If COVID-19 has made you yearn for a break, perhaps you’re already busy planning your next vacation as most countries have lifted travel bans. If a Caribbean vacation is on your mind, you could plan a tour to Jamaica. The country has opened all its seaports and airports to foreign travellers from June 15. But perhaps you’re wary of coming to Jamaica due to the bad reputation that it has earned owing to its high crime rate. And you won’t be alone if you’re in two minds when considering whether to visit Jamaica as a tourist or not. After all, the stories of its steep crime rates and incidents of murder, rape, assault, etc. are enough to make a cold chill run down your spine even before you think of boarding a flight to Jamaica. But is that really the true story? Here’re a few things to consider:
- Jamaica’s crime rate is high but most of these frightening numbers are actually due to gang wars, internal conflicts, and civil unrest between the government organizations and the locals. And Jamaica is definitely not the world’s “murder capital” as it’s made out to be!
- In 2019, Jamaica welcomed around 4.3 million visitors, which comprised 1.6 million cruise passengers and 2.7 million stopover arrivals.
- Independent reports put the crime against tourists last year at less than 0.1% of all the crimes committed in Jamaica.
Focus on the last data and you’ll notice how crime against tourists (though not absent) is minimal. Also, notice the huge influx of tourists in Jamaica. Would they all have come if the place was that unsafe? Nope for sure!
It doesn’t mean you should throw caution to the wind when visiting Jamaica. There’re certain safety measures you should take and specific areas you ideally need to avoid in order to make your Jamaica tour in 2020 a safe and enjoyable experience.
Ready to know more? Let’s delve deeper to bring you the real story of Jamaica travel in 2020.
Follow the COVID-19 protocols
Before you start looking for cheap flight tickets to Jamaica to beat the pandemic weariness, make sure to check what you need to do before you travel and what to expect when you arrive in Jamaica. Since the coronavirus pandemic is still raging, Jamaica – just like several other nations, has put certain restrictions and mandatory travel requirements in place, which you must adhere to.
Depending on your place of origin when travelling to Jamaica, you’ll have to meet the nation’s entry requirements. This includes getting a travel authorization at https://www.visitjamaica.com/ and uploading proof of a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR test. From August 20, all residents of Mexico, the U.S., Dominican Republic, and Brazil who’re aged 12+ must obtain and upload this test result. The test must have been conducted at an accredited medical laboratory less than 10 days from your intended date of travel. Make sure you check which medical laboratories fall under the category of “accredited.”
In case you’re a Jamaican resident, you must get travel authorization by applying to the nation’s Ministry of Health and Wellness.
You should check which passenger category you fall into as quarantine protocols and risk-based testing vary among them.
Some additional restrictive measures are in place to restrict the spread of the virus, which you must adhere to, once you reach Jamaica. Such measures include a 14-day quarantine period from your date of entry into Jamaica, isolation in case you have been tested positive for COVID-19 after your arrival, or are suspected to be positive due to coming in contact with other infected persons, etc. You should also stay in the “resilient corridor” that has been particularly designated for tourism purposes. You can get details of all such restrictive measures here.
There are curfews in some areas of Jamaica as well as certain restrictions on intercity travel. Make sure you know if any of the areas that you plan to travel to have such curfews or restrictions. If they do, find what rules you have to comply with. To make your 2020 Jamaica travel safe, make sure you don’t neglect or ignore compliance with curfew, quarantine, or other restrictions related to COVID-19. That’s because such non-compliance could get you arrested, make you pay hefty fines, or even get an immediate order to leave the country.
Avoid high-risk areas
Embassies of different countries like the U.S., Australia, the U.K., etc. have issued travel advisories for their citizens that mention certain high-risk areas you should ideally avoid. You can check your respective country’s embassy website to note such areas and steer clear of them. Else, you could simply avoid the areas that are known to be unsafe. These include the areas mentioned below:
- In Kingston:
- August Town
- Cassava Piece
- Harbour View
- Downtown Kingston, which includes Tivoli Gardens, Trench Town, and Arnett Gardens
- Grants Pen
- In Montego Bay:
- Barrett Town
- Clavers Street
- Rose Heights
- Hart Street
- Mount Salem
- Spanish Town
Crime levels are especially worrying in and around certain regions of Montego Bay and Kingston. Though gang violence and shootings are widespread, knowing that they are usually limited to inner-city neighbourhoods would give you some courage and peace. Still, it’s best to stay alert as certain areas in Jamaica are known for theft, pickpockets, violence, and sexual assaults.
Ideally, you should try to avoid the above-mentioned areas, if you can. If you must travel to these regions, you should ideally stay extra alert and keep the emergency call number (119) handy should you need it. But remember that police support available for foreign victims of crimes often differs between semi-responsive and responsive as there’s a shortage of labour, vehicles, training, and the necessary resources.
Special tips for solo travellers
Not everyone may prefer to travel in big groups. If you prefer solo travel to make your vacation in Jamaica an unforgettable and invigorating adventure, you should remember certain steps for your own safety. And these are applicable to you irrespective of whether you’re an expert solo traveller or embarking on your first solo tour. Some of the basic safety steps to adhere to include the following (these apply to even those travelling in groups):
- Stay attentive to and aware of your surroundings: Keep your eyes and ears open when you’re in a new environment. Don’t plug your earphones and get lost in the music when walking on Jamaican streets or the region’s neighbourhoods. As you won’t be able to listen to the surrounding sounds, it may create trouble as you won’t be able to anticipate the danger lurking close by. For instance, motorbike riders in certain regions of Jamaica are known to pull off petty theft. If your ears are plugged with an earphone with music on, you won’t hear them coming. Thus, you can’t stay alert to safeguard your valuables that are within the reach of such riders.
- Don’t flash your wealth: Wearing fancy dresses or accessories that scream “visitors” and show off your wealth are a total no-no in Jamaica. So, don’t venture out wearing that big diamond ring, flashy watch, or a dazzling necklace. Refrain from clicking pictures every now and then with your expensive camera, especially if you’re passing by a notorious or risky area. Make sure to count the cash you have in your purse or wallet before going out so that you won’t have to do it in the open. The key is to dress as normal and local as possible and not draw attention to yourself. Just stay under the radar and your Caribbean experience would be an exciting experience for sure!
- Avoid deserted areas: While travelling alone is fun, you won’t have the safety in numbers that group travellers have. This means sticking to populated areas and main roads while travelling in and around Jamaica to ensure your safety. Additionally, avoid venturing out into deserted areas, even if it’s during the daytime or it’s a beach that appears too tempting. A deserted Jamaican beach with a laid-back feel could be hard to pass by but if giving in to such temptation means risking your own safety, it’s better not to go for it. Period.
- Don’t create habits or share your travel itinerary with strangers: While you should definitely make the most of your Caribbean vacation, avoid creating habits like visiting the same café every day during a specific time and doing similar things. If someone with malicious intent is watching your activities closely, creating such habits would make you an easy target. Additionally, refrain from sharing detailed information about your travel itinerary or the date of your departure. In the past, several crimes against tourists in Jamaica have happened the night before they were to leave the island. In case you feel pressured by someone and there’s no way to avoid sharing such information, simply give the wrong dates or incorrect travel plans just to ensure your safety.
Solo female travellers should exercise extra caution during their Jamaica tour. They shouldn’t carry or keep all their cash and valuables in one place. Additionally, they should leave their jewellery at home. No matter where they’re staying, they should ensure all doors and windows are locked. You could even carry one or two sets of extra padlocks if you want to. In the past, there have been incidents of women being sexually assaulted at resorts though such victims were asked not to report these cases in exchange for free stays and refunds.
There have been reports of solo female travellers facing catcalling, whistling, and even the locals proposing to them. The best way to deal with such incidents is not to linger in and around such a region. Be polite but get as far away as you can from that particular area.
Many tourists say driving is one of the best ways to experience all the wonders and scenic beauty of Jamaica and that too on your own schedule. This Caribbean nation allows most foreign driving license holders (above 17 years and above) to drive for twelve months from their arrival date in the island country, provided their license remains valid for that duration. Make sure to check your eligibility and the documents you need to submit if you have plans to drive through Jamaica. Since the cost of car rentals has skyrocketed over the past few years, driving could seem like the preferable way to explore the island.
Jamaica has invested in building world-class roads and highways to make it convenient to drive through its scenic locations. The Jamaica North-South Highway (also called the JNSH) that connects Kingston to Ocho Rios and passes through Saint Catherine is a joy to drive on. This 4-lane tolled motorway with controlled access has international-standard, fully graded and separated intersections and interchanges for stress-free travel. You can take the JNSH if you want to reduce your travel time between the island nation’s north and south coasts.
Some recent developments in the long-delayed Southern Coastal Highway Improvement Project (SCHIP) also bring good news for tourists. This project will rehabilitate almost 110 kilometres of road between Saint Andrew’s Harbour View and Portland’s Port Antonio along with the 26-kilometre thoroughfare from south-eastern Jamaica’s Morant Bay to Cedar Valley in Saint Thomas. The SCHIP will also build Highway 2000’s segment from May Pen to Williamsfield.
Though enjoyable, driving on Jamaican roads could be perilous too. While most roads of the nation are paved, some of the rural areas suffer from several ailments. These include limited lighting, huge potholes, inadequate signage, and poor traffic control markings, to name a few. Another problem is the lack of pedestrian crosswalks. Add to it in some of the more populated areas some other problems like poorly marked construction zones along with almost uncontrolled bicyclists, pedestrians, and livestock that spill onto the roads, thus interrupting the traffic flow.
If you consider the driving habits of the locals, it would vary widely. On one end of the spectrum are the excessively cautious and inexperienced drivers, who often end up creating uncertainty and hazards for both the pedestrians as well as other drivers. On the spectrum’s other end are those drivers who have got an absolute disregard for others and believe aggressive speeding is the way to do it.
You should be extra careful when driving on Jamaican roads. Another point is to stay alert when you’re entering traffic circles that are marked poorly. Exercise caution and care when taking the exit points. Since they can get exceptionally confusing, you could even double-check your route map with a local (say, the travel desk of the hotel where you’re staying). This would ensure you’re not baffled when it comes to determining which exit you need to take.
If all these sound like too tough and stressful to manage, you could always hire licensed taxicabs or government-recommended transportation services. Remember – Jamaica’s official public transportation vehicles come with red license plates. Vehicles meant for private use and are not licensed for public transportation come with white license plates with blue numbers/letters. You’ll notice red-and-white PP license plates on the island’s licensed taxicabs. Whether you take licensed taxicabs or other government-recommended modes of transportation, make sure to wear seatbelts, which is a must for both passengers in the front seat and the drivers.
If you prefer luxurious travel, you can choose the scheduled services of the Knutsford Express, which runs spacious AC coaches from convenient locations on the south and north coasts. You can board these coaches to reach St. Mary, Portland, Negril, Manchester, Kingston, and Trelawny.
Though the island nation has public buses too, they’re usually overcrowded and a favourable setting for criminals. You may even find some private buses running as public transport but avoid boarding them because there have been past incidents of erratic driving by such vehicles that have caused death and injury for both pedestrians and riders. And lastly, never ever accept rides from strangers. Avoid even a ride offered by the locals whom you’ve befriended in Jamaica, especially if your gut tells you so.
Lotto scams, cyber scams, and other money-laundering activities
Lotto scams have emerged as Jamaica’s cottage industry that’s believed to be worth an anticipated $1billion every year according to a 2017 news report in The Guardian. Scammers usually pretend to be calling from legitimate lottery companies to tell the unsuspecting tourists and sometimes, even people sitting far away in the U.S. (predominantly) that they have won a Jamaican lottery prize. They would then add that the recipients of the claimed lottery winnings need to pay certain “fees” in advance and submit their personal information before they could collect their prize money. Some of these scammers may ask you to meet in person or show fake romantic interest in you to extort money.
As a tourist in Jamaica, you shouldn’t fall prey to such scams. Know for sure that you haven’t won any lottery and hand up instantly. And never ever send any money to anyone or worse, travel to Jamaica to collect your prize money. Several victims of such lotto scams have been kidnapped, killed, robbed, or extorted by criminals before and you should surely not want to add your name to the list. So, be very cautious if you get calls from people running these or similar scams.
Tourists in Jamaica also run the risk of identity theft, data theft, email letter frauds, and credit card scams. Don’t blindly believe calls or emails, even when they appear to be coming from someone you know (family, friends, neighbours, etc.) because a criminal could be the actual mastermind behind such scams. The key is to stay vigilant, act cautiously, and not give in to the threats of criminal prosecution, or even when someone poses as a lawyer or government official. That’s the only way you can keep your finances as well as yourself safe while touring Jamaica in 2020.
Environmental and other hazards
Since Jamaica shares a major geographic fault line (between two massive tectonic plates of the Earth’s crust)with Haiti, it often experiences tremors. However, the island nation doesn’t usually experience major earthquakes. But as it also sits within the Atlantic hurricane belt, you need to be prepared if your visit coincides with the hurricane season, which is from June 1 to November 30.
Mosquito-borne diseases like dengue and chikungunya are big risks for travellers in Jamaica. You should travel with insect repellent to reduce your chances of being bitten by mosquitoes. Bugs and other insects are also a nuisance in the region. Following some preventative measures like wearing full-sleeve attire that limit skin exposure, using a bed net when you’re sleeping outdoors, and using permethrin-treated gear and clothing (like tents, boots, socks, pants, etc.) could help you stay safe from bug and insect bites while touring the Caribbean island nation.
If you’re an adventure traveller or caver or plan to get involved in other similar outdoor activities, especially in remote areas, you could come in direct contact with bats and get bitten. Stay alert to avoid such bites from bats.
There was a time when violence against the LGBT community in Jamaica was rife. Though this Caribbean island nation still has a conservative outlook, it’s increasingly adopting a more liberal view toward the LGBTQ+ community. However, people of the LGBTQ+ community should limit all public displays of affection during their Jamaican sojourn. Though you won’t find many tours organized specifically for the LGBTQ+ community, you could search and find a handful of them and even book yourself into hotels that promise to be LGBTQ+ friendly.
Before you travel to Jamaica, you should check if the situation there is conducive to safe travel. You should especially focus on the areas that are on your tour itinerary. Demonstrations and protests are the other factors to be aware of as they can often be unpredictable. At times, even peaceful protests and demonstrations could become confrontational and turn into violent between protesters and law enforcement personnel. You should ideally avoid such areas if you know the situation in advance. If the situation aggravates suddenly and you’re caught unawares, get out and get far as soon as you can.
Jamaica is no less than a dream destination. You just need to exercise some additional safety precautions and stay aware and alert rather than feeling excessively worried and staying cooped in your hotel or resort room. These together with the tips mentioned above should ensure you enjoy your Jamaican vacation to the optimum.