Jamaicans define enthusiasm. Whether the topic is track and field or politics, the spirit of this island comes out in every interaction. Although the country is well known for its tropical beauty, reggae music, and cuisine, you may find that your interactions with local residents are what you truly remember.
The island is rich in beauty, but a quick look around reveals widespread poverty and a disparity between the lives of resort guests and resort employees that is often staggering. Where vacationers opt to stay in Jamaica depends on factors ranging from vacation length to personal interests. With its direct air connections to many U.S. cities, Montego Bay (or Mo’Bay) is favored by Americans taking short trips; many properties are just minutes from the airport. Other parts of Jamaica can be reached from Montego Bay in 60 to 90 minutes, while eastern areas may be more accessible from the other major airport—in the capital, Kingston.
Some of the island’s earliest residents were the Arawak Indians, who arrived from South America around AD 650 and named the island Xaymaca, or “land of wood and water.” Centuries later, the Arawaks welcomed Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the New World. Later, when the Spanish arrived, the peaceful inhabitants were executed or taken as slaves.
The Spanish maintained control of the island until 1655 when the English arrived. Soon, slavery increased as sugar became a booming industry. In 1834 slavery was abolished, but the sugar, as well as banana industries, continued. Jamaica’s plantation owners looked for another source of labor. From 1838 to 1917, more than 30,000 Indians immigrated here, followed by about 5,000 Asians as well as Middle Easterners, primarily from what is now Lebanon. (Today although 95% of the population traces its bloodlines to Africa, Jamaica is a stockpot of cultures, including those of other Caribbean islands, Great Britain, the Middle East, India, China, Germany, Portugal, and South America.)
In the early 1900s, the boats that took the banana crop off the island began returning with travelers. By 1960 the tourism industry was the most important form of income, and in 1962, Jamaica gained independence. Along with tourism, agriculture and mining contribute to the island’s considerable self-sufficiency.
You can fly to Jamaica from Atlanta (Delta, Southwest), Baltimore–Washington (Southwest), Boston (JetBlue, US Airways), Charlotte (US Airways), Chicago (American), Dallas (American), Detroit (US Airways), Fort Lauderdale (Caribbean Airlines, Spirit), Houston (United), Las Vegas (American), Los Angeles (American), Miami (American, Cayman Airways), New York–JFK (American, Caribbean Airlines, JetBlue), New York–Newark (United), Orlando (JetBlue), Philadelphia (US Airways), Phoenix (US Airways), San Diego (American), or Tampa (American, Cayman Airways). Most international flights come into Montego Bay, but some go to Kingston.
If you have a limited budget and need to get from Montego Bay to Kingston, Ocho Rios, or Negril, book with the Knutsford Express, an air-conditioned bus with scheduled service via north and south coasts. Fares purchased at least a day in advance are cheaper. Pickups and drop-offs are not at the airports but leave from New Kingston, and Harbour Circle in Montego Bay. For an additional cost, passengers may take advantage of a shuttle service to both major airports. This is a safe and comfortable way to travel around the island.
Knutsford Express. Knutsford Express operates comfortable, reliable air-conditioned bus service daily along the north coast and south coast routes. New in 2016 is bus service from Montego Bay to Port Antonio. Sample fare is J$2,400 one-way Kingston to Montego Bay. They also offer charter service and airport transfers.
Driving in Jamaica can be an extremely frustrating endeavor. You must constantly be on guard—for enormous potholes, people and animals darting out into the street, and aggressive drivers. Local drivers are quick to pass other cars—and sometimes two cars will pass simultaneously. Gas stations are open daily, and some now accept credit cards, though you shouldn’t count on it. Driving in Jamaica is on the left, British-style.
To rent a car, you must be at least 23 years old, have a valid driver’s license (from any country), and have a valid credit or debit card. You may be required to post a security deposit of several hundred dollars before taking possession of your car; ask about it when you make the reservation. Rates average $70 to $120 a day after the addition of the compulsory insurance, which you must usually purchase even if your credit card offers it.TAXI TRAVEL
On Grenada, taxis are plentiful, and rates are set. The trip between Grand Anse and St. George’s is $20. A $4 surcharge is added for rides taken between 6 pm and 6 am. Taxis can be hired at an hourly rate of $30, as well.
Water taxis are available along the Esplanade, near the port area. For about $8 (EC$20) a motorboat will transport you on a quick and picturesque cruise between St. George’s and the jetty at Grand Anse Beach. Water taxis are privately owned, unregulated, and don’t follow any particular schedule—so make arrangements for a pickup time if you need a return trip.
On Carriacou, the taxi fare from the jetty in Hillsborough to Belair is $10; to Prospect, Tyrell Bay, or Windward, $13. Carriacou minibus drivers will take up to four people on a 2½-hour full-island tour for $75 or a 1½-hour half-island tour for $40.
Some but not all of Jamaica’s taxis are metered. If you accept a driver’s offer of his services as a tour guide, be sure to agree on a price before the vehicle is put into gear. (Note that a one-day tour should run about $150 to $200, in U.S. dollars, depending on distance traveled.) All licensed taxis display red Public Passenger Vehicle (PPV) plates. Your hotel concierge can call a taxi for you, or you can flag one down on the street. Rates are per car, not per passenger, and 25% is added to the rate between midnight and 5 am. Licensed minivans are also available and bear the red PPV plates. JUTA is the largest taxi franchise, with offices in most resort areas.
Dengue, chikungunya, and zika have all been reported throughout the Caribbean. We recommend that you protect yourself from these mosquito-borne illnesses by keeping your skin covered and/or wearing mosquito repellent. The mosquitoes that transmit these viruses are as active by day as they are by night.
Comprehensive trip insurance is recommended for all vacations purchased through Vacays4U. Comprehensive policies typically cover trip cancellation and interruption, letting you cancel or cut your trip short because of illness, or, in some cases, acts of terrorism. Ask about insurance policies that cover evacuation and medical care. Some also cover you for trip delays because of bad weather or mechanical problems as well as for lost or delayed luggage.
Always read the fine print of your policy to make sure you’re covered for the risks that most concern you. Compare several policies to be sure you’re getting the best price and range of coverage available.