Let’s clear the air by saying I’m not much of a solo traveler. I usually travel with family, my partner or a small group of friends for safety and convenience, even if you won’t see photos of them on my blog or social media for privacy. This causes people to falsely assume I travel alone, so I often get DMs on Instagram from would-be and experienced travelers who express awe at my “solo travel” or from people looking for tips on how to do it. While it may not be my usual modus operandi, I have done solo trips and am aware of how to accomplish them safely. Read on for my solo traveler’s guide to Jamaica for every kind of traveler.
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Benefits of Solo Travel
Have you ever wanted to go somewhere but ended up not going because you didn’t have anyone to accompany you? After high school and college, your friends may move all across the country and have different work schedules and family obligations which make them less accessible. Your friends or even your partner may have different interests and aren’t as keen on visiting the places that you want to go. Or, they may be interested in going but don’t have the funds to go gallivanting for the weekend. That’s where travelling solo comes in. If they aren’t available to go out when you can, go alone!
Travelling solo boosts your confidence, self-sufficiency and will allow you to experience and appreciate a place more than you would’ve done with the distraction of company. You’ll also travel more and experience more out of life than you would if you just sit around moping and waiting for someone to go out with. This is advice I myself am guilty of not always taking.
Is Jamaica Safe for Solo Travel?
Yes, yes it is! Jamaica has a high murder rate per capita and is often touted as a dangerous place but the reality is that a lot of murder in Jamaica is targeted at individuals and families who get involved in corrupt or criminal activities. There is also the unfortunate side of things where one may be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or cases of mistaken identity, but for the most part crime doesn’t befall foreigners in Jamaica once they keep their wits about them.
- I don’t recommend solo travel at night, but if you must, make sure to attend public events and establishments, store cash in different places (e.g. bra, purse, pockets) and have a secure ride to and from.
- In the corporate area, you can save the number of taxi companies to your phone and verify that you have the right driver when he or she arrives. Text the licence plate number to a friend.
- Make sure your phone is fully charged or carry a power bank.
- Don’t wear flashy jewelry especially if you have to walk from point A to point B.
- Don’t advertise expensive possessions such as your phone, tablet or laptop while walking. Keep these possessions in your bag, and try not to answer your phone or send texts while standing at bus stops alone or walking as this distracts you from your surroundings and may attract thieves.
- Locals, this isn’t the best time to speak the Queen’s English. Chat Patois if you can! If you can’t, don’t force it though.
- Bargain prices if they sound unfair, and try to always have an idea how much something costs before you go so that you don’t get ripped off.
For foreigners, try not to look too foreign. This principle applies everywhere in the world. Looking like a foreigner screams tourist, which for countries like Jamaica which rely on tourism means that someone is looking forward to overcharge you to score some extra bucks. There’s no need to walk with your camera around your neck, and try to be discreet in taking photos. Also, that Hawaiian shirt and shorts set can be worn on the beach at your hotel– NOT in the city which will scream tourist. Try not to stick out too much although that’s easier said than done for my Caucasian readers. Jamaica is 91% black so minority groups and races may attract attention. For Black foreigners in Jamaica, the accent will give you away when you speak so try to find out what things cost before coming to avoid getting ripped off. You can always send me a DM or email about the cost of things in Jamaica, or perhaps I’ll turn that into an article too when I get the free time.
There are truly many neighbourhoods to be avoided. I’ll refrain from listing names to avoid offending anyone, but communities on the poorer end of the city often consist of shacks, zinc fences, incomplete or abandoned houses and narrow lanes. Lastly, being polite and non-judgmental goes a far way! Politely decline buying weed or tell the souvenir vendors “no thanks” if you’re not interested. Don’t be surprised if someone takes a liking to you once they pick up that you’re not from that district, parish or country. Sometimes they’re just curious; other times they have ulterior motives. Only share as much information as you’re willing to give. For women, give a fake name or quickly mention a boyfriend and make it clear that you’re not interested. This deters most harassers.
Anyway, time for my top THREE tips in sightseeing Jamaica solo:
1. Visit the Commercialized Spots
Commercialized attractions in Jamaica mean tour guides, security guards, lifeguards, proper changing rooms, restrooms and a carpark– all in exchange for an admission cost. These places will be crowded but when travelling alone, the presence of other persons is welcome and helps to keep you safe. Since you’re technically not alone at these places, you can make friends with the staff or even other patrons. For example, in 2019 I went ziplining alone at YS Falls because none of my family was up for the challenge, but I was set on going ziplining. I felt a bit lonely at first until I met another woman who was ziplining alone too and we chatted for the whole way and shared travel experiences. We didn’t even exchange names but in that moment she became my ziplining companion and made the experience more enjoyable (and less nerve-wracking) for me.
Examples of spots I’d feel safe to visit alone or have visited alone include:
- 7 Mile Beach, Negril
- Bob Marley Museum
- Chinese Garden at Hope Gardens
- Devon House (Tour the mansion, explore the artisan shops)
- Dunn’s River Falls
- Fort Charles
- Frenchman’s Cove
- Green Grotto Caves
- Hope Zoo + Gardens
- Konoko Falls
- Montego Bay Cultural & Civic Centre
- National Gallery of Jamaica
- Peter Tosh Museum
- Rose Hall Great House
- Trench Town Culture Yard
- YS Falls
2. Hire A Well-Recommended Tour Guide
Just because you’re travelling alone doesn’t mean you can’t employ the services of a trusted guide. Look up the places you want to visit and find out if a reputable organization such as the Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust (JCDT) has tour guides and rangers who can accompany you on your trip. Another option is to follow blogs such as Adventures from Elle which often shares contact details for locals who acted as a guide on my travels, and who may be able to accompany you or suggest someone else trustworthy. There are also walking community tours such as in Treasure Beach and Trench Town in Kingston which will allow you to safely explore a corner of Jamaica as a solo traveler.
3. Splurge on Tour Trips
Lastly, as more Jamaicans express interest in exploring closer to home, there has been a surge in local travel tour companies. These companies will arrange for pickup at a central location, often in Kingston or Montego Bay, then cover transport, admission, a tour guide and even light refreshments. They are often very pricey but save you the hassle of planning the trip yourself. Since they’re trying to fill a 15 or 30 seater bus with passengers to ensure profit, you’ll have the comfort of safety in numbers and may even be able to make friends with other solo travelers and like-minded individuals. Examples include Amanda’s 876 Adventures and Portland 876 Tours. There are also trip curators such as Best of Jamaica (BOJ) Adventure Tours Ltd. which cater for a foreign audience.
I hope you feel more empowered to take a solo trip in Jamaica! Share your Jamaican solo travel experiences in the comments. Also, some updates: Adventures from Elle got featured in the Jamaica Gleaner last week, and on Television Jamaica’s morning-time show Smile Jamaica yesterday! How cool is that! I’ll add links below so you can check out those features. Until next time!