, Zika virus is still very much around and requires special attention.