After exploring Jamaica without any guides and making some mistakes here and there, we acquired a lot of knowledge about what to do and not to do and how to experience the real Jamaica. So here are our best tips to help you get the most authentic experience possible while having a great time on the island of one love.
1. Opt Out of Staying in Resorts
You won’t find the real Jamaica behind the tall gates of an all-inclusive resort. Jamaica is not bland buffet food, unlimited booze, overfilled pools and partying to whatever is popular right now. There is so much more to Jamaica than resorts. We challenge you to stay at local guesthouses and hotels to help support the locals and not big American corporations. When you stay at locally ran guesthouses and hotels you can get local advice on things to do, places to visit, eat and of course the opportunity to interact with locals. Don’t opt for a whitewashed experience where the only Jamaicans you will ever meet are servers, drivers and hustlers trying to sell you something. Another great way to find local accommodation is on Airbnb. For some suggestions check out our article on the best Jamaica Airbnbs here.
2. Take Route Taxis
It’s the best and cheapest way to get around Jamaica. Who needs private taxis when you can travel the local way. You may have to squeeze in with a few locals but if you don’t mind you will get where you are going in no time for ten times cheaper than a private taxi.
3. Stay in Negril for Only a Few Days or Skip it Altogether
We suggest staying in Negril for no more than two days. It is very touristy, expensive for the average backpacker, crowded and not as relaxed as other parts of Jamaica. Yes, I know there is seven miles of beach but is it really beautiful when it is crowded with people, and hustlers harassing you to buy something? You can find beaches just as beautiful or better in different parts of Jamaica like Winnifred Beach in Port Antonio for example. It’s way less crowded, more relaxed, and surrounded by nature.
4. Watch Out for Cars
Not many places in Jamaica have sidewalks so you will most likely be walking on the road and drivers in Jamaica drive wicked fast so pay attention to the cars. We would recommend walking against traffic so you can see oncoming traffic. I had way too many close calls for my liking.
5. Store Your Stuff in a Black Plastic Bag
Sounds weird right, well let me explain. Instead of walking around with a daypack put everything you need like money, camera, etc. in one of those black plastic bags that you get whenever you buy something somewhere. Thieves won’t think much of it as many people including locals are walking around with them not to mention, it will make you less of a target.
6. Travel During the Off Season
Everything is just soo much cheaper during the off season. Less hasslers, less crowds, cheaper accommodations, and more opportunities to bargain. Off season is from May to about mid December.
7. Don’t Just Be a Beach Bum
Don’t get me wrong, we love beaches and Jamaica has some of the best beaches we have ever seen but there is more to Jamaica than just beaches. There are plenty of lush mountains, breathtaking waterfalls, beautiful caves, remote villages and so much more. I challenge you to travel deeper into the island and away from the east coast.
8. Eat at Local Restaurants
We are all about supporting locals and we think other travelers should be too! When you go to local restaurants you know the money is going directly to them and not big corporations or the 1 percenters helping them get richer. Not to mention it is usually way cheaper than food chain places and the food is more authentic. Here are some must-eat dishes you need to try while in Jamaica.
9. Budget Tip
If prices are quoted in US Dollars know that you are in a expensive location. Run away, run away fast. Though US dollars are accepted in certain areas (i.e tourist areas) the Jamaican Dollar is the official currency. This guide should give you a good idea of how much things cost in Jamaica.
10. Relax, Enjoy and Repeat
Take it easy, relax and enjoy Jamaica. Time is a thing of the past. Leave your watch at home and just kick back and enjoy the good vibes of the island!
Did we miss anything? Do you have some travel tips for Jamaica?
Kate Lubinski says
I’m definitely going to use these tips, thank you! I have been wanting to go to Jamaica for quite some time, and since I’m travelling from Europe I have to do some proper research before booking anything! I am really into diving, I’ve read that the Basket Reef in JA is a great dive spot, and I’m happy to see the island offers so much more besides diving. I’m really excited about the local cuisine, as I’m also a huuuuge foodie.
Juan Domingo Barbieri says
Dear Sir, good evening,
I want to request to you the best suggestion for holidays in Jamaica, we plan to trip in days between 24 march to 1 april 2018, we don’t decide the days yet…holidays for my wife and me (54 and 60 years old), we want your better suggestion for best hotel in good place with access to principal attractions in island, we like music, tipical best food, snorkel, kayak and others, we don’t like rent a car….
Thanks and regards
Amanda Keeley-Thurman says
We just visited Jamaica with the kids. We wanted to do something special so we took them to climb the Dunn’s River Falls. It was people, but I wish there were less people. The black bag is a great tip. I will share it!
Awesome travel tips! I am from New Zealand.
I have recently booked my trip to Jamaica for April this year so I am researching everything at the moment. I am so excited to experience the food, music and culture. I am currently looking into the different homestay options but unsure which area to head for first!
Oh Nice!!! If you are looking to do a homestay I recommend doing it outside the touristy areas like Negril, Montego Bay or Ocho so you can get an authentic experience! Also The Jamaica Tourism board also does a Meet the people program where they match visitors with locals of similar interest. You meet them and hangout for a day. The locals are not paid to do this they are volunteers who are just interested in showing visitors their lovely home, Jamaica! if you are interested, you can read more about it here
Hope you have a lovely trip Brittany and let us know how it went!
Rick goldhardt says
We have stayed in negril 5 times we love the cliffs .. but the last time we rode a scooter out about a hour away from catcha falling star we love it .thank you for all
your tips we want to really see the real Jamaica the country and it’s people. I see myself living on the island feels like home to my soul.. want to check out portyfor sure.. thanks and respect rick.
Hey Rick, I am glad you are enjoying Jamaica. JA also holds a special place in our hearts, we love it there, specifically porty and we even talked about possibly living there and this was only after one visit that was only 2 weeks longs. So that has to tell you a lot!
Hope you get to make it to porty, we love it there!!
Safe travels :)
Rick goldhardt says
Can’t wait !! Really want to explore and experience others parts of home away from home .. I will deep you all posted to our next adventure. ..
Definitely Keep us posted Rick!! We love Jamaica too! One of our favorites ;)
Great tips! Just as a side note, I’m not sure why two or three of your tips seem to be pulling a beef with “big corporations.” This might just be an unsubstantiated shot in the dark, but I’m pretty sure most people smart enough to be reading your blog have already figured out that if they eat at local Jamaican restaurants, the money goes to the people who own it. Those of us for whom supporting local business is important to us, we have already figured this out – there’s really no need to point it out by pandering or lecturing your readers.
Hey Erika, thanks for sharing and you make a valued point, we are big supporters of the ”local way” verse big corporations but I do believe that sometimes it does need to be said because some people don’t think about where their money goes or what they are supporting, they just spend.
I don’t think I am lecturing either just giving my advice and opinion otherwise it would be an entire blog post about it.
But I can see why it may come off that way!
I do understand your feeling about resorts. As the owner of a travel agency, I try to plan trips where clients get to see the “real world”–wherever they may be. That being said, I would like to mention that one of the most fabulous resort chains in the world is owned and headquartered in Jamaica–Sandals (couples only) and Beaches (families) resorts. I recently spoke to a Jamaican employee of Sandals and she loves working for a company that she grew up with and that is an integral part of Jamaica. She says the company gives back a lot to Jamaica and working there makes her feel like she is working for family.
I just finished planning a honeymoon trip for a couple where they will be staying at Sandals Ocho Rios in Jamaica, but they will also be leaving the resort to explore Jamaica every other day. It is possible to enjoy the resort atmosphere and also get out and enjoy local culture.
Thank you for the article and I do appreciate the tips. Most of the time I like to stay in small local establishments as you suggest, but there are times it is nice to be pampered at a luxury resort. And a good time to do that is by staying in a world class resort that is also contributing greatly to the local economy. Just thought Sandals deserves a mention.
Great tips..especially about the plastic bag.
This post almost makes me want to go to Jamaica again! We went to Port Antonio and our experience was so different than yours that I am not sure I will ever go again. It’s not always fun to be a tourist there.
I am sorry to hear that. How did your experience go? We had the time of our lives and can’t wait to go back.
Great tips! I used to think I didn’t want to travel to Jamaica because of the things I’ve heard about the exploitative tourism there, but with your suggestions it seems like you can travel responsibly in Jamaica and still have a great time.
Hey Kacy, most of the exploitative tourism is happening in the resort towns of Negril, Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. However, if you head to Treasure Beach or Port Antonio, where people don’t depend on tourism, you will get to experience the real Jamaica and have an awesome time. Matter of fact we wrote a post about why people should skip Negril and go straight to Port Antonio.
Couldn’t agree more with point 1, 3, 6, 7, 8, and 10. Jamaica was not one of my favorite places and now that I have been to Cuba I would opt to go in that direction over Jamaica anytime.
Hey Tim thanks for stopping by . Why didn’t you like Jamaica? For us it has been one of the best places we have been to so far. The people and natural landscapes in JA are amazing and we can’t wait to go back.