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Tips For Visiting Jamaica
Introduction To Jamaica
Before going to Jamaica, you need to realize that it is unlike any other country. It has a humorous, flavorful people who enjoy dry humor and capitalism. It is a bizarre place of blue waters, bleak architecture and a colony that got it's independence too soon.
I have been to Jamaica twice and I simply loved the Island. There is simply a place for everyone there. It is a world of extremes. Please continue reading so that I may introduce the Island, it's characteristics, it's wonderful people and insider information so that you may better enjoy your stay.
Map of Jamaica
Pick a Spot, Any Spot
First, you need to find out where you want to spend your time in Jamaica. This matters greatly. Different parts of the island are geared towards different types of tourists.
Kingston is the capital of the nation, the largest city, and of course is the host of the Bob Marley festival every August. It is a fun place to go during that time, but I do not recommend visiting during any other time. Political demonstrations are common, poverty is grinding, and the beaches are off-limits to tourists (unless you want to get mugged). You can fly into Kingston directly from their international airport.
Montego Bay, or otherwise known as Mo' Bay is the primary tourist hub and where most flights arrive from the United States and Europe. It is referred to as Mo' Bay by locals and should not be called Montego Bay. Trust me on this. There are few all inclusive resorts here, but the shopping is good. After landing, you will probably board a bus that will drive you to your resort.
Falmouth is about a three hour bus ride, easy, from Montego Bay. You will see resorts everywhere. They are walled in, off-limits to locals (except the employees) and have security. You will often see hustlers outside the gates or outside the beach premises wanting to sell you pot, prostitutes, whatever. Anything you need, they will get you. These merchants will not venture onto resort grounds--so don't worry if they are bugging you, just walk away. Keep in mind that people in Jamaica do not have regard for a "personal bubble", merchants will often grab your arm or otherwise touch you in order to compell you to buy their stuff. Do not be alarmed, they won't hurt you. This is just their method of sale. Simply say "not interested" over and over as you walk away, they may follow a few feet and blurt a few words (such as begging phrases), but will not harm you or chase you down. Nudist beaches are common but are usually sealed off, they can be found on resort grounds. People or merchants will not bother you if you decide to utilize the area.
Negril is mostly a place for college students on spring break, singles, or honeymooners. It is a nice, newer resorted area of the island. It is about 3 hours away from Mo' Bay International Airport. Negril is not really recommended for families.
Ochos Rios is an excellent spot for shopping, and exploring some of the natural wonders of the island. If you are staying in the area (within an hour's drive), I recommend that you go to The Blue Lagoon--especially if you are a drinker. They will load you up with as much Red Stripe Beer (their primary and often only sold beer) and Fruit Punch & Rum. You will be on a boat with 18 other people or so, then you will be introduced to the Blue Lagoon: a 4 foot lagoon with ancient bacteria in it--when you irritate the bacteria by moving your arms or feet, the water will glow bright blue. The water is perfectly safe. It is a fabulous time and is worth the $30 (USD) or so bucks. You will be taken at nighttime.
Runaway Bay is simular to Falmouth in it's tourist infrastructure. If you choose to go to Jamaica, you will see many resorts available here. Nearby there is a shallow yet long (about a mile) waterfall that you can navigate. You will be issued watershoes, will travel with about 60 people or so, will have several guides and everyone will be holding hands. A man with a video camera will record your expierence, and you may purchase a copy for around $20 USD.
A Typically Beautiful Beach in Jamaica
Essential Reads For A Jamaican Vacation!
Bring US Dollars - I recommend bringing US dollars as they are widely accepted. There is no need for the Jamaican dollar.
Buy All-Inclusive - Most resorts on the Island are all inclusive. At about $1000 USD per person, we purchased a 7 night stay and plane tickets (to Mo' Bay and back to San Francisco). The stay includes free alcoholic beverages around the clock, free food & buffet (breakfast, lunch and dinner are served, and often hamburger bars are open till 2am). Free golf was apart of our package as well. The deal was outstanding.
Theft Alert on Buses & Taxis! - Watch your belongings on buses and taxis. Often drivers are in involved with their friends in order to pickpocket, steal baggages or even large luggage. The driver will usually pick a friend up (since the buses and taxis make multiple stops), the friend will sneak his way into getting a belonging, signal the driver, the driver shall stop, and the man will bolt out of the bus with the belonging(s). Just keep a firm grip on your belongings and be sure to alert a fellow passenger if their item is about to be stolen. This happened to us once and we saved a British man's bag from being stolen. In taxis, often the driver will pick up an accomplace and a robbery may insue. Never ride in taxis that are unmarked or where the driver has no documentation.
Stay Away From Political Demonstrations - Although Jamaica is quite a stable country (relatively), demonstrations do occur often. Usually violence does not break out, but the small police force is usually dispatched. All policemen are armed with assault rifles.
Kingston Beaches Are OFF LIMITS AT NIGHT! - I know I said this before, but if you are on a beach in kingston late at night, you are bound to get mugged. Just don't do it.
Do Not Rent A Car - Driving deaths are very common in Jamaica (up to 600 a year by some estimates). Local drivers are often erratic and will make their own roads on the sides of hills if there is traffic. Highway patrol or traffic police are non existent in Jamaica, for the most part. Also, rental cars are often broken into, especially in Kingston.
Marijuana is Illegal in Jamaica - Despite the myth, Mary-Jane is indeed illegal in Jamaica. Generally you can smoke with locals (if you so desire) or on your patio at your resort peacefully, but try to at least be somewhat discrete. Generally resorts do not want their customers to be arrested, but may have to call security or even the police if things get out of hand (such as doing a line of cocaine on the bar). Remember, things are flexible, but are not outrageous. You don't want to spend time in a Jamaican prison.
Have fun! - Jamaica is a great place to be, and the chances of something bad happening are low. Just follow common sense and you will do fine, enjoy!
- US state department review on Jamaica
Great resource for passport information and general information on the country of Jamaica
- Government of Jamaica Website
- Education: Jamaica (Portals to the World, Library of Congress)
Portals to the World contain selective links providing authoritative, in-depth information about the nations and other areas of the world. They are arranged by country or area with the links for each sorted into a wide range of broad categories. The
- Jamaica - Latin America Network Information Center
Thank you University of Texas! Academic resources on Jamaica.
- Jamaica Travel Guide - Jamaica Interactive Map - iGuide
Interactive guide to Jamaica with a full-screen map, videos, and photos. Information on Jamaica sights, flights, hotels, and more.
- Jamaica - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Visit Jamaica
- Government of Jamaica, Jamaica Information Service
The Jamaica Information Service (JIS) is the multifaceted information agency of the Government of Jamaica that gathers and disseminates information on Government policies and programmes, locally and overseas.