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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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