When traveling to Jamaica, tourists must be careful to avoid being crime victims

Posted October 21, 2019


KINGSTON, Jamaica — “When people talk about crime and violence and categorize Jamaica as the only country with this problem, that is simply not true. You can live here for many years as a local and never experience some of these crimes.

“However, tourists are at a higher risk of being victims of pick pockets, price inflation, beggars and so much more. You have to be vigilant and cautious where ever you go,” Sgt. Gardnear, a trainee at the National Police College of Jamaica, said.

A day in the life of a busy higgler in Downtown Kingston (Photo courtesy of Creative Commons).

Jamaica, a Caribbean country in the West Indies, is said by many to be one of the most beautiful islands to visit. The culture is rich, the food was amazing and the people were incredibly warm and divine. It is the birthplace of Reggae, a world-renown music genre, that legendary Bob Marley placed on the map.

None-the-less, brewing in the back of all the hype and zest were four things travelers should pay keen attention to when traveling to the island.

Tourism in Jamaica was a popular scene along the northern and southern coasts. This included parishes like St. Ann, St. Mary, St. James, St. Elizabeth and Westmoreland. However, in the more local areas like Clarendon, Kingston and St. Andrew, or when simply venturing more inland, traveling can become tricky for tourists without the right guide and supervision.

“When traveling to Jamaica, many tourists need to carefully consider where they are traveling to and what they are traveling with,” Gardnear said adamantly. “From my 23 years as a veteran at the Police Academy of Spanish Town, I cannot stress enough of how careful travelers need to be.

“I have seen in many circumstances where tourists venture out from the safety of their hotel grounds for sex and marijuana. Thereafter, they become susceptible to different crimes, being an easy target, that can be committed against them. We have many pick-pockets, people who raise the fees because you are tourists and beggars all over.”

Crime will always be the same in every other country, but in Jamaica the situation can become unique when being committed against a tourist. When traveling to Half Way Tree for the first time, or any crowded area that will be hosting an event, be mindful of what you take in your pocket/s.

Leave all your valuables or anything recently purchased outside the country, either at the residence you were staying at, in the car’s glove compartment, under the car seat or in the hotel room’s safe. Do not leave anything out inside the vehicle that can be easily seen by passersby. Remember to always leave behind your cellphone, especially if it was recently purchased or a newer model.  

“Leave your phones in your car as much as you can. If this is not possible, try to only use your phone once you’ve left a crowded area. Do not travel with large sums of cash on you. Do your research and try to go to places that only accepts cards. This will lessen the hassle having to take out large sums of cash in public and labels you less of a target,” said Gardnear.  

Additionally, when purchasing anything from vendors on the streets, wholesales and stores, be sure to have done your research on that place. This can be done by asking other locals about the area, or by doing some research online. It was common for tourists to go to different locations, without doing some type of research, only to end up with higher price quotations than the locally charged fees. 

Sophia Smallwood, a retired self-employed salesperson, confessed to rising prices for her goods during special occasions. She explained that with things becoming so difficult in the country as the Jamaican dollar depreciated, life started getting much harder. Therefore, as an uneducated higgler who sold clothes for a living, she shared that sometimes she had to do some unscrupulous things just to be able to provide for her family.

“The idea behind this is to get money from them. Many Jamaicans believe that every tourist have a lot of money. So, vendors take pride in hiking-up the prices just to accommodate them. Many of the street vendors are poor and can’t afford to put food on the table. We raise the prices with that in mind” Smallwood said.  

Furthermore, do not forget the notion of beggars being everywhere. You will see many of them in the busy town areas scouting their next victim, or at random street lights ready to drown your windscreen with soap and water.

“Our properties are safe for guests and people visiting Jamaica for the first time. In taking pride of our visitors’ safety, we always try to inform them about the dangers they can encounter when they leave the compound. One thing that we made note of was about beggars and how it worked in Jamaica. Beggars are no longer adults, but children who usually travel in groups or independently. We inform them to keep their windows winded up when traveling in their cars, especially once they are at a street light. Turn your wipers on if you want them want to wipe your glass and you do not want them to do so,” Rohan Silvera, CEO and manager of Aspen Luxury Suites, said.

He explained that he continued to encouraged his guests not to be deceived by children asking for money. He stated that one would never know if an adult was initially behind the child’s actions, that can easily turn a good act into a bad situation.

Do not entertain a beggar’s attitude when they become pushy and do not take them seriously when they ask for other possessions. Some of these things can include requesting the shoes off your feet, or go as far as asking for the clothes in your suitcase. Be strong and do not be undermined by their tricks.

A display of Sensimilla, Cannibis rolled up in Rizla paper and bagged in small plastic bags from Nine Mile, Jamaica (Photo by the Drug Users Bible from Creative Commons).

However, the initial idea would not be to retaliate against all beggars, but just to be mindful and more cautious than the norm. If you felt the need to share with someone what was on your heart, do so with vigilance and cautiously. Jamaicans have a peculiar trait in easily identifying tourists because of how much they stand out. This can be from the way they dress, spoke, attitude and so much more. Any tourist can easily become a victim of beggars, so be careful of those that approach you at all times.

To smoke, possess or sell marijuana, otherwise known as weed, was strictly illegal for many years in Jamaica. As a result, in the past, many tourists served jail time due to either not knowing about this law, or not understanding it. It was believed by many that since Jamaica carried some of the market’s best marijuana, that everyone in the country supported smoking it. This was simply not so as smoking marijuana had a negative connotation.

Thus, as society changed with things moving in a different direction, the government decided to steer away from decriminalizing marijuana, by changing the Dangerous Drug Act.

“Marijuana is still considered illegal, but is not an arrestable offense when its under two ounces. This is so because it would be understood that you use it for smoking purposes. It is however a ticketed offense, with no tickets being implemented for it. Nonetheless, with the possession of under two ounces of marijuana, you have to show proof of your reason for having it. This can include medical, articulture or a receipt from a licensed distributor,” Garnear said.

From the government implementing this new law, tourist ought to be diligent in following them. Be reminded that smoking in public was an arrestable offense. If you need to smoke do so in the privacy of your own space, or in a designated smoking area in the hotel that you reside at.

Additionally, those that identify with being from the LGBTQ community must especially practice caution when traveling to Jamaica. Jamaica was known to be one of the most homophobic countries in the Caribbean, that originated from the country’s history of plantation owners raping their slave men. This was initially done to break the bond of the families they had, dehumanizing them against rebelling or revolting. This act, otherwise stemming from lust, broke many slave’s masculinity and harbored shame among them.   

Thereafter, hatred, disgust and shame followed by high crime and violence were some of the unsaid things that happened to people who identified with this group. Bum Bye Bye a popular song sang by Buju Banton, a famous Jamaican reggae artist, was sang by many of his fans all around the world. However, little did many knew about its violent undertones, which encouraged the idea of killing people who identified as being Gay.

Buju Banton performing at the llosaarirock Music Festival, Joensuu, Finland (Photo by HaeB from Creative Commons).

If you travel to Jamaica and you associate with the LGBTQ community, take the necessary precautions into consideration. It would be wise not to leave the protection of the hotel’s compound in which you reside in. Conversely, if you choose to leave your hotel’s premises do not travel alone, go in groups.  

Be mindful that things can elevate very quickly if you do not associate yourselves with the right people. Trust no one unless you knew them and they understood that you identify with being from this community. Be careful of the situations you were led into and do your research before you go anywhere.

Try not to express any feelings of affection with your partner in public and commute in the privacy of your own vehicle or rented car as much as you can. Do not openly support the LGBTQ community in conversations, nor do you talk about your engaging activities with people of the same sex, with anyone you can not trust.

“No kissing, not touching or holding hands. You will get shot in public for doing something like this. It is not safe for any Jamaica, yet alone tourist for engaging in such behavior,” Carton Harris, the managing director of “Breakfast in Bed,” said.

A fellow Jamaican who remained to be anonymous shared having to fight his deportation from America back to Jamaica. He explained how his court battle quickly turned into a citizenship, as his lawyers pleaded his asylum case.

“I cannot go back home your honor because they would kill me if my people found out I was gay. You would be sending me to my grave judge. Please have mercy,” he said.

He expressed his fear of being gay and going back to his country, an opportunity that many other deported Jamaicans did not get. Everyone who associate with the LGBTQ community and travel to Jamaica should be respected regardless of their sexual and existential preferences, but practice the necessary precautions in order to avoid drawing attention to yourself.

“Some of us don’t care what people want to do with their life. For me personally it does not bother me, but others might say otherwise. If you like guys and you are a man, so be it. Many of the politicians and gang leaders secretly love men too. With that said, just try not to be loud with your affections and tone down your behavior. Stay in your lane and be careful of who you trust. You should be fine with just going by all of that,” Anash Stewart, a tourist, said.