Interested in visiting Jamaica? 5+ Things you need to know when visiting Jamaica for the first time
Visiting Jamaica was an interesting experience for me because my wife has family in Jamaica. I was raised in the Caribbean, so I had an understanding of the cuisine, fruits, country, and the language. Now, as far as the language in Jamaica the dialect is Patios (Pat-wa), which can be difficult to understand for those unfamiliar with Caribbean accents. There are a few things I would like to share with you if you are interested in visiting Jamaica!
1. You need a passport to go to Jamaica.
Jamaica is not a United States Territory like the U.S. Virgin Islands, or Puerto Rico, etc. So, you will need a valid, non-expired passport to travel to Jamaica. Even if you decide to go on a cruise instead of flying, you will still need a passport. After you get your passport you can fly or cruise to Jamaica and go through customs, relatively hassle free. If you haven’t traveled out of the country before and you’re not used to the customs process it can be a nerve-wracking and tiresome experience. The customs officer will ask questions like “Why are you visiting and how long are you staying? After the mini interrogation you will be able to head towards the exit of the airport. On your way to the exit, you will most likely run into a guy with a sign pointing you in the direction to convert your money into Jamaica’s local currency. You may want to consider using local currency during your stay as you are able to pay for your goods in exact change rather than using U.S. Dollars. When you use U.S. Dollars you will most likely end up paying more for the item you are purchasing as U.S. money is worth roughly 100 times more than the Jamaican Dollar.
2. Beware of the scams
So, when you are planning your trip be very careful not to rent a car from a sketchy website. The US dollar is highly sought after because the US dollar is worth more in Jamaica. We had an interestingly negative experience when a family member rented a car from a third-party rental car company because it was cheaper. When we met with the rental car representative to pick up the car we reserved, the company didn’t have any more cars that could accommodate the number of passengers we needed, so one of the people of the rental car company called a “Friend” who had their own rental car company to get us a vehicle that was big enough. That third party company charged us an extra $1,000 (US Dollars). This was a big lesson to us that we should have just paid the extra money to reserve a vehicle with a more reputable car rental company. Also, if you are renting a car, remember, in Jamaica, they do not drive on the right side of the road. They drive on the left side.
3. Location matters
Is your trip to Jamaica a family trip, couples’ trip, or a friend’s trip? Your answer will most likely determine what area of the country you will be interested in visiting. When you are traveling make sure you do your research on the place/area you will be staying. Ask yourself how far is the airport? What are the local restaurants nearby? How far away is the hospital? How far away is the bank? How far am I away from attractions? These are some basic questions that you may want to consider on your quest in finding a great location. The Airbnb that our family stayed in was in Runaway Bay which is about 45 minutes away from Montego Bay (we flew into the airport in Montego Bay). As a family we wanted to be closer to Ocho Rios, and Runaway Bay is between Ocho Rios and Montego Bay but closer to Ocho Rios. There are a lot of family friendly things to do in Ocho Rios. If you are visiting Kingston; however, I would try to stay at a resort or make sure you establish a relationship with your Airbnb Host. Kingston is not as much of a tourist spot as the areas along the coast. At our Airbnb we had an onsite host who lived in a small area of the property. They were extremely helpful. So be sure to message your host and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Also, whatever activities, lodging, restaurants, etc. you plan on using, READ THE REVIEWS!! The reviews can give you great insight on many things including, customer service, cleanliness, quality of products/services, etc.
4. The “American/European Tax”
No, I’m not referring to an actual tax, but I’ll explain. If you’re not familiar with the Caribbean and you look like a tourist, the locals will try to sell you their products but, in some cases, won’t accept their own currency. Meaning, they will overcharge their goods and disclose the price in US Dollars or the Euro so that they can convert the money later to their own local currency to get more for their money. I learned my lesson the first time I went to Jamaica. My wife and I visited Dunns River Falls and when we were leaving, every corner I turned there was someone trying to sell me something. One guy approached me and gave me a free wooden turtle and then said, “The first one is free, but this one is twenty US Dollars.” By the time I got to the exit, I had already spent $90 (US). I wasn’t too happy about that, but when I travelled to Jamaica the next time, I made an effort to blend in with the locals so they couldn’t figure out if I was a tourist or not. I also completely avoided the areas I knew were populated with vendors. I wasn’t going to get hustled twice lol. It helps if you know a local resident or have family there, because then you can just let them do all the talking. lol
5. Remember that you are not a resident
Sometimes when we travel, we like to check out the nightlife. The nightlife in the Caribbean is a lot of fun and has AMAZING DRINKS however…I wouldn’t suggest staying out past midnight. Make sure that you travel in a group and that you all depart together, and return together. If you are at a resort, then you should be fine as long as you are on the resort’s grounds. If you are in an Airbnb be mindful of how late you are staying out and again be sure to choose the area you are staying at wisely. Although Jamaica is a great place, just like the United States, not every area is safe. They have crime just like every other country. Remember safety first, no matter the country you travel to.
If you are interested in shopping in Jamaica, Montego Bay and Kingston have some great spots to shop. Also, if you are interested in museums, Kingston has some great options. There is the Bob Marley Museum, The Museum of Jamaica, and you can go visit some areas where the national track team practices. Who knows, you may be lucky enough to run into Usain Bolt at his restaurant or near the track.
7. Jerk Chicken, Fried Snapper with Bammy…Amazing Cuisine
If you enjoy eating different cuisines and want to try out some native dishes in Jamaica, I recommend jerk chicken, or brown stew chicken, with rice and beans as well as my absolute favorite dish; fried snapper with bammy and fried plantain.
Also, one of the known drinks in Jamaica is called Sorrel. It’s a sweet drink made from sorrel (a plant) buds. You may actually like it! The staple breakfast dish is ackee and saltfish, and it tastes awesome! To be honest, I’m confident that wherever and whatever you eat in Jamaica, will be an enjoyable experience. The food is just that good.
8. Have fun!
If you are about to visit Jamaica for the first or second time. Remember to have fun. Enjoy yourself and relax. Sometimes families go on trips and they begin to argue about sticking to a budget, or debate what activities are worth doing, which can get a little frustrating especially after dealing with the long lines at customs. Please remember, when you travel to this beautiful island, you will have fun, bond, and create some awesome memories.
Here’s a list of things to add to your list of things to do when you visit Jamaica!
Climb the Dunns River falls -Ocho Rios
Bob Marley Museum -Kingston
The Glowing Lagoon -Falmouth
Dolphin Cove-Ocho Rios
Mystic Mountain- Ocho Rios
YS Falls - Saint Elizabeth
Visit Seven Mile Beach – Negril
The Blue Hole- Ocho Rios
The National Gallery of Jamaica- Kingston
Rick's Café - Negril
Calypso River Rafting- Ocho Rios
Eat a Locally grown fruit
Drink a Red Stripe Beer
Try Jerk Chicken
Eat Bammy with Fried Snapper
Hey, thank you for reading my post about things to know when visiting Jamaica. I hope that this will help you with your planning and also to help you to avoid some rookie travel mistakes that I made when I went to Jamaica the first time. Remember that this is a vacation so make sure to have fun. Where in Jamaica are you planning on visiting and why? What are some things that you plan to do? Also, if you have been to Jamaica before what was your experience like? Please feel free to comment below. If this post can help someone you know please feel free to share. If you are new to Millennial Oaks, please subscribe 😊.