I notice that you recommend Guyana as one of the top 40 places to visit this year ("Forty places to change your world", January 2). However, I'm concerned about safety as I've heard reports of criminal activity and robberies by armed gangs. Can you advise? While Guyana offers some fantastic travel opportunities - such as trekking to find jaguars in their native rainforest habitat and exploring the cross-cultural connections of this tiny country on the northern tip of South America that has been touched by indigenous peoples, Dutch and British colonists and populations of forced or indentured labour from as diverse of places as Mediterranean Europe, West Africa, China and India (see "Plantation Road", January 2) - it is often left off of the itineraries of tourists visiting the Caribbean. Part of the reason for this is that compared to Jamaica, the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic, Guyana has made much less of an effort to market itself to holidaymakers.
Guyana has also had some trouble shaking off its image as a dangerous place after periods of political instability and violent protests that carried on from the 1970s to the 1990s. Matters were made worse when the developing country received mounds of bad press after the Jonestown Massacre when a charismatic American leader led his mostly American followers to commit mass suicide in a densely jungled area within Guyana's boundaries.
According to the UN's most recent data, however, Guyana's murder rate of 17.7 to 19.2 persons per 100,000 is much lower than Jamaica's rate of between 33.7 and 55.2, even though it occupies a far more prominent spot on the tourist trail. Both the UK Foreign Office (www.fco.gov.uk) and the US State Department (www.state.gov) have issued recent warnings about travelling to the country, describing high crime rates and activity by criminal gangs. But to put this information in context, both offices also single out the UAE for being under a high threat of terrorism despite that most people here go about their lives, and most travellers come here, without even considering or being affected by such concerns. In other words, such government websites tend to err on the side of caution, offering valuable information but can appear to strike an alarmist tone. Such warnings taken in isolation mean that travellers avoid many places where there is statistically little risk that they will ever experience harm.
One sign that Guyana is relatively safe for tourists is that established foreign tour operators are willing to do business there, such as the British-run Explore Tours (www.explore.co.uk), which offers a 13-day wildlife trip. Overall, if you have a desire to go to Guyana then you probably should do so and exercise the same precautions that you would in many other destinations: following the latest news for any developments of unrest, registering with the local consular offices of your home country and behaving modestly and appropriately for an unfamiliar setting where there is often a discrepancy of wealth between locals and visitors. Beyond that, have fun and enjoy this densely forested country which boasts abundant wildlife and a fascinating history.
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