The Truth about Safe Travel in Sicily

February 12, 2016
Safe Travel In Sicily / How World Travel Made Me Tough

In the middle of the Mediterranean lies that staggeringly beautiful and exotic island, Sicily, and yet travelers are sometimes hesitant to visit. South of mainland Italy and just north of Africa, it has besotted kings, tyrants, emirs, and myriad rulers for millennia.

Today, those that do visit understand their obsession very quickly. The fertile soil, the access to trade routes in every direction, and her naturally defensive topography is enviable to any ruler. Her beauty, described again and again by literati from every era, still inspires. It has been a long history of transience and instability in many ways, but also of exceptional invention and discovery, richness and importance. The legacies heaped upon Sicily’s shores by all manner of invading peoples, have created such an exceptionally fascinating place. So why the reluctance to visit?

The only Godfathers a traveler is likely to encounter in Sicily are those in the souvenir shops adorning coffee mugs and aprons.

Following the unification of Italy in 1861, a different kind of ruler evolved, known as the Mafia. Seizing opportunity laid bare by poverty and lack of governance, it grew, flourished, and strengthened after WWII, when the situation presented itself again. Sicily experienced great, great, poverty that led to huge emigration.

Many people in the US can attribute their heritage to what was once called The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, referring to the South of Italy. The stories of hardship and fear came with them. Much later, and to the delight of organized crime, Hollywood became the opportunist, releasing films that glamorized and mythologized the Mafia. They had never looked so good.  Generations watched and believed. They ascribed truth to these films. Consequently, travelers had reasons to avoid Sicily. But what is the truth?

No one would deny the history of Sicily, or the existence of organized crime, but it was never glamorous or mythological. Corruption is unfortunately around us everywhere. It is often a hidden activity, though, that has very little, if anything, to do with tourism. Present day ‘wars’ are fought in courtrooms and banks. The only Godfathers a traveler is likely to encounter in Sicily are those in the souvenir shops adorning coffee mugs and aprons (please do not buy them).

The Truth about Safe Travel in Sicily

safe travel in sicily

There are riveting books that chronicle the evolution of the Mafia without confusing the myth and reality, and like most conquerors that have their heyday and their denouement; the time seems nigh for the Mafia. Dedication and determination over the last 30 years is proving successful in taming and dispersing what remains of the ‘organization.’ More and more Sicilians are becoming active participants in the pursuit of peace and prosperity. Resilient people, this is not the first time they have had to wrest control from invaders.

Sicily is currently in the throws of transforming the curse of the Mafia into a blessing. Properties which have been confiscated near the legendary town of Corleone have been planted with vines,” says Matthew Stelzig, a writer for the international wine publication ProWein. The reality is finally changing.

Francesca Planeta, of the wine famous family, recently noted that, “The first thing people associate with Sicily is food, quality food. Crime was at the end of the list,” she said, referring to recent research in the US.  And a recent Huffington Post article recently wrote that  “In recent years tourism has been on the increase, and the high quality wines have certainly helped to make the region better known on the world stage.” Enotourism is done very well in Sicily, the largest producer of organic wine in Italy. The welcome mat is open for tourists and tourists are arriving.

The Truth about Safe Travel in Sicily

What does this mean? What can you expect to experience in Sicily?

It is good to know that according to statistics, Sicily has a lower crime rate for violent, sexual, and even petty crime than many other parts of Europe and all of Eastern Europe. It does not rank high on the global crime statistic lists, but nonetheless, prudence is always wise. 

Sicily’s two largest cities have a wealth of sights to see, markets to experience, and great food, but they are the two where some caution is advised. Spending time in Palermo and Catania requires using the same attentiveness you would use in any urban setting: do not flash money and jewelry, do not walk down deserted streets, especially at night, and always pay attention to who and what is around you.

For women alone, you can expect heightened attention from the male population, but it is typically in the form of kissing noises, stares, whistles, or shouted Italian phrases.

Petty crime is the most realistic threat today and pickpocketing, for example, can happen in big crowds, markets, on a crowded bus, and at festivals. Even in and around the crowded airport or train station, it is a good idea to be alert. A seemingly European phenomenon is thieves on scooters snatching purses. Avoid this by walking away from the curb and wearing a cross-body bag, rather than a shoulder bag. What you wear can immediately identify you as a tourist. Locals do not generally wear bright, colorful patterns and big, white sneakers. If you do not draw attention to yourself, you will not stand out.

For women alone, you can expect heightened attention from the male population, but it is typically in the form of kissing noises, stares, whistles, or shouted Italian phrases. Generally they are harmless and should be ignored. Dressing smartly helps, and again, stay away from otherwise deserted areas. If you need to use your phone to call for help, in Italy the emergency number is 112. 

I was raised in NYC and these are directives that ring true even today. These are travel rules to live by wherever you may roam, and Sicily in this regard is, thankfully, not what it has been cracked up to be. 

Misconceptions have often made potential tourists apprehensive about visiting Sicily and cheated them from an experience of a lifetime.  It is about time we move beyond and dispel what is often more myth than reality. Sometimes a little information and clarification goes a long way to making a traveler more at ease. 

You can read more about Sicily, its history and its magic, here.

The Truth about Safe Travel in Sicily

The Truth about Safe Travel in Sicily

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Have you traveled to Sicily? How was your trip? Email us at  [email protected] for information about sharing your experience and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you.

About Karen LaRosa

Sicily is Karen’s heritage and her passion. The company, La RosaWorks, Sicily Travel and Tourism, is her personal re-invention after her children left for college. She organizes tours for groups of all sizes, customizing itineraries with an eye towards revealing the heart and soul of Sicily. Through experiences of all kinds, combining learning and fun, off the beaten path, Slow food and wine, and local opportunities available because of deep resources and intimate knowledge of the island, Karen has provided many, many, people with truly memorable trips. In the New York area, Karen promotes Sicily and tourism through events. Karen tries to expand the awareness of and interest in Sicily and its treasures. She is the self proclaimed Ambassador to Sicily.

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