If you're drawn by the humanitarian messages in the Rastafarian rhythms of the late Bob Marley and the infectious sounds of the reggae movement, Jamaica sounds like a rather cool place to hang. And you can't beat the tropical climate, beaches, and palm trees that help dress up the whole paradise setting.
Beneath that idyllic veneer is the fact that Jamaica is one of the most dangerous countries in the world with a sky-high homicide record. In 2018, the rate at which Jamaicans and tourists in the country were likely to die from a violent crime was 47 out of a million.
It's still higher than the likelihood of other dangers that make Jamaica vulnerable, from hurricanes to earthquakes, since much of the Caribbean is subject to tropical storms while sitting on an area where tectonic plates beneath the surface perilously rub against each other.
That said, millions visit Jamaica annually without incident and much of that has to do with how wary many of them are about what to expect. Safeguarding your Jamaican experience by planning ahead and being aware of potential dangers increase your chances of skanking along to Buffalo Soldier and Three Little Birds without a worry in the world.
Being Careful In Public
While traveling around Jamaica, especially late at night, one point can't be stressed highly enough: Make sure you're not alone, especially at night. Crime tends to escalate after hours and you'll find no shortage of anecdotes involving robberies, assaults, and worse affecting less safety-conscious tourists.
Also be wary of pickpockets and scams, which are particularly aimed at vacationers. If you find yourself in the middle of a dicey transaction, be polite but firm when refusing to play along. The best way to avoid becoming potential prey to a scam is to avoid particularly flashy wardrobe, especially apparel that looks like it came from a high-end designer. And if you can, try to avoid showing any wads of cash in public.
However, if you come across locals you can eventually trust, they'll offer plenty of additional advice, including some wisdom that tour guides and visitor information centers are less likely to provide.
Stay Clear Of These Areas
The most recent travel advisory issued by the U.S. State Department classified Jamaica as a Level 2 destination, insisting that vacationers exercise increased caution and to avoid such areas as Spanish Town and areas in Kingston and Montego Bay.
According to the State Department, gangs are predominant in those parts of Jamaica, including Kingston's notorious M Zone, which includes violent neighborhoods like Flankers, Canterbury, Norwood, Rose Heights, Clavers Street, and Hart Street.
Tourists who flock to the nightlife scene are also advised to exercise particular caution in the Hip Strip, the major bar and nightlife cluster in Montego Bay. Assaults are frequent in the area, and while tourists aren't specifically targeted, the dangers still persist especially with Jamaica's law enforcers extremely understaffed and overworked.
Safest Way To Get Around
Probably the safest way to see Jamaica is via the free shuttles provided by all-inclusive resorts. But most of them are on pre-determined routes that include stopovers at destinations contracted by the resort, meaning you're not likely to see much of the surroundings outside the "tourist trap" sightseeing itinerary.
Public transit is cheap but is equally limited in terms of where it travels. And you never know who's behind the wheel or what type of passengers a bus will pick up. Cabs are far safer and will get you to wherever you want to go, but can heavily drain your budget.
That's why most seasoned tourists opt for car rentals which will take you anywhere you want and are reasonably priced. Still, consider this caveat when it comes to getting around. You'll be driving on the left-hand side of the roads, most of them in dire need of an upgrade.
Resorts Are Most Secure, But Still, Beware
Absolutely the safest way to stay safe in Jamaica is to check out the ratings of all-inclusive resorts on a number of virtual tourist information sites then pick one. Once you arrive, simply hang out in your room by the pool or on the beach adjacent to your accommodations for the duration of your stay. But where's the fun in that?
Even then, you're still not safe. According to local authorities, even while you're sunning yourself on the beach, most hotel room break-ins are committed by resort staff or criminals who get their inside information from folks working at the hotel. And women could be particularly vulnerable to potential assaults by employees lurking in hallways leading to suites. Avoiding cash, leaving valuables at home, and never traveling alone will go a long way towards reducing those risks.
It also helps to check out visitor assessments of hotels and resorts when it comes to safety while planning your trip. Because, on the whole, if you play it safe, visiting Jamaica can still be a pretty fun experience.