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The Ultimate Guide to Backpacking Jamaica on a Budget

When people think of Jamaica, nine times out of ten, they think of white sand beaches, all-inclusive resorts and the need for a lot of money. However, not too many would consider Jamaica to be a backpacker’s destination like Central America or SE Asia. But what if we told you it’s more than possible to enjoy this beautiful Caribbean island without taking out a loan? Would you believe us? True, Jamaica does not have much of a backpacker culture, as it caters mostly to all-inclusive travelers, but that doesn’t mean one can’t backpack Jamaica on a budget. So, in this post we’ll tell you how you can avoid spending your life savings, while still experiencing all Jamaica has to offer.

Average Costs

Food

Local Jamaican food can cost anywhere from $3 – $10+ USD, depending on what you order. Chicken stew is usually the cheapest meal on the menu, while oxtail and seafood dishes are on the more expensive side. We were actually pretty surprised that seafood is so expensive in Jamaica, considering it’s an island. However, after talking to some locals, we found out it’s because there is a huge decrease in fishes in the ocean near Jamaica due to over-fishing. So don’t expect to eat a lot of seafood here, unless you have the big bucks.

Delicious Seafood dish in Port Antonio, Jamaica

Accommodations

For a bed in a hostel dorm, expect to pay around $15 – 20 USD, and for a private room in a local guesthouse about $25 – $40 USD. Accommodation in Jamaica can be very expensive if you only rely on the internet and don’t walk around, as many local places do not advertise on the web. Opt to stay in local guesthouses and hotels. The best way to find cheap places to stay in Jamaica is by walking around and talking to locals. If you rather book online in advance check out this post about where to stay in Jamaica.

Transportation

Route taxis are the cheapest way to get around Jamaica. They go just about everywhere on the island and cost around $1 – 7 USD, depending on your final destination. Another more comfortable, but still affordable option is the bus company Knutsford Express, whose coach buses run fairly frequently between popular towns.

Budget Tips

1.) Don’t Take Chartered Taxis

Chartered taxis are very expensive and cost at least ten times more than a regular route taxi. For example, a chartered taxi from Montego Bay Airport to downtown costs $25 USD, whereas a regular route taxi costs only $1 USD.

2.) Go During Off-Season

May through November is considered the off-season in Jamaica. Rates for accommodation and activities are sometimes as much as 50% cheaper during that time. Sure, you will get the occasional rain showers, but the money you can potentially save more than makes up for it. And usually the rain only lasts for one to two hours anyway.

For more tips check out: 10 Travel Tips for Jamaica

Top Things To Do in Jamaica

There are a million things to do in Jamaica, but below are some of our favorites.

Bob Marley Museum

The Bob Marley Museum is located in the house where Bob Marley lived and recorded from 1975 until his death in 1981. The entrance fee is $20 USD per person and includes an hour-long tour, which provides insights into Marley’s life.

Reach Falls in Port Antonio
Reach Falls in Port Antonio

Reach Falls

Reach Falls is one of our favorite waterfalls in Jamaica. There are two ways to see the falls. The first way is to take a taxi to the official government entrance directly at the main falls. Another option is to take a taxi to the local entrance, where a local guide will lead you through a series of water pools up to the main falls. Entrance fee at the official government entrance is $10 USD per person. There is technically no entrance fee at the local entrance, but if you choose to take a local guide, he will most likely charge the same or less, depending on your negotiation skills.

Green Grotto Caves

Jamaica has thousands of caves located all over the island, with the Green Grotto Caves being one of the most popular. The entrance fee is $20 USD. This includes an hour-long tour through the impressive cave system, all the way down to the highlight of the cave, the Green Grotto, a crystal clear lake.

Blue Mountains

The Blue Mountains are the longest mountain range in Jamaica, with the highest peak at 2,256 m (7,402 ft). Of the many hiking trails, the most popular is the one leading to the peak, where on a clear day you can see all the way to Cuba. The hike can be done in a day, but some people like to stay overnight to get a feel of what it’s like to not sleep in a loud, bright, crowded city! The mountains are rich in flora and fauna, with over 500 different plant species and over 200 different bird species calling it their home. The mountains are inhabited mostly by farmers and local indigenous people who live a sustainable lifestyle away from the hustle and bustle of modern life.

The famous Blue Lagoon in Port Antonio, Jamaica
Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon is located in Port Antonio, only a short taxi ride from town. The cool feature about the Blue Lagoon is the mystical blue water, which changes color throughout the day, depending on the angle of the sun. The water here is a mixture of fresh and seawater. As you swim in the lagoon, you notice the alternating temperature of the warm Caribbean Sea and cold water from the underground streams. It’s quite a beautiful experience. There is no entrance fee to the Blue Lagoon. A few people offer tours on a bamboo raft, however we noticed that those are very short and not worth the price tag.

Beautiful clear turquoise water near rocks and cliffs in Negril Jamaica
mbrand85 / shutterstock.com

Rick’s Cafe

Rick’s Cafe is located on the cliffs in West End, Negril. It’s a popular hangout spot among tourists and locals alike, who come here to jump off the tall cliffs. Food and drinks are, as you would expect, way overpriced. We don’t recommend you eat or drink here, but if you want to jump down from 35 feet into the turquoise blue Caribbean Sea, or want to watch others do it, stop by anytime before sunset.

The lower pool from the waterfall at Y S Falls, Jamaica
Sherry Talbot / shutterstock.com

YS Falls

YS Falls consists of seven waterfalls, which cascade into natural pools. Those natural pools are perfect for swimming, and many people rate it to be the best waterfall in Jamaica. The entrance fee is $17 USD per person.

Cornwall Barracks near Port Antonio, Jamaica
Cornwall Barracks

Cornwall Barracks

We randomly found this remote village after talking to locals who suggested we make a trip up there. The town is located up in the hills along the Rio Grande, and offers a beautiful hiking experience. We highly recommend you jump into a route taxi and visit Cornwall Barracks. The ride alone is scenic and so worth it. Just you and nature, no one else.

A bamboo raft on the RIo Grande River in Portland, Jamaica.
Aisha Sylvester / shutterstock.com

Rio Grande Rafting

Though Rio Grande rafting is on the expensive side, it provides some of the most beautiful views you will ever see. It will give you a rare glimpse into Jamaica’s natural beauty that many never get to experience. A tour on a bamboo raft for two costs around $70 USD and lasts about two to three hours.

Dunn's River Falls in Ocho Rios, Jamaica
CO Leong / shutterstock.com

Dunn’s River Falls

Dunn’s River Falls is probably one of the most overrun tourist destinations in Jamaica, and because of that we opted out of going there. We enjoy nature, but if all you see is obnoxious all-inclusive tourists and hustlers, the charm of the falls is pretty much gone for us. Plus, a price tag of $20 USD to see something that was created by mother nature and is supposed to be free is not something we can justify nor support.

Treasure Beach in Jamaica
Treasure Beach: The Jamaica not seen by many.

Treasure Beach

Treasure Beach is a community based tourism destination located on the southern coast of Jamaica. This sleepy fishing village is like no other place in Jamaica with its desert-like, but fruitful environment. It’s the perfect place to escape the touristy chaos while you kick back and relax with the friendly locals.

How Much Did We Spend?

Depending on what kind of traveler you are, you can spend anywhere from $30 USD to $1000 USD a day, the choice is up to you. We spent an average of US$50 a day for the both of us and in our two-week stay we spent about $800 USD. Though that is a lot for two budget travelers, we must mention that we moved around a lot to get a feel for the whole island during our trip, which meant our spending on transportation and accommodation could have been less. The longer you stay in one or two places (we recommend Treasure Beach and Port Antonio) during your time on the island, the more money you can save.

Another option to keep daily spending low is by opting to cook one or two of your own meals a day to save money. Either way, I would say it is definitely possible to backpack Jamaica on a budget. By planning ahead, you can easily spend less than one-fourth of what all-inclusive tourists spend on their vacation.

Get Insured Before Backpacking Jamaica

No matter how long or short your trip, don’t forget to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and trust us, you don’t wanna get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it. We recommend World Nomads.

Even if you don’t get travel insurance with World Nomads, please make sure to get travel insurance from somewhere.

Other Travel Guides

If you are more of a book person and would rather carry a physical guide with you while backpacking Jamaica, we recommend Lonely Planet Jamaica. Remember though, don’t follow it step by step, use it as a guide instead.

If you enjoyed our backpacking Jamaica on a budget guide, please share it on social media and consider coming back to plan your next trips with our other detailed backpacking guides.

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The Author

Ben

Ben is a professional web designer and the man behind the scenes of Road Affair. He has been traveling around the world with his partner in crime, Jazzy, since 2012.

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Comments

  1. My friend went there for a wedding and said great things, and now I’m acutally considering if I can find a way to get there from CA without flying through USA or flying in general :D

    Love, peace and pancakes from Croatia
    Pam

    1. Hey Pam, that would be quite an experience if you do it… I would love to hear about it! Really! Jamaica is definitely worth the visit and not just because of the resorts or clear blue water either!

      Lol, at the signature, my sister always say Love, Peace and Chicken Grease! lol

  2. Hi! Thank you for the great information! We are going there in the summer. Did you stay with any great people we should know about in Port Antonio or Treasure Beach?

  3. Hey guys , going to runaway bay in a few days. want to get out of the resort a few times during the week any good suggestions ? We thought blue hole , and fern gully any good falls other then Dunn’s river?

    Thanks Rick

    1. Hey Rick, if you don’t mind all the tourists you could check out Ocho Rios. Those are apparently pretty nice falls and they are only a short ride away from Runaway Bay. Everything else takes a few hours to get to. How are you getting around?

    2. Hey Rick,
      You have to go to ultimate jerk it is across the street from the green Gotto. We stayed at jewels resort loved it!!!! Go rafting on the river five min drive from ocho river. Ask for andrew or pops $25 to go down the river. Not fasting moving at all very peaceful. I took my 10 and 11 year down the river. Just to give you and ideal of how safe it is. If you need to shop go to the market in the middle of ocho Rios ask for Aaron tell him shavon sent you best deals ever! Ask the local if they are any festivals the have them in turtle park in ocho rios sometimes . If your in montego bay go to pork pit or scotties hands downs to eat.

      1. We didn’t leave the resort I guess we needed the r/r..we seemed to miss negril and the friends we have made over the years there..we want to try porty and are trying to pull money together to go and visit. We like goblin hill hotel and the views but not sure we can pay that much this time around since we just left Jamaica in June. Any good suggestion on where to say? Was it mikes your friend that has some small cabins ? We want to site see this time for sure and explore porty . I have fallen in love with Jamaica and never want to visit other places . at times it drive my wife crazy ! But she loves our home away from home also. As I mention about lodging we are middle of the road as far as rooms we stay in. Any help or wisdom would be great.

        Thanks rick

  4. Hey guys,
    Thank you so much for all your tips!! Been reading your posts about Jamaica for a few hours now, and this sounds all both super useful and exciting, thanks :)
    I’ll be traveling to Jamaica for ten days in a bit more than a week, and I was wondering whether you’d have any tips for traveling alone as a girl, tight budget, safe, but still meeting people and experiencing a bit of the local life. I’m a 24 yo girl with altogether a British accent and blond hair, so quite the touristy looks I guess. Also I have no traveling alone experience (but been around quite a lot with friends) and I haven’t really had time to plan anything yet, though I should have time for reading more about it in the ten days I have left before going. So all in all this really might not be the best way to go, but I am really excited about traveling there, open to the unplanned, and would really appreciate any tips if you have any!
    Thank you guys for the great posts already :)
    All the best

    1. Hey Cécile,

      I have always traveled as a couple or in a group so can’t really give much advice on traveling solo. However, Jamaica is fairly safe (especially the touristy areas), not sure about Kingston as we were there for only a night. Honestly, I think if you befriend some locals or fellow travelers (a hostel would definitely help with that) you will never really be alone. Also know that Jamaican men are smooth talkers and can get you to buy the shirt off their backs so just be aware of that. Smooth talkers vs nice locals, know the difference and that would help a lot.

      Oh and we really didn’t read much on Jamaica before we left either, we kind of had a brief idea of places we wanted to visit (looked at a map of JA and picked) and it worked for us. We just went with the flow and listen to the locals and those two ingredients alone made JA amazing for us!

      Hope the advice helped! And if you have any other questions about JA just ask :)! Hope you love JA as much as we d0 <3

  5. This is fantastic! I am a travel agent but budget adventurer when I go out on my own and have struggled spending hours the last few weeks on finding decent budget accom on the Caribbean islands to pick where to go. I tend to like a social and alternative vibe. So glad I came across this post and website!

    1. Hey Paula, glad we can help! Not to many people are aware that visiting Jamaica on a backpackers budget is totally possible! Hope you enjoy JA if you choose to go there! :)

  6. Hey guys! I just LOVE your blog and your posts about Jamaica! Planning to go there in January 2018 and will definitely have a lot of questions before heading off! Will get in touch with you soon by pm! :-) Thanks for all your (insider) tips so far and can’t wait to discover and experience Jamaica then :-)

    1. Hey Jazzmynn,

      Glad you found our post useful, and yes feel free to hit us up with any questions you may have, I know you are going to love JA

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