April 25, 2018 - Yonder
Last Updated On 11/5/2021
Jamaica is the Caribbean wonderland of wayfarer’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 2019 with globetrotters flocking to the beaches of one of the top 3 island destinations. Relaxation, partying, and aquatic adventures have steadily attracted travelers to Jamaica in the past. The country’s Tourism Minister attributes this influx of tourism to a new pursuit of “authentic experiences” travelers are venturing out of private retreats and are instead seeking to immerse themselves in the local culture.
But this island paradise is not without its risks and excursionists must be cautious. Before you embark on this tropical destination, make sure you are aware of the potential dangers and find out if it’s actually safe to travel to Jamaica.
Yes! As of June 15th, Jamaica reopened for tourism. Here’s what you’ll need to know in regards to the country’s travel health and travel restrictions if you decide to book a vacation anytime soon.
Thermal Checks: Upon arrival in Jamaica, all travelers must take a temperature check to ensure they’re healthy.
Face masks & social distancing: As with many parts of the world during the coronavirus pandemic, wearing a face covering and keeping a six-foot distance from others is the norm in Jamaica.
Travel Health Application: Before departure (seven days to be exact), travelers must complete a Travel Authorization Application to assess any potential health risks. Make sure you have a copy of this before you leave, otherwise, Jamaican officials could prohibit your entry onto the island.
COVID-19 Testing Upon Arrival & Departure: Jamaica has now required all travelers provide proof they have tested negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of arrival. Starting on January 26, 2021, the U.S. has also mandated all travelers re-entering the country must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test at least 3 days before their return date. Check with your resort or hotel to see if they provide on-site COVID-19 testing.
Restricted to the Resilient Corridor: Travel for visitors will be limited to an area in Jamaica called the Resilient Corridor. This region includes areas of Negril down to Port Antonio and is intended to “have easy access”. But the most important thing is to be able to trace people and to contain their movement, according to the Tourism Minister of Jamaica. If your resort or hotel in Jamaica doesn’t provide on-site COVID-19 testing for your return to the United States, you should be able to find a mobile testing site within the “Resilient Corridor”.
Mandatory COVID-19 Insurance: It is now required that all travelers must purchase insurance through the Jamaica Cares program to cover the costs of medical expenses if you contracted COVID-19 while on your trip. This charge is $40 and protects against natural disasters, evacuation, repatriation, and COVID-19 medical care costs. The insurance will be automatically included when you complete the Travel Authorization application process and pay for that service.
Jamaica declared a state of emergency in 2018, highlighting the very real dangers afflicting the country. High murder rates, accounts of gang violence, and theft have been regular occurrences plaguing the island –greatly affecting tourism. The government has been working to make the country safer by having military forces assist local police in maintaining order.
Currently, the U.S. State Department holds a Level 4 Travel Advisory meaning to “do not travel” in regards to Jamaica. The recent increase in travel advisory level is due to the rise in crime. In addition, the CDC has also issued a Level 4 Travel Health notice since the increase in COVID-19 cases in Jamaica.
The majority of violent crime in Jamaica occurs between locals (Jamaican-on-Jamaican brutality, usually attributed to gangs), but there is the occasional incident involving vacationists. 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 crime in Jamaica against tourists. Local vendors are notorious for pestering visitors, 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 its tourism industry 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 travelers, are highly visible (you can recognize them by their white hats and shirts), and patrol tourist hot spots in large numbers. It’s important to know how to be prepared if you end up being pulled into a common scam while traveling.
This is the most imminent threat a sightseer in Jamaica would face. Most robberies are non-violent crimes. Pickpocketing is a frequent occurrence, with thieves preying on day-trippers 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. Be cautious 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 to store your valuables while you’re away. If you do experience theft while traveling, having a travel insurance policy could help reimburse you or replace the items that were stolen if you choose to file a claim.
Scamming (card stealing 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, traveler-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. Sightseers 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 among locals, there have been reports of travelers being victims. Female travelers, in particular, must be wary as sexual assault is regularly reported (even within resorts).
Many travelers opt to stay at all-inclusive resorts due to security concerns, but more and more are venturing out into “the real Jamaica.” Many travelers who have visited Jamaica 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 voyagers from other countries. 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. Find out which places in Jamaica to avoid further down.
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 excursion – your security is their number one priority.
Here is some safety advice to keep in mind when you visit Jamaica to avoid any unwanted or unsafe circumstances.
Register for STEP: Also called the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, this free service allows you to register your trips and get access to travel safety updates through the U.S. Embassy in Jamaica. Not only will you get security alerts for your destination, but on the rare occasion that an emergency comes up, the embassy can help locate you during that emergency and help you find a safe area to go.
Get Insured: Since Medicare and major medical health insurance don’t provide coverage for international travel, it’s important to make sure you have coverage if something goes awry on your future trip. Travel insurance isn’t just for medical emergencies though. If you have to cancel your trip for a covered reason or your baggage gets lost, travel insurance could help cover the bill. Plus, it can reimburse your additional hotel and meals expenses if you contract COVID-19 during your trip and were required to quarantine. We’ve written a helpful blog discussing what travel insurance is and what it isn’t so you can make a more informed decision on whether or not to protect your trip investment.
Be Aware: As in any location, it’s important to actively assess your surroundings when traveling to Jamaica. The State Department advises avoiding public buses, secluded areas, and walking or driving at night as effective travel safety measures. Also, keep valuables like your passport and extra cash in a hotel safe if you can.
Crime tends to focus on major tourist destinations – cities with large populations. The popular destinations of Kingston, Montego Bay, and Negril are the primary target areas of criminals looking to take advantage of unwary travelers. The following areas within these major cities are noted to be particularly dangerous and should be avoided:
Many large cities have areas that should be avoided due to the potential risk of crime and brutality and Montego Bay is not excluded from this –it can be a dangerous area. The State Department warns travelers to avoid the following areas within Montego Bay due to rampage and shootings:
In similarity with Montego Bay, Kingston also experiences some areas of violence and shootings and may not be free from danger for visitors. It’s advised not to travel to these areas below:
This area of Jamaica should not be traveled to according to the State Department because of regular violence and shootings.
As many places are now open and the COVID-19 curve is being flattened, Jamaica still is a great place for a family vacation. There are plenty of protected areas in Jamaica and below we’ve provided some inspiration to plan your future trip.
Adventure Lovers: Offering activities for kids of all ages, Yaaman Adventure Park is a great option for all-day entertainment near Ocho Rios. Check out some of their different tours and even get the opportunity to ride a camel or a segway!
Experience Local Cuisine: Although Ocho Rios has many kid-friendly restaurants, Scotchies offers authentic Jamaican cuisine and isn’t too far out of the way.
History Buff: If your family has older kids and you’re looking to learn more about Jamaica’s history, try visiting Seville Great House. Not only will they learn about the colonial roots of the country, but will also get to view some of the archeological artifacts from findings in the area.
Be One With Nature: If your family likes animals and more specifically, birds, Barney’s Hummingbird Garden in Negril are sure to please. Plus, you can walk around the beautiful flower gardens while you enjoy a homemade smoothie!
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 – insure 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 enjoy your amazing Jamaican adventure.
What are some of your favorite destinations in Jamaica?