Jamaica Guide: Planning Your Trip

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One of the largest Caribbean islands, Jamaica has been a hot spot for travelers for decades, thanks to its immense natural beauty, beloved jerk cuisine, and vibrant reggae and Rastafari histories. Culinary tourists will enjoy meals of fresh fruit, ackee, and spiny lobster plucked straight from the sea, while adventurers can go rafting, hiking, and snorkeling. Alternatively, relaxing on the beach, rum punch in hand isn't a bad way to spend a Jamaican vacation either. Whatever your plans on your trip to Jamaica, here's what you need to know before you go.

Planning Your Trip

Best Time to Visit: Jamaica shines in the late fall and early winter, after the threat hurricanes has subsided, but before the throngs of warm-weather seekers descend from the north. You can expect crowds and higher prices from January through March.

Language: English is Jamaica's official language, but locals speak Jamaican Patois.

Currency: While Jamaica has its own currency (the Jamaican Dollar), the U.S. dollar is preferred and readily accepted.

Getting Around: Jamaica has three major airports—Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston, Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, and Ian Fleming International Airport in Ocho Rios. Once on the ground, tourists can easily rent a car and hit the road, but be aware of a few differences in driving laws in Jamaica. Taxis can be expensive.

Travel Tip: LGBTQ travelers should travel with caution. While plenty of LGBTQ travelers do safely visit, it is advised to refrain from public displays of affection. Overall, while safety is a concern in Jamaica (the country does have one of the highest murder rates per capita), most major tourist areas are perfectly safe.

Things to Do

Jamaica is full of stunning beaches, mountain landscapes, and waterfalls. While lounging on the beach is top of mind for most travelers, the country also offers no shortages of adventurous activities, like hiking, and rafting.

  • Naturally, Jamaica is known for reggae music. Listening to live reggae in Jamaica is a must-do for any music lover.
  • Rum is a popular Jamaican export that can be picked up for cheap at the airport's duty-free shops, but visiting a rum estate, like Appleton, is a tasty and educational experience. Visitors sample a rum, learn about the rum industry, and tour the estate.
  • Jamaica has many waterfalls and some exist in such a way that visitors can actually climb up them. Dunn's River Falls is among the most popular. You might have to fight crowds of tourists, but walking up the waterfalls is a fun (and wet) adventure.

What to Eat and Drink

Jamaican food is diverse, thanks to the African, European, and Indian influences. Resorts will serve safe American fare, but you must try jerk chicken, oxtail, ackee, sautéed callaloo, and other trademark Jamaican foods.

The country is also home to a great roster of restaurants—some in beautiful settings—with many serving upscale takes on Jamaican cuisine, incredibly fresh seafood, and other delicacies. There's also no shortage roadside barbecue pits and stands selling flavorful beef patties; it's safe to say that wherever you go in Jamaica, you're rarely far away from a tasty meal.

Where to Stay

Most visitors to Jamaica stay in Montego Bay, Negril, or Ocho Rios, and often opt for the one the many resorts dotted along Jamaica's coastline. There are resorts for everyone in Jamaica, ranging from the refined luxury of Montego Bay's Round Hill Hotel & Villas (a celeb hotspot) to the larger and more kid-friendly Beaches Ocho Rios.

If you venture further afield to Cockpit Country, Falmouth, or Boston, you'll find small, family-run inns as well as plenty of affordable Airbnbs and vacation rentals.

Getting There

Jamaica has three international airports: Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston, Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, and Ian Fleming International Airport in Ocho Rios. Sangster International Airport is the largest, having served 4.8 million passengers in 2019.

Once on the ground, visitors will find that driving in Jamaica (and renting a car) is relatively simple.
Taxis can be expensive, but Jamaica does have an inexpensive and expansive bus system that can make it easy for adventurous travelers to go beyond their resort.

Money-Saving Tips

  • Save money by eating local cuisine. A cheap meal of Jamaican patties (meat- and veggie-filled pastries), paired with an ice-cold Red Stripe beer will set you back just a few bucks.
  • If you don't want to splurge for taxis or rent a car, buses are a cheap transportation alternative. They can be crowded at times, but their network covers most of the country.
  • In most tourist areas, U.S. dollars are accepted; however, the exchange rate can be lousy. If that's the case, it's not a bad idea to carry Jamaican dollars.
  • If you want snacks, buying fruit from a roadside stand makes for an affordable treat that also supports local agriculture.
  • Tap water is safe to drink in Jamaica, so bring an empty reusable water bottle to save money and cut down on waste.
Article Sources
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  1. Jamaica Tourism Board. "Jamaican Language - Patois."

  2. Overseas Security Advisory Council. "Jamaica 2019 Crime & Safety Report." May 30, 2019.

  3. MBJ Airport. "Airport Facts & Statistics."

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