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FAQ - How safe is Roatan for tourists?

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Minneapolis...
posts: 4,036
reviews: 88
FAQ - How safe is Roatan for tourists?

One of the most frequently asked questions about Roatan by potential visitors is "How safe will I be?" Certainly reports about the high violent crime rate in Honduras trigger reasonable concerns for folks who have not experienced Roatan.

My hope is that people will take this opportunity to give their most helpful opinions and advice about safety of tourists on Roatan and that this topic will eventually be saved to the FAQs column on the right hand side of the page for Roatan.

Though a review of the forums over the past several years would result in a list of some well-publicized crime events, I'm hoping that without sweeping any real concerns under the rug, we also won't dwell too much on isolated anecdotes.

Let's try to have a respectful discussion of the range of opinions!

Thanks in advance for your help!

94 replies to this topic
Perth, Canada
posts: 167
reviews: 2
1. Re: FAQ - How safe is Roatan for tourists?

I have visited Roatan twice, once for one week and once for two weeks.

I felt very safe while there. I stayed on West Bay Beach both times. I did not attempt to walk to West End after dark, but my husband and I walked around West Bay after dark, until 11:00 or 11:30pm with no hesitation. Don't forget a flashlight! Things were usually fairly quiet by then. I don't walk around Ottawa after midnight either to be honest.

I do leave the expensive jewelery at home and I don't carry a purse, just a beach bag during the day. We have cameras, a laptop and an iPad with us and they are locked up when we are not with them.

Other than the water taxi to West End, we haven't gotten out around much, but we hope to change that on our next visit.

One of the things I like about Roatan is the openness, being able to walk around the towns, up and down the beach etc. It is so nice to stop and sample the menus as you go. It's why we will be back. Maybe even stay somewhere other than West Bay. Mind, I do like that beach.

You can't prevent being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but a little common sense and staying alert works as well in Roatan as it does anywhere else.

roatan
posts: 287
reviews: 3
2. Re: FAQ - How safe is Roatan for tourists?

I live here. I live in West End. I go out at night..by myself. I don't carry stuff with me and I'm not a jewelry wearing type. I visit Toronto for my vacations...I go out at night. I don't walk through my neighbourhood park at night as I do during the daytime If I'm drinking a few glasses of wine when I'm out I take a taxi home, both on Roatan and in Toronto.

I take a flashlight when I'm out at night on Roatan, not out of fear but because it's dark and there are potholes. I also take an umbrella if it's calling for rain!

I lock my doors when I'm out because I've worked hard to earn my "stuff" and there are always others who would like to have them and not work so many hours for them. I do this whereever I travel in the world.. and I do travel.

Be smart...anywhere in the world.

Happy Travels

Bonnie

Sudbury, Canada
posts: 1,907
reviews: 6
3. Re: FAQ - How safe is Roatan for tourists?

We have spent 7 months over the last 3 winters on Roatan (mostly in West End). I have found the residents of Roatan to be warm, friendly, helpful and for the most part decent people. Some of them are struggling in a very tough economy in a poor country. For a lot of them day to day life there is not like in Canada or the US. I have found that spending more than a week or two vacationing on Roatan one gets to become part of the community and in doing so becomes acquainted with the ins and outs of how things work there as well as a sense of the ‘history’ of the island.

We have traveled throughout the Caribbean, Florida and parts of Mexico and follow these guidelines…

• don’t carry a lot of cash

• have more than one credit and debit card (one of our cards was hacked while down there)

• carry a credit/debit card with limited funds

• don’t take jewelry, or anything you can’t afford to loose

• when not at home lock the unit and lock up laptops, iPads etc.

• do not sleep with patio doors open

• ask for a safe in your room/condo to keep your passport etc. in

• have a photocopy of your passport

• stay out of dark unfamiliar places

• don’t get excessively drunk in public places

• don’t take off with someone without knowing them first

• after the rash of break-ins during the winter of 2011 in West End (downtown and Sunset Villas) we asked our landlord to install an electronic lock on the condo door and to forget using keys

You are on vacation but you still have to keep your wits about you. Be conscious of your surroundings. If something doesn’t feel quite right then it probably isn’t. Don’t leave your commonsense at the airport.

IMO the law enforcement is minimal probably due to lack of funding and the justice system doesn't work.

New York City, New...
posts: 18
reviews: 8
4. Re: FAQ - How safe is Roatan for tourists?

This may not be the right forum to mention this, but a crime is a crime. And even though it was less than $30.00, it still can add up over time.

We recently visited Roatan and the only crime that we experienced was when we went to pay our bill at Infinity Bay. Someone had charged steaks and beer to our room. We had only eaten at the restaurant by the pool one evening, and the false charge to our room happened that same night, about 30 minutes after we signed for our food and drinks, (according to the time on the falsified receipt.)

We just happened to catch this when we were paying our bill for the week. We insisted that they call someone from the restaurant, the manager came and sheepishly appologized and said that he thougth that he knew who was responsible.

The falsified receipt was badly done, it did not even look like my signature and my last name was not even spelled correctly. I am just wondering how many of these false restaurant and bar tabs slip by unnoticed at this place? Many people do not take the time to go over all of their bill because they are thinking of getting to the airport and making their flight etc.

NJ
posts: 256
reviews: 10
5. Re: FAQ - How safe is Roatan for tourists?

I don't think that someone charging something to your room is in the same category as a "crime" - it could have been charged to your room inadvertantly, or possibly the patron did not remember the room number.

In any case - this has happened to me in Miami, NY, Scottsdale -etc - this has nothing to do with Roatan specifically.

New York City, New...
posts: 18
reviews: 8
6. Re: FAQ - How safe is Roatan for tourists?

If that was case momofrose then they would not have forged my signature on the bill. And I agree that this is a little off the subject for being in the crime thread.

Utila, Honduras
Destination Expert
for Utila
posts: 2,103
reviews: 188
7. Re: FAQ - How safe is Roatan for tourists?

sounds like another guest, apparently roatan is attracting criminal tourists

Minneapolis...
posts: 4,036
reviews: 88
8. Re: FAQ - How safe is Roatan for tourists?

though not typical, sandy, and not a big security risk, I think your note adds to the discussion of crime against tourists.

It is easy to get lost in the discussion of sensational events... murders involving foreigners in any tourist location get a lot of attention... but savvy travelers know that, along with taking the kind of precautions any reasonable person will take anywhere to protect their safety and possessions, they need to keep their eyes on the "little" frauds and errors that can just put little dings in your experience.

These are the kinds of crime most tourists are more likely to come in contact with on Roatan. Things like overcharging and unordered items on one's bill may be minor, but they do detract from one's experience. It's a shame - but a simple fact of life anywhere we go. We see less of it on Roatan than in many places we travel, but of course it can happen.

I think IB is about as safe a place as any in the world to relax and let it all go - but even there, if you run a tab, that tab could be compromised. It sounds like the IB response was pretty good. The manager was embarassed... they removed the charges... and there's a good chance an employee got dressed down or fired - managers HATE being embarassed, and though I've never stayed there I know the IB management has an exceptional reputation for supporting tourists.

So... add a few more tips to the list. If you run a tab - check it for accuracy when you pay. If you use a service - taxi, tour, whatever - try to have a sense of what it should cost ahead of time. Nail down prices before you go to avoid an unpleasant overcharge at the end.

One more... If you use your credit card, check your bills. We thought we were OK a few years back in Puerto Rico - we only used cash and the only time the credit card came out was to reserve a room over the phone. Later a bill appeared for $800 on that account. One of the people taking reservations was collecting credit card numbers and using them for large cash advances. The local authorities and bank were pretty uninterested in pursuing it, so the credit card companies ended up eating these charges.

Utila, Honduras
Destination Expert
for Utila
posts: 2,103
reviews: 188
9. Re: FAQ - How safe is Roatan for tourists?

"sandy l" new york...... there was a post on scubaboard.com recently where as part of his trip report the guy bragged about how his brother (who was staying elsewhere) came to visit them at IB each day and got to each and drink without paying a bill. just goes to show not all petty crime is perpetrated by locals :(

Minneapolis...
posts: 4,036
reviews: 88
10. Re: FAQ - How safe is Roatan for tourists?

(this is a copy of something I wrote for a previous thread on safety - since I'm hoping this will become a FAQ thread for future reference, I wanted to include it here. Again, it is just my opinion - I'm not claiming a corner on truth and I hope additional opinions will be added.)

-------------------------------

I will attempt to summarize what I've gleaned from the TA community over the years regarding safety on Roatan for the typical tourist - and include my personal opinions.

First of all... those State Department and other governmental warning about Honduras need to be read with an understanding that Roatan is removed by geography and culture and travel status from the rest of Honduras. Mainland Honduras has not developed a tourist infrastructure as is found in many countries. Only a few places on the mainland are frequented by international tourists looking for relaxing vacation time - it is more oriented toward adventure/backpacker type travel. Don't get me wrong - I've loved my time in mainland Honduras... Copan, for example, was a great visit. The tourism on the mainland is simply quite different from tourism on Roatan.

Roatan is an island with an English-speaking tradition and has often been ignored by the mainland government. Long beloved by divers, the word slowly spread among savvy travelers that one could find a beautiful island paradise at prices well below those in more developed Caribbean tourist islands in the Bay Islands. Slowly hotel and condominium complexes and private vacation homes for rent by owners, plus restaurants and destination activities have developed to meet the increasing tourist trade. Package travel from Canada helped establish a steady flow of tourists staying on the island for a week or more. More recently the cruise ship trade has multiplied the number of day tourists to staggering numbers.

As demand has grown, so has tourist capacity. The island is no longer a hidden gem - we are well past the "discovery" stage. Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit the island.

And most of them never experience any crime.

Am I saying Roatan is completely safe? Absolutely not.

As Roatan tourism has developed, so has the need for manpower. The "native" population... old time island families of various cultural heritages... Spanish, English, Garifuna... just can't supply all the help needed to run tourist infrastructure. Behind the scenes, the tourist experience is driven by maids and cooks and security guards and all the rest of the low-wage jobs that allow tourists with dollars to live the happy island life for a few days each year.

Though wages are low, they are still attractive to mainland folks who find little occupational opportunity there. The result is the development of some very poor communities of "internal immigrants" - people coming to the island looking for work and living in colonias under very difficult conditions, often with the most rudimentary access to housing, clean water, medical care, etc.

As is found anywhere in the world where "those who have" spend time in contact with "those who have not" - there will always be some crime. The crime that affects tourists on Roatan is primarily property crime. Something like an i-pod, a computer, a camera... that is a casual entertainment device to a tourist... might look like an easy source for cash to one willing to steal.

This is not to justify crime - but it might help understand it. When one works full time as a maid or a guard and still can't earn enough to feed one's kids properly, there is a lot of motivation to steal.

I phrase this carefully. I've been a poor person and I was not a criminal. The huge majority of people on Roatan are delightful, friendly folks. Being poor isn't criminal and doesn’t make one a criminal. But a few poor folks do turn to crime for cash. (Actually, crime isn't limited to those few poor folks... a few not poor folks on the island continue the long traditions of graft and bribes to enrich themselves as well - but this kind of crime is unlikely to affect the tourist experience directly, while burglary and petty theft by low-level thieves is more likely to impinge on tourists.)

Mainland Honduras has earned the moniker "Murder Capital of the World" due the extremely high per capita murder rate. This is primarily driven by the international drug production/transport business. Roatan has not been immune to this – for example, there are drug storage houses in the remote areas and there has been some drug-related violence. I know of at least one killing last year when police stormed a drug house in a remote part of the island. Again, this event did not impact typical tourist activities.

There is occasional violent crime on Roatan. It is most often drug-related... either the drug trade, or people damaged by drug use. Anyone familiar with meth use will understand this reference immediately.

It is impossible to get any accurate reporting because of a lack of credible journalism on the island combined with a rampant rumor mill and rampant corruption. Nobody can accurately compare the murder rates for Roatan withToronto, Paris, and Los Angeles.

We know there have been several killings lately. Only one involved a tourist, a Canadian who engaged in distinctly unsafe behavior for a tourist and, very unfortunately, suffered the ultimate price. The other killings involve day-to-day life for islanders in places and at times unlikely to affect the typical tourist on Roatan.

Though tragic, these isolated incidents do not reflect anything like the wonderful, relaxing experiences of hundreds of thousands of visitors.

The more typical crime against tourists on Roatan will be property crime – theft of money and portable goods. This should not be overplayed, however. Most tourists, using normal traveler procedures, will not experience or even hear about a theft. The reports are scattered and hard to verify. There have undoubtedly been some burglaries. The same qualities that make a cabana attractive to someone building or renting an escape – no crowds, a beach to one’s self, a feeling of remote island paradise – also provide an attractive target for those looking to steal portable goods.

One of the facts that leads to a heightened sense of concern among tourist is that the legal system on Roatan does not resemble the one most of us rely on in our home areas. The police do not investigate enthusiastically. Tourists come and go – the police and judges and lawyers have to live with their island compatriots, so there is the persistent sense that bribes and graft drive a lot of the local law enforcement (and lack of it) and that tourists are unlikely to get a fair shake if an incident occurs. Again, this is common around the world. In the unlikely event that a tourist does experience a crime, they should report it and follow all the procedures – but it is unlikely they will see their IPod again…

I would not consider taking anything I couldn’t afford to lose when I vacation – not on Roatan, not when I go to Des Moines, Iowa. I never travel with my wallet in a pocket that does not zip or seal in some fashion. I won’t carry a bag with an open top with easy to steal valuable items like cameras and smart phones in it. These are just plain, simple protections I take any time I travel.

In some resort rooms, a safe is available. It only makes sense to use it for passports, cash, and expensive electronics when you are leaving. Other places one might use the resort’s safe. It makes sense not to leave expensive toys and cash laying around in the room. We generally stay in cabanas with no safes – we hide key stuff to make it unlikely that a quick break in would result in finding it.

In any unfamiliar place, it makes sense for a traveler to be aware of place and circumstances and play by local rules. Most folks feel comfortable walking the more actively touristed beaches… West Bay, West End, and parts of Sandy Bay… in the daytime with no more protection than they’d use at home. Most folks are comfortable walking to dinner along West Bay Beach and in West End in the evening after dark.

I don’t know anybody who recommends that tourists walk any remote areas on the island after dark. Most of us would recommend against a tourist being in Coxen Hole at night. If drinking in bars, it is best that it be with known companions, not last into the wee hours and that a known taxi and driver be engaged for safe transport door-to-door.

Even ignoring these precautions, most folks would probably be fine, but there is really no point in even taking the minor risk of running into a bad guy in the dark. I don’t go out a lot at night in Roatan, and if I do I only take taxis and call drivers I know. I leave valuables at home and carry only the cash I need.

This year and for 2013, we chose a place on Sandy Bay. We felt extremely safe there, with a combination of owners and renters who tend to keep a little bit of an eye on each other and their community. They also have a security guard. Many places on the island have them, so those wishing a heightened sense of security might want to be sure this is part of their rental package.

Bottom line – I’ve traveled pretty extensively on five continents and I consider Roatan a pretty safe place for tourists. I take more precautions in Florence, Italy or Lima, Peru or San Antonio, Texas than I do on a typical day on Roatan. On a scale of one to ten, with one being perfectly safe, eight being a place I only feel comfortable if I have a firearm, and ten being an active war zone… I put Roatan at a 2 or 3.

For comparison, I put most American city-centers in the 4-7 range and on some of my RV trips in the US I spend the night in 8 rating locations – I take advantage of my “permit to carry” and I typically have a loaded pistol within reach when I sleep. I take no such protections in Roatan. I know some who are a little less comfortable and bring pepper spray. If you carry it on the street at night at home, you might be more comfortable carrying it on Roatan as well.

It would be irresponsible to tell people Roatan is perfectly safe. Anyone who travels to unfamiliar locations should be aware of basic travel common sense. A lapse in sensible protections – leaving a door unlocked, valuables in an unattended vehicle, unattended bags on the beach – drastically increase the likelihood of becoming a victim of crime. And “stuff” happens, anywhere tourists go.

But, on the other hand, I think less “stuff” happens on Roatan that many places tourists travel. I would not hesitate to invite people any age, any background, to visit the lovely island of Roatan. Be sensible, yes… but don’t be driven away by fear or let the fear-mongering keep you from enjoying your vacation. It is my belief that Roatan is one of the safer tourist destinations available.

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