NOTE: Some parts of Jamaica are under a state of emergency due to an increase in crime, for more information visit our travel alerts page.
Millions of travelers visit this Caribbean nation each year despite the reported crime. We take a look at how you can see Jamaica beyond the resorts and stay safe.
After numerous news reports, you may be concerned that Jamaica is too unsafe of a place to visit. On the contrary, Jamaica is a country too beautiful to be missed. From towering mountain ranges to generations-old plantations, cascading waterfalls and pristine beaches. There are plenty of safe places to visit within the country, so here our tips to stay safe whiile traveling in Jamaica.
One of the biggest problems tourists face in Jamaica is petty theft. Thieves are on the lookout for jewelry, cash and valuable electronic items such as cameras, cell phones and iPods. Most resorts provide safes so you can store items of value in your room, which is obviously recommended. Better yet, leave the bling at home. Some travelers have been robbed while sleeping in their accommodation, so always make sure your windows and doors are locked.
Keep in mind that while most thefts are non-violent in nature that could change quickly if you resist. If you do happen to be held up, by all means hand over whatever it is the thief wants and get away safely.
Jamaica has one of the highest per capita murder rates in the world. This dangerous and deadly crime are not isolated to locals - occasionally tourists have lost their lives there in recent years. Talk to locals to find out where you should avoid.
Sexual assault (particularly against female travelers) is also an issue, so travelers should be aware of their surroundings. If you plan to head out to enjoy a night out, don't walk alone and drink in moderation. Avoid leaving your drink unattended and don't accept drinks from strangers. Some of these reported assaults occurred within the confines of a resort, so be cautious at all times.
Drug exportation is far more dangerous, and remains a huge business in Jamaica.
Criminals have been known to smuggle drugs anyway they can, including through the use of unsuspecting tourists, so be very careful to keep your bags and belongings with you at all times. If you are caught with narcotics on you, even if you claim innocence, you could face jail time.
Contrary to popular belief and culture, the use of ganja (marijuana) is illegal in Jamaica. Penalties can include fines and also jail time. Jamaican prisons aren't pleasant places so leave the drugs alone.
There is an ongoing threat of gang violence which is largely confined to the inner city neighborhoods, however it rarely affects tourists.
The government has stepped in to help enhance security and crack down on crime, assigning special police to patrol by foot and bicycle. Unfortunately, the police are still somewhat understaffed and there have been some reports of police corruption, so the impact they have on curbing criminal activity is minimal. When tourism drops off somewhat during the hurricane season (September to November), police will often use this time to take vacations, so law enforcement may be especially understaffed during this time.
Some areas in Kingston, Negril and Montego Bay are considered a higher risk of crime and violence. Caution should be taken if you choose to visit these areas, particularly when there is word of a possible protest as demonstrators often erect road blocks making travel in and out nearly impossible.
Like any place, exercise some common sense by being aware of your surroundings and belongings.
Cassava Piece, Tivoli Gardens, Trench Town, Arnett Gardens and Mountain View.
Norwood, Clavers Street, Hart Street, Rose Heights, Canterbury and Flankers.
Considered to be more popular than Kingston, stick to the touristy areas which are generally safe.
Due to cruise ships stopping at Ocho Rios and Falmouth, tourist police (dressed in white hats, shirts and black pants) have increased their presence in an attempt to protect and drive down crime in the areas. Pickpocketing and petty theft tend to be found here with the occasional armed robbery.
Keep your valuables out of sight and close to you at all times.
You're advised to stay away from the inner city areas of Kingston and New Kingston and avoid wandering around alone at night in Ochos Rios, Montego Bay and Negril.
Walking around after dark is not recommended and if you really need to you should do so only in the safety of numbers, grab a radio taxi or a JUTA transport vendor (Jamaica Union of Travellers Association). Go with your gut - if you're heading into an area that you feel may be unsafe, avoid it. Driving around after dark is also to be avoided.
Jamaica is one of the most homophobic and gay unfriendly countries in the Caribbean, despite its large gay population sadly there is no noticeable gay tourism scene. Violent acts, harassment and threats against homosexuals have been reported including the murders of local gay activists. Some have had their homes set on fire.
There's little help from the government or local authorities, as even they have been known to discriminate and make derogatory comments toward those of a different sexual orientation. Similarly, complaints and reports of such harassment or crimes are often ignored. Public displays of affection including handholding are severely punished. This applies for both opposite and same-sex couples.
Despite this, there are some hotels and tours in Jamaica which are gay friendly so it's best to do your research before you travel.
Use your common sense and be alert for theft, and you should have no troubles in Jamaica. Choose your seasons wisely so you avoid hurricane season, which runs from June to November. Don't forget to buy travel insurance – get a quote below!
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From rental cars to taxis and buses, here's how to get around and use the public transport safely in Jamaica.