Updated: Jan 16, 2021
Jamaica is a beautiful country and there are plenty of safe places to visit. As a Jamaican local who has grown up traveling solo around my country, I have plenty of advice on how to stay safe. The media often reports a different story, and you may be worried that Jamaica is unsafe. However, most crime against travelers in Jamaica is centered around petty theft.
Here are some tips on how you can stay safe while traveling in Jamaica.
1. Petty Crime in Jamaica
Millions of travelers visit Jamaica each year, staying in resorts, Airbnbs, and villas. One of the key concerns travelers should have on the island is petty theft.
To avoid theft, keep your valuables and jewelry out of sight. Before you book your accommodation, ask if it provides a safe to keep your valuable items in, and if all doors and windows in your room have locks.
While out walking in Jamaica, look out for motorbike riders who can snatch your handbag, phone or other valuables that are within reach.
Remember, most petty thefts are non-violent in nature, but if someone tries to rob you, don’t resist and just hand over the item to avoid getting injured or risking your life.
2. Gang Crime in Jamaica
Jamaica has a high crime rate, but much of it is focused on gang violence in the inner-city, in communities that you're unlikely to visit as a traveler. Ask your accommodation which areas to avoid if you’re unsure.
3. Drug Crime in Jamaica
While it is unlikely you will be a victim of drug trafficking in Jamaica, it is important to be careful to keep an eye on your bags and belongings at all times.
As a visitor, you’re more likely to be offered marijuana (locally known as ganja or weed), than you are to be used to smuggle drugs.
However, contrary to popular belief, the use of ganja is decriminalized in Jamaica. According to Jamaica’s Dangerous Drug Act, persons are allowed to possess a maximum of two ounces of marijuana, and anything exceeding this amount can result in a fine or jail time.
You cannot leave Jamaica with these two ounces. If any amount of marijuana is found in your possession at the airport, it will be confiscated, you will be fined or jailed, and you will most definitely miss your flight.
Other drugs are illegal in Jamaica and penalties are severe, including jail time.
Your best option is to not do drugs.
4. Jamaican Police
The government has enhanced security in the travel and tourism sector by assigning special police to patrol on foot and bicycle. These police are around major tourist sites.
There has been an extended state of emergency, since January 2020, in several parishes important to tourism. These “zones of special operations” (ZOSO) are often in inner-city communities, away from high tourism areas. The extended state of emergency is to ensure increased levels of security for both locals and visitors on the island.
5. Crime Hotspots in Jamaica
Travelers are rarely victims or targets of crime in Jamaica, but there are some areas in Kingston, Negril and Montego Bay that are a higher risk.
Crime in Kingston
Communities such as Cassava Piece, Tivoli Gardens, Downtown, Trench Town, Arnett Gardens, Denham Town and Mountain View are sometimes prone to local crime, not to travelers.
Tivoli Gardens, Downtown, and Trench Town, have sites of historic importance in Jamaica, and have reputable organized tours that take visitors into the community. These are safe so long as you stick with your guide and follow their advice.
Kingston Creative Artwalk offers monthly walking tours around Downtown Kingston, highlighting its colonial history and art influences, and is guided by more than 70 local volunteers.
Culture Yard in Trench Town guides visitors around the community where reggae legend Bob Marley lived, and showcases the influence of Trench Town on reggae music.
Safety in Montego Bay
Areas to avoid include Norwood, Clavers Street, Hart Street, Rose Heights, Canterbury and Flankers. It’s unlikely any travelers would visit these communities, but avoid them as they are unsafe.
Is Negril safe?
Considered to be more popular than Kingston, Negril is a small resort town on the north west side of Jamaica. Stick to the well-traveled areas, such as West End, which are generally safe.
Take particular care at nights in Negril, and take taxis to avoid walking alone.
6. Staying Safe in Jamaica’s Cruise Port Towns
Ocho Rios and Falmouth are the two main cruise port towns in Jamaica, plus there’s a cruise port in the historical town of Port Royal.
Tourist police, who are wearing white hats and shirts with black pants, can be found around the cruise ports. Since they were introduced in 2008, their presence has helped to reduce pickpocketing, petty theft and prevented potential armed robberies. They also act as impromptu guides for new travelers to Jamaica.
While visiting the port towns, keep your valuables out of sight from others and on you at all times.
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Jacqueline Cameron is a writer/editor with decades of writing experience running the gamut from blogging to reporting. She lives in Kingston, Jamaica and is the chief writer for the Jamaica So Nice Blog. She is a trained engineer and musician and loves to see people transformed through her work.