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Jamaica is a popular tourist destination, drawing in over two million visitors each year to visit the clear blue seas, soft golden sand, and massive resorts. While beaches and inclusive resorts may be extremely safe, other parts of the country have a high crime rate. While visiting Jamaica, it’s important to always be aware of your surroundings and follow common sense safety tips.
The capital city of Kingston has been ranked one of the most dangerous cities in the world, according to the murder rate per 100,000 residents. However, it’s also important to note that the majority of violent crimes occur in certain areas of Kingston, and usually aren’t targeted toward tourists. 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, pickpocketing, and burglary. These crimes usually do not turn violent but they do have the potential to do so. If you find yourself being robbed or mugged, hand over your belongings without putting up a fight, as resisting is what often causes these crimes to become violent. Remember, no object is worth your life. Hotels are generally kept safe with security on site in many resorts and 24-hour reception desks. Despite the fact that you should be fine, it’s still important to remember to keep doors locked and keep your important items in a locked safe.
Another common form of petty crime is credit card skimming. Thieves can often tamper with ATMs to steal your information without you even knowing if you’re not careful. If you use an ATM, be sure to do it in a bank or inside a building, and in well-lit areas. That being said, in Jamaica, it’s best advised to carry cash on you, as most places accept cash more easily than a credit card or a debit card.
Drug trafficking and gang violence pose an increasingly large threat to the Caribbean island. While this usually will not affect the large majority of tourists, it can happen anywhere in the country, even in the beachside resort areas like Montego Bay. Regarding gang violence, tourists may be at risk by simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Drug trafficking often doesn’t interfere with tourism, however, one method of smuggling drugs out of Jamaica is by putting them in the luggage of unaware foreigners. Be sure that you are conscious of your surroundings and never leave your suitcase unattended.
Law enforcement in Jamaica is largely understaffed and, at times, inefficient. If you’re in one of the popular beachside spots, Jamaica has set up a special tourist police, easily identified by their white hats, white shirt, and black pants. The tourist police are always on the lookout for theft and similar crimes to stop them before they happen, and the force is well equipped at helping international travelers, should you run into any trouble.
LGBT and Female Travelers
Jamaica has strict anti-LGBT laws in place. In the country, there are no legal protections against discrimination against LGBT people, and gay marriage is illegal, as is homosexuality in general. For LGBT travelers, and especially couples, be aware that you may face discrimination or harassment, especially in cities, and outside of the resort areas.
For female travelers, in particular, solo female travelers, it’s important to take some extra precautions. Tourists have reported anything from street harassment to sexual assault and abuse while traveling in Jamaica, and women traveling alone may face higher rates of cat-calling and unwanted attention.
Jamaica’s hurricane season occurs from June through November, with an increased risk between August and October. Anything from small tropical storms to devastating storms causing major damage may happen during these months, so it’s important to know what to do in case of emergency. The best way to avoid a storm is to plan your vacation outside of hurricane season. If you do go during this period, be sure to download a local weather app to stay up to date with the latest news. When a hurricane does strike, the most important thing to do is to evacuate.
None of this is to say that you shouldn’t travel to Jamaica. As long as you stay aware of your surroundings and use common sense, your trip to Jamaica should be drama-free.