safety in Jamaica

Safety in Jamaica: what you should know

Isabella Biava CARIBBEAN, JAMAICA, TRAVEL HACKS 4 Comments

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Safety in Jamaica has always been a big concern among travel agents and travelers but honestly, having lived there for a couple of years,  I have always believed there has been a distorted perception of the actual reality of things or, if not an exaggeration in presenting the reality.  I am sure both media and personal preconceptions have a big role in that.

I know I will be considered a little naive for saying that but honestly, during my time in Jamaica there was not a single moment where I have felt unsafe whatsoever and believe me  I am usually scared of everything and very cautious when I travel.

With this article, I would like to put things in the right perspective, or try to, and provide you with information on the island,  with funny anecdotes on awkward  situations that had happened to me or friends and show you that safety in Jamaica must not be a concern if you wish to travel to this beautiful island and enjoy it fully, with common sense and making wise choices as you would do anywhere in the world.

I hope that when you finish reading this post, safety in Jamaica will not be a concern anymore. Hopefully, you won’t have any hesitation to book your trip to Jamaica and feel free to explore this beautiful island, learn about the local culture by mingling with the super friendly people,  eat delicious local dishes in their restaurants (outside your hotels) and just enjoy it all. I have written an entire guide on how to move around and what to see. Here is the link, it’s free.  🙂

safety in jamaica

On the way to treasure beach.. here I intentionally got lost to check out a side road

Here is what I think about Jamaica safety:

  1. Yes, crime is a fact in Jamaica and petty theft too, you can’t deny it. But tell me a place in the world where there are no crime related issues. If you live in NYC or Chicago or Milan, or any other big city, wouldn’t you have the same concern? You just need to be careful and smart as anywhere you go.  For example, why on earth would you bring your diamonds and pearls on a vacation where you are supposed to lay back and relax and live on your flip-flops and pareo? You can also leave your belongings in the hotel safe when you are not using them, but leaving your precious items at home would be a much smarter idea.  And don’t show off too much your wealth. Stay low profile in third world countries is always a smart choice.
  2. Don’t walk on the street at night either on your own or with people. And if you are driving around don’t drive at night, never. In the next paragraph I will tell you more about driving in Jamaica.
  3. Remember that drugs are illegal in Jamaica. So drugs are an issue if you look for them or accept them. Otherwise, you don’t need to worry about it. If you expose yourself to drug dealers and jump into that kind of situations, that’s where you might have trouble. Stay away from it and you will be safe… and healthy. You will be offered drugs while walking on the beach. Just don’t panic, say no, kindly and walk away… sometimes they are a bit insisting, but usually harmless and if you are nice, you end up having a walking companion talking about life and philosophy. Jamaica safety in jamaica
  4. Beach vendors can be very annoying but not dangerous. You can be relaxing on your beach chairs and maybe sleeping and they just don’t care, they would come over and offer you all the possible services: paragliding, fishing, jungle tours, ganja (marijuana) tours, drugs (of any sorts)… and sex. oh yes, for real! And you can tell them no 10 times and they will ask you many times more in the same day. If you don’t make a big fuss about it, you are going to have a lot of laughter.  One time I got mad at a boy who woke me up while I was taking a nap on the beach to ask me if I wanted to go paragliding. He told me to relax, there was no reason to get mad. I had to laugh. He was right after all.  When you have offers like that you just say no thanks and smile and you won’t have any problem.They might be a little insisting sometimes but harmless. Another time  I was on the beach in Negril and a lady offered me mushrooms or other drugs. When I refused them, she started to insult me while walking away. I laughed, what can you do, right? I think this kind of situations just make your day funnier and eventful if you take it in the right way. You can’t change things but you can avoid being affected by them because that’s the only situation where you have control.
    Jamaica

    On the way to Port Antonio – the best street food – Photo courtesy of Barbara Ripamonti

  5. Ladies, this is for you. Ok! let’s talk about sex in Jamaica. Sex tourism is quite common there. I have seen a lot of male acquaintances seeing off their “girlfriend” at the airport departure gates and moving straight to the arrival to pick up the next “girlfriend”. That was hilarious. I don’t believe both girls ( and the other 10) didn’t know they were not the one and only, or if they didn’t know, it’s because they didn’t want to see the sad truth. But how does it work and why? They will find you at a party on the beach or at the hotel, where they are possibly working in the entertainment (of course) or in the restaurants. They approach you in the most charming way, making you feel like the most beautiful woman in the world, and they are very good at it. They are most of the times super fit, with that kind of sculptured body that you only see in magazines covers. They are also professional dancers, of course. And you just can’t help falling in love. They will tell you about their poor living condition which, unfortunately, in the majority of the cases, is true, maybe a little magnified. They will pull out the nurse/saver in you that will put an end to all their misery. But that is all artfully put in a very subtle way that you don’t realize it. You will start hanging out together and… you will pay for everything. On your way home, while crying a river on the plane, you still don’t realize that you are insanely hooked. As soon as you reach home you will rush to western union and send out the first of many money transfers because he swore that you are the most important woman in his life and without you, his world will fall apart.. and some other craps like that. And you cannot leave him now because (in your mind only) “he needs you”. It’s not always like that. There are stories that were real love stories but very few and still they came to an end, eventually. If you want to have fun go for it, just make sure you keep it is as it is, beautiful and short, use protections of all sorts ( for heart and wallet included) and, although I am sure you are a beautiful woman, just remember that all that flattering goes to others too, and probably at the same time. I know what you are thinking now…  And no, he’s not different. It’s always the same story.  I hope you just want to have fun! 😉
    Jamaica - Safety in Jamaica

    One of the many beautiful spots of the Reach Falls – Photo courtesy or Barbara Ripamonti

  6. Now, sometimes if you just hang out on the beach or at a night bar you might be approached in a not so flattering way, well depending on the point of view. Let’s say it can be a bit rude or gross. Don’t take it personally. Just ignore them or have a  laugh.
  7. There are neighborhoods in Montego Bay and in Kingston that I would definitely avoid but you don’t even need to go there to enjoy Jamaica. Cassava Piece, Tivoli Gardens, Trench Town, Arnett Gardens and Mountain View are the places to avoid if you are in Kingston. In Montegobay just stay along the coast and you are fine. 
  8. Tours– You can either grab an organized tour or ask a taxi driver to take you or just rent a car. All ways are good just remember to ask the price before boarding the taxi. They are in general very honest and great guides too, but you will always find the bad guy, everywhere in the world. The authorized taxi company is called Juta tours and they always work with big hotels.  They are a bit more pricey but safe. Or if you are staying in a small hotel ask the reception and they usually work with independent but trustworthy taxi drivers.   Jamaica safety
  9. Sun – Always remember you are in a tropical environment – the sun hits bad even on a cloudy day. Therefore please make sure you wear sunscreen all the time and drink a lot of water.
  10. Street food – I love to purchase street food in Jamaica. It is the most delicious. I always felt it was made under proper hygienic conditions in the majority of the cases. As for fruit sold on the street, they have an artful way to cut it without touching it with their hands. It’s even fun to watch. (see n.11)
    Jamaica Safety

    Dunn’s River Falls .. a little crowded

  11. Hygiene – maybe it’s just my impression but I found Jamaicans in general obsessed (in a good way of course) with personal hygiene and cleanness. I have been into very humble homes and even though their conditions were poor, I was impressed with the extreme cleanness. One time I was helping a lady who was struggling to send her son to school and I went to see her in her house, which was more a shelter than a home. It was made of sheet metal and wood and it might have been 10 sqm big. I went inside and it was impeccable, smelling of Lavanda and super tidy.  I was just impressed. Therefore I wouldn’t worry too much about this aspect, especially if you go and eat in local places, you are safe… and you will love it. ( I am talking in general of course, then there are always exceptions, as in every place). If you have stomach problems it might be just because you have changed the environment and your stomach doesn’t recognise your new bacterias 😉 I am not a doctor but that’s what doctors have always told me.  Jamaica safety
  12. Health and Doctors – In Jamaica, there are no requirements for any vaccines and common tropical diseases such as Zika, dengue and chikungunya have been detected in Jamaica too but the only way to protect you from them is by using Deet and other mosquito repellents. If you need to see a doctor you can ask the reception of your hotel and they can call one for you or you can get a taxi and go to the closest clinic. The big all-inclusive hotels have a nurse clinic within the premises of the hotels and in case of need, the nurse will call the doctor for you. Please remember that if the doctors come to the hotel they will overcharge you for the service. Unfortunately, the Jamaican health system is not one of the best when it comes to hospital infrastructure. They have recently opened an international hospital in Montego Bay “Hospiten”  which should be a totally different story and very expensive. Although we always hope nothing happens to us but it’s always safe to make sure we have an insurance. I will be using World Nomads outside Mexico as I have heard great things about them and this is what I would recommend them. But I have never used them personally, yet and I hope I will never need them. But, just in case.

Driving in Jamaica

Yes, you can rent a car in Jamaica and drive around to discover this beautiful lush and colourful island and you will have a blast! I assure you.

There are car rentals at the airport and they super organized for the pickup and drop off so you don’t have to worry about your arrival or departure time.

TIPS ON CAR RENTALS

  • If you wish to rent the car for just a couple of days you can rent it from the hotel and they will bring the car to you. 
  • There are many companies, local and internationals. You can choose according to the best price. I used to rent with island car rentals and never had an issue. But you can choose anyone you wish. 
  • You can check out this site that compares all international companies prices. I have used it in Mexico and found a great deal, besides they have a great customer service. However, I would suggest you should check out the company directly and compare prices and inclusions. 
  • I would ask for a full insurance, with no deductible in it.
    Safety in Jamaica

    Road to Kingston International Airport Jamaica

ON THE ROAD IN JAMAICA

Once you got have your car all set you are ready to discover the island.

Here are some more tips about driving in Jamaica:

  • To find your way is quite easy. Besides, nowadays with a GPS on your phone or if you rent one at the car rental there is no way you can get lost unless you want it. The most difficult part I found was around Treasure beach, where I got lost one time. However, that is a place on the south coast that you should definitely visit. If you do, you must stay at Jake’s.  You are welcome 😉 
  • Some of the main roads have been fixed however you will easily bump into potholes close to the city centers and villages. Be very careful, some of them are huge and you can damage your car. 

    Photo by Evieanna Santiago on Unsplash

  • The main cities like Montego Bay and Kingston are quite busy and congested with traffic and not easy to drive around. Kingston especially was my nightmare, because you don’t really want to end up in any of the unsafe areas such as Tivoli Gardens or Trenchtown. So make sure you check well the map before driving so that you know where you are going. 
  • It is common to see people walking on the sides of the roads, be careful not to run over them ;). and that brings to the next point.
  • In cities, you will see a lot of vendors in the proximities of traffic-lights. Some of them sell the most hilarious things, they are fun to watch and most of the time I try to buy something, be it a water or some nuts, something for the road. The ones that used to get on my nerves are those that want to clean your window at all costs, even if you say no. I always get mad at them. But one time something happened. So one of these guys started to clean my window and I got so upset I was screaming at him. He smiled,  stopped cleaning and said “sorry sorry, while,  drawing a heart on the front window with the cleaning soap and then wiped it out, keeping his big smile on his face. The message was clear: “Just chill girl!” I had to laugh and felt very bad for having screamed at him. They have a hard life trying to make an honest living with these kinds of random jobs. It’s good to support them. My problem was that my screen was already spic and span clean. But I learned the lesson. I don’t remember if I gave him a tip then. I hope I did.  
  • The same happened with car washers, sometimes even if you say no, they would do it and hope for a tip. If before I got mad, I now believe that it’s good to reward them with a tip, for the above reason. 
  • Never drive at night as you can either bump into a path hole and break your car or into somebody and kill him/her.. so try to organize your itinerary so that you are in your hotel before sunset.
    Jamaica Safety in Jamaica

    @ Jakes in Treasure Beach

  • Besides it’s not uncommon to see livestock leisurely crossing the road, so remain alert at all times.
  • Every time I had a punched tired, I have always found nice people pulling over and helping me and changed my tire. I find Jamaican particularly kindhearted and genuinely willing to help others. One time I realized I had no gas in my tank and people were fighting to help me. I know sometimes they might be expecting a tip but not all the times. So if it happens to you do not panic if somebody is approaching you. Just try to understand their intentions and trust your gut feelings, without prejudice. The majority of the time they just want to help. On the other side be aware that there are criminals, just like in any other places in the world so just be wise and always careful. 
  • Try to respect the speed limits so that you don’t give the police a reason to stop you. They do lots of random speed checks. If they stop you for any reason, just stay calm and be kind. The majority of the police officers are just doing their job. In case you have the feeling they are looking for a tip, just ignore it or pretend you don’t understand and humbly accept the ticket. In two years I have never been asked for bribes and I was driving all over Jamaica and been stopped many times for speed limit. Not because I am a pirate, but because it’s easy to exceed it of 10 or 20 km when the roads are straight and deserted and that is where they stand. Smart! 

CONCLUSION

This is basically all I can say about safety in Jamaica. Be smart and wise, just like any other places in the world. Other than that respect the culture and the people and they will respect you in return. It’s a beautiful country that I consider home in some way. I hope you will enjoy it fully. 

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Brian Elliott
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I really love this article. It touched me to see someone writing a factual sunmary of our country, removing the many negative stereo-typical claims. I am happy you identified our obsession with personal hygeine. It was indeed a pleasure reading this, Isabella.