Is Jamaica safe to visit for families?
Every year, millions of tourists travel to Jamaica, birthplace of reggae, to sample its unique culture, breath-taking scenery, luxurious all-inclusive resorts, gorgeous beaches and delicious jerk chicken. Yet, concerns regarding the safety of the country, stop many from even considering vacationing there, let alone with their family. Is it safe to take your family to Jamaica?
The majority of Jamaica is safe for travelers, even for families. Just like in every other country, there are both safe and risky areas in Jamaica. To be safe, it is best to stick with more touristy areas such as Negril, Ocho Rios and Point Lucea. Avoid neighborhoods where gang activity and crime is common, especially in Montego Bay, and Kingston.
If you want to know more about the safety of Jamaica and how to stay safe when visiting, then keep reading.
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Is It Safe To Take Your Family To Jamaica?
Safety in Jamaica
Millions of tourists vacation in Jamaica each year without any problems. This is not to say that you should be oblivious to potential dangers while in Jamaica, but the chances of you getting caught up in a dangerous situation are very low.
That said, according to a Crime and Safety Report in 2019, Jamaica is not a very safe place, due to ongoing violence and crime in certain areas. In fact, Jamaica earned the title as the 10th most dangerous place in the world in 2018.
This may not sound encouraging, but in reality, tourist areas tend to be amazing, beautiful, safe places to stay. There are some dangerous neighbourhoods you and your family should avoid, but most of the country is safe for tourists.
So in short, as long as you avoid risky areas, and take common sense precautions, you and your family can have a wonderful , safe vacation in Jamaica.
The following sections will go over all of the safety concerns that come up when visiting Jamaica, what you can do about them and the safest areas to stay in as a family.
Is it safe to travel to Jamaica during COVID?
As always, we recommend checking out your country’s travel advisories before you go, to get the most up to date info on safety recommendations, entry requirements, and health advisories:
Many people have no idea that Jamaica is no stranger to natural disasters. Some of the most common ones seen in the country are:
Hurricane season in Jamaica is anytime between June and October. To minimize the chance that you and your family will be stuck in Jamaica during a natural disaster, you should book your trip outside of hurricane season.
Instead, plan your trip to Jamaica during the winter months, between November and March. November and December are popular times. This is the best time to travel, as the risk of a hurricane will be very low, the weather is warm, and there are fun festivals to enjoy.
The most common types of crime seen in tourist areas of Jamaica is petty theft, pickpocketing and bag-snatching. Usually, these are non-violent crimes, and most tourists never experience this. However, there are things you can do to decrease your risk of being a victim.
- Avoid looking flashy – Keep your money in a money belt and avoid wearing expensive looking jewelry, smart watches etc.
- Keep your belongings as close to your body as possible – don’t leave bags/purses hanging off your chair, on the floor etc. Protect your cell phone, they are a popular item for theft.
- Wear backpacks on your front, instead of on your back, or wear a theft safe backpack.
- Pay attention – Keep aware of your surroundings, and the people around you.
- Know where you are going – wandering around looking lost can easily identify you and your family as potential targets
- Watch out at ATMs – use ATMs located in well-lit public areas or inside a bank or business. Go with someone else who can keep an eye out. Visit ATMs in daylight.
- Avoid taking buses at night, and avoid using public transportation in general as it is considered generally unsafe for tourists. Take official taxis instead.
- Use official taxis only – They have red-and-white “PP” licence plates and a lime-green JUTA sticker on the window. Agree to a fare ahead of time, as taxis are not metered.
- Make sure your accommodations are secure, especially if on a ground floor, or if you have a balcony – Look for places with lockable doors & windows, security on premises, gates etc. Keep valuables in a safe.
If someone tries to rob you, it is advised to let them have the item versus trying to fight. Getting into a fight with a local can easily turn into a dangerous situation for yourself and your family.
Want To Keep Your Travel Money Safe?
You will want to make sure your hard earned vacation money is safe from pickpockets, while out adventuring for the day. Our favourite way to do this is to keep some money hidden away in money belt, or more protected with a stylish, and slash resistant bag. Ideally you would do both.
Pick up this cool money belt with hidden pocket before you go (it’s an actual belt, how tricky!). It’s the perfect place to hide some local currency, a copy of your passport and best part, the buckle is plastic, so you won’t have to take it off in security (unless they ask of course).
Or stay classy and safe with this lightweight Infinity Scarf . It has a hidden zipper pocket big enough to pack some emergency cash, a phone, passport, keys and more.
Jamaica’s drug-use levels are high when compared to other countries.
When you visit Jamaica, chances are you will be exposed to marijuana (known as ganja or weed in Jamaica), as it is not strictly outlawed in Jamaica as it is in other places.
In Jamaica, it’s perfectly lawful for people who practice Rastafarianism to smoke marijuana in specified places of worship. It was legalized in 2015, for medicinal purposes, and possession of small amounts was decriminalized. All other drugs are illegal.
Street hustlers may approach you looking to sell you drugs, sunglasses, or other items. Politely and firmly say no thank you, and don’t let them talk you into buying anything.
If you are worried about your family smelling marijuana during your stay, make sure that you stay at a no-smoking hotel, Airbnb, or other lodging option. While it may take a little digging, they do exist.
Riots and Civil Unrest
You may already have seen news coverage about civil unrest in Jamaica. In some areas, violent crimes and homicides are the norms. However, crimes like these are not often seen in areas where tourists usually visit, like Portland and Runaway Bay.
Food Safety in Jamaica
As always, the rule of thumb when travelling to places where food safety may be different than home, and to avoid any gastrointestinal bugs is Boil it, Cook it, Peel it, or Forget it!
Tap water is generally considered safe to drink in larger cities, however we recommend drinking bottled, boiled or treated water to avoid the chance of losing precious vacation days. Food in Jamaica is considered safe to eat as well.
As long as you practice common sense precautions, you and your family should have few problems on your Jamaican vacation:
- Avoid raw or undercooked meat, seafood, eggs
- Eat freshly prepared food that hasn’t been sitting out for awhile
- Avoid unwashed, unpeeled vegetables or fruit
- Drink bottled, boiled or treated water, and brush your teeth with it.
- Ciguatera poisoning – avoid undercooked (or avoid altogether) snapper, sea bass, grouper, barracuda and jack, as they contain a toxin that is destroyed with cooking.
Health Risks in Jamaica
Mosquito Borne Diseases
Diseases carried by mosquitoes have been found in Jamaica, and there are no vaccinations for the following:
- Dengue Fever
- Zika Virus
- Chikungunya Fever
The best thing to do is to try and avoid being bitten. Wear bug spray, sleep under netting, avoid being out at dusk and dawn, and wear lighter coloured clothes, with long sleeved shirts and pants.
There is medication you can take for Malaria, however it does come with side effects. Discuss your options with a travel health professional well before your trip.
Vaccinations for Jamaica
In addition to being up on your regular vaccinations, your travel health professional may also recommend your family is vaccinated for Hepatitis A and Typhoid, as outbreaks do happen on occasion in Jamaica.
Other vaccinations may be recommended depending on where you are travelling to or from, how long you will be staying, and what activities you are planning on doing. These include; Rabies, Yellow Fever, Hepatitis B.
Visit a local travel doctor at least 6-8 weeks before you leave, to discuss what travel vaccinations, or precautionary measures may be best for your family.
Safest Areas in Jamaica
Now that you know some of the risks in Jamaica, let’s go over some of the awesome, safe places you can choose for your next great vacation.
A gorgeous destination situated on the northeastern shore of Jamaica, Ocho Rios attracts tons of tourists every year, and it’s easy to know why. The area is full of tourist resorts, and the crime rate in the area is very low. This makes it our top pick for a safe family vacation in Jamaica.
In addition to the safety of the area, its many attractions would keep any family engaged from sun up to sun down. You could relax as your kids play in the sand at one of many pristine Ocho Rios beaches.
If you’re not a beachy family, you could always tap into your adventurous side with one of the many available tour options including; tubing down White River, swimming with dolphins at Dolphin Cove, ziplining through the rainforest at Mystic Mountain or visit Yaaman Adventure Park.
A guided hike up the Dunn’s River Falls, is also a popular family thing to do with older kids. If you have toddlers, or want a quieter experience, take them to Turtle River Falls and Gardens, where they can play in one of 14 waterfalls and streams.
Negril leaves absolutely nothing to be desired! It’s located on Jamaica’s northwestern coast, where there are numerous beaches and beautiful, lively greenery.
This is the beach destination of Jamaica, so be sure to check out Seven Mile Beach. On top of that, crime rates are low, so you and your family can vacation without fear of trouble.
You can indulge in an intimate Catamaran cruise or explore Negril’s farms, mountains, and rain forest on ATVs.
Visit Barney’s Flower and Hummingbird Garden to see bountiful tropical plants and flowers, as well as a chance to feed the hummingbirds. Or spend the day at the Cool Runnings Waterpark, the only waterpark in Jamaica outside a resort. Your family won’t be disappointed.
If you’ve ever seen photos of Point Lucea, you may be familiar with its luscious greenery, deep blue waters, and sandy beaches. This destination should be at, or near, the top of your list of must-visit destinations.
You can take your family to an inviting lagoon or take an exciting tour of the area with Ricky Tours, Jamaica.
Here, you’ll find some of the most stunning resorts you’ve ever laid your eyes on, and the best part is that the area is totally safe for your family.
Situated on the north coast of Jamaica, is the family friendly Port Antonio. Surrounded by natural attractions like the Blue Lagoon (think the Brooke Shields movie, but with more bathing suits), and waterfalls, as well as a low crime rate, Port Antonio makes a great place to stay with your kids.
Ten miles east, at Boston Beach, you can also visit the birthplace of jerk seasoning at the Boston Jerk Centre. There, taste authentic Jamaican eats after a day of surfing, or playing on the soft white sand beach.
This is not meant as an exhaustive list of family friendly places to stay. There are other gems on the island including, Treasure Beach, Portland and Runaway Bay.
Places To Avoid in Jamaica
As mentioned a bit earlier, there are some areas that are dangerous for both families and individual travelers. To keep your family safe during a trip to Jamaica, you should avoid the following areas:
- Montego Bay: Montego Bay has some dangerous areas, especially around Canterbury, Flankers, Hart Street, Mount Salem, Rose Heights, Norwood Gardens, and St. Clavers Avenue. You and your family should stay away from these neighbourhoods, as crime, shootings and violence occur daily in these areas. There are some safer areas within Montego Bay, and incidences against tourists are low. If you choose to go to Montego Bay, stay in safer resort areas.
- Kingston: Jamaica’s historic capital, Kingston, has some of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in Jamaica. Both uptown and downtown Kingston see high rates of gang activity, violent crime and civil tension, and sexual assault. Cassava Piece and Grants Pen are absolute no-gos for tourists. At any given moment, your family could be caught in a high-risk situation, if you are in the wrong area.
- Spanish Town: Spanish Town has a high rate of violent crime, and is also an easy area to get lost in due to its odd layout. Criminals use this to their advantage as they seek out vulnerable people to steal from.
This is not an exhaustive list of areas to avoid. We recommend that you look at travel advisories of any area you are thinking about visiting. This is the best way to ensure your safety.
Now you know that, though the minority of Jamaica can be dangerous, there are many safe areas you can visit with your family. Jamaica is a beautiful country, full of music, culture and delicious food. We hope that this article is helpful to you in your travel planning endeavors.
If you are planning a trip to Jamaica what are you looking forward to most? If you have been, what are some not to miss sites and beaches you recommend? Let us know in the comments below, or connect with us on social media. We’d love to hear from you!
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Is Jamaica Safe To Visit For Families?
Featured photo: ” istock.com / Ruth Peterkin”
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