Jamaica is the Caribbean wonderland of tourist’s dreams; year-round warm weather accompanies their incredible variety of resorts, pristine beaches, and vibrant culture. The birthplace of reggae boasted a record number of 4.3 million visitors in 2017 with tourists flocking to the beaches of one of the top 3 island destinations. Relaxation, partying, and aquatic adventures have steadily attracted tourists to Jamaica in the past. The country’s Tourism Minister attributes this influx of tourism to a new pursuit of “authentic experiences” visitors are venturing out of private resorts and are instead seeking to immerse themselves in the local culture.
But this island paradise is not without its risks and tourists must be cautious. Before you embark to this tropical destination, make sure you are aware of the potential dangers and find out if it’s actually safe to travel to Jamaica.
Jamaica declared a state of emergency earlier this year (it just ended this past May), highlighting the very real dangers afflicting the country. High murder rates, accounts of gang violence, and theft have been regular occurrences plaguing the island. The government has been working to make the country safer by having military forces to assist local police in maintaining order.
The majority of violent crime in Jamaica occurs between locals (Jamaican-on-Jamaican violence, usually attributed to gangs), but there is the occasional incident involving tourists. While the United States has not issued a formal warning regarding travel to this popular location, the U.S State Department has advised caution, specifically when visiting Montego Bay. There are four main categories of criminal activity, a select few of which would actually affect any travelers.
This is widely reported to be the most common nuisance from travelers. Local vendors are notorious for pestering tourists, but can often be dismissed with a firm “no thank you.” While a few locals may prove to be more persistent, they rarely intend any harm to travelers. Jamaica values their tourists greatly, and in efforts to ensure their security, the government established a specialty security force of “tourist police”. These police officers are dedicated to protecting tourists, are highly visible (you can recognize them by their white hats and shirts), and patrol tourist hot spots in large numbers.
This is the most imminent threat a tourist in Jamaica would face. Most robberies are non-violent crimes. Pickpocketing is a frequent occurrence, with thieves preying on tourists for cash, jewelry, and electronics like phones and cameras. If you find yourself facing a thief: do not resist. Most thieves simply want your valuables and will let you go about your way if they get what they want. Play it safe and leave all unnecessary valuables – jewelry, music players, expensive clothing – at home. If you do bring them with you, make sure your hotel offers the security of a safe.
Scamming (card theft and skimming) is another issue that is widespread in tourist areas. To minimize this issue, pay with cash as often as possible and use ATMs in reputable, tourist-friendly areas.
Gang activity used to be primarily restricted to the main cities, but as of late, has spread to the rural areas as well. Tourists are typically unaffected by these crimes and are encouraged to exercise caution when leaving the confines of a resort and venturing into towns. Drug smugglers have been known to occasionally stow away drugs in luggage, so keep your belongings close to you at all times.
Jamaica holds one of the highest per capita murder rates in the world. Although these types of violent crimes typically occur between locals, there have been reports of tourists being victims. Female travelers, in particular, must be wary as sexual assault is regularly reported (even within resorts).
Visit the U.S. Embassy in Kingston if you ever feel extremely unsafe.
Crime tends to focus on major tourist destinations – cities with large populations. The popular tourist destinations of Kingston, Montego Bay, and Negril being the primary targets of criminals looking to take advantage of unwary travelers. The Jamaica Travel Advisory is currently at Level 2; travel is still possible but tourists are advised to be extra cautious. The following areas within these major cities are noted to be particularly dangerous and should be avoided:
Many travelers opt to stay at all-inclusive resorts due to safety concerns, but more and more tourists are venturing out into “the real Jamaica.” Several travelers who have shared their stories report that their adventures occurred without incident, and were instead defined by amazing experiences of local hospitality, entertainment, and cuisine.
If you find yourself itching to leave designated tourist areas, Portland, St. Elizabeth, and Manchester are reported to be some of the safest cities in Jamaica. Despite the potential risks, most visitors find that Jamaican locals are friendly and helpful, being quite used to interacting with tourists. Hiring a private tour guide is a great option for those who want to get the full cultural experience while ensuring their travel safety in Jamaica.
When arranging transportation, book taxi and bus rides from the hotel which will usually have reputable companies to refer. Hotel staff and local guides are great resources for a fun and safe excursion – your safety is their number one priority.
Knowing the dangers of traveling to a new place is only half the battle. Don’t forget to prepare for things that you can’t anticipate like emergency medical expenses – invest in ensuring your trip to Jamaica. If you are traveling to Jamaica near the hurricane or rainy season, there’s the potential that your trip could be interrupted, delayed, or even canceled – travel insurance has your back 100%. Whether you are traveling to Jamaica by boat or by plane, Yonder wants to make sure that you are safe, happy, and can fully focus on your amazing Jamaican adventure.
What are some of your favorite destinations in Jamaica?