Last year Jamaican tourism took a big hit because of unrest in Kingston between police and gangs. If women travelers are still a little wary about visiting the island this winter, here’s some information that might help you put your mind at ease.
In May, immediately after the Kingston troubles had occurred, I paid a visit to the island and never once saw or experienced anything that caused me any concern about my personal safety.
I flew into Kingston’s Norman Manley airport with my sister-in-law and 4-year-old niece; we took our prearranged transportation to Port Antonio, located about 2 hrs from Kingston and spent a glorious week in one of the most beautiful spots on the island.
Never once did I feel threatened or uncomfortable. We did get people stopping us on the street in Port Antonio but most of them just wanted to say thank you to us for still coming to the island despite all of the bad press.
I firmly believe that travelers visiting the island have nothing to worry about as long as they take the normal safety precautions needed for any Caribbean travel.
For further reassurance, GirlsGetaway decided to reach out to our Jamaican friends and travel experts to get their take on travel to Jamaica.
Here’s a list of top five safety tips we compiled, with their help, for women thinking of traveling to Jamaica.
1. Chat but Leave out the Details
Barbra Walker, co-owner of Hotel Mockingbird Hill in Port Antonio, Jamaica gives us some great advice about Jamaican culture and how to handle those few overly friendly folks:
“Jamaicans are ever-so-friendly and will approach anyone for a little chat, this is just part of the national character, to chat and say hello to everyone. In Jamaica, blanking people is considered extremely rude: it will cause offense and could potentially lead to unpleasantness. We suggest you always acknowledge and exchange a quick “hi” with a grin to those that greet you.
If anyone does seem particularly persistent in drawing out a greeting into a long conversation and you really don’t want to chat, then we recommend just putting the same questions back that you have been asked, i.e.:
If asked, where you come from, just ask them in return where do they come from?
If they ask you your name, ask them theirs.
They will soon get the message.
If you are at the beach and someone shows you their beadwork, or calabashes that have been fashioned into bags or utensils and don’t appeal simply just say “sorry, not today; maybe later in the week”, they will then respect you and leave you alone.
Whilst enjoying the friendly chats do maintain a healthy sense of being streetwise. Do not tell people where you are staying – we have known beach vendors and similar to turn up at Hotel Mockingbird Hill insisting on seeing guests whose enthusiastic verbal supply of holiday details (hotel &c.) convinced them they wanted to “chat” further… less is more as the saying goes!”
2. Remember Your Common Sense
A frequent solo traveler to Jamaica writes about her love of the island, “I think of MoBay as my personal oasis where I can renew my spirit safely. I do not get drunk and walk the beach alone at night, and wouldn’t recommend that any single woman do that – in Jamaica or anywhere! But I do walk to restaurants alone and I shop alone, eat alone, nap in hammocks alone and have never felt less than safe doing so!”
3. Use Sensible Safety Precautions With Matters of the Heart
Giving us a guy’s take on whether women are safe traveling to his home island of Jamaica, Mike writes, “use sensible safety precautions as you would anywhere and you will be fine.
Your biggest hassle will be from the Jamaican men wanting to “romance” you. It will be pretty persistent, but in a non-threatening way. Just tell them you have a husband or boyfriend, and they should respect that.”
4. Know When to Buddy Up
If you’re considering a solo trip to Jamaica, here’s some great advice from the top travel safety experts at Smarter Travel.
“Traveling alone doesn’t always mean being alone,” SmarterTravel.com tells us in their article Ten Tips for Women Traveling Alone. “There are plenty of situations in which seeking out company can make for a safer and more enjoyable experience. On vacation in Jamaica, our executive editor, Anne Banas, wasn’t comfortable walking alone from her resort into town for dinner and a reggae show, so she invited a couple she’d met earlier in the day at the pool to join her. By doing so, she got to try out a new restaurant, danced the night away, and made new friends”
I agree with SmarterTravel.com and feel that smaller hotels, like our GirlsGetaway favorite in Jamaica, Hotel Mockingbird Hill, are great places to find people to buddy up with when traveling solo. The advantage of staying at a smaller, more intimate place like this is that you have an easier time meeting and getting to know your fellow travelers and the management is usually better able to give suggestions, facilitate introductions or arrange group excursions.
April Hope’s was lonely and lost on her first trip to Jamaica and she got herself into a situation that was pretty scary. She tells the story in an article she wrote for the Travel Blog website.
“I met a guy who said he was a reggae artist who seemed nice and when he invited me to go to hear him perform that night I said yes. I live in NYC so there are lots of small lounges where you can hear live music. I didn’t realize though that Jamaicans don’t go out until after 1:00 or 2:00am, and as we hung around at his friend’s studio, more and more guys showed up. The only two other women basically ignored me, and by the time we started off for the party I was nervous. I had only taken enough cash for a taxi back to my guesthouse, just in case. As we drove about 20 other cars filled with men joined us. I was really nervous, especially as we drove for at least an hour through a dark, deserted mountain. As we drove I pretended to call the “friend” I was staying with and told him, “She’s so protective of me. Her husband is head of security at the American Embassy, so they made me give them your name, the address, and license plate of your car.” (Actually, you should always do that when going out with new friends.)
I realized that I wasn’t going to be murdered that night as we drove into a parking lot filled with thousands of cars, and at least 20,000 people for a “Reggae Sunsplash” concert. It turned out that I was with Capleton, Beanie Man, Yellowman, Elephant Man, and a bunch of other famous reggae stars. I was in the VIP area and had a great time, but it could have turned out to be a dangerous, fatal mistake. Now I get the address of the venue I’ll be going to and take a taxi or local transportation.”