Crime and Tourists
Crime and drugs are legitimate concerns. Don't leave your brain at home.
But for tourists, it's generally as
safe as any other high crime area (such as Washington, DC) if you show reasonable care. See U.S. Department of State current travel advisory crime in Jamaica.
I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and no one knew what to do with me: to live or let die. I expected to have my head cut off with a machete. Ten years passed before I had the nerve to go back to Jamaica.
Today, I feel safe and welcome in Jamaica--but whenever I go off into the bush, it's with someone reliable. No one should be foolish enough to hire a "guide" who approaches you. You may get shaken down instead of shown the sights, and what should you expect?
Would you entrust your safety to the first stranger who approached you in London, New York or Miami and offered to show you around, especially take you off the beaten path? Dumb innocence will always get you into trouble, anywhere.
In Jamaica, be prepared for the open sale of drugs, particularly the local herb, ganja (marijuana). Pot not only is one of the major cash crops, in the countryside it's sometimes consumed the way Americans drink beer at a Sunday picnic.
Expect to be offered a sociable smoke and decide in advance how you want to handle it. If you don't care to take a few spliffs, that's agreeable with the locals. They never push it, only offer. Yes, it's heady stuff, but no one in their wildest, stoned dream should ever consider taking any out.
The best description I've ever heard on how Jamaica works comes from Peter Bentley, Jamaica's original hiking expert and a past president of the Jamaica Alternative Tourism, Camping and Hiking Association (JATCHA).
is how Peter described Jamaica and its people:
"Push, you don't get much. Take it easier, get much more.
"When we speak, expect to be baffled. Our patois sounds like a foreign language. Sometimes it might sound like you are being scolded, but we love you. We argue hard, but at the same time we will happily share a rum or a smoke with you. We can be mighty inquisitive, or extremely shy. We are a poor country. Hustling is almost a way of life, a necessity--meet the hustler with humor and compassion, and continue with your mission.
"We like to be acknowledged even if it is only slightly raising the index finger as a greeting or saying one word, "Irie" (pronounced "Eye-ree" and meaning everything's going wonderful or just great--a greeting also to describe a person or the day.)"
That's the real Jamaica.