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Jamaica Declares State Of Emergency – Should You Cancel Your Trip?

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For the third time since 2018, Jamaica has declared a new state of emergency, following a streak of violence that’s been affecting the entire country, including tourist zones. But how is this time different from the ones before, and how actually serious is the situation on the ground? In simpler terms, should you cancel your trip to Jamaica?

Jamaicans And Tourists Walking Down A Busy Shopping Street In Falmouth, Jamaica

Jamaica is a highly sought-after beach destination packed with natural wonders, warm year round, and brimming with culture. Whether it’s sunbathing on a golden-sand beach, swimming in inland grottoes with the bluest of waters, or sampling some Afro-Caribbean cuisine, newcomers are sure to fall in love with the small island.

Sadly, there is a darker side to Jamaica most tourists are not aware exists, and one that is casting a shadow over its exceptional tourism recovery:

Jamaica Has One Of The Highest Murder Rates In The World

Sandy Beach With Palm Trees And A Sailing Boat In The Distance, Jamaica, Caribbean

Jamaica is one of the top trending countries for Americans travelers right now, thanks to a historic post-pandemic demand and its abolition of entry requirements. On the downside, it has been slowly backsliding on the security front, struggling to curb the advance of organized crime and being cited in a ranking of countries with the highest crime rates globally.

Similarly to Colombia, Jamaica has been experiencing a violence surge lately, in particular an increase in murder cases, attributed to gang activity and the establishment of paramilitary divisions within the island. While there have been few reports of tourists affected, unlike in Colombia, the rates are still high enough to warrant a new emergency declaration.

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Jamaicans Shopping From An Open Air Fruit Market In Downtown Kingston, Jamaica, Caribbean

Beyond its gated villas and luxury developments, Jamaica is far from being an immaculate, trouble-free paradise, so much so that this week, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced a new State of Emergency (SOE) in nine of out of 14 parishes, or 64.29% of the country, including Saint James, which encompasses Montego Bay, a major tourist destination.

The other administrative regions affected are:

  • Clarendon
  • Saint Catherine
  • Westmoreland
  • Hanover
  • Kingston (only partially)
  • Saint Ann (only partially)
  • Saint James (only partially)
Aerial View Of Development Zone In Montego Bay, Jamaica With The Caribbean Sea In The Background

How Effective Are states Of Emergency?

Jamaica has infamously resorted to SOEs a number of times already, targeting hotspots for gang violence in large urban centers, particularly Kingston and Montego Bay. The current SOE is in fact a re-enactment of an earlier one, which expired in November after the Senate refused to grant Holness an extension.

These episodes have been heavily criticized for an increase in police brutality and ‘arbitrary detentions’, sparking not only fiery responses from criminal groups, but also civil unrest. However, as Holness remarked during a speech in November, the SOE was ‘necessary’ and ‘appropriate’ in light of the recent data on social disorder within Jamaica.

Paradise Beach In Jamaica, Caribbean Sea

So far this year, 120 individuals were killed in Kingston, and 10 out of 19 police divisions have recorded spikes in violence, accounting for three-quarters of all murders. Despite the harrowing indicators, Mark Golding, the Leader of the Opposition, maintained his critical stance, affirming that SOEs have ‘no lasting benefits’ and do not solve violent crime.

Golding has a point: regardless of heavier surveillance and the Senate’s recently-approved gun amnesty, crimes have been perpetrated across several parishes where SOEs were enforced in the past. In November, a baby was among the victims of a fatal drive-by shooting in Saint James, only a day following an SOE announcement.

Panoramic View Of Kingston, Jamaica

In an address to the public, Holness stated Jamaica is facing ‘some really serious’ criminal threats, and the Government will have to use ‘all the powers’ at disposal. Last year, Jamaica had the highest murder rate in the whole of the Latin America and Caribbean sub-region, according to the ‘Homicide Round-Up’ published by InSight Crime.

Taking these information into account, how safe is Jamaica for visitors?

U.S. Says Reconsider Travel To Jamaica, But Here’s Why You Shouldn’t

traveler backpacker us passport

According to the U.S. Government, not as safe as one would imagine. The Department of State urges Americans to reconsider travel to Jamaica due to crime, listing all of the areas in the aforementioned parishes that have fallen under a State of Emergency as no-go zones. In Kingston, tourists should refrain from traveling to:

  • Cassava Piece
  • Downtown Kingston (including the Olympic Gardens, Seaview Gardens, Trench Town, and Tivlo Gardens)
  • Duhaney Park
  • Grants Pen
  • Standpipe
  • Elleston Flats
  • August Town
People enjoy Doctor's Cave Beach in Montego Bay Jamaica on a sunny day.

In Montego Bay, Level 4 areas are the following:

  • Canterbury
  • Flankers
  • Glendevon
  • Mount Salem
  • Norwood
  • Paradise Heights
  • Rose Heights

The Government stresses that ‘violence and shootings occur regularly’ in these areas, yet Jamaica remains a leader in bookings in the Greater Antilles, ranking as the fourth most popular destination for Americans. Needless to say, the vast majority of visits are trouble-free, otherwise Americans would be canceling their vacation plans en masse.

Female Photographer Taking A Picture Of The Jamaican Nature, Jamaica

When assessing safety risks, we must take into account the average visitor to Jamaica is staying at an all-inclusive resort or tourist complex, where the chaotic scenes of downtown Kingston, or suburban Montego Bay, are not usually a concern. Additionally, they will rarely venture off-site, unless as part of a guided tour booked through reputable operators.

As Nicola Madden-Greig, President of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) concurred, the situation in Jamaica right now, no matter how ‘sad’, will not necessarily impact American visitors. With that being said, caution is urged when leaving your resort, with basic advice applying, such as avoiding deserted places and keeping a low profile.

Young Couple Posing For A Picture By The Seaside In Montego Bay, Jamaica, Caribbean

Naturally, more adventurous tourists traveling in Level 4 areas of Jamaica where gangs are present and crime is rampant will face substantially higher risks. However, if you’re flying into Montego Bay hoping to catch a tan, and have a few drinks by the pool as you watch the sun set over the Caribbean from your hotel, you have absolutely nothing to worry about.

As we have reported earlier

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Erna Reid

Thursday 15th of December 2022

There are specific tourist areas in Jamaica. Those areas that you've mentioned they're no tourist areas. Are you just spreading rumors or what? Jamaica is number one in crime in the world? Really?

Dede Blessed

Wednesday 14th of December 2022

Everywhere have crime, is America sending out notice don’t travel to America/ New York, New Jersey and several other places that is crime stricken. As much as it’s good to know and be safe and take caution, crime is everywhere these days and we all have to walk careful

Norma Acker

Wednesday 14th of December 2022

How safe is it to visit Jamaica in August 2023? Should I cancel my holiday ?

Paula

Wednesday 14th of December 2022

@Norma Acker, I live in Jamaica and US. Just like the US it really depends or where you hangout. I live in Portland. They do NOT play here. Very safe but no matter where you have to be mindful if everyone and everything around you just like the rest of the world.

Tamika Mays

Wednesday 14th of December 2022

@Norma Acker, good question I'm going for my 50 in August and in the middle of planning a big event there

Dawn wilk

Tuesday 13th of December 2022

You talk about the Americans traveling to Jamaica. What about the Jamaicans that's returning to Jamaica. Are we in danger also, you never stated.

Paula

Wednesday 14th of December 2022

@Dawn wilk, keep a low profile.