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Jamaica Travel Guide – Insider Tips Before You Go

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Overview

What is it like in Jamaica?

Fine light sand, turquoise shining sea, exotic food with a proper pinch of spiciness, fascinating tropical nature, and countless dreamlike waterfalls – this is Jamaica. In the midst of all this, the beautiful Blue Mountains – this island is a breathtaking natural paradise. Already Jamaica's indigenous people, the Tainos, called the island Xaymaca. It means “the land of wood and water” or “land of springs.”

But Jamaica's history and path to independence is marked by exploitation and oppression. Columbus landed on the island in 1494, occupied it and enslaved the indigenous people, the Tainos. In the 17th century, it became part of the British colony. Sugar and piracy made Jamaica one of the richest islands in the Caribbean. However, uprisings by the enslaved people were repeatedly brutally put down, and it was not until the mid-19th century that all slavery was abolished. Since 1962 Jamaica is independent and still a member of the Commonwealth.

The roots of Jamaicans are deeply connected to Africa. But their culture is influenced by many nations. European, African, Indian, and Chinese. “Out Of Many, One People” is the national motto. Jamaicans are friendly, fun-loving, and very relaxed people – “soon come” and “don't worry – be happy” perfectly reflect their attitude to life. Why fall into hectic or rushing? It doesn't make an oven bake any faster.

Life takes place outside. Whether in the streets, in the park, or on the beach, but always with music. Music and dance play an important role in Jamaican culture. Jamaicans say that their heart never stops dancing, and so dancing is part of everyday life: in church, on the beach, in the street – all of Jamaica dances. The drum-heavy music of the Africans mixed with rhythm and blues gave rise to Reggae. Probably the most famous Reggae singer is Bob Marley – a legend. In fact, you can still hear his music all over the world. It is mostly sung in Patois, the language of the heart. Although English is the official language, the passion and the heart are in their language, the Jamaican Patwa(h) / Patois.

Not only the world-famous Reggae has its origin here, but also one of the most famous fictional characters was created on this beautiful island. A little tip: his drink must be shaken. That's right, James Bond. Ian Fleming bought a small villa and called it “Goldeneye.” He wrote almost all the twelve 007 novels—incidentally, the most successful film series in cinema history. Jamaica appears in several Bond stories, and three films are partly set here. In the “Jamaica Inn,” one met not only Ian Fleming, but also Winston Churchill. Rumor has it that the two of them invented the Martini shaken on ice there – because it was simply too hot for the standard version.

Tourism is an important part of the economy, cruises and honeymooners can be found here without end. There are even really fancy package tours, like, “In the footsteps of James Bond.” But ecotourism is also booming, even though Jamaica is the fifth-largest producer of bauxite in the world. Due to past injustices and a shaky economy, there is high unemployment, gang crime, and the LGBT scene is also struggling. Problems that the government is addressing and fighting, but it takes time.

The diverse culture, beautiful nature, and unique rhythm of the island are phenomenal. Seriously, where can you find such crazy and brave people? Why? In 1988, at the Winter Olympics, indeed the first Jamaican bobsled team competed. Officially, they came last, but winners of hearts. Of course, this sensation was filmed: Cool Runnings.

If you travel to Jamaica, you will not only find enchanting beaches, rousing music, and deeply relaxed people – but also absolutely fascinating natural experiences. The Jamaican life motto “don't worry – be happy” will change you.

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Best Time to Visit

The average annual temperature is 79 °F (26 °C), with the lowest just under 72 °F (22 °C), and it can get up to 90 °F (32 °C) in the summer months of June to August. The water temperature varies between 79 °F and 84 °F (26 °C and 29 °C). The high season is from December to April.

Entry Requirements

Visa

Most tourists do not need a visa, but it depends on your passport. You can quickly check if you require one here, and you will also see how long you can stay in the country. Make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months beyond the end of your intended stay.

Travel Insurance

We recommend travel health insurance; you never know what, where, how it could happen. Make sure you are covered!

Customs

On the plane, customs declarations will be distributed, which you will need to hand over to customs when entering the country. We can only advise you to declare everything because the luggage will be scanned.

Health

Vaccination

No special vaccinations are required for Jamaica. If you are entering from yellow fever areas, proof of current yellow fever vaccination coverage may be necessary. Consult your family doctor or tropical institute for advice on vaccinations before your trip.

First Aid Kit

The usual first-aid kit is sufficient for Jamaica. However, if you take medication regularly, pack enough for your trip. Do you wear contact lenses? Then take enough liquid with you. There are mosquito-borne diseases, so protect yourself with long clothing and mosquito spray. If you do get bitten, these two helpers have made a big difference in our lives, because they drastically reduce itching. You can order the heat pen online, and it is reusable. And you can buy this spray locally in drugstores and pharmacies.

Medical Care

Routes in rural Jamaica are winding, and roads are not in optimal condition, so a trip to a hospital takes longer. In the cities, things are different. The hospitals are equipped with all the necessary standard equipment. The cost of treatment must be paid immediately, in principle, even in emergencies, which can be pretty expensive.

Tap Water

You can drink tap water in Jamaica without hesitation. Not without reason, Jamaica's indigenous people, the Tainos, called the island Xaymaca. It means “the land of wood and water” or “land of springs.”

Safety

Security in General

Jamaica is special in this aspect. The crime rate is high throughout the country, especially in Kingston. Whereby, it is gang crime and drug trafficking. Petty crime such as pickpocketing does occur; we have experienced the attempt ourselves. Nevertheless, we always felt safe; this was mainly because we always asked our accommodation for their personal assessment on safety and behaved according to their advice. We recommend you carry an undergarment waist.

Safety at Night

Use a cab after dark, even for short distances. Even in tourist areas, take only the most necessary valuables outside the door and carry them close to your body.

Safety for Solo Travelers

We did not meet any women traveling alone in Jamaica, but we met some girls traveling as a couple and men solo travelers. I guess you get flirted with a lot. The dance style of the Jamaicans can be described as very courtship, so don't be surprised.

Safety During Transportation

The buses are safe per se, take your valuables with you and don't put them in the suitcase. For rental cars, store everything out of sight. Always find a valet parking spot – this applies at all times of the day. Do not take passengers/hitchhikers with you, and never pay fines in cash to a police officer; the car rental company will charge you for it. Do not drive in the dark because of poor lighting.

Safety typical Jamaica - LGBT couples

Same-sex activity is illegal by law. LGBTQ travelers can vacation in Jamaica. But it is advisable not to make public displays of affection. The attitude of Jamaicans towards same-sex relationships is hostile and can be very aggressive (especially towards men).

Emergency Numbers
Police

119

Ambulance

110

Fire

110

Transport

How to Get There

Getting to Jamaica is by plane or cruise ship. There are direct flights from the United States, Canada and Europe. You can choose between three international airports: Norman Manley Airport in Kingston, Donald Sangster Airport in Montego Bay, and Ian Fleming International Airport in Ocho Rios. It is worth comparing prices.

Airport Transportation

You can take a cab from the airport to your accommodation, they have a fixed price. From the airport in Kingston, there is a yellow JUTC bus. Some accommodations offer airport transfer, unfortunately often at inflated prices.

How To Get Around
Long Distance Bus

Knutsford Express buses are the perfect way to get from A to B. Get on and relax. The buses are comfortable, clean, and you can buckle up. Take something to cover up with you on the bus because it can get nippy. You can book your tickets online – Knutsford Express

Car Rental

With a rental car, you are very flexible, but in Jamaica, there are a few peculiarities. There is left-hand traffic in Jamaica, and many roads are very narrow and winding. Therefore, the driving times are longer than you think. In addition, most people here just follow the nose. Some roads are in bad condition and not recommended in the dark, as lane markings are missing and streetlights are almost non-existent. When it rains, you should drive very carefully or not at all, because one or the other road is heavily flooded or full of debris.

Route Taxi

Perfectly recognizable by the red license plates and on the side of the car is Route Taxi. They drive longer fixed routes, and you can move from city to city with them when you change. You share the car with up to four other passengers, so you pay less than with a regular cab, but run the risk of sitting cramped. Tell the driver your final destination, and he will help you change buses (if necessary).

Local Buses

Local buses are rather small vans. They have red license plates with the inscription “PPV” or “JUTA.” They leave when all seats are filled. You can get from town to town on them, perfect for medium-length trips. If you need space, pay extra for your luggage and keep a seat next to you – but it's not always possible. When the bus is emptier, distances up to just under two hours are doable with it. We've also had to pile in on some trips, which went for just under 10 minutes of travel. Our record was 21 people in the minibus + driver + oil drum. There is no stop button; you have to shout “One Stop Please” if you want to get off.

Domestic Flight

You can also move between the bigger cities by plane. But not every town has an airport, so it's limited. The time saving compared to bus or car is not significant.

In the Cities

In some Jamaican towns and villages, you can walk during the day. You should avoid it after dark. Always ask your landlord/reception for a personal opinion on safety. However, there are the following options in each town:

City Cab
They have red license plates and the letters “PP” or “PPV”; without these, they are not licensed, and you better not use them. Operate within the cities, pay when you get out, ask beforehand how much the ride should cost. Stand on a street; if there is room, they will stop on their own and ask you.

Language

English is the official language, and if you speak a little English, you will have no problems communicating. But there is another language, the language of hearts – Patois. It sounds more rhythmic, more like a song. And you will actually know it a bit because Reggae from Jamaica and many new rap songs use Patois.

It sounds like a creative blending of the African, English, and French languages. It sounds fascinating; for example, the “r” at the end of words is dropped, and so “dollar” becomes “Dolla” and “water” becomes “wata.”
Double “t” in the middle of words become double “k,” so “little” turns into “likkle,” and “bottle” becomes “bokkle.” They omit or add the “h” at will, so “heverybody” say “ello” to you.

Organized Tour or Independent Travel?

Organized Tour

The advantage of group tours? You don't have to worry about anything, so zero organizational stress, and you are never alone. Also, the tour guide speaks English and possibly Patois and always knows useful insider tips. There are round trips with small, medium, and large groups and the most different orientations: Sports, wellness, adventure.
Disadvantage? It is more expensive and less authentic, and you are not flexible – places and times are fixed.

Independent Travel

You can travel through Jamaica perfectly and uncomplicated individually. The transportation network is fantastic, and every city is accessible by bus.

This is how we traveled through Jamaica

We traveled individually and had only the first nights in Montego Bay pre-booked. We stayed very differently from hotel to hostel and also Airbnb. From city to city we went with the buses of Knutsford Express.

Money

Currency

The Jamaican currency is called Jamaican Dollar (JMD). ATMs and exchange offices can be found throughout Jamaica. Foreigners are officially prohibited from importing or exporting JMD.

ATM & Credit Cards

Credit cards are accepted everywhere, and ATMs can be found in every town.

Cash

But especially in rural areas, “cash is king.” Cash and especially “small” banknotes are very helpful for route cabs or local food stalls. However, you can also pay in US dollars, although it is usually cheaper to pay in JMD.

Tipping

A tip of 10-15% is customary in Jamaica, unless a service charge is already included in the bill. For cleaning staff, porters, or luggage porters, anything over 100 JMD is fair.

Marijuana (Ganja)

Since 2015, possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal, medical, or scientific use is a minor offense. A small amount means 2 ounces (56.6 grams), and a little crime means the maximum is a misdemeanor fine.

Packing List

Power plug / Power data
What to pack?

For your trip to Jamaica, we have a few packing tips that are definitely worth their weight in gold. Since you'll be spending a lot of time outdoors and in the water in Jamaica, be sure to pack these items:

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