Danger In Paradise – How Safe Is Jamaica For Tourists?

by Nicole
4. November 2015

There’s a common misconception that Jamaica is a dangerous travel destination, only safe if sticking to tourist areas, all-inclusive resorts and their organized tours. Looking at message boards or even reading travel advice on government’s websites – you’ll easy get the image that a trip to this laidback, picturesque country can result in harm and a destroyed vacation.

I’ll start off admitting to you something I today feel quite embarrassed about – I was absolutely terrified of travelling to Jamaica.

Earlier this year I set out on a solo trip, and when I mentioned Jamaica as the highlight of my journey, people got very worried. “It’s one of the most dangerous places you could go to”, “A woman can’t go there on her own, that’s just insane”, “If you go, stay at a popular hotel and only travel in groups with other tourists” were some of the reactions I got. All was well meant, but as I read the same thing in travel guides it added to my fear of going, to a point where I thought about skipping it entirely.

So how is it, is Jamaica really that dangerous?

Well let’s say this: this white, blonde Swedish woman in her late 20’s went there alone, ventured way off the beaten path, used public transportation to travel the entire island, spent most time with locals and not just survived, but had one of the most amazing times of her life. I can only speak for myself and the brief time I spent there, but don’t worry – we have heaps of travellers in our community who share my experiences.

Travel local style

It is true, Jamaica suffers from criminality and has one of the highest murder rates in the world – an unfortunate consequence of poverty, gangs, drugs and politics. Visitors are occasionally the victims of crime, mostly pick pocketing, theft and robbery, but cases of eg. kidnapping and rape has also occurred. Still, the majority of crimes take place between Jamaicans. As terrible as that is, it does calm a lot of first-time-visitors to find out they’re not a main target.

Even so, Jamaica’s notorious reputation lives on and a majority of tourists see the all-inclusive hotels and popular resorts as their only option to visit. Is this a problem? Yes, we at Real Jamaica think so. There are definitely reasons to travel this way too, but it shouldn’t be presented as the only safe alternative – especially since this type of tourism isn’t always sustainable.

So how did the Jamaican trip turn out?

To ease my worries I made myself a deal: stay my first night in the tourist hub Montego Bay, at a local guesthouse. Then if I didn’t feel safe, I would go all in as a real tourist and spend the rest of my time at a resort. Do you know what the funny thing is? The places where I felt the most comfortable and enjoyed myself the most was in the ‘real’ Jamaica, far from the tourist crowds. And never was I in a situation where I felt threatened or unsafe.

Awesome outdoor kitchen at a local guesthouse

There were times when I got fed up with some hustlers. Harassment is one of the discomforts tourists mostly complain about when visiting Jamaica and it can get intense, especially in tourist dense areas. It chased off the good vibes I was looking for, but even so I don’t blame them – it’s simply one of the detrimental effects of unsustainable tourism, and people trying to make a living.

As a woman I could feel frustrated with the constant male attention. There’s no escaping catcalls and flirting – frequent, but harmless. You may also encounter occasional proposals to buy sexual services (an effect of the sex tourism). Visiting women may react to the blunt way Jamaicans have of going about what they want (in general, tiptoeing is not a Jamaican trait – something I came to love). But you just need to respond the same way– simply be respectful, firm and stand your ground (and if you’re also being as smart mouthed as the Jamaicans, you’ll end up sharing some laughs). After all my worries, this was the only unease I felt during my visit. I (mostly) travelled smart – you know, didn’t wander off alone at night or to very remote areas, look lost or insecure, flash valuables or share too much personal information. But I still walked alone at beaches, along roads and through towns. I drank rum with reggae artists at a beach without another tourist in sight. I was even chaperoned by a friendly rasta through dark stretches of woods to my guesthouse.

Enjoy an empty beach with no other tourist in sight

And if I ever doubted that Jamaicans would ultimately treat me with respect, this one night cleared all doubts. Me and two girls from my guesthouse decided to stop by a nearby beach for a skinny dip (I know, this definitely goes under the “Don’t do”-section in Travel Guides). Just as we’re wading into the dark water we notice beams of light on us, so we turn around in panic only to see a group of men with flashlights, standing at the cliff above us. With their backs turned against us, lighting our way and telling us to watch out for the sharp rocks. They don’t move until we are done with our bath and dressed again, and as we start walking back, one of them follows behind us, lighting the way until we reach the main road where he wishes us a good night.

Jamaica’s rumours have caused a lot of fears and any tourist-related bad news that happen keeps them alive. Jamaica’s situation is complex and so is the solution, but we do believe that sustainable tourism is one very important piece of it. If you want to go to Jamaica and are curious to see more than resorts and other tourists, do it! Join our community, learn the tricks, travel smart. And of course, carry with you the most essential travel buddy of all times – your gut feeling. If it says something feels off, it probably is. If it says something feels good, it probably is. And really, there’s no better place to learn how to recognize dem good vibes than Jamaica.

If you are interested in this feature, please contact the Real Jamaica team!


I’m a freelance writer, social changemaker and world traveler.

All posts from Nicole


  • The real Jamaica is safe.People are cool and having helping mentality too.One of the nicest people I ever dealt with .I worked there for almost an year .Beautiful beaches beautifies the country more.

  • Joanna Armstrong

    Good story and great advice, Nicole! Have traveled to Jamaica so many times I’ve lost count, and also lived there for nine months. Never felt unsafe. I went everywhere and did everything. Had a wallet picked from my purse once while going into Sunsplash (and it was a little boy, like Oliver Twist, lol).

  • A Jamaican man in the US warned me not to go to Kingston.

    • Joanna Armstrong

      That’s horrible! Kingston is great! I used to go there as a single woman all the time, and never encountered any problems.

  • Rosemary Parkinson

    As the author of the award-winning Nyam Jamaica – a culinary journey I have travelled the width and breadth of Jamaica over twelve years of living there…I have done my travels alone, sometimes with a guy or two in the car, or even another woman and I have never, ever encountered (none of us have) any kind of ‘danger’ that would force me not to do it all again….something I cannot say for other islands that do not seem to attract this kind of negative publicity. Sometimes I wonder if these ‘warnings’ issued against Jamaica are not financially or politically motivated through fear of Jamaica being called the No. 1 most amazing island in the Caribbean, which it is.

  • I love reading you r post go head girl one life to live…… Jamaica is a beautiful island to feel free in
    I love the vibe of the island when I go #THANKSFORSHARING would love to met you not a lot of people feel this way about Jamaica. I am also a young woman who loves the island. If you want to reach out I don’t mind. Always love to talk and meet ots who travel and love the island.

  • Spot on .. i have travelled to Argentina and girls in our group got mugged .. take away is ” travel smart – , didn’t wander off alone at night
    or to very remote areas, look lost or insecure, flash valuables or share
    too much personal information”. ….that goes for Jamaica to South Africa to Lonlons to Paris to Brazil and back !!

  • naomi zuckerman

    great article…..thank you……I have been living in Jamaica for 36 years as a “foreigner”…..most of that time I have lived alone and in very rural areas…..I LOVE it here and the people are at the top of my list……most of the crime happens in the big cities and tourist areas…..just like everywhere else……perhaps Jamaica is only for those who can rise above the hype…

  • If it makes you feel any better…us Jamaican women deal with cat calling daily. That’s just how Jamaican men are. Its not a sex tourism thing.

    • I don’t know why catcalling is considered so horrendous these days. When I was young we found it fun. Boys and girls, young men and young women, catcalled one another. Yeah there were some creeps but some old ladies in grocery market lines can be awful too in their own way. What is so terrible about some guy yelling “Wooo!” at you?

    • I see it was unclear in the text, but I meant the proposals to buy sex is an effect of the sex tourism – thanks Tipharah for pointing it out.
      And def, cat calling isn’t just towards tourists – in fact, I learned the best ways to respond by observing how the Jamaican women did 😉

  • Jamaica is a treasure. It’s hard to even begin to describe all that it has to offer the visitor. You won’t even begin to see it, though, if you spend all your time holed up in a resort.

  • Jamaica is not just an all inclusive hotel.

  • I have been to Jamaica 4 times this year, only stayed on a resort once. I prefer to stay where the locals are. They are very welcoming. I love Jamaica, it is beautiful and easy going. Can not wait to return!

  • Thanks Nicole for sharing your experience in my beautiful country

  • Thanks for sharing

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