Jamaica Starter Kit
Trip Start Oct 01, 2006
173Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
Reggae, Jerk Chicken, Sunny Caribbean Beaches, Rastafarians, Marijuana, Overproof Rum and of course Bob..
Getting There and Away:
From Europe, Air Jamaica, Virgin and BA run routes from the UK, Thompson holidays and similar charter companies run regular flights too. Other European routes include Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Vienna. Air Jamaica run from Toronto in Canada, many in the US incl. Miami, LA and New York. Air Jamiaca run to and from Havana and other connections with caribbean islands that have old colonial tiesAmerican Airlines can have good deals, if flying via another city i.e Miami, check if it's cheaper to stay a night or two at a local hostel to bring the fare down. Copa airlines connect Central and South America to Kingston via their hub in Panama. There are no direct flights here with Mexico or Haiti and Dominican Republic. The are two International airports one in Kingston, The Norman Manley Airport (KIN) and Montego Bays Donald Sangster Airport (MBJ). The montego Bay airport is more popular with tourists visiting the north coast. There are no passenger ferry connections anywhere and slim to non-existent pickings for hitching a ride on a private yacht. Montego Bay and Ocho Rios are the two big cruise ship ports.
From my personal experience and hearing other travellers stories Jamaican immigration can be one of the worst, uptight and anal welcomes out there. They have little concept of what RTW travellers on one way tickets are and you will be viewed with suspicion, requiring you to produce a booked and paid ticket to your home country. When you're out and free a tip if you are planning on taking public transport to your hotel is to immediatley discard the white baggage tags which signal that you've just arrived and hustlers will target you for extra 'help'
Jamaica uses their own dollar, the JMD, locally called just "J".. The current rate at time of writing about $1us = 74jmd, $1cad = 74jmd, 1euro = 115jmd, £1= 145jmd, ATMs dispensing local currency are all over the island using Visa and Mastercard. The notes come in $50, $100, $500 and $1000 denominations and the silver (coins) come in 1 cent, 10 cents, 25 cents, $1, $5, $10 and $20.
The cheapest way to travel which gets you sometimes uncomfortably close to the locals are by route taxis, minibuses and coasters. Route taxis are normally banged up white toyota corollas with red licence plates that run up and down a certain route all day picking up and dropping off passengers as they please, minibuses are similar just holding more and travelling normally to the next major town. Lastly Coasters are large toyota minibuses that normally ply the route between Kingston and major towns. These 3 types of transport normally start off at a certain point around the town that you're in or at the main bus station which is locally called the 'bus park'. To signal the route taxis and minibuses to stop and pick you up along a route you just stick out your hand. To get out along a route at your destination a loud confident "ONE STOP DRIVER" is needed which stops it immediatly. Below is a compliation of useful routes and fares (in Jamaican Dollars)...
*warning, whilst writing this the government awarded the route taxis a price rise of 25%, and they are still debating an extra 5%, plus the bus routes will be getting a similar rise.. Below are the rates for a single person at the old rate. should be simple enough to work out the new rate until i update them all*
Kingston airport - Parade 50j (bus 98)
Parade - HWT 50j
Town - Spanish Town 50j
Town - Mandeville 360j
Town - Sav 500j
Town - Ochi 210j
Town - Porty 250j
Town - Bull Bay 50j
Town - MoBay 550j (NEW PRICE)
Mobay airport - Mobay park 50j
Mobay - Ochi 260j
Mobay - Lucy 120j
Lucy - Negril 100j
Negril - Sav 100j
Ochi - Dunns River/Roaring River 70j**NEW RATE**
Ochi - Oracabessa 70j
Ochi - Port Maria 130j**NEW RATE**
Ochi - St, Anns Bay 90j**NEW RATE**
Port Maria - Annotto Bay 130j**NEW RATE**
Annotto Bay - Porty 120j
Porty - Boston Beach 70j
Ochi - Claremont 100j
Claremont - Nine Miles 100j
Sav - Black river 120j
Black river - Treasure beach 120j
The place names above are colloquial, the jamaicans interchange the use of them, next are the translations that will help..
Town = Kingston
HWT = Halfway Tree, area in new kingston.
Ochi = Ocho Rios
Porty = Port Antonio
Mobay = Montego Bay
Lucy = Lucea
Sav = Savanna la mar
TB = Treasure Beach
Park = any bus station/terminal
Parade = 4 roads around William Grant Park in downtown Kingston
Downtown park = Major Bus Terminal in the western end of downtown Kingston.
Budget Places to stay:
Jamaica is a little expensive compared to some central American and SEA countries but you have to remember you're in the caribbean and normally paying for a double bed in a private room. I've found budget can be from $20us to $35us and are normally basic with no frills these include:
Linkage Guesthouse, Downtown Mobay, $20us.
Basic rooms with shared bathrooms.
Jewels Hotel, Augusta drive, Portmore, $25us.
Double with cable tv and ensuite, incl. a great Jamaican breakfast.
Jamnesia, Bull Bay, nr. Kingston. $25us
Basic room near surfing beach, can camp for $10us.
Scotia Guesthouse, musgrave St., Titchfield, Port Antonio, $10us.
Very very Basic but cheapest around.
Nix Nax, Oracabessa crossroads, Oracabessa. 20usd
Basic double with ensuite.
Mahoe villa and guesthouse, Ochi $25us.
basic double with cable tv and shared bathroom.
Barrys rooms, next to Bar-B-Barn hotel, long bay, Negril, $25us
Clean Double with cable, ensuite and hot water shower!!
Shakespeare cottage, treasure beach, $20us.
Basic double, shared bathroom.
Bridgehouse Inn, just over the iron bridge, Black River $18.50us.
Basic double with ensuite.
Wildflower lodge, in the blue mountains at Penlyne castle, dorm bunks for $15us, Important! Bring own food supplies here as its remote!
What to see and do:
Jamaica looks small on the map but it takes many hours to go from one end to the other, all day if by public transport.. So far away day trips are out, its better to move around with your sights, unless you have your own wheels. I have a few sights chalked up here which are either free, quite cheap or value for money. I'll start in my favourite town of Kingston as it is a must see for any independent traveller.
From Kingston: Party next to towering speakers all night at a free street party in a garrison, safe for travellers (getting there i'd advise a private taxi) are Rae towns reggae night on Sundays and Tivoli's Passa Passa, playing the latest Dancehall on Wednesday night but really only gets going after 1 or 2am of Thursday morning Wander the old pirate capital of the world at Port Royal for free and check Fort Charles out for 200jmd. On Sunday see how kingstonians relax and play at Hellshire beach whilst pigging out at the many food stalls. Go to trenchtown and look out for georgie at the government yard made famous in Marleys 'No Woman, No Cry'.. Visit bob marleys Tuff Gong recording Studios at 'Three mile' pron. 'Tree mile' and see them still making vinyl records. Take a day trip to Spanish town and walk on the crumbling landmark iron bridge, passed the prison to the large historical buildings at the quadrant called the park. Dont miss the hike up Blue mountain peak for sunrise!
Eastern Jamaica: try a bit of surfing either at Bull Bay or Boston Beach, if at Boston dont leave before refilling at the birthplace of Jerk seasoning with some chicken.. Near port antonio is the blue lagoon where you swim inbetween warm and cold currents and check out the locals who fought off the governments attempt at privatising their beaches at Winifred beach whilst you're nearby.
North East Coast: Skip the touristy Dunns River Falls for Roaring River waterfall that opens onto the beach for just yourself save a couple of Rastas and locals, here is famous for the scene where Ursella Andress comes out of the sea in Dr. No and its free. It is just half a mile west of dunns river. Wander a St. Anns bays main street to witness some real Jamaican life and then venture half a mile down to the waterfront at sevilla la nueva and try to spot the overgrown ruins of the first colonial settlers. Here too is where Cristobal Colombus camped a year whilst shipwrecked on his last voyage to the Americas. Make a day an adventure by bypassing expensive tours or taxis by getting route taxis into the cockpit hills to tour bob marleys birth and final resting place (before Rita takes him to Ethiopia that is) at Nine Miles whilst ignoring the brat kids who try to detour you away to look at a marijuana plantation for an extortionate fee.
North west: get to Falmouth for 7 in the evening for a tour of the luminous lagoon and swim whilst around your body glows in phosfurent microorganisms, hurry before the planned mega cruise terminal and big nearby 4000 room hotel is built which may destroy this wonder. A little touristy but take a tour of the rose hall great house and learn about the story behind the wicked white witch.
South west coast: The black river town has a crocodile spotting trip up the mangrove and reed banked river, use the larger tour companies on the river banks near the bridge for a decent well informed and proffesional tour. The highlight for me in this area was floyds Pelican bar, half a mile out in the sea on a sandbank, you can catch boat rides from the small seaside town of parrottee beach, a short route taxi from black river, much quicker way than doing it from Treasure Beach.
Jamaica is a well known power house in making music, what's great for a traveller here is that the scene is solely on self promotion rather than selling records, jamaicans buy bootleg cd's so once the artist breaks internationally the company will make the money on CDs from overseas.. But as the artists are trying break out or keep current there will be a lot of opportunities to see big names live and regularly around the island. Tune in to Irie fm or catch the small board advertisements at road junctions for latest news on shows. Shows don't really start until after midnight in Jamaica, the goverment and police have just recently started to step in and turn events off at midnight in the week and 2am on the weekend, currently it is hit or miss whether the police will turn up and cut the party off short.. Events include..
Smile Jamaica, Oracabessa, Feb.
Reggae Sumfest, Mobay, July.
Sting, Portmore, Boxing Day
Carnival. events all over but road march in Kingston. Easter.
Independence weekend, negril, early August,
Food and Drink:
There are many wonderful local dishes, a little sampling could go..
for breakfast seek out jamaicas national dish 'Ackee & Saltfish' with sides of dumpling and green banana. If you can find some real blue mountain coffee, which is the most expensive bean when exported to japan, try it because what is widely served is just cheap instant. For a cup of tea make sure you request teabag of they'll serve milo, also the milk added will surely be the sweetened condensed kind. For lunch find a patty shop and grab a couple with a coco bread, wash it down with a jelly (coconut) water. Dinner could be curry goat with rice and peas or from the street venders get a portion of jerk chicken. For the adventurous palate try chicken foot soup or mannish water. Rum figures a lot in all bars, with many brands of overproof. Red stripe is the national beer but Heiniken and Guiness (the Irish I've met are dissapointed with it though) are widely available. Also be careful with the small Magnum drinks, they are very potent and popular. Jamaicans drink the tap water but it doesn't stay too well with me.
Officially an English speaking island but when talking amongst themselves they'll more than likely be talking in Patois, it's spoken at a fast pace with many similarities and differrences with English.
Some easy patois to learn which can help with dealing with hustlers..
"Choh man, Go way.." (i'm getting annoyed, man, go away)For when a hustler is bugging you,
"Me nah need it" (i don't need it)For when you don't want something for sale,
If you Hear "Wagwaan?" (what's going on?) reply with a 'nah-ting' (nothing),
Ignore the "where you from?" questions on the street if you don't want to get hustled, also there will no doubt be young local men selling weed (it is illegal to have it so watch yourself) or want to beg from you and will probably tell you to stop or 'come here'.. Ignore them, if its so important they would come to you..
Prices have been going up all on all things in Jamaica this rate, Internet however is now free! you'll have to sneak out the public libaries and see if you can get your daily 30mins for gratis. Other internet cafes can have shocking prices, including sometimes a secret double rate for tourists.
When to go:
All year round is good to go.. you shouldn't be scared off by the official hurricane season june - november, the warning for a specific hurricane comes early as it forms off africa in the atlantic and maybe you might want to book around it, as it is pretty boring in a hotel with no electricity or cold beers. Raining season doesn't mean too much either, you'll likely get a short shower in the afternoon and be able to enjoy bright mornings to get a tan. The weather is different if heading up to the blue mountains and prepare for being cold and wet up there all year round.
Before you go:
Check the following websites to give you an idea of wagwaaning in Jamaica.. Yardflex, The Observer, The Gleaner.. If you can find them a couple of good jamaican films, that talk Patois but a little slower making it easier to understand can be Dancehall queen and Third World Cop.. when watching them try and spot the well known Jamaican entertainers.
Some Artists that are established and current in the Reggae and Dancehall scene are Vybz Kartel, Mavado, Sizzla, Damian Marley, Lady Saw, Busy Signal, Etana, Queen Ifrica, Ritchie Spice..