Get the most out of your holiday to Jamaica with my Ultimate Travel Guide! Jamaica is the Caribbean country that comes with its own soundtrack. Groove to its singular rhythm as you explore beyond the beaches and all the inclusives!
Jamaica is the third-largest island after Cuba and Hispaniola (the island containing the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic) in the Caribbean Sea.
Originally inhabited by the indigenous Arawak and Taíno peoples, the island came under Spanish rule following the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1494. The island remained a possession of Spain until 1655, when England conquered it, renaming it Jamaica. Under British colonial rule, Jamaica became a leading sugar exporter, with a plantation economy dependent on the African slaves yet internal resistance helped create a national identity that led to reform and the path to independence.
It’s a history that has left its mark on the island, but the passion and the perseverance of its people, which have made the island and its culture so vital, still leads Jamaicans to work toward a stronger future.
Location: Situated between the Cayman Islands, Cuba, and Haiti in the Caribbean Sea.
Languages: Official language is English but the primary spoken language is an English-based creole called Jamaican Patois (or Patwa)
Currency: Jamaican dollar (J$), US dollar (US$)
Weather: Typical of a tropical climate there is almost no seasonal variation in humidity and temperature. The weather is hot year-round, humidity is high and relief from the heat only arrives come sunset or when the winds blow off the Caribbean Sea.
Visa: Requirements for entry into Jamaica differ from country to country, and are subject to change. Prior to departure, always check with your government and your nearest Jamaican embassy or consulate what documents you need to travel to the Caribbean island.
Best Time to Visit Jamaica
Between April and May is a good time to visit as there are far fewer tourists and rates drop for accommodation. Peak tourist season is from December to March with sunny, warm days and little rainfall. The off-season is between June and November due to seasonal heavy rainfall. I would especially avoid going between August and October as it is hurricane season on the island.
How to Get There
There are two main methods to get to Jamaica. You can fly into the island as it has three international airports – Norman Manley International Airport, Ian Fleming International Airport, and Montego Bay Sangster International Airport. I recommend searching for flights through jetradar.com They scan tons of different travel discount sites and feature special flight deals.
Alternatively, cruise in comfort to Jamaica as one of 1.3 million annual cruise ship visitors. Being close to Cuba and Hispaniola, it is the fifth-biggest cruise destination in the Caribbean. Jamaica has three main ports, Ocho Rios, Montego Bay and the newest port at Falmouth
Where to Stay in Jamaica
Jamaica is home to a number of unique towns and villages, each offering visitors different activities and attractions. Depending on the purpose of your visit, certain areas of the country will be better suited to you.
Here are my picks for the 5 Best Family Hotels in Jamaica!
Best places to visit for kids
In Jamaica, boredom will not be a problem with many of the all-inclusive hotels offering kids clubs, kiddie pools, and even mini-waterparks. Outside the hotel walls’ is where the real fun lies. Take your older kids zip-lining over the island’s rainforests or give your toddler an educational experience on a toddler-friendly nature walk.
- Visit Black River where nicely preserved colonial houses and other remnants of a once-powerful boomtown lie. While you there, take a boat trip into a Jurassic-looking swamp in Black River Great Morass.
- Alligator Hole Wildlife Reserve where lonely roads lead to this lovely swimming hole framed by jungle vines.
- Just a skip away from Kingston is Port Royal the old haven of pirates and streets of Georgian architecture.
- Mystic Mountain in the beautiful town of Ocho Rios is the top-rated place to zip line in Jamaica.
- Major dive centers are concentrated on the northwest coast – Montego Bay, Negril, and Ocho Rios.
- YS Falls, Mayfield Falls, Nanny Falls, Dunn’s River Falls, and Reach Falls are a playground for tourists visiting Jamaica.
- Jamaica has one of the most extensive cave networks for such a relatively small geographic region. Windsor Cave and Painted Circuit Cave are two I would recommend if you have never gone Spelunking.
Things to do in Jamaica
Go birdwatching at Blue Mountains, Cockpit County or Rio Grande Valley. At the Rockland Bird Sanctuary, you will have the chance to see typical birds living in Jamaica. Dive & snorkel in Montego Bay or along the northwest coast from Negril to Ocho Rios. There is also surfing & kiteboarding to be done on the beaches.
Hiking is another great way of seeing the Jamaican interior, but keep in mind it’s always best to head into the jungles and the mountains with a guide. It’s easy to get lost out here, and it’s good to have a contact who can vouch for you with locals.
If your kids like dolphins, amaze them with a close-up encounter with the creatures at Jamaica’s Dolphin Cove. Another awesome thing to do in Jamaica with kids is horseback riding in the ocean!
Zipline through the Jamaican Forest at Mystic Mountain in Ocho Rios. Go cycling by hiring basic road bicycles at your resorts or guesthouse. Get further information from the Jamaican Cycling Federation.
There are bus stops at most road intersections throughout the island however you can usually flag one down except in the major cities. Due to the narrow twisting roads, large buses are few and far. What you will find a lot of are private mini-buses or ‘coasters’ and are in all major towns and practically every village.
Licensed mini-buses will display a red license plate with either the initials PPV (public passenger vehicle) or a have a Jamaica Union of Travelers Association (JUTA) insignia. JUTA buses are exclusively for tourists. Coasters do not have a fixed time and usually depart when the driver deems the bus is full so expect a delay on some trips.
Route taxis are the most convenient and cheap way of getting around the island. Reaching every part of the country they run on set routes while picking up as many people as possible along the way!
Most route taxis are white station wagons marked by their red license plates. They should have ‘Route Taxi’ marked on the front door, and they are not to be confused with similarly licensed taxis, which charge more. Avoid any taxi that lacks the red license plate.
Tourists may use boats for day trips, but there are currently no organized boat services for getting from A to B in Jamaica.
- When it comes to greetings, shaking hands and a good morning/afternoon/evening is adequate.
- Acknowledge fellow passengers when getting into a route taxi.
- Jamaicans dress smartly when they can (to church, to a party or social event), and many government offices and banks have written dress codes on the door.
- A fair tip for a job well done is a great way to show “respect” to those who work at resorts, drive taxis, etc.
- Though Jamaicans can be very direct in conversation, there are some subjects that are deeply frowned upon, that most will not discuss. These include homosexuality, oral sex, STDs, abortion and rape.
- Many Jamaicans have zero tolerance for smoking marijuana.
- For some reason, women smoking cigarettes is still frowned upon.
- Beachwear should be very much confined to the beach.
Currently, no vaccinations are required to visit Jamaica however if you are arriving from a yellow fever risk country, you will be required to provide a yellow fever certificate.
Along with travel insurance, health insurance is essential for anyone visiting Jamaica. It will help with the cost of being evacuated to a country with state-of-the-art medical care in case you develop a life-threating medical problem.
If you need to find a good local doctor your best bet is to ask the hotel management or contact your embassy. Unfortunately, many doctors and hospitals expect payment prior to treatment even if you have travel health insurance so make you have some ready cash with you.
Most pharmacies are well supplied but important medication may not be consistently available.
Water is generally safe to drink from faucets throughout the island, except in the most far-flung rural regions. It is safest, however, to stick with bottled water, which is widely available. In Jamaica’s backwaters, clean your teeth with purified water rather than tap water.
Eat fresh fruits or vegetables only if cooked or peeled; be wary of dairy products that might contain unpasteurized milk, and be highly selective when eating food from street vendors.
Money & Costs
ATMs are widely available. Credit cards are accepted in most medium-sized and larger businesses, particularly in tourist areas. Commercial banks have branches throughout the island. Those in major towns maintain a foreign-exchange booth. Most towns have 24-hour ATMs linked to international networks such as Cirrus or Plus. In more remote areas, look for ATMs at gas stations. In tourist areas, some ATMs also dispense US dollars. For current exchange rates, visit www.xe.com.
Food: A Red Strip Beer costs USD 1.50, while a meal at a mid-range restaurant will set you back by USD 20. For another additional USD 10 and up, you can enjoy fine dining.
Accommodation: An cheap double room cost will range from USD 50 – 60 per night. A luxury hotel room will be from USD 200 onwards per night. Book your room early and get great rates!
Transportation: A route taxi may cost you anything between USD 1 – 2 while a short taxi ride will be USD 10. To hire a private taxi it will cost around USD 100 per day.
Insurance: As someone who spent close to 20 years working in insurance, I strongly recommend buying travel insurance if you are going on holiday. It costs a fraction of your holiday but covers the potential risk of the entire holiday. You can read my post on why you need travel insurance.
Get a quote – Make sure you’re ready for anything;
- Trip cancellation
- Emergency medical transportation
- Emergency medical expenses
- Gear lost or stolen
Check out my easy to use Budget Calculator to budget your trip to Jamaica.
Was this travel guide helpful?
There are many things to do and see in Jamaica and at the same time to be respectful of the country’s culture and traditions as tourists. I hope you found this Ultimate Travel Guide to Jamaica informative and useful.