Jamaica is an extremely popular tourist destination for people hoping for a tropical getaway. It’s the birthplace of Reggae, jerk chicken, and bright blue beaches. But is Jamaica safe?
Montego Bay and Kingston are among the most popular places to visit, but regardless of where you’re traveling to, it’s always important to be safe and cautious when traveling. So how can you do that while visiting this country along the Caribbean Sea?
This guide explains everything from safety tips to the best and worst places to visit and how you can have the best experience in Jamrock.
Before we continue with the “scary facts,” I’d like to share that I have been to Jamaica, and my experience there was not only highly positive but also extremely safe. But of course, I knew where I was heading and took my own precautions to avoid any potential mishaps.
According to the Global Peace Index, Jamaica ranked 81 out of 163 countries, which means while not the most dangerous, it isn’t exactly safe either. In fact, it is one of the most dangerous countries in the Caribbean.
These high crime rates are mainly concentrated in big cities like in many countries. Common crimes involve things like pickpocketing, gang activity, and robberies. So, if you do visit these cities, it’s best to stay in hotels and resorts that provide a level of security and remain in touristy areas.
If you know what to look out for, you’ve already won half the battle. These are a few things to know to exercise caution in Jamaica.
Is Jamaica Safe for Female Travelers?
I personally believe that whether male or female, all travelers should feel comfortable and safe anywhere in the world. To achieve that, though, you need to understand the destination’s approach and stand towards gender roles, its culture and society, and how to navigate it.
Unfortunately, Jamaica has had many instances of sexual assault and harassment against solo female travelers. This will often show up in the form of catcalling or someone trying to touch you.
But that doesn’t mean that women cannot visit the country entirely by themselves.
While it is recommended that female travelers opt to travel in pairs or groups and stick together, solo female travelers can still enjoy the country if they know how to deal with and respond to unwanted attention and how to deflect it or remove themselves from it.
Taking tours and taxis from private companies (Uber or similar) is also a good idea instead of walking the streets alone.
Having said the above, the locals are extremely friendly, so they will greet you upon passing and even try to chat. From experience (as a male), most of them mean well and are happy to strike up a quick conversation.
Still, avoid accepting lifts from strangers for general safety reasons, and never tell anyone where you’re staying or if you’re traveling alone.
Yes, unfortunately, gang violence and organized crime is a common occurrence in the country. The Jamaican government has been trying to clamp down on the situation for years, but it doesn’t look like it’s going away any time soon.
So, to stay safe, avoid bad neighborhoods where gang activity is more prevalent. Do not try to buy any illegal substances from anyone (including marijuana), and hide any valuables in your hotel room’s safe.
Jamaica is not immune to violent crime, as many local media agencies report. Unfortunately, the country has places where shootings occur regularly, gang violence is rampant, and sexual assaults are not uncommon.
While these attacks often happen in what local authorities call “high-risk communities,” it is best to always stay vigilant. As a result, the government personnel have set up four travel advisories that should be followed while traveling.
The most common crimes that affect tourists are things like robberies. These range from hotel break-ins to petty theft like pickpocketing. Petty crimes are more prominent in the cities and tourist areas, as is expected in every country.
You can try your best to avoid being a victim by using safety bags, cameras on a strap, and keeping your items in your sight. It’s also best to avoid distractions, as this might be used to nab something of yours.
However, if someone does try to rob you, don’t try to fight back. It’s better to have your life than some replaceable valuables. Trust me, I was attacked at knifepoint in Fes, Morocco, and my fightback reaction was not the cutest.
Jamaica’s weather is tropical and generally warm throughout the year. You can expect averages of 89.6°F (32°C), even in the colder months. So, it’s hard to see how the weather could threaten this idyllic holiday escape.
While hot, it is also quite humid and has its rainy season between June and October. This is also known as the Caribbean’s hurricane season, and Jamaica is not immune to its heavy rains. Watch the weather daily, as a small storm could have you changing your plans on short notice.
While there are some dangerous spots in the country, there are also a few generally safe places you can travel to.
Ocho Rios is a port town best known as a fishing village and is now home to many resorts. It is definitely one of the more popular places for young adults and adventure seekers because of the many outdoorsy activities.
Places like Luminous Lagoon, the Green Grotto Caves, Turtle River Falls and Gardens, and Konoko Falls are sure to drag you out of your hotel suite and to the outdoors.
Dunn’s River Falls & Park is one of the town’s most popular attractions. It consists of falls as high as 600 feet and a few natural pools sprinkled all over the park. The falls even reach the beach, making it a surreal natural encounter.
Because of its ideal location (and the reason you should visit), its beautiful beaches were featured in the James Bond film ‘Dr. No.’ And how can Bond be wrong?
I also enjoyed going to the Blue Hole just outside Ocho Rios, but for this, I recommend going with other travelers or on a tour. And if you’re driving there, make sure you lock your car and leave no valuables inside.
Negril is a short flight from Montego Bay and a much better choice overall. It’s on the west coast and popular for the ‘Seven Mile Beach’, which curves around the town overlooking the oceans.
Much like Ocho Rios, the town is more suited for young adults and partygoers. It is also one of the safer places to enjoy with your family.
While beach activities like cliff jumping, diving, and snorkeling are at the forefront of many peoples’ minds when visiting, there is so much much more to do.
The town also has a Flower & Hummingbird Garden, zipline, water parks, and basically anything fun and outdoors you can think of.
A few places in the country experience a higher frequency of violent crimes than others. If you travel to these areas, stick to the tourist areas and travel in groups.
Jamrock’s capital, Kingston, is possibly the first place you’ll land at Norman Manley International Airport when visiting Jamaica. It is the country’s cultural and historic center and has produced amazing art, theater, and dances.
The city can be divided into two sections: uptown and downtown. Ideally, if you visit, you want to stay in uptown. This area is the safest part of the city and has many tourist attractions like the Bob Marley Museum, Trench Town Culture Yard Museum, and the Hope Botanical Gardens.
Downtown has less tourist attractions and, as a result, fewer tourists. It is here where you are more likely to see violent crime and armed robbery. But, since there aren’t as many attractions here, it is less likely that you’ll visit.
That said, it doesn’t mean that crime is only prevalent here. You would still have to follow basic safety rules and regulations while in Kingston’s uptown or downtown as gang activity is prominent in the whole city.
If you don’t enter Jamaica through Kingston, you’ll land here at the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay. It is the capital of the St. James parish on the north coast.
Its oceans are crystal blue, beaches are stark white, and it is home to Montego Bay Marine Park, which offers fantastic snorkeling.
While Montego Bay is still dangerous, it is less dangerous than Kingston. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be on guard. This city is home to lottery scams, gang violence, and where shootings occur regularly.
To avoid falling victim to any of these, stay in touristy areas and opt for all-inclusive resorts instead. That way, you won’t have to venture out on adventures on your own, and if you want to explore, you can ask for tour options at the front desk.
Because resorts are gated, it also means there is less chance for any unwanted guests.
Having said the above, don’t miss walking along Hip Strip and trying some excellent food in some of its many restaurants.
I stayed at the Royal Decameron Cornwall in Montego Bay, and I highly recommend it. It was safe, the food was delicious, the staff extremely friendly, and overall it was a great resort by the beach to stay at.
Spanish Town is on the southeast side of the country in Saint Catherine, not too far from Kingston. As the name might give a clue, it was the Spanish capital of Jamaica for a few years while under Spanish rule.
While there are one or two tourist attractions like Jago De La Vega Cathedral and Wynter’s Park, there aren’t that many things to see. Which might be a good thing as the small town has a high crime rate.
If you do visit on a day trip, be on the lookout for muggings, theft, assault, and possibly armed robbery around its narrow streets.
Here are a few safety measures to keep in mind when you visit Jamaica to ensure you have the best time while here.
- Stay in touristy areas when you’re sightseeing. If you do wish to move out of these areas, do so through a tour from a trusted company.
- Stay in a hotel and all-inclusive resorts. It is also vital to look at the accommodation’s customer reviews to better understand what to expect. I typically use Booking.com and go through their extensive reviews to pick the best hotel at the best price.
- Avoid staying on the first and second floors. Even if you’ve checked the hotel reviews, that doesn’t stop some criminals. So, your best bet is to get a room on a higher floor, lock hotel room doors as soon as you enter, and store valuables in the hotel safe. Assuming the hotel is not fully booked, most check-in agents are more than happy to accommodate this change.
- Learn the country’s emergency services numbers, like that of the Jamaican police and a doctor. You can also ask the hotel or resort staff for assistance.
- Be polite but firm. During your stay, you may notice some people trying to sell you things on the street (sunglasses, souvenirs, etc.). Politely decline and walk away.
- Don’t be flashy. When it comes to your money or your life, your life is way more worth it. So, keep any expensive items at your residence and carry an anti-theft fanny pack when sightseeing.
- Avoid taking public transportation at night. Rather stick to private taxis.
- Avoid drugs. While marijuana was decriminalized in 2015, selling, buying, or smoking it is still illegal. Police will often set up roadblocks and regularly conduct searches of vehicles.
- Get travel insurance. This is a general tip for anyone traveling anywhere, as this helps you out when you lose your luggage, need medical assistance, or if your items get stolen.
While this guide may have some people reconsider traveling to this stunning tropical island, that is not the intent. Jamaica is still a fantastic tropical destination in the Caribbean that should be visited, especially if you’re looking for a relaxing time at the beach.
Yes. We cannot shy away from the fact that the country experiences violent crimes in some areas. These are mainly concentrated in big cities like Kingston, Spanish Town, and Montego Bay.
But it also has some moderately safe areas that are more than elated to accommodate you. Coastal areas like Negril, Ocho Rios, and Port Antonio are great examples.
A good part of the advice that any traveler knows is that you need to practice safety wherever you go. So, while Jamaica might need extra vigilance than New Zealand, it doesn’t make it any less worth traveling to.
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