Nearly one million visitors per year flock to Aruba for its white sandy beaches, translucent blue water, and idyllic resorts.
But in May 2005, the tiny Dutch Caribbean island about 15 miles off the coast of Venezuela made headlines for a more sinister reason: 18-year-old Natalee Holloway disappeared while on Spring Break.
Despite the negative dent put in Aruba’s tourism following Holloway’s disappearance, these days the “One Happy Island” is a vacation destination for around 1.5 million visitors a year, with 60 percent coming from the U.S.
Even though the chance of disappearing on vacation may be remote, it’s worth remembering that safety should be as much of a priority when in paradise as it is at home.According to the U.S. State Department, the crime rate in Aruba is generally low.
From the website:
“Crimes of opportunity, such as pickpockets and purse snatching particularly at beaches, hotel lobbies, or from cars are common…. Exercise caution when visiting more isolated areas on the island. There is an increased risk of crime in the San Nicolas district, especially at night.”
They advise travelers to be aware of surroundings and take precautions to secure personal property, not leave valuables in cars in plain view or unattended in unsecured lodging, and to keep a copy of your valid U.S. passport in a secure location in case your passport is stolen.
The State Department also advises that vehicle leases and rentals may not be fully covered by local insurance when a vehicle is stolen or damaged, and parents should be aware that the legal drinking age is not always enforced.
As with any night out, travelers are advised to take precautions against spiked beverages, and “do not leave your drink unattended or accept open containers from strangers.”
WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE THE VICTIM OF A CRIME
Check emergency numbers before you travel. For example, the phone number for emergency services in Aruba is 911, and 100 is the number for police assistance.
If you or someone you know becomes a victim of crime, the State Department advises contacting the local police and the U.S. Consulate. They also say that you should “not rely on hotel, restaurant, or tour company management to make the police report for you.”
It’s also worth remembering that the justice system on the islands isn’t exactly “CSI: Caribbean.”
Local authorities, not U.S. police, are responsible for investigating and prosecuting crimes — and the legal system in the Caribbean works differently than in the United States.
Holloway’s case illuminated the fact that we can’t assume that the rules for crime are the same as at home. This was a source of frustration to Natalee’s mother, Beth Holloway, and her stepfather, Jug Twitty, who openly wondered why the suspects in the case, Joran Van der Sloot and Surinamese brothers Deepak and Satish Kalpoe, were not arrested earlier.
But it’s worth pointing out that in Aruba, as in many European and Caribbean countries, plea bargaining is not an option. So police often must wait longer to build a case and make an arrest.
Gerold Dompig, the deputy police chief in charge of the case, told Vanity Fair that the Twitty family hurt the investigation into Natalee Holloway’s death by forcing the premature arrests of the main suspects and destroying the best chance police had of gathering evidence to solve the case.
According to Dompig:
“They brought out their big guns on the very first day, and they started shooting. They didn’t understand the way things are done in our system. They didn’t want to understand. They act like they came from a world where you can just crush people. It was very harmful to our investigation.”
The Kalpoes continue to live and work in Aruba. Van der Sloot is serving 28 years in prison in Peru for the murder of student Stephany Flores, who was killed in van der Sloot’s Peru hotel room on the fifth anniversary of Holloway’s disappearance. He also faces charges in Alabama for extorting $25,000 from Beth Holloway.
The case of Robyn Gardner, who went missing in August 2011 while on vacation with Gary Giordano, became another unsolved mystery in Aruba. Despite the authorities’ suspicions regarding Giordano’s story, Gardner’s body was never found. He was released after spending four months in Aruban prison.
A full description is available on the State Department website, but in general, some of the crimes mentioned by island are:
Barbados: Petty theft and street crime. Visitors should be especially vigilant on the beaches at night.
The Bahamas: According to the State Department, the Bahamas has a high crime rate, and one common approach for criminals is to offer victims a ride, either as a “personal favor” or by claiming to be a taxi, and then robbing and/or assaulting the passenger once they are in the car. In the last few years the U.S. Embassy has received numerous reports of sexual assaults, including assaults against teenage girls. Many victims were intoxicated or had been drugged.
Bermuda: Has a “moderate but growing” crime rate. Examples of common crimes include theft of unattended baggage and items from rental motorbikes, and purse snatchings.
British Virgin Islands: Generally has a low crime rate, though a growing number of armed robberies have been reported.
The Cayman Islands: The crime threat is generally considered low, but petty theft, pick pocketing, and purse snatchings occur. A few cases involving sexual assault have also been reported to the Embassy.
Dominican Republic: While pick-pocketing and mugging are the most common crimes against tourists, reports of violence against both foreigners and locals are growing. Kidnappings are rare, but in 2007 two American citizens were kidnapped from the Dominican Republic and held for ransom.
One highway-robbery scam travelers have reported is being stopped while driving and asked for “donations” by someone who may appear to be a police officer. In some cases, the perpetrators were dressed in the light green uniform of “AMET,” the Dominican traffic police or military fatigues.
French West Indies (Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Martin, etc.): The State Department advises visitors to safeguard valuables and always lock hotel rooms and car doors to avoid having stuff stolen.
Grenada: Tourists have been victims of armed robbery especially in isolated areas and thieves frequently steal credit cards, jewelry, U.S. passports, and money.
Haiti: The State Department reports that there are no “safe areas” in Haiti. Crime has increased in recent years and can be subject to periodic surges. Reports of kidnapping, death threats, murders, drug-related shootouts, armed robberies, break-ins, or carjackings are common. These crimes are primarily Haitian against Haitian, though several foreigners and U.S. citizens have been victimized. In 2007, there were 29 reported kidnappings of American citizens, including two victims who were killed.Jamaica: Crime, including violent crime, is a serious problem in Jamaica, particularly in Kingston. While the vast majority of crimes occur in impoverished areas, the violence is not confined. The primary criminal concern of a tourist is being a victim of theft.
In several cases, armed robberies of Americans have turned violent when the victims resisted handing over valuables. The Embassy also cautions its staff not to use public buses, which are often overcrowded and are a frequent venue for crime.
Netherlands Antilles (Bonaire, Curacao, Saba, St. Eustatius, and St. Maarten): In recent years, street crime has increased. Burglary and break-ins are increasingly common at resorts, beach houses and hotels.
St. Kitts and Nevis: Petty street crime occurs in St. Kitts and Nevis, as well as the occasional burglary; visitors and residents should take common-sense precautions.
St. Lucia: In 2006, there were five reported incidents of U.S. citizen visitors to St. Lucia staying in boutique hotels in rural areas being robbed at gunpoint in their rooms; some of the victims were assaulted and one was raped. Visitors should ask about their hotel’s security arrangements before making reservations.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines: From time to time, property has been stolen from yachts anchored in the Grenadines. Valuables left unattended on beaches are vulnerable to theft. Persons interested in nature walks or hikes in the northern areas of St. Vincent should arrange in advance with a local tour operator for a guide; these areas are isolated, and police presence is limited.
Trinidad and Tobago: Incidents of violent crime have been steadily on the rise on both islands. Visitors to Trinidad and Tobago should exercise caution, particularly when traveling after dark from Trinidad’s Piarco Airport. There have been incidents involving armed robbers trailing arriving passengers from the airport and then accosting them outside the gates of their residences.
Areas to avoid in Trinidad include Laventille, Morvant, Sea Lots, South Belmont, scenic rest stops, walking across the Queen’s Park Savannah, and downtown Port of Spain (after dark), as tourists are particularly vulnerable to pick -pocketing and armed assaults in these locations. Holiday periods, especially Christmas and Carnival, often see an increase in criminal activity.
Violent crimes, including assault, kidnapping for ransom, sexual assault, and murder, have involved foreign residents and tourists, including U.S. citizens.
Main photo: Robyn Gardner (left) [CBS / YouTube (screenshot)] and Natalee Holloway (right) [Wikimedia Commons]