is Jamaica safe

IS JAMAICA SAFE TO TRAVEL? – TIPS ON HOW TO STAY SAFE

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As I walked down the Main Road in Ocho Rios for the first time, I should have felt like on a Catwalk. Eyes of all local guys on me! Oh my, they stare as if I was an alien!
‘Hey! white-ass, psssst…!’ – I’m still walking and considering my options:
  • throw some juicy curse
  • punch the guy in the face
  • keep walking
Surprisingly I choose the last one, which wouldn’t be an option if I was in Europe… but I wasn’t. I don’t want to take chances when I’m in foreign and a bit “wild” country.
If only I got a dollar each time I was asked ‘is it safe in Jamaica?’.
Jamaica has a bad reputation worldwide. I haven’t really met many people, who travel this country on their own. Most tourists considering Jamaica for their holidays choose all-inclusive resorts or.. different destination.
So what is the truth about island of reggae? Where is this notorious reputation coming from?

Is Jamaica safe to travel? 

Unfortunately the answer to this question is not easy. Yes, there is quite big crime rate in Jamaica and it does happen that the crimes affect tourists. Is there however any really safe place in the world nowadays?
How am I competent to write about Jamaica? you may ask. I’ve been living there for ten months (from January till November 2018), and by living I mean working, shopping, going to bars, partying and doing all those normal things that you do at your hometown. I certainly don’t know it all.. but I’ve experienced enough to have an valid opinion about this island.
Let me share with you my experience of living 10 months in Jamaica and you can make your own decision whether you want to travel there or not.

is Jamaica safe

JAMAICANS AND THE ATTITUDE

I’ve written about Jamaicans and their specific ways in my post “Everything you need to know if you travel to Jamaica”, which you can find here. I think however it’s interesting enough to elaborate on the subject a bit further. Thanks to something that Jamaicans themselves call “the attitude” it’s easy to think about those people as rude and unpleasant. ‘The attitude’ can be best described as mixture of pride, hurt feelings, impatience and stubbornness.

It’s enough that you will ask a wrong question or do something that Jamaican will read as disrespect and you are sure to experience such treatment. Having argument with Jamaican is not the most pleasant experience too, as they are very explosive folks and don’t usually spare the curses when angry. All of above certainly add to the overall opinion about Jamaicans as dangerous and violent.
My experience shows however, that once you get used to their peculiar ways and start to know them better, most of them can be really kind and cheerful.

BEING WHITE IN JAMAICA

Jamaica is the first country in the world where I experienced racism. Yes, you get me right, some Jamaicans are racist against white people, and when you think about the history of this country it’s hard to blame them.
Examples?
  • being charged WAY more than the locals for the same thing
  • rude comments like: ‘white-ass’, ‘whitey’ or ‘sexy-ass’
  • people expecting me to give them money, just because I’m white, and being rude when I refuse to
On the other hand we’ve met some really nice Jamaicans, who greeted us with honest sympathy and tried to make everything in their power so that we felt welcome in their country. So what is the reality? As always it depends who you’re going to meet. There are good and bad people everywhere.

ADVICE:

My advice is to be generally careful and not to react if you’re faced with some vicious comments. Our experience shows that when someone is bothering you the best response is to walk away indifferently. You definitely don’t want to start the argument with Jamaicans, especially if you are in minority and somewhere away from touristic places.

BEING WOMEN IN JAMAICA

How many times was I catcalled in Jamaica? I cannot remember.. On the beginning I was furious, especially that “white-ass” was not the only expression towards me. It’s totally normal in Jamaica to call unknown women “baby”, “princess” or “sexy”. Something unheard of in States and most of countries in Europe (I’m looking at you Spanish guys!). Frustration became indifference after a while. I stopped paying attention to comments addressed to me, but I became more and more aware that this is not a country friendly towards women, especially white women.

Unfortunately, this lack of basic respect has it’s consequences in high rate of sexual crimes. I haven’t witnessed any dangerous situation myself, but I’ve heard about many. I know that some girls go on holidays to ‘have fun’, I’ve seen a lot of them flirting with ‘beach boys’ in hope of having nice exotic adventure. Believe me, Jamaica is not a good place for such adventures. Something that starts with innocent flirt may end up as a tragedy. Many Jamaican guys do not accept ‘no’ as an valid answer.

ADVICE:

As much as I hate to say it, I think that Jamaica is not the best country for solo female travelers. If you want to stay safe, don’t walk alone in secluded places, especially after the dark. Don’t accept invitations from local men and certainly don’t invite them to your place. It’s usually ok to go to a local bar or beach party, but do it in a bigger group and don’t get separated.
Don’t get me wrong. As an emancipated, self-confident woman, I hate when people tell me what to do, where to go and where not to. I believe however that in some places and situations it’s better to value your safety over your freedom.

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PETTY CRIME: ROBBERY, SCAMS, etc.

Those are the most common crimes you may be exposed to in Jamaica and those you should be the most wary about. My work-mate had her phone and wallet stolen from her house while she was in the garden – in a gated community! Greg had his phone stolen in a bar and someone attempted to steal money from his pocket in the taxi. Ok, the thing with his phone was kinda our fault, as we overindulged in drinks with our friends, we had a lot of fun and the phone was just laying on the table and we didn’t pay attention.. It was like asking the theft to take it. The point is, be very careful and aware of your surrounding. Keep your things near you and watch them, otherwise they are very likely to change the owner.

Money scams are also common.  If you take a taxi – agree on the price with driver before you go, and make sure to have the change to pay. Tourists are usually overcharged A LOT!, so check the prices and be aware how much you actually should pay for the service. Here is a post that will help you a bit, but if you need a detailed list just type ‘prices in Jamaica’ in Google Search and you will find plenty of results.
One of the common scams concerns getting the wrong change. A lady from Kingston told us once that a taxi driver gave her change from 500 JMD (~4$), while she gave him 5.000 JMD (~40$). When she mentioned his mistake, he started screaming at her and became aggressive.

ADVICE: 

  1. Don’t show off with your fancy cameras or smart-phones. Keep them in you backpack or purse when not used. Use a small lock for your backpack. I use something like this at all times (it is also useful for airplanes, bus, etc.)

2. Check the price of the service you want to use beforehand – use internet and ask friendly locals.

3. Have the change prepared before it’s time to pay.

RELATED POST:

HOW TO TRAVEL SAFELY – BEST TIPS AND PRODUCTS.

ON THE ROAD

Ok, this is actually the biggest danger we encountered in Jamaica. People drive like crazy! They drink and drive, they smoke and drive, and nobody cares to fasten the seat belts. On numerous occasions I saw taxi drivers drinking a beer, and once or twice I noticed bottle of something stronger by their seat.
You need to be very careful on the roads in Jamaica, whether you drive rented car or just cross to the other side of the street as a pedestrian. Don’t expect that someone will care to stop for you to cross safely. You will be lucky if they change the lane to pass you by. Jamaican drivers don’t slow down when they see people on the road. They honk the horn and expect you to get out of their way. I am not exaggerating. Driving a motorbike in Bali was a piece of cake compared to staying safe on Jamaican roads.

ADVICE: 

Be extra careful when you drive or walk on the streets of Jamaica. Have eyes in the back of your head – funny, in Poland we have a saying to ‘have eyes all around your head’, which would be even better!
  1. If you do not feel confident as a driver, especially driving on the left side of the road, don’t take a risk and use taxis or buses.
  2. If you feel adventurous enough to rent a car and drive on your own, treat every other driver as a potential danger. Beware of goats, cows and chickens roaming happily around roadsides. I’m not joking!
  3. Adjust your speed, as some roads in Jamaica can only be described as the maze of pot-holes! Some of them big enough, so you could easily get rid of one of the wheels.
  4. Obviously, if you leave a car in a public place, don’t leave anything inside a car in a visible place (even shoppings or small change), unless you want to look for garage to replace the window later on.
is Jamaica safe
Cows in the middle of the road?

KINGSTON AND OTHER CITIES

We only spent two days in Kingston and I think it’s more than enough. As much as I love exploring big cities in Asia, Europe and US, cities in Jamaica lack the ‘vibe’ in my opinion. Instead they are loud, crowded, dirty, smelly and usually ugly, …did I mention LOUD already?

KINGSTON

My first idea when reaching our guest house in Kingston was to leave the car and explore the city walking, as we would normally do in any other place. Our host quickly explained to us how stupid this idea actually was. Her previous guest came back home without her purse from such stroll the day before. I’m not easily scared normally, but this time I took her advice to explore the capital of Jamaica by driving to main attractions by car and to keep wandering around to minimum.

MONTEGO BAY

We spent five nights in the city, that is considered second most dangerous place in Jamaica. We slept in hostel on Harbour Street just in front of Craft Market. We walked around the neighborhood both during the day and after sunset (which might not be the wisest thing to do, but after so many months in Jamaica, we felt rather confident). There were a lot of police patrols in the city which, as we discovered after two days of our stay, was under the state of emergency since beginning of 2018. We didn’t experience anything serious in Montego Bay, only annoying beggars asking us for money and stubborn sellers trying to convince us to buy their tacky products or ganja.
If it’s your first time in Jamaica however (especially in cities), try not to wander off touristic places too much and do your exploring during daytime.
Better safe than sorry!



Booking.com

So what is the answer, is Jamaica safe?

After reading all of the above you may think that Jamaica is not a safe place to travel, but don’t cross it off your bucket list yet. It is still a beautiful island with many nice and friendly people. It certainly has a lot of problems that are difficult to solve, but by being aware and wise travelers we may help good people make their living a bit easier, while staying safe and getting to know beautiful places.
I like happy endings, so let me finish this post by telling you about joyful moments in Jamaica:

  1. I lost my travel water bottle in the taxi (it probably fell out of my backpack).  Next day when I came back home the security guy greeted me with a smile and handed me my bottle. He said the taxi driver found it and came to the gate especially to give it back to me ? How sweet!
  2. I think we were the only people without the car in our neighborhood. Everyday we were walking for 10-15 minutes from our home to the road, where we took a route taxi. Whenever it was raining, and rain in Caribbean is usually a wall of water falling down out of the sudden, random people would stop and give us a lift to the road or sometimes even to our workplace.
  3. After late dinner and few drinks, one of our nights in Montego Bay, we decided that we were not ready to go to sleep yet. Roaming around empty streets surrounding our hostel (how foolish of us!) we found only one open bar with three elderly gentleman and barman engaged in conversation. Initially they greeted us suspiciously, but after few minutes we were drinking beers and discussing current issues of Jamaica, music and other important subjects people discuss over few drinks in the middle of the night. After we finally decided that it’s time to hit the road, we asked our bartender for a bill. Imagine how surprised we were, when he replied it’s covered.. We insisted to pay of course, but our companions cut in saying it’s been an honor for them to host us and we entertained them with our stories, so that’s the least they can do to make us feel at home in Jamaica. We were speechless, especially that those guys were not some rich uptown man, just normal hard working people. Those in fact are usually the most friendly and hospitable ones.
Ok, I shared with you my observations, experiences and tips. Now it’s up to you to make a decision if you want to visit Jamaica or not.
After reading this post you may think that I have schizophrenia and that I love and hate this island at the same time. While the first part of the sentence is undecided, the second one is kinda true. I’m not the first one to claim that it is very likely to love and hate Jamaica, but it is up to you to decide which feeling will be stronger in your case.

Please remember that in every place you go to in the world, there are good and bad people, just like in your hometown. I’ve never been particularly streetwise, but it is traveling that taught me a great deal about it. Remember to be careful, but remember also to have fun and enjoy the ride. That’s what traveling is all about, isn’t it?

Stay safe wherever you go!

If you have a story about Jamaica or some safety tip please make sure to share it in comments!

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30 thoughts on “IS JAMAICA SAFE TO TRAVEL? – TIPS ON HOW TO STAY SAFE”

  1. Great post, obviously you know a lot about the place! Since Jamaica has a bad reputation for LGBT rights, it would be great to see something about that too ?

    1. Hi Daniel, unfortunately it is true, that a lot of Jamaicans are unwelcoming towards LGBT persons. I haven’t witnessed any situation myself, but hearing locals talk about gay people, it’s clear what they think about them.

  2. Wow- I really love this article. You did an excellent job of explaining a lot of the dangers so that people can be aware while also still saying “it depends on each person and each location”. You shared a lot of honest information without painting an entire country or it’s people in a bad light. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and learned a lot.

  3. This is a very informative post! When traveling somewhere new, it’s always important to be aware of any dangers, and this post does a great job at rounding those up while still showing that Jamaica can be an enjoyable place to visit. Other than the risk of being overcharged/getting back incorrect change, did you feel that the taxis were safe? I’ve heard horror stories about fake taxis, so that’s something I always worry about!

    1. Thank you Sydney, that was my point – to make people aware about certain problems without scaring them away 🙂
      I traveled by taxis daily, so I think it’s relatively safe. You just need to make sure you take the taxi with red plates and markings on the doors, as there are many illegal taxis too. Also try to fasten seatbelts if possible – it may be challenging with 4 adults in the back seat 😀 (if you take a normal route taxi).

    1. I’m happy you had such great experiences in Jamaica 🙂
      You have no idea however how many people asked me about safety and doubted it is possible to travel the island outside resorts. That’s what inspired me to write this post 🙂

  4. Such a detailed and informative post! I’ve never really heard anything about Jamaica being dangerous from my friends visiting, but then again they only stay at a resort. But glad this article opened up alot of the details when you want to have a local experience.

    1. Thank you Bilal. Indeed staying at the resorts is totally different story. In fact I am working on a post right now, why people should not go to all inclusive resorts and how it affects the travel experience

    1. Hi Brittany, yes it’s sad. Even more sad that actions of criminals and scammers make it hard for good and honest people to make their living and earn honest money from tourism.

  5. All I have known about Jamaica has been from the movies. Not many travelrs visit this place but I does sound pristine and the culinary scene looks like a must try.

    1. Indeed many people that go to Jamaica stay in resorts and don’t travel around. I hope that my post shows that it pays off to be a bit adventurous and travel this country (of course applying safety tips).

  6. Great post and very informative. I guess in any destination you can have some danger and it is important to travel sensible and cautious. I like the way you explained it all. Thanks

  7. Very informative and detailed post on Jamaica. You have uncovered a great deal of facts about it. I am always apprehensive before visiting a new place and checking if it’s safe to travel or not.

  8. This is an honest and very informative post! I find it useful that you did not exactly recommend it for solo female travelers, most posts out there are like yeah sure, just go ahead, and I find this quite misleading. And the stares, I know them well enough from Turkey, but there they usually do not go beyond staring.

    1. Hi Anca, I know few girls who lived and traveled Jamaica alone, and nothing happened to them and they loved it. In general however I wouldn’t recommend it, especially to solo female travelers, who don’t have a lot of experience with third-world-countries.

  9. Loved this post. Recognise so much of it. I visited Jamaica a few years ago for a work trip. I had to drill rock samples from a local quarry there. You can imagine the faces of the men there!!

  10. I went to Jamaica waaaay back in 2004. It was the first time I had been to the other side of the Atlantic from Europe. I remember walking down that road in Ocho Rios! A lot of your advice resonates with me, although I spent a lot of my trip in a resort. I was very struck by the friendliness of people in Jamaica. It must be a very eye-opening experience living there for so long!

    1. Hi Alex, wow, it must have been quite an experience to go to Jamaica as your first destination on that side of Atlantic 🙂
      Yes, living there has been very interesting. It’s so eye-opening for people from our “European civilization” to spend some time in the third-world-country.

  11. I spent 10 days in Kingston. I hated it for all the reasons you explain in your post. Although my husband has to work there, I refuse to go back. It’s a shame because Jamaica is a beautiful country, but (most of) the people ruin it for visitors.

    1. Hi Ana, I’m sorry you had such a bad experience, although I’m not really surprised to hear that. Maybe if you visited other parts of Jamaica your experience would be different. I’ve been to Kingston for only two days, but it was more than enough. This city has the worst reputation in the whole island.

  12. Well, well. Never thought that Jamaica has these attitudes. To be honest, I am quite far away to seriously consider traveling there, but sounds like a place where I would iike to go if I need time to relax. It is not completely save, but so are the coutries in the south of europe…

  13. Awesome tips and recommendations! I am planning to visit Jamaica at some point during my travels. I’m not sure when but I’ll get there for sure! What was your favourite memory from there?

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