When you book your trip to Jamaica, the odds are good that you’re headed for a spirited, but relaxing island vacation. By and large, the island nation is a tourist-friendly spot that’s eager to reward your time (and your coin). Of course, there are a couple of ways to get yourself into trouble in Jamaica if you fly toward the country with only a working knowledge of Bob Marley and the knowledge that the beaches are awesome. They are, but there’s much more to Jamaica than great music and gorgeous weather. If you want to make the most of your trip, then here are some tips to keep safe and have fun while visiting Jamaica.
1. Don’t Forget About the State Department
This is just good advice every time you visit a foreign country: find out what the State Department has to say about it. When it comes to Jamaica, your biggest concern is avoiding the country’s reputation for violent crime. You should know before you travel that both sexual assault and armed robbery are common throughout the nation, in some cases even inside gated resorts.
2. In the City, Don’t Take Rides With Strangers
Hopefully that should go without saying (and if it doesn’t, you might be a little too young for a solo trip to Jamaica). That being said, if you want to decrease your odds for being the victim of a crime, you should keep in mind similar common sense rules like avoid inner city areas, don’t walk alone after dark, etc.
3. Don’t Expect Help From the Cops
It’s just a fact of life: the Jamaican police force is universally underpaid and understaffed. As a result, their attention is mostly focused on more serious crime. In other words, a tourist’s stolen camera doesn’t rank high on their list of priorities, so if you’re robbed, your stuff is likely gone. Sorry.
4. Don’t Be Alone with Resort Staff
You’ll find that an overwhelming majority of the staff working at the resorts of Jamaica are friendly, capable people who just want to help you have a good time. That being said, the US Embassy once received twelve sexual assault complaints from tourists inside a twelve month period. Most of those took place at all-inclusive destinations, and most of those were perpetrated by resort staff. It happens, so it’s always a good idea to take a buddy with you whenever you go somewhere.
5. Don’t Buy Weed Unless You’re Willing to Pay
Let’s all be adults, here. Jamaica has a reputation for widespread marijuana use, so it’s entirely likely that you’ll encounter someone who’s willing to hook you up. If you get stopped by police and you have less than two ounces on you, you’ll get hit with a ticket, not a pair of handcuffs. So, if you don’t mind a little bit of legal hassle, feel free to go for it — just be very wary about the quality you’re getting.
6. Don’t Try to Get Around Without a Driver
In Jamaica, they drive on the wrong, -er, left side of the road. It can be a little perplexing, so just pay the (typically very cheap) fee for a driver for the day and they’ll help you get around efficiently and safely. Nothing wrong with a little pampering. You are on vacation, after all.
7. Don’t Backpack Through Jamaica
People who backpack through Jamaica essentially put a target on their back, attracting the worst of the island’s criminal element. If you’re going to the island, your best bet is to spend most of your time behind the gates of your resort or heading to highly populated areas during the daytime.
8. Don’t Haphazardly Pick a Destination
Don’t just pick a spot on the island (or any old resort) without doing a little bit of research. Where you spend your vacation will determine what their is to do. Love the nightlife? Then, Negril has tons of hot spots for you to cruise. Taking your family for some fun in the sun? Montego Bay is filled with tons of family friendly resorts. Want to experience some of Jamaica’s inland paradise? Check out Ocho Rios.
9. Don’t Look at the Merchants
When you’re browsing at shops on the island it’s a good idea to avoid direct eye contact and chit chat with the merchants. If they’re locals, they might take it as a sign that you’re interested in buying; if you’re just looking, keep your eyes on the merchandise and not on the owner.
10. Don’t Try to Use American Dollars
While good, old-fashioned greenbacks are welcome on the island, you should consider using the local currency, the Jamaican dollar. When you exchange some of your US currency for some walking around money, you’ll find that you don’t have to worry about exchange rates and the locals will appreciate it.
11. Don’t Get Uptight
You might be aware of Jamaica’s reputation for effecting a certain unflappable chill. That is totally the truth; the entire country is filled with people who are looking on the bright side, and while they’re eager to please, they’re not in any big hurry. So, you shouldn’t be, either. Get into the spirit of the island and make sure that you work on keeping your cool. No one wants to be the grumpy American tourist, and no one wants to hang around them, either.
12. Don’t Be Too Afraid to Explore
There is one heck of a lot more to the island of Jamaica than just lounging on its world class beaches. If you’re not content to just bask in the sunlight all day (and you don’t have to be), there a lot of great shopping and natural beauty like Dunn’s River Falls.
13. Don’t worry About Finding a Good Beach
The best part about Jamaica is that — no matter where you book your reservations — Jamaica will have a pristine stretch of golden sand just waiting for you to drop your towel and starting working on your tan. Seriously, don’t spend a ton of time obsessing about finding “the right beach.” They’re pretty much all that beach.