Is it safe to travel to Jamaica? Everything you need to know to travel safely in Jamaica

Is it safe to travel to Jamaica? Everything you need to know to travel safely in Jamaica

The first thing I get asked after I tell people I’m Jamaican, is the resounding question of “is it safe to travel to Jamaica?” or “is Jamaica safe?” , And I always say yes, it is, and it’s as safe as travelling to any other country.

The thing is what most people will see and hear about Jamaica is the high crime rate the media broadcasts. With news headlines deterring potential tourist to Jamaica with statistics like: “Relative to its population, Jamaica has a murder rate roughly 10 times higher than the US and 50 times higher than Britain.” (1)

Which leaves many people thinking Jamaica is an actual war zone instead of the tropical paradise it is.

What some of these outlets do not follow-up this first statement with is that most of these numbers come from internal conflicts occurring in the (inter-cities neighbourhoods of Jamaica – from the gang on gang violence, gang vs police shootings, civil unrest with locals and government institutions).

And that tourist and people travelling to Jamaica should concern themselves with the following statistics: “Less than 0.1% of all the crimes committed in Jamaica are against visitors.”(1)

Now I’m not saying you should not be cautious on your visit to Jamaica but be caution where ever you travel. That’s just common sense. And that’s the rule I practice regardless of the country I am in, even reportedly safe countries such as Japan.

Overall, Jamaica is a beautiful country, the island has stunning scenery, lush vegetation, a unique culture, finger licking good food and some genuinely warm welcoming people, despite the political institutions and mismanagement of the country.

Most of how to stay safe while travelling to and around Jamaica will come down to you having your wits about you, always taking in your surroundings, not wearing flashy jewellery or carrying large amounts of cash on you.

Follow your intuition and if a situation does not feel right to you politely but firmly say ‘no’ or just leave. Don’t feel bad or be guilted into anything, your safety should be more important to you than being polite. This advice is coming from a born and breed Jamaican.

If you’re planning a trip to Jamaica, them check out these posts from my Jamaica series – Where to stay in Jamaica, things to do in Jamaica, Things to do in Ocho Rio and best beaches in Ocho Rios.

 

Safety travel tips for Jamaica – How to stay safe in Jamaica

Things to do in Jamaica Jamaica excursionsThings to do in Jamaica Jamaica excursions

Don’t walk alone at night

This will depend and where you are in Jamaica. If you are a tourist or a female on your own, I would not recommend doing this in places like Kingston at night, but if you are in a touristy location like Ocho Rios, Negril, and Montego Bay, you’ll be fine. Again, be vigilant with your surroundings.

I was walking around Ocho Rios at 2 am with my brother and his friend, and we were all fine, but we are all Jamaicans and are used to being on ‘da road’ late at night. If you are not used to this, then hanging around your hotel and areas where there is another tourist you’ll be fine.

Petty Crime

In Jamaica, most tourists will be more at higher risk of petty crimes.

Tourist areas, such as Ocho Rios, or Montego Bay, face higher rates of property crime, theft of phones, pickpocketing, and burglary.

These crimes rarely turn violent, but they have the potential to, so If someone robs you hand over your stuff, don’t be a hero. Resisting is what often causes these crimes to escalate. Remember, no object is worth your life.

Hotels kept safes with security on site in many resorts and 24-hour reception desks.

Even though you should be fine, it’s still important to remember to keep doors locked and your essential items or documents such as passports in a locked safe.

A rising form of crime now in Jamaica is credit card skimming. Thieves can often tamper with ATMs to steal your information without you even knowing if you’re not careful.

Always use an ATM in a Bank or the little ATM cubicles, you’ll see outside of the banks. Always remember to lock the door after you’ve entered.

Again, these are basic travel safety tips and not specific only to Jamaica.

Drugs in Jamaica

Marijuana, (locally known as ganja, Mary Jane, weed, herb etc.) was decriminalised in February 2015 – “Under Jamaica’s current program, cannabis for medical, scientific or therapeutic uses is legal for licensed businesses or for patients with a doctor’s note. Foreigners in Jamaica can get approval from a local physician, or else use a valid medical marijuana recommendation from their home state or country to buy cannabis from a legal business.” (2)

This new law also means that even if you are caught with up to two ounces (around 56 grams), the punishment is only a fixed penalty ticket for around £5 instead of an arrest and/or a criminal charge.

The purchasing of marijuana remains illegal in Jamaica, but you will see many people selling it to tourists. As an adult, use your own discretion for getting ganja in Jamaica.

 

Is it safe to travel to Jamaica

Police Number in Jamaica and Emergency Services

If in need of police, dial 119; Ambulance and Fire: 110 and Emergency services globally is 112. Just keep in mind that Jamaica’s police and emergency services are not as well developed and responsive as most first world emergencies services.

So, if you call don’t expect them to show up on the spot as they would in London or your own country.

Areas to avoid in Jamaica

This information is re-posted from this article on world nomads. 

Areas to Avoid in Kingston

Cassava Piece, Tivoli Gardens, Trench Town, Arnett Gardens and Mountain View.

Areas to Avoid in Montego Bay

Norwood, Clavers Street, Hart Street, Rose Heights, Canterbury, and Flankers.

Areas to avoid in Negril

Considered to be more popular than Kingston, stick to the touristy areas which are generally safe.

General travel tips for Jamaica

Beach vendors

Beach vendors can be annoying but not dangerous.

You can be relaxing on your beach chairs or just strolling along the beach taking in the crystal-clear waters, and they’ll come over and offer you all the beach services you could imagine: paragliding, glass-boat tours, jungle tours, marijuana and massages. Yes, they will just ask you if you want ganja (or do you smoke?), don’t be alarmed or get too excited.

If you need none of these services a polite and firm ‘no’, usually is well received and the vendor will just continue, offering their services to the next passer-by.

I found the beach vendors in Negril along the Nine Mile Beach much more persistent and annoying than in Ocho Rico and Montego Bay. Negril seemed to have a lot more vendors than the other two areas, so keep this in mind when you’re in Negril.

 

Jamaica Tours – Doing Tours in Jamaica/ Be cautious when choosing tours

I know that Jamaica can be an expensive place to visit and if you want to do tours like climbing Dunn’s River Falls, taking a catamaran boat, snorkel to see the beautiful coral reefs, visiting the Bob Marley Museum and rafting along the Rio Grande in Jamaica. It isn’t cheap.

This can all add up to a few hundred pounds quickly, and you might think to take a low-price tour from a beach vendor as a great opinion.

As you’ll be saving money. I say don’t do it guys, this is me speaking from experience, I took a snorkel and glass-bottom boat tour from a well-meaning beach vendor. On a day when the sea was rough. I am also not the most confident swimmer; the guy tried to take my hand and carry me further out to sea, but the water was too rough, and I panicked.

Things to do in Jamaica 1

Let’s just say it didn’t end well and I end up flying out the water like I had drunk a can of Red Bull and sprouted wings back on to the boat. I end up looking at the corals via the glass bottom of the boat instead of seeing them up close and personal.

Still determined to see the corals up close even buying a bloody GoPro Hero 7 to capture my ‘under the sea experience’. I decided to book a proper tour package through Viators and end up going on the Sandals party catamaran boat tour which included snorkelling and climbing Dunn’s River Falls. Yes, it was expensive, but it was so worth it as its today one of my best underwater experience.

The guides on the boat were experienced swimmers, patient and took people out in groups based on their swimming abilities. My guide was so lovely, spending at least 20 minutes coaching me on how just to breathe and relaxing in the water, even helping me with my GoPro to get some good shots from under the sea.

I loved it so much I was the last person back on the boat!

So, I can’t recommend or speak highly enough about saving up those extra pounds and going with a reputable tour company in Jamaica. I also did the Chukka tours in Falmouth Trelawny and the guides there were professional (especially the guys on the Zipline Canopy section, they were lots of fun).

Is it safe to travel in Jamaica?

Many of you will eventually want to leave your all-inclusive resorts and will ask is it safe to travel in Jamaica? The answer is yes; it is. I have listed a few travel tips for people who want to shake off their all-inclusive shackles, see the hidden gem and eat some road food.  Really see authentic Jamaica.

Things to do in Ocho Rios Jamiaca 4

 

Travelling around Jamaica – Jamaican Taxi

Licensed taxis – called ‘contract carriages’ – have red PPV license plates (those without these plates are unlicensed). They’re expensive, but affordable if you share the cost with other passengers.

Jamaica Union of Travellers Association operates island-wide and is geared almost only to the tourist business. Kingston has several private radio taxi firms.

These taxis have fixed rates according to distance (different rates apply for locals than for tourists, who pay more). Taxis should have meters, but many don’t use them.

Is it safe to drive in Jamaica?

Yes, you can rent a car in Jamaica and drive around to discover the beautiful lush island and to get a sense of local life. But I would not recommend renting a car in Jamaica if you are not an experienced driver and when I say experience.

I mean driving on roads where people don’t follow any traffic rules and blow their car horns incessantly for no reason.

It is also common to see people and animals walking on the sides of the roads and sometimes even in the roads, expecting you not to run them over.

In Kingston, you’ll find a lot of vendors near the traffic-lights selling things like water, juice, fruits, and nuts. You can just ignore them or buy something if you want. You’ll see a love of drivers stopping in traffic to buy peanuts, apple and juices from these guys.

The ones that probably find most annoying are those that try to clean your windows, even when you explicitly tell them no! Just keep on saying ‘No’, eventually, they will move on.

Driving at night in Jamaica is no joke and even more of a hazard than driving during the day as most roads are not lit properly. Jamaican drivers also use their (fog lights/high beams as normal driving lights), this can daze or temporarily blind oncoming drivers.

Keep to the speed limits, so you don’t give the police a reason to stop you.  They do lots of random speed checks in Jamaica. If they stop you for any reason, just stay calm, don’t leave your car and have your IDs ready.

If they stop you, asking for a bribe or say anything like ‘you owe the Jamaican government money’, play dumb and pretend you don’t understand what they are saying and accept a ticket if they write you one.

Jamaica Street Vendor

They stopped my brother and me a couple of times while visiting Jamaica and mostly after presenting a British driver’s license, the police just thought we were two tourists and let us go. But my brother got a ticket on our previous visit to Jamaica as he refused to pay the police a bribe.

A Jamaican traffic ticket is roughly £5, so I’d rather pay that than give the police money.

Pro tips for travel to Jamaica – When driving in Jamaica, if the ongoing car flashes you (day or night), that means there are police ahead. This will give you enough time to slow down if you are speeding (but again you shouldn’t be speeding).

If you have experience with all the above situations, then yes you can handle the Jamaican roads.

If not, just get a driver for your time in Jamaica. You’ll enjoy your visit so much more and get a real local experience of Jamaica as they will show you parts of Jamaica only known by the locals.

 

TIPS ON CAR RENTALS

If you wish to rent a car for a couple of days, you can rent it from the hotel or rent a car from international car rental companies like Hertz, Enterprise and Budget Rent-A-Car.

We’ve always rented a car when visiting Jamaica, and my brother usually drives. I’ve found having your own car or driver makes it significantly easier for getting around Jamaica.

is it safe to travel to Jamaica

Do I need immunisation for travel to Jamaica?

There are no requirements for any vaccines or immunisation for travel to Jamaica.

However, mosquito-borne diseases, such as Zika, Dengue fever, and Chikungunya have been confirmed in Jamaica. You should take steps to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes by using Jungle Formula (a travel essentials for Jamaica) or other mosquito repellents.

However, at least 8 weeks before your trip, check the latest country-specific health advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website. As each country page has information on vaccine recommendations, and any current health risks or outbreaks in the country you are travelling too.

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.

All-inclusive hotels will have a nurse clinic within the premises of the hotels, and in case if you need one, the nurse will call the doctor for you.

However, you will be charged if the doctor visits you and it will not be cheap. This is when having travel insurance will come in handy, as depending on your policy, it will cover medical services (up to a certain amount). I never travel without my travel insurance and update my policy annually.

I am using World Nomads as I have heard great things about them and therefore I would recommend them. But luckily, I’ve never needed to contact them, and I hope I will never. But, just in case, I always have my travel insurance up to date.

Do I need a visa to visit Jamaica?

British nationals don’t need a visa to visit Jamaica, this also applies to US nationals and most countries.

So, in conclusion, yes, it is safe to travel to Jamaica. Safety in Jamaica is like safety anywhere else in the world. Where you should be vigilant about your surroundings and possessions if a situation doesn’t feel right to you then remove yourself from that situation.

But above all respect, the people you meet, and our culture and we’ll respect and treat you right.

I hope these travel tips for Jamaica, not only keep you safe but also help you plan a trip to Jamaica.

More Jamaica Travel Safety Advice:

  1. https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/jamaica-state-of-emergency-travel-safety-advice-uk-foreign-office-a8263396.html
  2. https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/jamaica-legal-weed-rastafari-criminalized-711745/
  3. https://www.worldnomads.com/travel-safety/caribbean/jamaica/crime-in-jamaica-what-to-watch-for

 

 

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