Montego Bay is one of the most popular vacation destinations in Jamaica. Even during 2021, a year where tourism slowed considerably due to the pandemic, Montego Bay received thousands of visitors each day during the peak tourism season.
Montego Bay is the perfect place to let loose while on vacation. Enjoy the beautiful beaches such as Doctor’s Cave Beach with its rumored medicinal properties or Dead End Beach.
Go shopping on Gloucester Avenue or “Hip Strip,” which is packed with souvenir shops, galleries, and clubs. There are plenty of other activities such as golf courses, amusement parks, and all-inclusive resorts that promise a world of pampering.
The hedonism of Montego Bay sounds like a place that is too good to be true, so it’s a good idea to read up on practical concerns before traveling there.
This is especially important as Jamaica has a reputation as a tough destination for crime.
But don’t worry — this travel guide can help you evaluate if a trip to Montego Bay is safe or not. Keep reading to learn more, including what precautions you can take to keep yourself safe. Let us be your guide!
Is Montego Bay Safe to Visit in 2023?
If you visit Montego Bay, you will have to take some precautions to keep yourself safe. The country of Jamaica has a high crime rate, so much so that some countries advise their citizens not to travel there.
However, towns such as Montego Bay that depend on tourism don’t experience a lot of crime, especially in popular tourist or resort areas.
Travel advisories for Jamaica may scare you away from visiting Montego Bay and other towns in the country. The United States has Jamaica under a Level 3 travel advisory, telling citizens to avoid non-essential travel there due to high levels of crime.
More concerningly, the United States put St. James Parish, the parish in which Montego Bay is located, under a “Level 4: Do Not Travel” advisory. Does that mean you shouldn’t travel to Montego Bay at all?
The answer is a little more complicated. First, it’s good to keep in mind that many Americans don’t follow the advice of their own State Department.
Despite the ominous travel advisory, Montego Bay was one of the top vacation destinations for Americans in 2022. Only government employees are bound to State Department advisories as a diplomatic incident could occur if anything happens to them.
Other countries are far more relaxed about their travel advisories for Jamaica and Montego Bay. For example, the Australian government just tells its citizens to exercise a high degree of caution in Jamaica and to be careful of crime in Montego Bay.
This is a Level Two travel advisory, a level lower than what the United States issues. And yes, it’s true that Montego Bay experiences a lot of crime.
Crime that occurs in the town includes:
- Bag snatching
- Sexual assault
Montego Bay experiences a high rate of violent crime, including homicide. The good news is that most of these crimes do not affect tourists, as they occur in out-of-the-way neighborhoods.
As long as you stick to resorts and popular tourist destinations and are very careful about researching bad areas, you should have a safe time in Montego Bay.
Crime in Montego Bay
Crime is the primary source of concern for most people visiting Montego Bay. Like all of Jamaica, Montego Bay and the surrounding St. James Parish has struggled with managing crime in the past, and many problems continue until today.
Jamaica has a very high rate of violent crime, including homicide. According to the latest statistics, the homicide rate is a whopping 52.9 incidents per 100,000 people.
This is one of the highest homicide rates in the Western Hemisphere, if not the highest. Many of these homicides occur in Montego Bay, which is one of Jamaica’s most populous cities.
The high rate of violent crime in Jamaica, including Montego Bay, is due to the prevalence of gang violence. Some sources estimate that 71% of homicides on the island are gang-related.
Montego Bay gangs are behind the lucrative lottery scam industry, an international organized crime scheme that drives much of the gang violence as different gangs fight over turf and profits. The high rate of gang violence is both good and bad news for tourists.
On the one hand, gang violence makes Montego Bay an unsafe place to walk around in and affects the lives of many locals.
On the other hand, as long as you stay out of gang business and avoid certain neighborhoods, you are unlikely to be the victim of a violent crime since the vast majority are gang-related. Montego Bay has a high rate of other crimes and of overall crime.
According to Numbeo, the city scores a 78 out of 100 on the overall crime index, a high value. Respondents reported that levels of many different crimes, from assault to muggings to theft are high.
People are most concerned about violent crimes such as assault and armed robbery and corruption. The crime situation in Montego Bay is getting worse as time passes.
In 2022, Jamaica declared a state of emergency in several locations, including Montego Bay, due to rising crime. The government hoped that giving the police extra powers to stop and search and carry out arrests would help curb crime rates.
The government declared another State of Public Emergency in St. James Parish in March 2023 for 14 days.
Although the crime information for Montego Bay is concerning, thousands of people still visit each year. You might be wondering why so many people are willing to risk their safety to go to the beach in Montego Bay?
The answer is that they aren’t actually risking their safety. Almost all crime in Montego Bay affects locals, not tourists.
Private resort areas and hotels invest heavily in private security to make sure that guests feel safe and will come back. Plus, most crime in Montego Bay happens in certain neighborhoods.
As long as you research your accommodation thoroughly and are careful not to wander around unfamiliar places, you should have a safe visit to Montego Bay.
Although violent crime grabs the headlines, the most likely crime you will encounter in Montego Bay is regular petty theft. All over Jamaica, pickpockets and thieves operate in popular tourist areas.
As Montego Bay is the country’s most popular tourist destination, expect to see a lot of shifty characters in the city.
The Canadian government warns tourists about the risk of petty crime in popular tourist destinations in Jamaica, including Montego Bay.
The travel advisory also includes good tips for preventing crime. Avoid drawing attention to yourself by flashing valuables, wearing expensive jewelry, or withdrawing money from an expensive ATM.
Be careful when using your phone. Phones are popular theft items. Don’t leave your phone among your things on the beach while you go swimming.
If you’re taking photos, snap your photo and put it away. Theft from hotel rooms is unfortunately common. Always use a hotel room safe and never leave valuables lying out in the open, such as on your bed.
Research potential hotels and resorts ahead of time in terms of safety and don’t trust places with mixed reviews.
A common scam in Montego Bay is the lottery scam. Scammers will contact victims, sometimes even before they reach town, and tell them that they won a lottery or a raffle but have to pay a fee or hand over bank information to collect the prize.
Don’t fall for this as you will never see the promised prize money. Plus, lottery scams are run by local gangs, and you don’t want to end up on their radar.
A more dangerous concern than petty theft is armed robbery or muggings. Most violent crimes that affect tourists in Montego Bay are robberies of some sort.
The Australian government warns about the prevalence of robberies against tourists in Montego Bay in its travel advisory for Jamaica.
Certain neighborhoods are hotspots for robberies (more on those later), but people have been targeted in safe areas such as resorts as well. While you should relax during your vacation to Montego Bay, you shouldn’t let your guard down.
Most robberies in Montego Bay happen at night, so avoid wandering around the city after dark. If you want to check out the famous Jamaican nightlife, go with a large group.
Don’t walk home alone but arrange taxis ahead of time through your resort or hotel as unauthorized taxis often rob passengers. Never accept drinks from strangers as drink spiking is another way criminals target people for robberies.
The UK government also includes warnings against robbery in its travel advisory for Jamaica and Montego Bay. Be very careful when using ATMs as robbers often target people when they leave ATMs as they know they have lots of cash.
Only use ATMs inside a secure, guarded building such as a bank or resort and during the day. If you do get robbed, comply with the robber and focus on getting away. Robberies have escalated into more violent crimes before.
Avoiding Bad Areas
Avoiding bad areas is crucial to staying safe in Montego Bay. Certain neighborhoods have high concentrations of crime and those are the ones that you should avoid.
Your likelihood of being the victim of a crime skyrockets if you go into the wrong neighborhood, while your chances are pretty low if you stick to the touristy areas.
In Montego Bay, a general rule of thumb is that more dangerous neighborhoods are further north and further away from the beach.
Some neighborhoods to avoid include:
- Barrett Town
- Rose Heights
- Mount Salem
- Bottom Pen
- Hart Street
- St. Clavers Avenue
Ask your hotel receptionist or accommodation host for detailed advice on which neighborhoods to avoid.
Things to Consider
Here are a few additional safety tips for visiting Montego Bay:
- Follow state of emergency alerts. Authorities regularly put Montego Bay under a state of emergency to curtail crime. During a state of emergency, expect regular searches and ID checks by the police. Be careful about following instructions by local authorities.
- Don’t use drugs while in Montego Bay. All of Jamaica has a reputation for being a weed smoker’s paradise, but it actually has strict drug laws. People often set up tourists by selling them marijuana then calling the police, so don’t let that happen to you.
- Female travelers need to take extra precautions. Women have been verbally harassed and groped in Montego Bay before, including in their resorts. Ignore catcalling as best as you can and report resort staff to their bosses. Avoid walking at night.
- Choose tours carefully. Some tour companies take your deposit then never show up or put you in a vulnerable position to be robbed. Do your research thoroughly.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some common questions you might encounter in Montego Bay:
Is Montego Bay safe for tourists 2023?
According to the U.S. government advisory, Montego Bay is unsafe to travel to in 2023 due to high levels of crime. However, many Americans are still traveling to the Jamaican resort town, and you might follow them if you are so inclined.
How safe is tourism in Jamaica?
Although Jamaica itself is an unsafe country, most tourists have a safe trip when they visit. That is because most tourists stay in high-end hotels or private resorts that invest heavily in security.
Is Montego Bay a good place to travel?
If a resort is in your budget, Montego Bay is a great place to visit. That’s because the resorts have many amenities and work hard to keep their guests safe.
Is it safe to leave the resort in Montego Bay?
Although you are safest in your resort, it is safe to leave your resort area in Montego Bay. Otherwise, thousands of cruise ship passengers wouldn’t swarm Hip Strip daily! Just make sure that you stick to safe areas.
Is it expensive in Montego Bay?
Most people that visit Montego Bay spend a lot of money because they stay in high-end resorts. However, you can stay in Montego Bay on a budget, as long as you choose accommodation that is safe yet affordable.
So, Should You Visit Montego Bay?
Montego Bay is certainly a destination that requires some preparation. You should choose your accommodation carefully, potentially opting for an all-inclusive resort, and research neighborhoods to avoid.
As long as you take these precautions, you can join the thousands of tourists each year that have a wonderful time in this tropical paradise. So, with so much to see and do, what are you waiting for — book your trip today!