Despite its status as one of the Caribbean’s leading vacation destinations, Jamaica wrestles with a reputation for violent crime. In fact, the island has the highest murder rate for any country not currently at war. That said, violence is rarely directed towards tourists and, by staying in resort areas, visitors can maximize their safety. While the U.S. State Department has no specific warnings for the country, it offers exhaustive information on general safety.
Visitors need to be vigilant at all times, but particularly after dark. While the main tourist drags around Montego Bay, Negril and Ocho Rios are generally safe, areas of Kingston such as Trench Town, Tivoli Gardens and Arnett Gardens are effectively off limits, while Canterbury, Norwood and Clavers Street in Montego Bay are known areas of gang activity. At night, tourists should resist the temptation to walk on the beaches, and when driving keep all doors locked and windows up. Even in hotels or private villas, robberies have occurred, so lock doors and do not open them to anyone who cannot provide identification. On no account should visitors take unlicensed taxis, even in busy tourist areas. Look for licensed taxis carrying red license plates. The same goes for public buses, particularly in Kingston, where robberies are common enough to warrant caution.
In general, water is safe to drink from hotel faucets, but less so in rural areas. If in doubt, stick to bottled water with a seal. Gastrointestinal infections are surprisingly common, even in upmarket hotels. Avoid food that has been sitting for long in a buffet, and treat food bought off the street with caution. Jamaica is relatively free from infectious diseases likely to affect tourists, but mosquito-borne dengue is hard to avoid, even in the capital Kingston and Portland. The best protection is to cover arms and legs after dark and to use insect repellent. Ciguatera poisoning is also a localized risk, caught by eating fish that feed on toxic reefs. Avoid grouper, amberjack and barracuda, which are the most likely to be infected, and only buy snapper that comes from a reputable source.
Jamaica’s roster of activities aimed at cruise ship passengers are well-regulated and perfectly safe, but divers and snorkelers should take care swimming outside the roped areas around resorts, following numerous accidents with Jet Skis. On the beach, bear in mind that the sun can be brutally fierce even on cloudy days, so adequate protection is a must. If heading into the interior, do so only with a reputable tour company and certainly avoid hitchhiking. When it comes to nightlife, do not assume that a busy nightclub conforms to safety requirements in case of fire. Steer clear of those that are too crowded. Jamaican attitudes to LGBT travelers are hostile at best. Frommer’s calls it the most homophobic island in the Caribbean. Same-sex couples are advised to stick to couples-only resorts such as Sandals and Hedonism II.
Despite its lush mountain interior, Jamaica poses few dangers from wild animals, with no venomous snakes, for example. Nevertheless, hikers in rain forest or cave areas should give wild animals a wide berth as many, such as bats, carry disease. In addition, there is little tradition of keeping animals as pets, so assume that dogs in remote areas will be aggressive. On the coast, do not take shelter under a manchineel tree, which is usually signposted, as it oozes a corrosive sap. The most dangerous creatures are underwater, with jellyfish and sea urchins a concern, and sharp coral widespread. Wearing protective rubber shoes when swimming is usually sufficient to mitigate the risks.