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IMPORTANT: A number of independent "guides" in Sicily offer excursions (driving you from place to place). Unfortunately, most of those found on the internet are not licensed as tour guides, tour operators or taxi drivers. This means that they probably lack accident insurance that covers a client who (for example) incurs an injury while walking from the guide's parked car to an archeological site, such as the temples at Agrigento and Segesta. Worse yet, some of these "guides" may deceive you into believing that they are licensed when they are not. In Italian law, only a properly licensed company qualifies for the insurance described. In Italy the tourism/travel industry is highly regulated for your protection.
Is Sicily safe for visitors?
Most of the self-serving "travel advice" for "tourists" offered by the Italian and Sicilian travel bureau sites should be ignored, especially as regards matters like traveler safety in public areas.
As far as violent street crime is concerned, Sicily's largest cities are quite safe compared to London, Paris, Moscow, and certainly New York and Los Angeles. Since purse snatchings are fairly commonplace (even from motor scooter riders who snatch handbags), women are advised against carrying large purses, especially in the cities. Though assaults are rare, they do occur, especially in certain parts of Palermo and Catania. A young woman walking around some parts of these cities alone after 10:00 PM could be a tempting lure for an unsavory male. The prevalence of street crime shouldn't be exaggerated, but its potential presence is worth a bit of prudence.
To discourage purse snatchings: If you're walking down the street, walk on the side toward (facing) oncoming traffic. On the sidewalk (on newer streets), walk toward the flow of traffic but not right next to the street, leaving some space between yourself and the cars and motorbikes. Hold your purse on the side away from the traffic. Increasingly, purse snatchers work on foot (usually in pairs) rather than on motor scooters, especially during the day. The thieves generally prefer narrow, winding streets. Don't wander the older sections of larger cities (Palermo, Catania) alone if you can avoid it. While the thieves are unlikely to try to snatch a backpack you're wearing, hand bags are tempting. Don't carry one at all if you don't have too; keep your money, credit cards and travel documents in pockets. Don't wear gold or pearl necklaces, which might also entice thieves to assault you for the jewelry. Most assaults are directed toward women. Having one or two men with you is not a bad idea.
Organized crime, with its commercial and political effects, is not a consideration for visitors.
As drivers often speed and rarely respect traffic regulations to the degree they should, pedestrians should take special care crossing streets.
Personalised Driver/Guide Services: The notice in the navigation bar on the left of this page is self-explanatory. Be careful in hiring an "independent" driver you find on the internet offering services such as excursions around Sicily. Those lacking proper insurance pose a potential risk to your safety. As a general rule, full accident liability insurance coverage for paying passengers is available only to licensed tour guides, tour operators and taxi drivers.
3-wheel Vehicles: Another option that we rarely recommend is the three-wheel vehicle (one is shown here), the apé or "motorised rickshaw." Don't even think of boarding one of these vehicles in Palermo if you value your life. The drivers in Siracusa are far more professional than the Palermitans, so one can justify an exception to this rule in that city's Ortygia district.
Italy is an EU and NATO member nation with close ties to the United Kingdom, the United States and other nations, but it has traditionally been rather isolated from most of the wars and terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa. Even the effects of several Balkan wars and certain Libyan activities have had relatively little effect on Italy considering this nation's proximity to such trouble spots. Given the world's changing realities, any nation is a potential terrorist target, but airport security in Italy is quite high compared to what you'll encounter in most nations.
Street protests occur in Italian cities occasionally, and may block traffic for an hour or so, but these are essentially localized affairs. The non-violent protesters in cities like Palermo and Catania usually plan their impromptu "revolutions" to break for lunch or dinner. Mamma's pasta is far more important to them than the inconvenience of an entire day spent promoting seething social change, and these events rarely disturb business activity. The last popular revolution in Sicily was the War of the Vespers in the thirteenth century, and we don't predict another one any time soon.
In planning your trip, check out your country's guidelines for travel abroad, and consult any travel advisories issued by your foreign ministry (or, for Americans, the U.S. State Department). Most have websites. In our changing world, prudence and a low profile are good policy for any traveler. Enjoy your trip. Be safe!
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