An idyllic island paradise, beloved by tourists, has been placed under an official travel warning due to a surge in murders.
Almost eight million people visited the Bahamas, in the Caribbean, last year.
Its 700 islands are famed for their clear azure waters, beautiful beaches, modern attractions and hotels and friendly locals.
But the US has said Americans, who make up 90 per cent of all its visitors, should “exercise extreme caution” in parts of the country.
In an advisory, the US embassy in the Bahamas stated the capital city Nassau is of particular concern. Nassau is where many of the nation’s main hotels and resorts are located as well as the country’s international airport.
In a statement, the US embassy said 18 murders had occurred in Nassau since the New Year alone.
“Retaliatory gang violence has been the primary motive in 2024 murders.”
Tourists have been advised to “exercise extreme caution” on the eastern part of New Providence Island, which includes Nassau, use caution when walking or driving at night, keep a low profile and to “not physically resist any robbery attempt”.
It singled out the Over the Hill neighbourhood in central Nassau, relatively close to some hotels and resorts, as an area with a high murder rate.
Paradise Island, a major tourist hot spot in Teh Bahamas, is in Nassau but is off the mainland and so further from the areas more affected by violence.
But the US embassy has stressed that locals, not tourists, are the main targets of the violence.
In addition, major hotel chains are more secure and generally employ security personnel.
Nevertheless it has cautioned that: “violent crime, such as burglaries, armed robberies, and sexual assaults, occur in both tourist and non-tourist areas”.
A major area of concern is short term rentals which may be in more isolated areas, have decreased security and where no guards are present. It has advised visitors not to open front doors in hotels or rentals unless they are expecting someone to call and know who it is.
The Bahamas is now listed as a Level 2 on the US’ four advisory levels for tourists.
Australia is at Level 1, the lowest level, where only normal precautions are advised.
Level 2 is a fairly regular advisory for many countries. For instance, France, Germany and the UK are all at Level 2 due to terrorism concerns.
In the Caribbean, several countries including Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, are listed as more risky than The Bahamas. They are at Level 3 or “reconsider travel” due to crime concerns.
While Haiti, a country that has been plagued by gang violence and kidnapping for years is at Level 4 – the same as North Korea – with the US advising its citizens to not travel to the nation at all.
The Bahamian Prime Minister Philip Davis has said roadblocks and covert police action will be put in place to attempt to curb the violence.
Mr Davis told local outlet The Tribune that he didn’t think the raised travel advisory would affect tourism, which is a key sector of the Bahamian economy.
The American government had a right to warn its citizens “of what they perceive to be the dangers to their life,” he said.
Advice for Australians
The Bahamas, located south east of Florida, became independent from the UK in 1973 but, like Australia, is a Commonwealth Realm which means it shares King Charles III as head of state.
Last October, the Australian Government updated its advice for travellers to the Bahamas saying they should “exercise a high degree of caution”.
That is equivalent to the US’ Level 2 guidance.
“Travellers may be victims of violent crime, including in resorts,” the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) Smart Traveller website states.
Like the US, it stated the Over the Hill area of Nassau is to be avoided.
But while the murder rate is “high,” said DFAT, it was also more contained.
“Most murders happen at night in non-tourist areas in downtown Nassau. Avoid these neighbourhoods.”