Massachusetts : Safety by City
- Cape Cod
- Fall River
- Martha’s Vineyard
- New Bedford
Harwich, Massachusetts, sits on the “warm side of the Cape,” tucked between South Yarmouth and Chatham.
This charming community lacks the crowds of places like Hyannis but offers extensive unique activities among its seven villages.
You’ll find two Main Streets in Harwich, one alongside Harwich Port and another in the historic district just a few miles inland.
The three Harwich harbors offer summer sightseeing tours, fishing charters, and a ferry to Nantucket.
Much like nearby Barnstable, Harwich is a town with distinct villages, including:
- Harwich Center
- Harwich Port
- East Harwich
- North Harwich
- South Harwich
- West Harwich
- Pleasant Lake
Harwich has a thriving cranberry harvesting business, with tours available seasonally to explore cranberry bogs.
A state park is hiding in plain sight, and you’ll need special instructions to find it.
If you time your trip right, you can visit a lavender farm during the harvest and enjoy the whimsical scents and sights.
The summer sun brings people to the Cape for the beaches, and Harwich offers beaches in saltwater and freshwater locations, with 11 miles of coastal shoreline and 22 ponds.
The shallow Nantucket Sound waters and barrier protection allow for warmer water than you’ll find on the Cape’s east side.
While Harwich is busy in the summer, fewer businesses are open during the off-season.
However, the location is ideal because both Hyannis and Chatham stay lively in winter.
Warnings & Dangers in Harwich
OVERALL RISK : LOW
As with most Cape Cod cities, the risk is low here. Crime rates are significantly lower than the national average, and the community is invested in keeping the region safe for locals and visitors.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
Public transportation is available to get around Harwich and the entire Cape Cod region. There's also a railroad with dinner service. Taxis, rideshares, and rental cars are also available. Some public transportation options are limited during the off-season.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW
There's a low risk with no pickpockets or purse snatchings reported in 2021. Thefts overall were 1/4 the national average. It's important to still use personal safety steps to limit how much you carry and avoid letting your belongings out of your sight, especially at the beach.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : LOW
Hurricane season is from June through November, although you'll get plenty of warning about an imminent storm. Winters can be blustery, cold, and snowy. Coastal flooding can happen with a storm during any season.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
This is another low risk, with an average of one robbery happening each year. Some years, like 2020 and 2021, had no robberies. Keep the risk low by not letting your guard down.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
Terrorists are more likely to target large population centers like Boston than coastal retreats. The risk is low, but it's still important to report anything suspicious you see to the local police.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
Use local travel agencies to book rentals to avoid being scammed. Fake rental listings with incredibly low prices can attract visitors, but you won't find bargain basement deals in a place like Cape Cod any time of the year. Use credit cards for all deposits for fraud protection.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
Women have a low risk in a place with such low crime rates and a less crowded part of the Cape. Outdoor and beach safety knowledge is important, and you should never go swimming alone.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
The Harwich Water Department received an award in 2021 for Outstanding Performance and Achievement. The water met or exceeded all standards, and no violations were incurred.
Safest Places to Visit in Harwich
You can use the Harwich or Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce secure websites to find updated and legitimate information.
The Harwich Chamber also annually issues a magazine with updated safety and amenity information.
You can download that for free online without giving any personal information.
You can read the latest magazine to learn specifics about each Harwich village.
The main attractions are at the port and the historic downtown area.
From the port, you can take several boat tours, including:
- Seal Cruises (which could also lead to shark sightings)
- Scenic Tours
- Kayak Tours
- Fishing Charters
- Deep Sea Adventures
- Charter Boats
Harwich has 21 beaches, 15 on the Sound, and six on freshwater ponds.
A beach brochure from the city and supplemental website information detail which beaches are public and which have residency requirements.
Cranberry Bog Tours offers tours from spring through fall, with tours available seven days a week.
The time of the tours changes, so you’ll need to call to make reservations and get updated information.
Please note cranberries aren’t in the bog at all times.
The Cape Cod Lavender Farm brings in 10,00 tourists a year.
The harvest season is June and July, and you can pick your own bundles of scented goodness.
The gift shop offers lavender products and apparel.
The farm stays open through December before closing for the season.
Hawksnest State Park has no signs or big entrances like other state parks.
In fact, if you aren’t looking for it, you won’t even know it’s there.
A major preservation project is underway to protect the lake’s pristine waters and make this area more accessible while cleaning up what loiterers and parties have left behind.
A trip to this park is worth it if you truly want a rural adventure and have a vehicle and wilderness skills to enjoy it safely.
Places to Avoid in Harwich
You don’t need to worry about being in a dangerous neighborhood here.
You’ll pay a hefty price tag to stay in a safe hotel, inn, or rental.
You must avoid going on private property or sneaking past gates to see extravagant homes.
Shark sightings have fueled social media hysteria along the Cape waters.
While it shouldn’t shock people that sharks are in the ocean, there are simple ways you can avoid getting too close to a shark.
Stay n shallow water, avoid seals since they are shark food, don’t wear shiny objects in the water, and avoid the water at dawn and dusk when sharks are most active.
The Sharktivity app will help you see the most recent shark sightings anywhere on the Cape.
During summer, you won’t be able to avoid crowds, traffic, or long wait times at restaurants.
You can rent a boat or use a private plane if you can’t stand the traffic.
Otherwise, you’ll have to deal with it and be patient.
Late spring and early fall are less busy on the Cape, with most businesses still open and the water warm enough for a swim.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Harwich
- Harwich does have its own police department. The department’s website isn’t very robust, but you can follow them on Facebook @harwichpolice to get daily updates on crimes, accidents, and other safety information. The department’s main phone number is (508) 430-7541.
- The Harwich Fire Department is also very active on Facebook @harwichfire. You can find updated weather, safety, and fire prevention information for all seasons. Following both accounts will get you better safety information throughout your trip.
- You can sign up for emergency alerts through the city’s website. You can choose what types of alerts you want (weather, missing people, accidents) and how you prefer to receive them (text, call, email).
- Fishing licenses are required in the state of Massachusetts, and there are separate ones for saltwater and freshwater. You will also need a Shellfish Permit if you want to do that during your visit. You can learn more at the Mass. Division of Fisheries and Wildlife or on the city’s website.
- Beach stickers are required for all vehicles parking at the beaches. Those aren’t available online, and you’ll have to go to the Community Center upon arrival. Several beaches do sell day passes instead of requiring a beach permit. More details can be found on the city’s website under Recreation.
- Boatma.com offers an extensive array of boating safety information for the waters of Massachusetts. Classes and documents are available for review, as well as specific laws for boaters in this state. If you aren’t 100% comfortable and experienced navigating waters like this, opt to spend the extra money and pay for a charter boat.
- If you come across a county club or beach club, don’t try to enter if you aren’t a member or a guest of a member. Too many people have tried to sneak in before, and strict policies are in place to prevent non-members from entering.
- Boat tours and fishing charters will all require you to sign a liability waiver. You should read this entire document to understand what rights you are signing away. Check to see if your preferred vendor will send you the waiver ahead of time, so you have plenty of time to review it.
- Bookmark the Beach Sample Results section of the Barnstable County website so you can review the bacteria and algae bloom information. This information can help you select which beach to visit based on the cleanliness of the water.
- Saltwater marshes bring an unwelcome summer visitor. Greenhead flies are aggressive, blood-sucking pests that will go after any unexposed skin. Bug spray doesn’t fend off these suckers, but it will keep mosquitos at bay. If you go to a saltwater marsh, the best advice is to wear long sleeves and pants since flies can’t bite through clothing.
So... How Safe Is Harwich Really?
Every crime category reported to the FBI by Harwich police is substantially lower than the national average.
On top of that, the few violent crimes reported happened in private homes 75% of the time.
Just 13% of violent crimes are against strangers.
Even though the theft rates are low here, it’s still critical to lock your car, roll up the windows, and keep rental doors, patios doors, and windows locked when you aren’t there.
You can check the local news site capecod.com for updates on criminal activity or concerns during your visit.
Even as I’m writing this, the most recent news stories in Harwich were a road closure due to a truck hitting a power pole and a faulty light causing a small fire.
The summer sun can still be powerful here, even though these aren’t the beaches of Florida.
Bring sunscreen, a life vest, a hat, and water shoes to protect your feet.
Don’t swim alone, and always follow the beach guidance signs.
The rip tides can be intense here, and even the strongest swimmers won’t be able to escape them.
Harwich is a nice breath of fresh air and spread out space on the Cape, and it’s a smaller community surrounded by larger places to enjoy.
How Does Harwich Compare?
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- Visas - You'll need a U.S. Visa or Visa Waiver to enter the United States at the port of entry or airports. The process can be cumbersome, so start planning at least three months in advance.
- Currency - The U.S. Dollar is the only currency accepted here. Limit the amount of cash you bring, as credit cards are widely accepted. If you wish to exchange currency, you'll save money on fees in your home country.
- Weather - Harwich is a four-season destination, and you'll need clothing for the coldest of winters and hottest of summers. Bringing layers of clothing is smart, even when the temperatures warm up. Evenings and mornings mixed with the sea breeze can make it feel chilly. Bring comfortable walking shoes, boat shoes, and water shoes. Bring waterproof outer layers too.
- Airports - Cape Cod Airport is in nearby Hyannis, with flights to Boston and New York City. You can also drive or take a shuttle to Boston Logan International Airport, which will take at least two hours on the road.
- Travel Insurance - Travel insurance is a small investment that covers many "What Ifs." In addition to flight insurance coverage, many rentals in Harwich and across Cape Cod also offer insurance in case of bad weather, emergencies, or delays.
Harwich Weather Averages (Temperatures)
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