On an island that’s famed for its gritty reggae bars, its spicy jerk chicken straight off the BBQ, its deluxe hotels fit for honeymooners, and – of course – some of the most stunning beaches this side of the Bahamas, there are plenty of reasons why you might want to make this Caribbean jewel your next destination. But is Jamaica safe?
Well…that’s what we’re here to find out. This guide will take a look at the latest stats to help you discern if the vacay mecca of an island has the right safety profile for you and your travel crew. We’ll home in on things like violent crime and common travel scams, and take a look at the safest parts of the country, all so you can get an idea of what to expect.
It’s essential reading no matter if you’re looking to laze on the sands of Ocho Rios or Seven Mile Beach, are looking for a city escape to enthralling Kingston on the trail of one Bob Marley, or want to do intrepid treks through the misty Blue Mountains. Let’s go…
Is Jamaica safe – the quick facts
- Population: 2.97 million (source)
- Murder rate: 45 per 100,000 head of population (source)
- Overall murders: 1,498 in 2022 (source)
- Most dangerous areas: Montego Bay, Kingston, West Kingston, Spanish Town (source)
- Our overall safety rating: Medium
Is Jamaica safe in 2023?
Generally speaking, yes: Jamaica is considered an overall safe place to visit.
Around about a million travelers head this way for everything from music tours to honeymoons each year and most come and go without any trouble at all. However, at the same time, it would be amiss to say that Jamaica is totally safe. The island does have some problems with crime and there are certain things you’ll need to be aware of before you travel.
Thankfully, most of the crime in Jamaica is limited to certain areas and actually very rarely targets tourists. Knowing where to go can significantly decrease the risk that you’ll be caught up in something bad. On top of that, you can usually avoid the serious environmental dangers such as hurricanes by doing a bit of pre-planning on your trip and ensuring you come at the right time of the year.
So, let’s take a closer look at it all: Is Jamaica safe?
Serious crime stats in Jamaica
At first glance, the crime stats in Jamaica don’t paint a pretty picture. The country reigns as one of the most violent in the whole of the Caribbean. The capital had a homicide rate of 57.8 per 100,000 people in 2019, enough to catapult it into the top 15 most murderous cities on the planet – yep, the WHOLE PLANET. Travel stat collator Numbeo also lists Jamaica as high risk for drug-related crime and drug use, very high for corruption and bribery crimes, and high for property crimes like vandalism.
On top of that, it’s worth noting that there was a significant uptick in the murder rate in the tourist area of Montego Bay from 2021 to 2022. In fact, the parish of St. James, where the town makes its home, saw a 49% increase in the homicide rate in a single year!
Now that’s out of the way: A breather. Take a second to dig a little deeper and you’ll see that the picture isn’t really that simple at all. It’s still the case that most of the violent and serious crime incidents are limited to the busier, more urban areas of the island. That includes the sketchier parts of Montego Bay and certain parts of Kingston. Check out the beach resorts of the north shore in St. Anne Parish and you see that there was only 17 murders in all, while neighboring St. Mary Parish has a solitary one murder in total.
The point is that things can be very safe in Jamaica, or they can be very dangerous. It’s all down to where you want to travel and the areas you want to visit. Thankfully, the places with the white-sand beaches and the best honeymoon hotels tend to be the safer parts of the island, so lazy days of snorkeling and sunbathing are still on the cards.
Thefts and other crimes in Jamaica
There’s good news for would-be travelers when it comes to less-serious crimes in Jamaica. First off, the incidence of robbery on the island has decreased considerably since a high of almost 95 cases per 100k people in 2008. It’s now down to less than half that, at 44 per 100k in 2017. Second, there’s been a concerted effort by government ministries to insulate the tourism industry on the island from criminals, what with all the new tourist police and other measures just like it.
That said, FCO warnings from the US and British governments still make a point of highlighting the specific risk of pickpocketing and theft, so it’s certainly not a non-issue. It’s just important you remain vigilant, steer clear of rougher neighborhoods (particularly in Kingston), and never resist if you become the victim of an armed robbery.
That said, petty theft and theft come in many forms. Visitors here should also be sure never to leave valuable items and cash on display in their hotel rooms when they leave for the day. Use the safe – that’s what it’s there for. You’ll also want to be careful on the beach. Many thefts happen when someone’s otherwise engaged – you know, snorkelling through pipefish-filled reefs! Ger yourself a waterproof valuables wallet to strap to your body if there’s no one around to look after your stuff. Or just leave it all back at the hotel – in the safe, remember?
Is Jamaica safe for solo female tourists?
Again, generally speaking Jamaica is considered safe for solo female travelers. Thousands of lone women travelers come here each year and most get to enjoy everything that the island has to offer without a hitch. However, foreign and state department warnings do make it clear that there remains a “risk of sexual assault against tourists,” and points to specific guidance for solo female travelers to help mitigate that.
Once more, the main thing that will impact your safety as a solo female traveler in Jamaica is likely to be where you decide to stay. The inner-city suburbs of Kingston aren’t the best, but the beach towns of the north and west coasts are generally much safer. You can also lower your risk of becoming a victim of any sort of crime by ensuring you don’t go out at night alone, by hiding valuables, and by letting someone you trust know of your whereabouts at all times.
The safest parts of Jamaica
You might have noticed that we’ve mentioned time and time again that choosing the right place to stay in Jamaica is key to reducing your risk on the island. That’s why we thought we’d offer some tips on the safest areas in the country overall:
- Ocho Rios – The R&R mecca of Ocho Rios is on the cusp of the safest parish in the country. It’s also got some of the best hotels around, a beach once used by James Bond, and access to the lovely Dunn’s River Falls.
- Negril – The overall popularity of Negril means that it’s pretty good when it comes to traveler safety. The area has wonderful beaches, which hit a zenith with the long stretch of Seven Mile.
- Montego Bay – This is an interesting one. We’ve already mentioned how Mo’Bay has some soaring violent crime stats, and the area of the Hip Strip is also bad for petty crime. You’ll need to be careful if you venture out to those but there are also gated hotel resorts that offer some excellent safety credentials in the area.
On the flip side, you’re going to want to avoid the areas of West Kingston and Grant’s Pen just outside of the capital, along with Flankers and Barrett Town in Montego Bay in the north. Let’s take a closer look at those…
Dangerous areas in Jamaica
We’ve already spoken about how the majority of the serious crime in Jamaica is limited to a number of inner-city areas, mainly in Montego Bay and Kingston. Here’s a closer look at some of the most dangerous parts of the island as a whole so you know the ones to steer clear of during your travels.
- West Kingston – Although it’s famed as a bit of a stomping ground for the island’s major reggae talent, West Kingston is also gang territory. This is the most important part of the capital to avoid if you ask us. Thankfully, there’s not all that much going on. West Kingston includes the areas of Trench Town and Jones Town. The closest you’re likely to come is historic Downtown to the east.
- Grant’s Pen – A small coastal town on the less-trodden south shore of the island, Grant’s Pen is becoming increasingly popular with surfers. However, it’s known for soaring crime rates and is part of the Saint Andrew division, which saw over 250 murders in total throughout 2021. Best avoided.
- Spanish Town – An industrial satellite town to the west of Kingston, Spanish Town once garnered itself the nickname “The Valley of Death”. It’s known locally as a hotspot for gang violence and gun crime.
- Flankers – Rated as one of the poorest neighbourhoods on the island, Flankers is a part of Mo’Bay that’s still got regular gun-crime issues. Be careful to check that you don’t accidentally book a stay here, as the area does host some hotels!
- Barrett Town – There have been recent surges in crime and a call for extra policing in the Barret Town area of Montego Bay.
Hurricane risk in Jamaica
Is Jamaica safe from hurricanes? Sadly, it’s not. A whole season of storms runs each year from June to November and can see some pretty strong weather systems tear across Jamaica’s corner of the Caribbean.
Occasionally, the strongest named storms push right over too. They’re the ones you need to be wary of, as they can cause widespread travel disruption (including canceled flights) and property damage, along with landslides that can bring traffic throughout the island to a bit of a standstill. There are usually between seven and 15 named storms per year.
The best advice we can give here is to avoid traveling to Jamaica between June and November entirely. We know that those cheap flights and dipping hotel rates can be an attractive prospect, but it will heighten your risk of getting caught in a hurricane and things going awry.
Dangerous animals in Jamaica
Let’s start in the water, mainly because pretty much every traveler who heads this way will have their eye on the crystal-clear Caribbean Sea. The area around Jamaica is patrolled by a handful of sharks and there have been a reported 17 attacks since records began – however, that was way back in 1837. That said, it does highlight that shark attacks, although rare, can happen in these waters, so be wary, especially between January and March, which is when most incidents seem to have occurred.
The south coast of Jamaica also hosts the fearsome American crocodile, which has been known to attack humans, while the reefs here can be a habitat for sea urchins and lionfish, a type of venomous and invasive species.
On dry land, there’s some great news: There are no venomous snakes in Jamaica. However, there are a couple of spiders that can harm humans, including widow spiders, and other bugs like the giant centipede, which possesses a painful and venomous bite.
So, is Jamaica safe for tourists?
Considering we’re a travel site and you’re reading this, we’re guessing this is the info you came for. We’ve already outlined how Jamaica has some safe areas, some not so safe, and some downright dangerous. We’ve also taken a look at the crime stats and the biggest risks in the country when it comes to weather and animals.
With that in mind, the best answer we can give is: Yes and no. Jamaica can be a safe place if you plan your vacation properly – book hotels in touristy areas, pre-book accommodations so you know where you’re headed, don’t venture to dangerous neighborhoods alone or after dark, etc. All these things might sound like common sense, but here they’re essential for travelers.
Officially, the US State Department suggests that folks “reconsider travel” to Jamaica for a whole host of reasons, largely related to the prevalence of crime rates across the island. The UK Foreign Office also lists a whole range of things that could well impact your trip. Generally speaking, these are the best warnings to go by, with the most informed information around.
Is Jamaica safe to live?
That all really depends where you live! There are gated hotel and villa communities in areas like Negril and Mo’Bay that have 24-hour security and protective walls. Sadly, those sorts of things are actually necessary on an island where property theft is off the scale. And that’s not even mentioning the risks you’ll incur when you choose to leave your abode, out in the streets in towns like Kingston and Montego Bay.
Of course, plenty of people do move to Jamaica and live perfectly safely for very many years. It’s just that there’s no question that there are heightened risks in this corner of the Caribbean. To put it another way: It’s certainly not the safest place to relocate to. There are islands in the region if you’re chasing laid-back vibes and white-sand beaches – St Bart’s, the Cayman Islands, and Anguilla.
Is Jamaica safe? Our conclusion
Is Jamaica safe? Generally speaking, we’d say it is. Around a million people visit the island every year and most leave without a single problem. However, we think it’s important to point out that the island nation doesn’t have the best violent crime stats out there (its murder rate, especially in the capital of Kingston, leaves a lot to be desired), and there have been instances of gang violence affecting travelers. On top of that, you’ll need to be wary of petty crimes like theft and pickpocketing, especially in key neighborhoods like the Hip Strip of Montego Bay and central Kingston.
Why is Jamaica so dangerous?
The main driver behind the poor crime and murder stats in Jamaica is the prevalence of violent crime gangs. The country is one of the worst when it comes to drug trafficking and organized crime in the whole region and that regularly spills over to cause serious incidents that have given the destination a bad reputation.
Where is safe to travel in Jamaica?
Every part of Jamaica has its issues when it comes to crime but there are certain parts of the island that are safer than others. They include the northern coast, which has towns like Ocho Rios that are well known among travelers. The areas around Negril and some of the quieter villages of the east coast, also tend to have better crime stats.
When is hurricane season in Jamaica?
The hurricane season in Jamaica runs roughly from June to November. It brings by far the worst weather to the island of the whole calendar year, occasionally pushing through big tropical storms that have gale-force winds and heavy rainfall. Be sure to watch out for that as such storms have been known to cause property damage and disrupt travel plans.