Kingston can be the passport to a relaxing getaway from your winter woes. Located on the southeastern coast of Jamaica, the capital city of Kingston is filled with fun landmarks and tons of resorts that specialize in helping you unwind. Check out the story of a music icon at the Bob Marley Museum, explore history at the Devon House, or simply lounge the day away on one of the city’s stunning beaches. There’s plenty to see and do in Jamaica, but the tropical island isn’t without its problems. For the traveler who plunges headlong into Kingston without doing their homework, danger is a very real possibility. If you want to experience the brighter side of Kingston, it’s best to know how to avoid the darker side. We’ve got your guide, in 12 easy steps.
1. Don’t Go Anywhere Alone, Even at a Resort
The resorts surrounding Kingston can make for wonderful beach vacations. However, some of these places aren’t as safe as they could be. Some visitors to Kingston have reported sexual assault, even when they’re supposed to be safe in a resort. Heading to the beach or taking advantage of the resort’s amenities are things you should do with a friend, just to be on the safe side. That goes double at night.
2. Don’t Overlook the Public Transit
While the public buses in Jamaica may not be up to the standards of your average US public transport system, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with them. It’s not advisable to take a nap on one, but for getting from place to place in relative efficiency, the public transport in Jamaica is cheap and reliable.
3. Keep Cool and Relax
There are several countries around the world with a well-documented reputation for their serene culture. Jamaica puts them all to shame. This place seriously moves at half speed. Since you’re on vacation, keeping your head shouldn’t be a problem, but just remember that public outbursts and impatience are frowned upon. If you want to alienate yourself, go ahead and start up shouting. Otherwise, just be patient.
4. Be Careful About the Neighborhoods You Travel To
Large portions of Kingston and the island of Jamaica are perfectly safe, however, as with any urban location, there are sections of the city that you should think about avoiding if you want to diminish your risk of being the victim of a violent crime. In Kingston, these areas include Mountain View, Trench Town, and Tivoli Gardens.
5. Avoid Eye Contact with Merchants
In Jamaica, making eye contact with a merchant means that you are ready to spend some money. Unless you want a local merchant to consistently hassle you while you’re just half-heartedly browsing, avoid making eye contact as much as possible. Only when you’re ready to buy (or ask some questions) should you acknowledge the proprietor.
6. Don’t Take Rides from Strangers
The adage they teach children works well in Jamaica, as well. It goes without saying that you should never get in the car with someone you don’t know (or someone you’ve just met), but travelers should also be aware that you should never get into an unmarked cab, either. These roving robbery mobiles are nothing but bad news, so just wait for something official to roll by. You’ll be able to tell the difference.
7. Think Carefully When Buying the Weed
Though marijuana has been largely decriminalized in Jamaica, it’s still technically illegal. For those people who don’t smoke regularly, that means possession of even small amounts of marijuana will result in a fine from the police (but they’re still pretty lenient). For those people who do smoke marijuana regularly (and don’t care about a fine): the weed is pretty good and the cops don’t mind you toking up in relative responsibility, so if you don’t mind paying twice, go for it.
8. Make Sure to Use the Jamaican Dollar
Sure, the US Dollar has a whole lot of spending power in Jamaica (one buck is equal to about 120 Jamaican dollars), but it’s easiest to avoid doing the math and simply go equipped with some Jamaican currency. It’s also a good idea to let your bank know that you’ll be abroad so they don’t suspect there’s a problem with your account. No one wants their bank account frozen when they’re in a foreign country.
9. Check the Security Record of the Resort You’re Booking
On the whole, most gated resorts are totally safe. That said, there have been recorded instances of robbery and assault in some of these resorts. That’s why it’s important to do a quick Google search before you book any resorts in order to ensure you’re headed somewhere that’s well and truly secure.
10. Don’t Drive
Driving in Jamaica is just the worst. The roads are in disrepair. They’re also labyrinthine as all get out. Even worse, the former British colony instructs its drivers to drive on the left side of the street, not the right (i.e. the correct) side. It’s best to simply get a driver for the day from a reputable company that will help you get safely from point A to point B. It won’t cost as much as you think, and you’ll appreciate the lack of stress.
11. If You’re the Victim of Sexual Assault …
No one wants to acknowledge it, but more than a dozen sexual assaults were recorded by US citizens visiting Jamaica. On the remote chance you’re the victim of a similar occurrence, make sure that you contact the US Embassy immediately. You should also request antibiotics used to curb the transmission of STDs as soon as you can.
12. Look for White Hats, White Shirts, and Black Trousers
On the off chance you become the victim of crime while you’re in Kingston (or Jamaica as a whole), it may be more practical to look for Tourist police rather than the Jamaican police. Tourist police are there to help you (and protect the country’s reputation), so if you can’t find a cop, look for a Tourist police in their distinctive uniform — white hats, white shirts, and black trousers. The Jamaican police are fine enough, they’re just understaffed, so they have more pressing matters to attend to than finding your wallet.