Do women have anything to worry about while traveling solo in Jamaica? We asked Diedre McLeod, a Jamaican local, to share her tips on traveling confidently in this Caribbean destination.
After seven years traveling and living abroad, rediscovering Jamaica affords me two unique perspectives on keeping safe as a woman traveling here. One, as a local traveling solo and, two, I’m like a foreigner playing catch-up learning the lay of the land.
I often travel alone, explore hidden gems and visit familiar places, so here are my top five travel safety tips for women to explore Jamaica safely.
Is it safe for women to travel solo in Jamaica?
Jamaica is full of activities for travelers, with vibrant people and breathtaking landscapes, it’s no wonder tourism is booming here.
As the birthplace of Rastafarianism, Reggae, Dancehall, jerk chicken and the famous Red Stripe beer, you might say that Jamaica has got it all. But, it isn’t all paradise. Jamaica also has a bad reputation when it comes to crime – especially in certain communities in Kingston and Montego Bay.
1. Safety advice from solo women travelers
Millions of people visit Jamaica yearly and have a great time on the island – and you can too. I interviewed more than 30 solo female travelers to Jamaica and they all agreed with me that it is relatively safe; just be smart about how you travel.
These are the top travel safety tips based on my own and 30 other women’s experiences:
- Don’t walk around in deserted areas, even on the beach or during the day. Stick to main roads and more populated areas
- Look out for motorbike riders as they tend to carry out petty theft. They will quickly snatch your handbag, phone or other valuables that are within reach
- Dress like a local. Pro tip: don’t wear “Jamaica” branded t-shirts or clothing. This screams visitor. You will be hard-pressed to find a Jamaican in these clothes
- Don’t keep your cash and valuables all in one place, and leave your jewelry at home. By the way, don’t wear a fanny pack. This is one of the quickest ways to signal you’re a visitor and make you a target for theft
- Limit all public displays of affection, regardless of your sexual orientation. Jamaica is a conservative place when it comes to this
- Ensure all doors and windows can lock for where you’re staying
- Don’t give detailed information about your itinerary or departure date. Many crimes against visitors occur the night before they leave the island. Give the wrong dates if you feel pressured for information
- Make friends with locals in the area and be polite to security and hotel staff. When people know you, they will often go the extra mile to offer help, inform you of less obvious but dangerous places, and give cool tips for things to do
- Hire drivers from reputable tour companies or with chartered (registered) taxis. Public transportation is also fairly secure. If you are unsure then ask another woman on the bus and avoid taking “route-taxis” that are filled with only men passengers
- Jamaica has hurricanes. June to November is the official hurricane season but be aware that May, October, and November are usually very rainy months. Additionally, travel with insect repellent because Jamaica has mosquito-borne illnesses, such as dengue fever and chikungunya virus, especially after long periods of rain.
2. Safe places solo women travelers can go in Jamaica
There are plenty of engaging activities for a solo woman traveling around Jamaica, no matter your travel type.
Outdoorsy and adventurous?
- Explore the caves in Jamaica, including the Green Grotto, Cockpit Country, or Bunker’s Hill caves
- Hike the Blue Mountain peak (intense), Holywell Nature Walks (easy to moderate), or the Outley Mountain Trail (moderate).
Jamaica means “land of wood and water” so, if you’re a water lover, there is no shortage of pristine beaches, cascading waterfalls and winding rivers to enjoy. Some of my favorites are:
- Seven Mile Beach in Negril
- Rafting on the Martha Brae River in Trelawny
- Jump down the rabbit hole at Reach Falls in Portland
- Reggae Falls in St. Thomas
- Blue Hole in St. Mary
- View epic bio-luminescence and neon blue water at Glistening Waters in Trelawny
- Falling Edge Waterfalls in Kingston & St. Andrew.
If you are more into cultural events, there are activities for you too:
- Visit museums like the Bob Marley Museum, Peter Tosh Museum, and National Gallery
- Learn about Rastafarian religion and culture at Rastafari Indigenous Village or at Life Yard
- Enjoy reggae at Dub Club while overlooking Kingston’s skyline
- Learn dancehall moves at Margaritaville, at street dances, or take a course at the Dancehall Hostel
- Visit festivals like the Jamaica Food and Drink Festival or Calabash International Literary Festival.
3. What to do if you find trouble?
Yes, it’s true that Jamaica has a high crime rate but much of it is focused on gang violence in communities that you’re unlikely to visit as a traveler. Most crime against travelers in Jamaica is centered around petty theft. If someone tries to rob you, it’s best if you don’t try to resist and just hand it over. Is your phone, camera, or handbag worth getting injured or risking your life?
There are other scenarios where you might feel threatened as a woman traveling around Jamaica. Unfortunately, sexual harassment and sexual advances are not uncommon. Don’t be surprised if you hear Jamaican men call out “sexy girl”, address you by the type of clothes you are wearing (“red dress” or “black blouse”), or even refer to you by your perceived ethnicity, such as “whitey”. It is a frustrating cultural trait where everyone is given nicknames based on their most distinct perceived characteristics – good, bad, or inappropriate.
So, what do you do? Be firm yet polite. We are direct people so don’t worry if you say “no” or firmly explain that you have somewhere to be and can’t stop to talk. This will often end the conversation and won’t cause much offence to Jamaican men.
In more dangerous cases, like sexual assault or rape, it is strongly advised to report this to the nearest police station. The Women In Crisis Centre also runs a 24/7 crisis hotline for issues including rape, sexual assault, violence against women.
A common Jamaican safety tip is also to shout “FIRE” instead of “Help”.
4. How to meet local women in Jamaica
Jamaicans are welcoming and many are quick to offer help. One caveat is that sometimes locals might expect you to give them money due to a stereotype that “visitors are wealthy and spend strong tourist dollars” so look out for that. Otherwise, making friends with a few of the staff at the front desk of your hotel can go a long way.
If you’re looking for something more structured, then the Jamaica Tourist Board has a “Meet the People” program where foreigners are matched with Jamaicans for a more intimate look at Jamaican life.
5. Safety for LGBTQ travelers
Dancehall and reggae dance moves aside, Jamaica is a conservative place, and we are not as tolerant as I wish we could be. However, safety for LGBTQ travelers is nuanced yet relatively normal in Jamaica.
One of the most important rules to follow, based on discussions with local LGBTQ activists and friends, is to limit all public displays of affection while traveling in Jamaica. Also, consider dressing in more “traditionally feminine” ways for your trip. Not to be overly simplistic but that’s about it. You can then observe general safety rules.
All in all, Jamaica is a beautiful and relatively safe place. Just keep your wits about you then go explore all that Jamaica has to offer.
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