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Jamaica, safe or not?
Kingston (Jamaica), March 7th 2015

Most travellers planning to visit Jamaica as a holiday destination, must sooner or later ask themselves the question if the country is safe enough to visit. If you are visiting the country through an organized tour, or if you just stay in and around an all-inclusive resort, then the answer is easy. Yes, it is safe enough. If you want to explore the island individually, then the answer is a bit more complicated. Yes, the country is still safe enough if you continue to use your common sense and follow your intuition.

Jamaicans find it annoying that their country has such a bad reputation in the world. But that reputation has not come out of thin air. If you look purely at the statistics, it is indeed not very good on the island. There is a lot of gun ownership, and the worst thing is that those weapons are also frequently used. Jamaica is one of the world’s countries with the highest murder rates. Every day, if you listen to the radio or open a newspaper, you hear or see that another dead body has been found (sometimes even children). More than a thousand people a year die because of a firearm alone. And that is a lot in a country with less than 3 million inhabitants.

In addition, organized crime is prominent in Jamaica. The island serves as a major transit point for drugs from South to North America. And this lucrative business naturally attracts heavy guys. Within Jamaica, the use of marijuana (ganja) is very popular. Although it is illegal, you can see and smell the use of this drug all over the country. The production of ganja is obviously in the hands of the underworld, who regularly use public areas to fight out their problems. The government is trying to curtail the crime, but because of limited resources and corruption, it is like mopping the floor with the water tap open.

Downtown Montego Bay

If you ask Jamaicans where this all comes from, they often point to the past. Jamaica was once the pirate nest of the Caribbean, and that past still haunts them. Jamaicans still love to do it their own way, have difficulties with accepting authority, love to do ‘business’, and do not interfere with the 'business' of others. It is a little bit like the Wild West. The good news for travellers is that is probably not going to bother you if you don’t stick your nose in anybody’s business. Serious crime is not aimed at travellers and mainly takes place in the poorer areas of the larger cities such as Kingston and Montego Bay. Over 99% of the individual travellers in Jamaica have a lovely time in the country without problems.

Is there nothing that you must take into account as a traveller? Yes, there is. Jamaicans are almost without exception very open and friendly people that love to chat and that do not have any hidden agendas. However, there are two groups of people (actually men) who can be annoying. The first group are the men who hang out in the most popular tourist destinations and who want to earn money from you. This can be souvenirs, a hotel room, a taxi ride or ganja (marijuana). If you're not interested, express it immediately and very clearly. Because, if you give them the feeling that there is something to earn, they will generally not rest until they have something. Sometimes, the sales tactics can take an aggressive turn where they ultimately hope that they will receive a lump sum payment to leave you alone. Beware to communicate with them always neatly because ignoring them is considered very rude in Jamaica. 'Respect mon" is important in this land of reggae.

Enjoying a Red Stripe beer on Winnifred Beach

The other group of men who can be annoying, are the Jamaican men who are looking for sex. Especially unaccompanied women without male companion are their targets. Jamaica has an extreme form of macho culture where men often think about sex and very quickly come to the point. Many men have is the idea that they are living in a gangster-rap video, and that all women desperately want to have sex with them. We regularly witnessed a situation where a man shamelessly asks a stranger woman in public if she wants to share the bed with him. And this does not only happen late at night in the pub after ten beers. We saw it also happen during a lunch at a KFC restaurant, where the security man of the fast food restaurant asked a young woman who was eating her lunch, if she wanted to go home with him. Additionally, many men in Jamaica have the image that a white women are 'easy' to get. That image is partly due to the army of white middle-aged women who travel annually to Jamaica for a sex holiday. Female travellers should not be surprised that during their stay in this country, they will occasionally get an offer for "Jamaican steel". Here too, you must clearly and resolutely reject if you have no interest.

Jamaica is undoubtedly a wonderful travel destination. People are open, friendly, helpful and outgoing. Safety will not be an issue for most travellers. Yet, even if you're careful, you can always be at the wrong time in the wrong place. That happened almost to us. A few hours after we had shopped on King Street in downtown Kingston, the same street was the scene of a shootout between a police patrol and a gang, with six passers-by’s injured. Lucky us.

This is the life Jamaican men prefer
A full minibus between Kingston and Port Antonio
A grim street in downtown Kingston
Vegetable market on Parade in downtown Jamaica
News message about shootout we just missed fortunately

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