How to Get the Most out of a Vacation to Jamaica
Introduction To Jamaica
Jamaica is the fifth largest Island in the Caribbean. It is approximately one thirteenth the size of New York State. It lies south of Cuba and west of Haiti which are its two closest neighbors.
I was born in Portland. Portland is a northern parish located 60 miles from Kingston. Kingston is the capital of Jamaica.
Jamaica gained its independence from Britain on August 6, 1962 after approximately 300 years of British rule. As such, the national language is English. However, many Jamaicans communicate in Patios. Patios is a dialect or Creole with a moderate amount of comprehensible English words.
Jamaica has a temperate climate. The temperature is approximately 75- 80 degrees all year round. The most that you will ever need may be a light sweater occasionally during December through February. A few weeks per year it is subject to rain falls in the mountainous areas of the Island. St Thomas and Portland are two eastern parishes that get a lot of this rain. The Coast line resort areas are usually dry with very little rain.
From an airplane, the first things you will notice about this beautiful Island are its lush green vegetation surrounded by the rich blue Caribbean sea and endless miles of white sand beaches.
The primary items needed for a trip to Jamaica are bathing suits, sunglasses, and sun tan lotion.
Selecting Vacation Packages to Jamaica
When purchasing a vacation package to Jamaica, consider using a travel site such as Priceline. Based on my experience, Priceline seem to offer the best prices. The average discount price of a 2 week vacation package to Jamaica for 2 persons which includes a modest 2 1/2 to 3 star hotel is approximately $3400.00. You may get this price by buying your ticket at least a month in advance. The discount family package for a family of 4 would be twice that amount. If your budget is really tight you should consider a package with just an airline and car. A discount airline ticket for 2 people and a mid size budget car rental for two weeks will cost about $1350.00. Instead of getting a high priced hotel you should consider using a Jamaican Guest House.
Advantages of staying at a Guest House as opposed to a Hotel
Many people are unaware that Guest Houses exist. Guest houses are alternative lodgings to hotels. They range from cottages, very small apartments, or much larger facilities. Guest houses are located in many areas of the Island. Guest houses are very affordable to the average tourist. The average price of a room in a well maintained Guest house is approximately $50.00. More luxurious Guest houses may cost more. Tourists have the option of renting several rooms for approximately one third the cost of a three star hotel.
Some Guest Houses recommended by others are: Williams Guest House in Kingston, Mom's Place in Negril, Ms. Norma's rooms in Negril, De Montevin Lodge in Port Antonio, Little Shaw Park Guest House in Ocho Rios and Ridgeway Guest House in Montego Bay.
You have the option of renting an entire guest house at some locations for less than the cost of a high priced hotel room for two weeks. Having an entire cottage to yourself will allow you more privacy than a hotel room. This way, if you bring children along, they can run around and play freely without fear of disturbing other guests.
Guest houses afford flexibility in moving around the island. You may rent affordable rooms in several guest houses in different areas of the island. By doing this you don’t have to worry about driving back to a lodging located two hours away after a day of fun at a particular location.
More important, opting for a guest house leaves more money to be spent on attractions and food.
Foods that will give you a taste of Jamaica's Island Spirit
There are certain meals that are uniquely Jamaican. Three of these are Ackee and Saltfish, Jerk Chicken and Curry Goat. Even if cooked in the United states these meals do not taste the way they do when cooked on Jamaican soil.
Ackee and Salt Fish
A Jamaican vacation must include a taste of the Jamaican national dish. The Jamaica national dish is “Ackee and Salt fish.” Salt fish is the same as dried Cod or Bacala. Ackee is the national fruit. Ackee was originally imported from West Africa during the 1700’s and prepared by slaves for their masters. The ripened fruit is boiled for approximately 15 minutes. The water is then poured off. The Ackee is then sautéed with multiple pieces of salt fish that are pre soaked to remove the excess salt. The dish is seasoned with a combination of spices that include garlic, seasoning salt, black pepper and onion.
Be aware that the Ackee and salt fish dish is popularly served with roasted breadfruit. Breadfruit is a tropical fruit which is like a spongy form of potato when roasted. The Ackee and Salt fish combination may also be served with rice, dumplings, bread or any carbohydrate food and vegetables. The only words to describe a meal of Ackee and Salt fish are “absolutely delicious”
A Jamaican vacation must include a taste of Jerk Chicken. It is the most popular food on the island. Jerk chicken is chicken that is grilled after being marinated in a combination of spices. These spices include; scotch bonnet pepper, seasoning salt, all spice, thyme, garlic, cinnamon and a few other varying spices.
While touring the island, you will notice that there are multiple vendors selling Jerk Chicken. You will be able to tell that there is a Jerk Chicken vendor nearby if you see large cylindrical open top drums with smoke rising. These drums are used as grills. Jerk chick is popularly served with festival. Festival can be described as being similar to pizza dough without the cheese with sugar added. Jerk chicken may be served with any type of carbohydrate food or vegetable.
Curry goat is another popular Jamaican treat. Most people who try this for the first time usually have second and third servings. It is prepared from Goat meat that is properly washed and marinated in a combination of Jamaican curry powder, scotch bonnet pepper, garlic, and seasoning all. The goat meat is then slowing cooked for approximately an hour. Less time is required if a pressure cooker is used. It is served with rice mixed with red kidney beans or just with white rice. Cooked or raw vegetables are usually served as part of a formal meal. Curry Goat is a very popular Sunday dinner for most Jamaicans.
Restaurants and Meal Prices Comparison
There are many restaurants in Jamaica. Popular restaurants like the Almond Tree Restaurant, Coconuts, and the Dinner terrace are located in hotels in Ocho Rios. The price of their main course range from $20 to $80 combined. The Sugar Mill is said to be one of the best restaurants in Montego Bay. Its main course range from $25.00 to $100.00. Robbie Joseph's Sea Horse Grill is also located in Montego Bay. It is a less expensive than the Sugar Mill. Its main courses have an average price range of of $10.00 to $30.00.
Zimbali’s Mountain Cooking Studio and the Lodge at Tensing Penn are located in Negril. Their main courses have an average price of $30.00.
Other Buffet style settings have meals with cost an average of $15.00. A meal at a takeout restaurant such as Island Grill may cost $5.00 to $8.00.
Fast food restaurants serve meals such as jerk chicken, fish and chips, Jamaican patties, escovitch fish, meat wraps and other treats for an average of $4.00 to $6.00.
A vendor prepared meal consisting of Jerk chicken and festival fits within any budget. The average cost of a jerk chicken from a vendor is $3.50. Street vendors usual prepare jerk chicken under very sanitary conditions. You may stand and watch the meal preparation process.
There is also an option for those who desire American fast food while in Jamaica. Burgers king and Kentucky Fried chicken restaurants are located in several areas of the island. These franchises have meals priced from $5.00 to $8.00. Be aware that the fountain soda sold at these locations is usually flat.
In Jamaica, breakfast consists of any type of edible food. This is unlike the American culture that dictates specific foods such as cereal and pancakes for breakfast. As such, Ackee and Salt fish, Jerk chicken and Curried Goat may be served at breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Be prepared to gain a few pounds while in Jamaica because the food is irresistible.
Approximate Prices of Attractions
Rafting on Rio Grande
$70.00 for two tickets
$50 Adults $35.00 Child
$25.00 Boat Ride
Dunn's River Falls
$15.00 Adult $12 Child entrance fee
$10.00 entrance fee
Negril 7 Mile Beach
Half Moon Equestrian Center
$20 per ride
As a tourist, you may not be able to see or enjoy every single attraction. However, there are certain attractions that will make the Jamaican experience unique.
Rafting on the Rio Grande
Rafting on the Rio Grande is an experience that most people will never forget. As a child, I recall sitting on the banks of the Rio Grande with my family. We would fish from the riverbanks then cook and eat what we caught while waving to tourists passing by on bamboo rafts.
The Rio Grande is located in the Parish of Portland. Rafters are treated to a few hours of tranquility while they are propelled on a bamboo raft on this wide peaceful river. The rafts are designed for comfort and can usually hold up to four people.
During the relaxing trip, rafters are treated to a view of the beautiful blue mountain peaks. Rich green vegetation coats the tip of the Blue Mountains as well as the banks of the Rio Grande.
Tourists have the option of stopping to purchase refreshments and snacks from vendors along the river banks. They may also stop to take a swim in the refreshing Rio Grande. The price of a rafting ticket for two is approximately $70.00.
The Blue Lagoon
A boat ride across the Blue Lagoon is a part of the Jamaican experience. The Blue Lagoon is also located in the Parish of Portland. The Blue Lagoon is famously known as the location for the Brook Shields movie “the Blue Lagoon” as well as the famous Jacques Cousteau dive.
As the name implies, the water in the Blue Lagoon is stunningly blue and clean. The color magically changes to different shades of blue during different times of the day. The water in the lagoon is actually a mixture of ocean and refreshing spring water. For swimmers, a dive in the blue lagoon is an added thrill.
Refreshments can be bought on the dock.
The cost of a boat ride on the Blue Lagoon is approximately $25.00. There is no entrance fee to the Blue Lagoon.
Dunn’s River Falls
Tourists who visit the island usually take a trip to Dunn’s River Falls. This is probably the most popular place on the Island. Dunn’s River Falls is located in Ocho Rios. Ocho Rios is located in the Parish of St. Ann. Dunns river Falls is one of the most stunning water falls in the world. Tourists get to climb the large rocks with crystal clear fresh water cascading and soothing their bodies. The water from the waterfall flows into the Caribbean Sea.
The climb is pleasant because the waterfall is shaded by the vegetation at the sides of the fall. The climb is made easier if water shoes are worn. This will prevent you from slipping and allow you to climb higher and faster. People usually climb in chains adding to the fun. Be prepared to spend a few hours in this location as there is also an option for snorkeling and a regular beach where you can sunbathe or swim.
The price of a ticket is approximately $15.00 for adults and $12.00 for children.
Frenchman's Cove is a spot for everyone. This is a private beach located in Portland. It has fresh water in one area that actually merges with the ocean. The view is stunning. The sand on the beach is clean and inviting which adds to the glamour. There is a restaurant and bar on the beach. Visitors get to sample an abundance of Jamaican styled fruit cocktail with white run which can be a bit expensive. People trying to save usually bring a picnic basket and are usually required to clean up after themselves. The activities on this beach are endless and usually include scuba diving, snorkeling, windsurfing, sailing, sunbathing. There are life guards on duty.
My favorite memory of Frenchman’s Cove is sitting under a palm tree in the sand watching wind surfers.
People with extra funds wanting to spend more than a few days at this location are welcome to stay at the Villa on the beach. The Villas have numerous amenities.The average price for a Villa is approximately $3000.00 per week. The entrance fee to Frenchman’s cove is approximately $10.00.
There are actual Dolphins in Jamaica. Dolphin’s Cove is an amazing Amusement park where children and adults get the opportunity to swim with Dolphins. This theme park is located in Ocho Rios.
There are other marine animal such as Sting Rays and Sharks at Dolphins Cove. The park also has parrots and iguanas. The most memorable experience for children will be a swim with the Dolphins. Children and adults are allowed to pet, feed and kiss the Dolphins. You may also hang out on the dock and view the Dolphins play.
Other activities for this location include boat rides, glass bottom kayaking and relaxing on a beautiful white sand beach.
Be prepared to spend half a day at this location to as there is a shark show and a Jungle trail that children will enjoy. There is an entrance fee of approximately $50.00 for adults and about $35.00 for children.
Negril's 7 Mile Beach
The Negril beach affords visitors the ultimate beach experience. Negril Beach is considered to be one of the best beaches in the world. The Negril 7 mile beach stretch is located in Westmoreland and Hanover Parishes. An aerial view of Negril reveals endless miles of beautiful silky white sand to compliment an exotic perfectly still Turquoise Ocean. The Negril coast line view can be described as a glimpse of heaven.
The beach affords ultimate relaxation and a beautiful sun tan to those who desire one. There are several bars and small restaurants on the beach. There are vendors on the beach selling other beverages and snacks such as Jamaican patties, mango and jerk chicken. There are many souvenirs shops with items such as bead chains and T-shirts.
Negril is more than a beach. There are several water parks in the Negril area. There are opportunities for snorkeling and diving. Visitors to Negril should not leave without viewing its breathtaking sunset. At sunset, the turquoise ocean magically transforms into shimmery gold with purple clouds dancing across orange blue skies.
There is no entrance fee to Negril’s 7 mile beach unless you are trying to enter behind one of the resorts.
Half Moon Equestrian Center
The Half Moon Equestrian center is located in the city of Montego Bay. This attraction allows visitors the thrill of riding horses bare back in the ocean. Novice riders are given a brief training session with horses. Swimming with horses is a special experience and may be considered the best part of the trip for many tourists.
There is also a pony park for children and a horse riding mountain trail that allows a view of the picturesque Montego Bay valley. The cost of a beach ride is approximately $20.00.
Jamaican Night Life and Other Entertainment
Jamaican night clubs will allow tourists to get a taste of the lively Jamaican night life. The Margaritaville club is one of the most popular in the coastal regions. One is located in Ocho Rios, Negril and Montego Bay. Margaritaville clubs that are in the United States are completely different from those in Jamaica.
These attractions offers a night buffet and a bar with plenty of cocktails and alcoholic beverages. There are DJs and plenty of Reggae music as well as pop music. The Ocho Rios venue has a hot tub and water slide. It holds a beach party on certain nights. It has an open air section that allows tourists to dance on the beach in regular attire or wear beach clothes. Visitors dressed in beach clothes may take swims in hot tubs after dancing. The Montego Bay venue has live bands on different days of the week. There are often themes at different locations such as "Ladies nights." The entrance fee is approximately $10.00 to $20.00.
There are many other night clubs and Jazz bars in Jamaica. You just need to follow the sound of the music.
Jamaican Theatre Art and Culture
The Little Theatres located in Montego Bay and Kingston also have numerous activities. Some of these activities include performances by professional and amateur dance groups, Jamaican folk singers. It offers plays, lectures and regional festival competitions. It also hosts the National Pantomine. Activities at the Little Theatre including the National Pantomine usually depict local culture, the Island's history, a display of colorful costumes and lively cultural music. The Little Theatre events will give tourists an opportunity learn more about Jamaica and the Jamaican people. Ticket prices vary depending of the nature of the performance.
Those who want to sit back and watch a movie may go to a local cinema. There are a few movie theatres in Jamaica. Theatres include the Palace Multiplex in Montego Bay, the Cove Theatre in St. Ann and the Carib Theatre in Kingston.
There are many other pleasurable activities in Jamaica at the areas discussed as well as other locations. These activities include sky diving, horseback riding, canopy tours, safari rides, golfing, bicycle adventures, hiking trips, and bus tours. You may buy a Jamaican tour and package for the coastal area instead of paying for each attraction.
A tour package costs approximately $70 to $250 depending on the size of the package. Note however, that packages are usually restricted to particular areas of the Island and may not simultaneously include attractions on the North Coast as well as the South Coast
A vacation to Jamaica is an amazing unforgettable experience.