We've starting planning for a trip to Jamaica in December, but we've recently started hearing more accounts of violent crime in the country. We're planning to stay in a staffed villa near Montego Bay. We'd like to be able to do a bit of exploring as well, but are the risks becoming significant?
We lived in Jamaica for the past two years as Peace Corps Volunteers and feel we know the situation well. While violent crime in Jamaica should definitely be taken seriously, it's important to understand that it is only in particular areas. The violence is mostly from gang activity (inner-city) and domestic/neighbor disputes. You don't want to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. That just means don't go wandering around in unfamiliar places and try not to be out after dark. Same thing you would do in a big city in the U.S. In regards to theft and robbery, which are also prevalent: just be smart. Don't flash money around, don't wear big jewelry, keep your camera close to your person, etc. These are "crimes of opportunity" so prevent them by being aware of your surroundings. We always felt safe while we lived in Jamaica, but we took all these precautions.
The staff at your villa and any registered driver will be able to tell you where is safe to go and where is not. Jamaicans really want visitors to have a great time and they will go out of their way to take care of you. A few rotten eggs will try to take advantage of a naive tourist but most will be hospitable and even over-protective!
Here's the honest truth: If you just want a nice beach vacation and you're going to hole up in a resort all week, I say save your money and stay in California. But if you want to explore Jamaica, which you mentioned, it's an amazing place with a fantastic culture. I'm 100% in support of seeing the "real Jamaica."
Jamaica has high local crime rate but tourists are not targeted. Don't worry about safety.
I have been to Jamaica numerous times and never had a problem. Just stay in resort area and its no problem. Get a guide or driver through your hotel for outings.
Jamaica like every other country has its share of problems, however, there is absolutely no need to worry as long as you have a trusted Tour Guide. Book with reputable business that are listed with the tourist board. You will be fine.
Enjoy Jamaica I know you are gonna love it here.
Mentioned in this answer:
Andrew, like anywhere else you go there are the bad elements you do not want to encounter and therefore the key to a great vacation is to use reputable establishments. There are reputable vacation properties in Jamaica that are very safe and likewise if you do excursions with reputable tour operator like ourselves we are obliged to take you to locations that are approved by the Local Tourist Board.
Planning your trip should be well thought of. Decide the things you want to do and match it with your budget. BE-AWARE of the very cheap too good to be true prices and always asked about industry license and insurance.