Tourist Scams & Local Hassles to Avoid in Jamaica

From aggressive street vendors, to friendly locals offering you the "ganja", here are a few tourist scams and local hassles to be on the lookout for in Jamaica.

Shares

The island of Jamaica offers visitors some of the most incredible experiences, from exciting outdoor adventures amid Caribbean landscapes to luxuriously relaxing lounges on white sandy beaches that stretch on for miles. Despite all of these hassles and annoyances, Jamaica is still an amazing place worth visiting. As long as you know what things to watch out for and how to avoid them, your trip will go off without a hitch. 

Drugs in Jamaica

It's no secret that Jamaica is somewhat known for the widespread use of illegal drugs there. In fact, although it's not official, Jamaica is believed to have the highest marijuana use in the world. Despite all this, drug use is illegal.

Chances are at some point (or several) during your stay you will be approached by a local and offered some "ganja". If you're caught in possession of illegal drugs, you may be arrested, charged and imprisoned. The conditions in Jamaican jails are less than ideal, and the justice system is questionable.

Other drugs often found in the region include cocaine and heroin, both of which are considered to be extremely potent in Jamaica. Not only are they against the law, but partaking in either is extraordinarily risky.

Merchandise and Services

Aggressive Street Vendors

Many Jamaican residents make their money from selling tourist merchandise (usually handmade) and offering services, such as massage or hair braiding.

While it may seem like a great way to take a little piece of your trip back with you, unfortunately many of these street vendors can get aggressive in their sales pitches.

Some will simply call out to you as you walk past, others will follow you around, and some may even attempt to physically pull you in to their shops. Your best bet is to avoid eye contact and be polite, but firm. If you're having problems, ask for help from a nearby police officer.

Begging

You might see people begging on the streets, particularly in touristy areas, since these are the areas they are most likely to receive handouts.

It may seem like an annoyance, but take a moment to consider the widespread poverty in Jamaica. Feel free to contribute if you're so inclined, but don't feel obligated. Again, just a firm but pleasant "no, thank you" should suffice.

Scams and Other Hassles

1. The One Way Fee Trick

Jamaica has its fair share of scams against tourists, particularly involving local transport. If you're approached by a young citizen offering you a ride on their moped or canoe to a popular point of interest, beware. Once you arrive at your destination, he'll likely insist that you only paid for a one-way trip and demand more money to bring you back.

2. Prostitution

Prostitution is a problem on the island and many of these girls can be just as persistent as the local street vendors. Male travelers should be cautious.

3. Renta-Rasta or Renta-Dreds

Female travelers should be aware that a lot of women come to Jamaica for what's known as a "renta-rasta" or "renta-dreds". These are slang terms referring to a casual relationship where the woman gets companionship, attention or intimate relations, and the man receives money or gifts in return.

Because of this common arrangement, females traveling alone may be propositioned by local Jamaican men. It's a good idea to always travel in groups for this reason, especially at night.

4. Drink Spiking and Nightlife

Use of various date-rape drugs is an ongoing issue at nightclubs and bars, as well as private parties. Victims are drugged, rendered unconscious and then robbed and often assaulted.

If you plan on partaking in the local night life, be sure to do so with caution. Never accept drinks from strangers, always watch your drinks being poured and keep them in your hand (or at least in your sight) at all times.

5. LGBT Travel Safety

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.

Despite this, there are some hotels and tours in Jamaica which are gay friendly so it's a case of doing your research should you choose to head to there.

Get a travel insurance quote for Jamaica

You can buy at home or while traveling, and claim online from anywhere in the world. With 150+ adventure activities covered and 24/7 emergency assistance.

Related articles

7 Comments

  • Marcel said

    Since 2015 the drug law is reformed. The act makes possession of up to 2 ounces (56 grams) of marijuana, or “ganja” as it’s known locally, a petty offense that could result in a roughly $5 ticket but not in an arrest or a criminal record. The changes can also affect tourists. Foreigners who are prescribed medical marijuana abroad will be able to pay for Health Ministry permits authorizing them to legally buy up to 2 ounces of local weed for medical or therapeutic purposes during their stay. For more information visit https://allinvillas.com

  • Edward A Apraku said

    Wao..good to hear about the beautiful life in Jamaica. I wish to be there one day to experienced the goodies of Jamaica.

  • Stephia. Davis said

    There is nice to go in Jamaica not everywhere is bad crime rate is high in the USA too it's just that America is a big country so you don't hear about all the crime but I live hear not even the school is safe but we can't stop crime because the Bible must full fill it said there Will be war and rumor or work Miami have more crime Than anything and all my friends kid are gun down young boys and girls everyday they shoot all up in house here and arm robbery everyday u turn on the new somebody died over here so every where is bad.

  • WILLARD HOMIAK said

    Have been to Jamaica 4 times (Montiego Bay).At welcome meeting first morning you are advised to stay on resort and do not travel unescorted .Listen to this advise.It is very true.If you must go off resort do not accept rides from unmarked vehicles.Do not talk to or make eye contact with strangers.The guys in the paddle boats at the beach with the rag/tag goods are selling Manja (dope).I have talked to the Security people at my resort and they tell me they can't touch these guys as long as they stay in the water.When they come ashore they tell them to go away and sometimes have them arrested.There is no end to this.Stay away from them.Travel in groups,never alone.Repeat,stay on the resort and you will enjoy some of the greatest weather in the world.

    Cheers.

  • WILLARD HOMIAK said

    Have been to Jamaica 4 times (Montiego Bay).At welcome meeting first morning you are advised to stay on resort and do not travel unescorted .Listen to this advise.It is very true.If you must go off resort do not accept rides from unmarked vehicles.Do not talk to or make eye contact with strangers.The guys in the paddle boats at the beach with the rag/tag goods are selling Manja (dope).I have talked to the Security people at my resort and they tell me they can't touch these guys as long as they stay in the water.When they come ashore they tell them to go away and sometimes have them arrested.There is no end to this.Stay away from them.Travel in groups,never alone.Repeat,stay on the resort and you will enjoy some of the greatest weather in the world.

    Cheers.

  • Hillary Di said

    Willard,
    I have been to Jamaica many times, also and my husband and I bought a small hotel with restaurant here. Resorts are playing it safe telling you to stay on the property...they don't want their guests getting into trouble, but there are many safe ways to enjoy the Island outside of the resorts. Just don't do stupid things, like go out in unfamiliar areas at night, or travel desolate areas alone. You can't really see the Island and get to know the wonderful people and all they have to offer while staying at a resort. Also, get out of Mobay and explore the rest of Jamaica. Hire a red plate taxi driver for the day. If you just want the sun and sand and endless buffet, then fine, but that is not Jamaica.

  • JT said

    I agree with Hillary. We've been to Negril and the Westend many times and wander around freely and safely. Get to know the locals and when you return the next year, they remember you. We've come to know many wonderful folks over the years. Walking the dark streets in any N. American city at night is stupid - same goes for Jamaica. Don't be stupid.

Add a Comment