As a consequence of the rather sketchy and sensationalised reporting on the web and in print media, ‘Is Jamaica Safe?’ is a question I am asked with some frequency. I felt it merited a blog dedicated to this topic. I am going to explain some of the backgrounds of these over-inflated scare stories, some of which seem to be taking on a life of their own.
Let’s start with some basic information:
Why is the issue of safety mentioned in relation to Jamaica?
To be perfectly honest, the issue of “How safe is Jamaica”, is mentioned in respect of most holiday destinations. As a test just type in ‘how safe is [any destination]’ and you will see pages and pages of articles discussing each specific location. If you were to take on board all of these discussion boards and comments, you might decide to vacation under your bed for the next 5 years! How safe is Jamaica 2019? Is it any more dangerous than other places on the globe for travellers? In my opinion, no.
Just run the numbers. If you have close to 3 million tourists visiting a country like Jamaica each year it is inevitable there will be a certain statistic of crime for that volume of people. But interestingly, the percentage of crime against tourists is rather low in comparison to other destinations around the globe. What this tells us is that although there is a certain amount of crime and violence it is more likely associated with local disputes and contained in very specific areas of some of the larger cities. In essence, it is no different to there being some socially distressed districts of any large city that are probably best avoided.
What sort of incidents are reported in Jamaica?
Most of the crime is opportunistic. For instance, stolen personal effects like cameras, phones, jewellery. You need to be aware of where your handbag is and not to leave personal items lying around. Yes, you are on holiday but a certain amount of basic vigilance is needed. If you are used to living in a busy urban area then this will simply be second nature to you anyway. So, in this case, it is not a matter of “Is Jamaica Safe”, but how careful are you with your belongings.
What sensible steps do I take as a visitor to Jamaica?
Location, location, location. It’s always important to stay in resorts or villas in Jamaica that are in reputable areas. Choose properties that have modern security alarm systems and staff (some villa complexes have specialist night watchmen that provide a patrol service). Securing doors and windows at night is always advisable as well as giving the added benefit of making your air con even more efficient.
If your villa has a safe, then it makes sense to place passports and items of value in it on arrival. In terms of jewellery, other than the pieces you wear each day, it might make sense to leave some of your more extravagant and valuable pieces at home. You might even invest in some really attractive cosmetic jewellery pieces that work well for vacations and can give you that added allure without the risk of loss or theft.
How to enjoy sensible sightseeing.
Do your research. If you are exploring urban areas on foot be sure you stay to the main tourist locations. If you are keen to go slightly off-piste, so to speak, then take a local reputable and experienced guide who will give you the best advice as well as showing you some of those slightly out of the way places.
After dark, avoid any districts or areas that are questionable. Areas that might feel like they are bursting full of local colour by day may take on a more shady aspect after hours. If in doubt, just don’t go there!
The Hot Spots
Visit any busy train or bus station or large cruise ship port and you will find concentrated numbers of pickpockets and petty thieves. This is true of anywhere on the globe. Opportunistic crime is higher in crowded areas where there is a great deal of movement, with tourists coming and going, luggage lying around, distracted travellers etc. The general chaos of these public spaces lends themselves far too easily to the light-fingered operatives.
As always, be vigilant when in transit. Politely decline any pushy offers of help. There are always officials and police around so don’t be afraid to go and ask for help if you are unsure of yourself.
Food, drink, footwear.
There are so many wonderful places to eat and drink in Jamaica. Get a taste for the real cuisine and culture of the island. Without being a major party pooper, drink sensibly when you are away from your resort or villa. This is true of any destination on the planet. You don’t want to be a little fuzzy around the edges and drifting alone around a strange town. Stay with your group. If you have planned your night out always have a “How will we get home” plan in place to ensure you are safely transferred back to your accommodation.
Be mindful about what you wear ensuring you have comfortable shoes and clothing that you can move freely in for the whole evening.
What is a State of Emergency?
A few States of Emergency have been declared in Jamaica over the past year. To anyone not fully understanding what this means it can give the impression that armed tanks are sitting on every corner to quell civil unrest. This is simply not the case. For instances, the States of Emergency that has been declared have taken the form of a higher police presence in certain key areas with specific military action taken against local gangs in some of the larger cities.
What the State of Emergency means for me is that the Government of Jamaica is taking meaningful steps to reassure tourists that it places great value on their safety while on its shores. With millions of dollars of revenue flowing into the economy of Jamaica each year, the Government realises that civil unrest and crime need to be tackled. In my opinion, declaring a State of Emergency is a rather heavy-handed way to do this. Instead of working to resolve the issues that give rise to social issues, a State of Emergency is solely focused on dealing with the effects. This, in turn, leads to negative press coverage implying Jamaica is in a state of pending anarchy. Quite untrue.
A more concerted effort by the government to tackle issues of unemployment would have a long- term effect on any disruptive and negative social issues. And a strong tourist industry can help drive the economy and create jobs. Let’s not forget that Jamaica has been self-governing for less than 100 years. It is still a young country figuring out how best to manage a diverse population and step forward into the 21st Century. The efforts put into education are certainly helping build an intelligent young workforce that will positively shape the country over the next decades. This stage of the journey is just a little bumpy but they are certainly moving in the right direction.
Is Montego Bay Safe?
One of the most popular destinations within Jamaica is Montego Bay. This town is the hub of a lot of tourist activity. From the busy Gloucester Avenue Hip Strip to the nearby beaches, Montego Bay is a mecca attracting a young and lively crowd from the nearby resorts. Is it safe to visit Montego Bay? Absolutely. In fact, if you are staying within easy reach of this vibrant town you will feel very disappointed not to see it.
Here are many fun restaurants, the world-renowned Margaritaville is a place to hang out and party day and evening, shopping, markets, music, street food. There’s a lot going on here and it is just one of the great places to visit in Jamaica. The usual rules apply. Do your research. Visit the areas that cater to visitors, stay with your group, use a private guide to fully experience the town and all of its charms.
If you are a group of young travellers who want to party hard, be mindful that regardless of the perceived culture surrounding Jamaica and marijuana, drug use is illegal throughout the country.
A specialist tourist police force has been formed in Jamaica specifically to assist and reassure visitors by having a greater police presence on the streets. These white-capped police officers are on the streets, ports and beach areas and always happy to guide and assist tourists.
How safe is Jamaica for Drivers?
Unless you are very comfortable navigating roads, junctions and roundabouts while keeping to the left, then it might be a safer option to have a driver at your disposal. With some roads in the interior of Jamaica not very well sign-posted, your day out might end up being a bit of a magical mystery tour without some local knowledge.
The rules around drinking and driving are as stringent as in most countries. With the road system rather different to back home, it’s best to have your full faculties if you are thinking of driving around.
How safe is Jamaica – Taxis
If you need to take taxis to be sure you use fully licensed and registered taxis. They will have the license plate signage on the exterior of the car. Route Taxis with the red licence plates can transfer you at set rates from one specific location to another. Be sure you know where you are going and have the full address of your destination and have cash in small denominations to pay your fare.
To fully enjoy all that Jamaica has to offer you really will need to get out on the water. Hiring a boat for some big game fishing or diving, always book from reputable firms. Let us at Exceptional Villas co-ordinate all of these tours and trips for you so that you know you are going to be cared for by the very best service providers in Jamaica.
Why Exceptional Villas?
For decades we at Exceptional Villas have been shepherding guests through the most amazing and memorable vacations in the Caribbean. We’ve built up strong and valuable relationships with the very best resorts and villa accommodations across all the islands.
Jamaica has been a destination of choice for our clients for many years as the level of service and natural beauty of the country wins the hearts and minds of guests year on year. We keep a really close eye on what’s happening in Jamaica and continue to arrange spectacular vacations for our clients who want to immerse themselves in a country that is just so beautiful and welcoming.
Our exceptional service to you starts the moment you make contact with one of our experienced Sales Representatives. Based on your unique requirements, we will match you to the perfect property for your idyllic vacation to Jamaica.
Our specialist Jamaican Concierge Teams visit the country more than once a year. They have built really strong relationships with the various service providers from drivers, guides, boat crews, chefs and housekeeping staff. In fact, most of the staffed villas that we represent have the same staff looking after guests for generations.
Once you are an Exceptional Villa guest you are guaranteed a high level of comfort and service allowing you and your party to enjoy the safest and most relaxed holiday experience.
Jamaica welcomed almost 3 million tourists in 2018, already in 2019, that figure has been exceeded. Informed tourists are very comfortable visiting Jamaica. And why not? It’s one of the most popular destinations in the Caribbean. It’s culture and climate combine to create a country that is both beautiful and romantic. The stunning beaches, the tropical forests, historic plantations, reggae music, rum, cricket and delicious food – it’s an enticing package.
Travelling safely within Jamaica is simply a question of using common sense that you would exercise anywhere in the world. So, when you next read some lurid headlines like, “Is Montego Bay safe” or in fact any destination across the globe, do your due diligence and really find out what’s true or what’s some headline-grabbing sensationalised story.
As someone who has lived in a city that was once the consistent focus of terrorist bombing, I can tell you first-hand that the reporting from such places bears little resemblance to what life is actually like on the ground each day. Only the dramatic and isolated incidents seem to grab the headlines.
Jamaica is a country that values its tourism industry. The government is taking all necessary steps to ensure that you, as a guest of this great nation, has a holiday that is memorable for all the right reasons. So, if you are thinking Christmas or Springtime in the Caribbean, look no further than Jamaica! It is the complete package waiting to be safely unwrapped by you! Is it safe to travel to Jamaica? A resounding YES!