A truism all globe-hopping women have learned is that our gender can make small but crucial differences in the way we travel.
Be it the inconvenient need to reserve a little bit more space in our hand luggage for makeup and Tampax to the ease with which we can procure free drinks, being a woman on the road is a business which comes with its own set of precautions and recommendations from country to country. The same goes for Jamaica, a tiny island with a big culture.
While the throngs of gorgeous, bikini-clad women dotting the beaches make it obvious that Jamaicans are a people who won’t insist on a rigorous conservative dress (and the R-rated dance moves show that they aren’t too fussy about conservative behavior either), it is still advisable to remember that you’re a female tourist in a foreign culture. The plethora of fairly sanitized tourist attractions in the north can lull many into a false sense of security, but walking around the towns and on the beaches will find you milling with the locals. It is an experience which can be as delightful as it can be annoying.
Jamaican men are known for their love of women – all women – and they aren’t shy about showing it. While very few are aggressive or dangerous, be prepared to receive a lot more attention than you’re used to. You will hear whispers and catcalls and have men offer to buy you drinks or take you on private tours. While you can safely let your ego wallow in their entirely sincere compliments, never mistake friendliness for trustworthiness, and be polite but firm in refusing any favour you wouldn’t be comfortable with in your own country. If they are really persistent, telling them that your boyfriend or husband wouldn’t approve is a guaranteed way to ensure a sheepish retreat.
As one of the world’s most Christian countries, women who bring their girlfriends may face backlash from the infamously homophobic communities. Though – as is the case in many countries – homosexual men bear the brunt of discrimination, a word to the wise would caution against any public displays of affection amongst same-sex couples.
Most importantly, despite popular belief, marijuana is illegal. Though police tend to have a fairly relaxed attitude towards it and you will inevitably detect the scent of it hanging heavy in the air at hotels and beaches, if you do indulge, do it in private and out of sight. Generally speaking, law enforcement turns a blind eye to marijuana usage, but may be less inclined to do for those who plant themselves directly in their line of vision.
In most other ways, Jamaica is fairly easy place to travel in as a woman. Kingston, the capital city, is known for certain areas that are high-risk, but common sense will easily steer the sensible traveler away from danger. Try to stick to groups and know where you’re going before you get there, and try not to be walking around at very late hours. Don’t flash around fancy jewellery, and always ask before snapping a photo of someone. Armed with decent judgement and a sense of humor, the most difficulty a woman should face in Jamaica is tearing herself away from it when her trip finishes.