Of all the things Jamaica is known for — the beaches, rainforests, music, and food — crime sticks out like a sore thumb. The island is a bit infamous for having a high rate of crime, leaving potential vacationers to wonder if it’s worth the risk.
Montego Bay is the most popular tourist town in Jamaica and welcomes thousands of visitors each year. Quite frankly, it wouldn’t be such a sought-after vacation destination if visitors felt endangered!
Though the city is quite safe, it’s not a perfect haven. There are measures to take and things to keep in mind to maximize your safety and help your vacation go as smoothly as possible.
Crime in Montego Bay
Violent crime and drug trafficking (both often related to gangs) are issues in Montego Bay but are largely concentrated in the inner city areas.
Tourist areas are much safer and violent crime is hardly a concern. The chance of a tourist in Montego Bay becoming a victim of violent crime is extremely low.
Rather, the type of crime that is most likely to affect you as a tourist is pickpocketing or robbery. Gloucester Avenue (Hip Strip), in spite of and because of its status as the trendiest tourist area, is the biggest offender.
How to Stay Safe in Montego Bay
When it comes to safety in Montego Bay, advice applicable to visiting any big tourist city or town also applies. Here are a few general precautions to take:
1. Stay in the tourist areas and avoid inner-city areas
Stick to tourist areas such as Ocean Front, Freeport, and Ironside. Even Hip Strip, where you face a higher chance of pickpocketing, is relatively very safe.
You likely wouldn’t even end up accidentally visiting inner-city areas but, so you’re aware, the places to avoid are: Norwood, Flankers, Glendevon, Mount Salem, Barrett Town, and Rose Heights.
2. Make sure your lodging is secure
If you’re not staying at a resort, know beforehand whether your accommodation has secure windows and doors (bonus points if it’s in a gated community or has a security post).
Regardless of where you’re staying, keep doors locked even when you’re awake and inside, and keep windows locked when you’re asleep.
3. Don’t walk alone at night or in deserted areas
Avoid walking alone at night. If you must, stay in populated areas and on the main roads. It’s also in your best interest to not walk around deserted areas, even in groups and even during the daytime.
In a similar vein, don’t go to the same restaurant every night. Robbers are observant.
4. Keep the valuables on your person to a minimum
Avoid wearing smartwatches or flashy jewelry. Carry just as much cash as you think you’ll need for the day and consider investing in a money belt or hidden travel wallet.
5. Use your credit/debit card as little as possible
Credit card skimming is a very real risk in Jamaica, especially in tourist areas like Montego Bay. As much as possible, use cash rather than your card.
6. Be picky about which ATMs you use
Another issue in Montego Bay is the possibility of ATMs being rigged to compromise your information. Also, thieves may be watching to follow you and then rob you.
It’s best to only use the ATM at your resort or hotel, or in busy shopping centers.
7. Don’t entertain hustlers
People on the streets may try extremely hard to sell you things — sometimes just items like souvenirs or t-shirts, but sometimes drugs as well. A polite but firm “No, thanks,” followed by ignoring them and walking away is often sufficient.
8. In the worst-case scenario…
In the event that someone tries to rob you, do not resist. Just give up your money and valuables.
Is Montego Bay Safe for Solo Travelers?
The fact of the matter is that being a solo traveler puts you at a higher risk of being targeted for petty crime. You shouldn’t necessarily feel discouraged; you just need to be more vigilant than the average tourist.
Solo travelers would do well to follow the precautions in the above section as well as a few other tips:
1. Talk to people
This may seem like a no-brainer but, really, talk to people! Get tips and pointers from the staff at your accommodation, taxi drivers, and other people to get some local know-how. The majority of Jamaicans are friendly and helpful.
2. Stay in touch with your people back home
Throughout your vacation, make it a habit to let your friends and family know what you’re up to and where you’ll be.
3. Drink and smoke in moderation
Being too drunk or high while you’re out at night paints you as an easy target for theft.
4. Join tours and excursions
Traveling to and from attractions as a solo traveler, especially if you don’t rent a car, can be quite tricky. Tours and excursions are great ways to safely get around the island and experience its many attractions.
Is Montego Bay Safe for Female Travelers?
Female travelers — especially solo ones — should exercise more than a reasonable amount of caution anywhere in the world. Stay vigilant at all times.
Sexual harassment (including catcalling and unwanted advances), sexual assault, and rape are unfortunately not rare in Jamaica. Tourist women are less likely to be affected but there’s no reason to take any chances.
In addition to the advice in earlier sections, here are some extra ways to keep yourself safe as a female traveler in Montego Bay.
1. Don’t overshare
Don’t share too much information about where you’re staying or what your plans are. This includes passively sharing information as well. For example, don’t let anyone see your hotel key if it has your room number on it.
2. Be firm but polite with men who make unwanted advances.
Flat-out ignoring them runs a higher risk of upsetting them, causing the situation to become heated and more dangerous. Do not make conversation with them, though. A simple “No, thanks,” or “I’m in a rush, sorry,” should do.
In a situation where you feel you are truly in danger, make a fuss, shout, or even scream.
3. Be wary of spiked drinks
When out at clubs and bars (or anywhere, really) do not accept a drink that has already been poured and do not leave your drink unattended for any amount of time.
Getting Around Montego Bay Safely
The ultimate safest way to get around Montego Bay is to hire a cab driver who is either part of the JUTA (Jamaica Union of Travellers Association) or from a trusted tour company. The staff at your accommodation can usually help you out with getting these contacts and arranging transport.
As for public transportation, taxis are better than buses. Buses tend to be overcrowded and lend themselves to more petty crime. When taking taxis, make sure you’re entering a vehicle with a red license plate (there are some illegally operating taxis that use the regular white license plate).
Unless you have experience renting cars, on vacation in Jamaica is not a great place to have your first try! If you do decide to rent a car, always park it either inside a parking lot with an attendant, inside a residential compound, or somewhere that you’ll be able to see it from where you’ll be going.
Really, Montego Bay is no better or worse than any other popular tourist city in the world. Despite the reputation Jamaica has, the chances of being targeted by violent crime as a tourist are astoundingly low. Rather, focus your energy on minimizing your chance of becoming a victim of pickpocketing and robbery.
Don’t let fear have you holed up in your resort the whole time. As mentioned earlier, if Montego Bay was truly unsafe, it would not be such a frequented vacation spot. Be smart, exercise caution, and have fun!