Swaying to the rhythm of a melodic beat, Jamaica is an island known for being the birthplace of reggae music. Yet, beyond the tunes that Bob Marley made internationally famous, Jamaica is an island of tropics and stunning Caribbean beauty.
A narrow coastline is the main star as people flock to the unspoiled beaches, but inland there is a whole other world waiting to be explored.
Welcome to Jamaica
On the interior of the island, there are many lush caverns hidden in the green mountains that are as beautiful as the beaches. With fresh flowing waterfalls and limestone plateaus, you can slip away into the Jamaican rainforest to escape the tourists and crowds.
No matter where you are on the island, Jamaica’s culture is put on full display. The laid-back island lifestyle is often interrupted by the tempo of reggae music. While reggae is known for its offbeat sounds, the slow-paced rhythm mimics the local culture. Seemingly on island time, Jamaica is the ultimate tropical paradise where you can balance big adventures with leisurely afternoons.
In direct opposition to the laid-back island lifestyle, Kingston is a hive of activity and the country’s capital. The city is often described as being stuck between the past and present, as Old and New Kingston have struggled to unite. But sometimes chaos is good, and in Kingston visitors can explore the island’s more modern attractions. With museums, restaurants, and hotels, Kingston is the gateway to Jamaican culture.
- Culture and Language
- Visa Requirements
- Spending Budget
- How to Get Around
- Top Cities to Visit
- Points of Interest
Culture and Language
Much like many of the countries in the Caribbean, Jamaica has a unique culture that blends itself from South American, Spanish, and African customs. The original inhabitants of the island were people from the Arawak tribes of South America. The tribes eventually developed their own culture and were called the Taíno people. These people are present in many of the Caribbean nations as some of the earliest inhabitants.
Jamaica’s history then follows in the footsteps of many Caribbean and Latin nations, where colonization ravaged the land. For the Arawak people, many were wiped out by foreign diseases brought with the Spanish colonizers who arrive in 1494. Spanish rule was short lived in Jamaica and by 1655, the British had taken control of the island.
Under British rule, piracy flourished in Jamaica, with Port Royal becoming the main base for pirates on the island. While piracy made money, it would not be as successful as the sugar plantations. By the 19th century, Jamaica’s pirates faded away as the sugar industry grew. With the rise of sugar, Jamaica relied heavily on African slaves to do the hard labor in the sugar fields.
Uprisings by the slaves led to the First and Second Maroon Wars, which led to the emancipation and end of slavery. With more freedom, the people in Jamaica eventually led the country to independence. After World War II, Jamaica’s independence grew, and the country became independent in 1962. While the country still struggles with issues like poverty, Jamaica is slowly stabilizing.
Today, Jamaican culture has become famous throughout the world because of the country’s top icon: Bob Marley. As Jamaica’s most famous musician, Bob Marley has been credited with putting Jamaica in the spotlight by creating reggae. Closely tied to reggae is the Rastafari movement, which is a religion. Bob Marley practiced Rastafari, and many of the religion’s ideas are portrayed in his music.
Yet, beyond the fame of Bob Marley, reggae has deep roots in Jamaican culture. Often described as “a voice of the oppressed”, the music has close ties to Jamaican folk music. The roots of this are based in African culture, which only adds to Jamaica’s diversity. As a multicultural phenomenon, reggae has been translated into Spanish and reggaeton is now popular throughout Latin American countries.
Diversity is also found in Jamaican culture through the national language. While the national language is listed as English, it isn’t quite the British or American English that most people are used to hearing. Instead, the Jamaican language is known as Patois. While Patois is an English-based language, it is also heavily derived from creole languages with a West African influence.
For most tourists visiting Jamaican, understanding the English or Jamaican Patois that is spoken in Jamaica will not come easy. Most visitors will not understand the local language because of its diverse vocabulary and unique pronunciation. However, many Jamaican people are familiar with British English, which makes it possible to communicate with locals. With the rise of tourism, British and even American English have become more popular on the island, though locals will usually speak Patois amongst themselves.
For US citizens who wish to take a vacation to Jamaica, you need to arrange your travel documents prior to your departure. All US citizens need to provide valid travel document to leave the US and gain entry to Jamaica. For any trip to Jamaica with a duration of 90 days or less, you do not need to obtain a tourist visa.
You will need a valid US passport with one blank page for your stamps. There are no restrictions to the validity of your passport, except that it must be valid at the time of your entry or exit from Jamaica. Travelers should be aware that some airlines have passport requirements and ask that you do not travel with a passport if its expiration date is less than 6 months from your date of departure.
While it is recommended that you are up to date on all your vaccinations prior to your arrival in Jamaica, the country only asks that you have a valid Yellow Fever vaccination if you are traveling from a risk country. A list of the current at Yellow Fever at risk countries can be found on the US government’s WHO website.
Besides the Yellow Fever vaccine requirement for at risk travelers, there is a currency restriction of $10,000 US dollars when entering Jamaica. When you leave the country, there are no currency restrictions.
The US government has also issued a Level 3 Travel Advisory for Jamaica because of crime. In tourist areas like Kingston, Montego Bay, and Spanish Town, there are issues with local crime. For tourists, you should not travel at night and avoid secluded places. It is important to always keep a low profile and remain aware of your surroundings. You can also sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to get up-to-date alerts from the US Embassy in Jamaica.
Any time that you are planning a new vacation, it is important to determine your spending budget prior to your departure, so you can estimate the cost of your trip. For most travelers to Jamaica, a moderate budget is suitable. While the island is not the most expensive destination in the Caribbean, it is not the cheapest either. However, with a good spending budget, backpackers can enjoy a trip to Jamaican paradise.
With all-inclusive resorts, hostels, and hotels, there is a place in Jamaica for every traveler. But accommodation isn’t the only part of your budget. You will also need to look at the costs of airfare, food, drink, and transportation and incorporate the prices into your spending budget.
For many travelers, the biggest expense of the trip will be the cost of airfare. It is expensive to fly from the US to Jamaica and the average cost of a ticket is just under $700 US dollars for a round-trip journey. Some airlines may have good deals on tickets, which could lower the price to $300 or $400 US dollars.
The price of your airline ticket can also fluctuate because of the season. While Jamaica is becoming a year-round destination, the most popular months to visit are still during the winter. Most tourists will visit Jamaica during the months of December, January, February, March, and April. This is also when plane tickets to the island will be the most expensive.
You can save money on your plane ticket or find the best deals if you travel during the shoulder or off-season. Ticket prices can drastically drop when you avoid the crowds. By traveling during the off season, you can also find great prices on accommodation.
After you’ve booked your flight, you need to make arrangements for your accommodation on the island. There many accommodation options for travelers with the most popular being hostels, hotels, and resorts.
For backpackers, hostels are the best choice because they are affordable and comfortable. The most affordable rooms in a hostel will be dorm-style, which means that you could share a room with other people. In touristy areas, most hostels will not charge more than $25 US dollars per night. In less touristy areas, hostels are even more affordable, and some will charge about $15 US dollars per night.
Some hostels also provide private rooms, which are more expensive than the dorm-style options. However, a private room means that you don’t have to share your space with strangers. Most hostels will charge about $55 US dollars for a private room and bathroom.
For travelers who prefer to stay in hotels, there are plenty of options in Jamaica for budget or boutique hotels. A two or three-star hotel in Jamaica will cost about $60 US dollars in tourist areas. In places more off the beaten path, hotels usually charge less with prices hovering around $35 US dollars per night. There are also boutique hotel options, but the price range is higher. At a nicer hotel, you should expect to spend $75-$100 US dollars per night.
With beautiful beaches and quiet bays, Jamaica is also host to many resorts. Resorts will be the most expensive places to stay in Jamaica, with most places charging $200 US dollars a night. However, some luxury resorts can cost up to $450 US dollars per night. It will also be more expensive to stay at a resort if you choose additional food or activity packages.
Airbnb is also an option in Jamaica. You can rent a dorm room, private room, or an entire apartment. Most dorm rooms cost about the same as a hostel, with prices hovering around $20 US dollars per night. Private rooms are similar in price to hostels too, and most people charge about $55 US dollars per night. If you are traveling with a group, the cost of an entire apartment can be affordable when it is split between multiple travelers. Most apartments will cost $150 US dollars per night.
Once you have settled the cost of your accommodation, you need to incorporate the price of food and drink into your budget. If you are staying at an all-inclusive resort, the cost of food is mostly built into your budget. But staying at a resort for the entire duration of your trip can be more expensive than eating out. Local food in Jamaica is affordable, and their cuisine is an important part of the country’s national identity.
Jamaican cuisine is diverse with influences from some of the country’s past colonizers, as well as ingredients local to its geographical location. With Jamaica on significant trade routes from Asia, much of the country’s cuisine features crops with origins from Southeast Asian countries. With crops transplanted, many are now locally grown in Jamaica.
Some of the most popular ingredients in Jamaican cuisine include seafood, various meats, and tropical fruits. Strong spices are also used in the dishes, which makes them unique. Ackee and codfish is Jamaica’s national dish, which looks a lot like scrambled eggs. The fish is often cut into small pieces and ackee is a fruit similar to Asia’s lychee. The mix of seafood and fruit is an acquired taste, but locals love the dish.
Perhaps the most famous dish that hails from Jamaica is jerk-style cuisine. Jerk chicken is one of the most famous dishes that comes from the island, which is sold in respected restaurants and street stalls. Jerk chicken gets its savory taste from the pimento chips that it is grilled over. Mixed with the smoke, a strong marinade of salt and allspice also adds to the meat’s flavor.
Peas are another favorite ingredient in Jamaica, and they are often served with rice or in soup. Similar to rice and beans in Latin America, you are more likely going to eat rice and peas in Jamaica. Stew peas are also popular, and they are often cooked up with kidney beans, beef, pigtail, and coconut milk.
For a lot more spice and heat, curry goat is a favorite dish in Jamaica. Similar to Indian curry, Jamaicans add a lot more spice. The additional heat makes the goat meat tender and juicy, but slightly gamey. Finally, beef patty is another staple Jamaican dish, which features bold flavors like onion, garlic, curry, and pepper. Beef patties are then wrapped in a dough and baked. Updated versions of beef patties now include chicken or veggie patties.
While Jamaican food has become internationally famous, there is nothing like tasting the authentic cuisine from the source. When you are in Jamaica, you don’t have to spend a fortune to eat good food. Many of the local restaurants charge less than $4 US dollars for a plate of food. Street food is the most affordable option and many vendors sell food items for less $1 US dollar. If you eat at a nice restaurant in town or at a resort, prices will increase to about $20 US dollars per plate.
With food being affordable, drinks are a little more expensive. Local beer costs just under $3 US dollars per bottle, but fancier drinks can cost up to $5 US dollars. In resorts, drinks are very expensive, and you may have to pay $7+ US dollars per beverage. You can save money on alcohol by avoiding tourist bars and shopping at the local supermarket where alcohol has the most affordable prices.
If you want to breakdown your spending budget by day, you can combine all the categories to get an overview of your spending budget. Backpackers will be looking for the best deals to save the most money. With good research into local deals, backpackers should expect to spend about $70 US dollars per day. A more moderate budget would cost up to $200 US dollars per day. A luxury vacation will be the most expensive option and you could spend $300 or $400 US dollars per day.
How to Get Around
Another part of your budget that is important to consider is the cost of transportation to get to various destinations on the island. Transportation in Jamaica is not always the most reliable, but there are plenty of options to help you get to each destination. The most popular transportation options include public transportation, buses, bikes, and scooters.
When you are in a specific city, public transportation is a great resource to get around a concentrated area. Jamaica has plenty of local buses that travel around and between towns. Many local buses are also very affordable, and a single ride will cost less than $1 US dollar. The only downside to public transportation is that it is not always set to a reliable schedule and it’s dangerous to use at night.
If you are traveling longer distances, you may want to take a coach bus. Knutsford Express is a popular bus company that services the island. These buses are most popular with tourists and cost less than $25 US dollars. Shorter rides are even more affordable, and tickets usually cost about $16 US dollars for a two-hour journey.
Bikes and Scooters
For tourists who would feel more comfortable with private transportation, bike and scooter rentals are quite popular on the island. Many resorts and hotels have their own bicycles that can be rented for about $30 US dollars per day. With busy roads, it is better to rent a bike to travel locally.
Scooter rentals are also an option, which can help you travel greater distances. Most scooter rentals will cost anywhere from $40 to $80 US dollars per day. While the price may seem steep, the freedom to travel on your own schedule is very popular amongst tourists.
Top Cities to Visit
From the capital to resort towns, there are plenty of destinations to visit in Jamaica. Here are the top cities and towns to visit on the island.
With plenty of national treasures and a cosmopolitan vibe, Kingston is Jamaica’s bustling capital city. It is in this gritty city that tourists can visit popular attractions like the Bob Marley Museum and Devon House. The capital proudly displays Jamaican culture and with historic areas and modern streets, Kingston highlight both the past and future of the country. While the city is beautiful, it is also dangerous. Crime is a frequent issue in Kingston and tourists should take care not to venture alone or go out at night.
Home to the best beaches Jamaica, or so they say, Negril is a tourist hotspot. The bays here are lined with luxury resorts and the clear water is a magnet for water sport lovers. With popular attractions in the area including the Negril Cliffs, Seven Mile Beach, and Mayfield Falls, there is plenty to explore in Negril.
Another popular tourist area in Jamaica is Montego Bay. With a quiet harbor, this is one of the most touristy spots on the island as cruise ships often make port in the bay. The increase in tourism has also led to the construction of high-end resorts, world-famous gold courses, and pristine beaches. Doctor’s Cave Beach is the most popular sandy spot in the bay and a favorite for snorkelers. With lots of local tours, you can also experience Jamaican history by exploring the Rose Hall Great House or local plantations.
On the northern coast of the island, Ocho Rios has become a popular resort spot where rivers meet the ocean and waterfalls fall from the hills. Resorts pack the bay, but without cruise ships, Ochos Rios is quieter than Montego Bay. Nearby to Ocho Rios is the famous Dunn’s River Falls, which provides tourist attractions like zip lining and horseback riding.
Treasure Beach is made up of a series of four fishing villages, which have become a popular retreat for tourists. But with a more remote location, Treasure Beach is still quieter than some of the other tourist areas. With plenty of ocean and sand, Treasure Beach is the best play to play sports or go hiking. River cruises are also popular attractions.
Nine Mile is a small community, but it has become famous because it is the hometown and burial place of Bob Marley. For music enthusiasts, Nine Mile is a historic destination. The main attractions in the town include Bob Marley’s childhood home with original furnishings and his mausoleum.
Once called the “Banana Capital of the World”, Port Antonio has become a quiet tourist destination where you can jump off clear waterfalls, bathe in pretty lagoons, and walk the stunning beaches. Nature surrounds Port Antonio and it is slowly becoming a hotspot for tourists. But with less bustle than other tourist areas, Port Antonio is still the perfect destination for off the beaten path travelers.
Points of Interest
Scattered nearby or amongst the towns are beautiful points of interest. Jamaica’s tropical beauty shines at these points of interest, which has made then popular attractions for tourists.
One of the most famous regions in Jamaica is the Blue Mountains, which is famous for its historic coffee plantations and waterfalls. The area is popular amongst hikers and bikers, where you can summit the island’s highest peak. With amazing views from the peak, you can even see all the way to Cuba when the sky is clear.
Located in the John Crow Mountain Range, Reach Falls are some of the calmest falls on the island. With lifeguards on patrol, the falls are also a great spot for family adventures. The soft cascades lead to a shallow basin and nearby there are underwater caves. However, the rocky riverbed can be difficult to navigate, and you should wear water shoes for protection.
Get Out and Go
While Jamaica’s fame has spread throughout the world, there is nothing like seeing the island with your own eyes. With a unique character and beautiful landscape, Jamaica is a charming destination that will fulfill your lust for paradise. The lush green mountains on the interior of the island are perfect for high-energy activities, while the pristine coastline is perfect for a little rest and relaxation. There is plenty of entertainment in Jamaica and we guarantee that you’ll be swaying to the beat in no time.