Category - Jamaica

Jamaica Travel Guide

Jamaica Travel Guide: Rasta rafting guide

Jamaica Travel Guide

Date Visited: June 2015

Introduction

There is much more to Jamaica than quintessential tropical beaches and sunsets. The third largest island in the Caribbean (after Cuba and Hispaniola), offers an abundance of culture from Reggae music to Rastafarians, a unique cuisine in the form of ‘Jerk’, lush tropical rain forests, misty blue mountains, superb coffee, hidden waterfalls, meandering rivers, famous dark rums and so much more.

Jamaica is as smooth as its rums and as spicy as its Jerk – a rewarding destination for those willing to pull themselves away from the legendary beaches and venture off the beaten track.

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Part of the Greater Antilles, Jamaica is surrounded by the Caribbean sea. Cuba is located 145-kilometres to the north while the Jamaica channel separates Jamaica from the island of Hispaniola, 191-kilometres to the west.

With 2.8 million people, Jamaica is the third most populous Anglophone country in the Americas (after the United States and Canada).

History

Like other islands in the region, Jamaica was originally settled by indigenous Arawak Indians – known as Taino’s – who island hopped through the Antilles from modern day Venezuela, arriving on Jamaica around 650 AD. They called the island ‘Xaymaca‘ (land of wood and water). The Spanish gradually changed the name to ‘Jamaica‘.

Marley Coffee shop in Kingston

Marley Coffee shop in Kingston

At the time of European contact, the Taino were waging a war against the more aggressive Carib Indians. About one-hundred years after European arrival, the Taino population had been decimated due to forced slavery (by the Spanish) and the introduction of foreign diseases.

The first European to arrive on the island was Christopher Columbus in 1494, during his second voyage to the Americas. Columbus claimed the island for the Spanish crown but never settled it.

In 1503 (during his fourth voyage to the Americas), Columbus was forced to return to Jamaica when a storm beached his ships in St. Ann’s Bay. Columbus and his men remained stranded on the island for one year, finally departing in 1504. The Spanish crown granted the island to the Columbus family, but for decades it was something of a backwater.

The first permanent settlement was established by the Spanish on the north coast in 1509. In 1534 the capital was moved to Villa de la Vega, now called Spanish Town. This settlement served as the capital of Jamaica under both the Spanish and English, from 1534 until 1872, after which the English moved the capital to Kingston. The Spanish were the first to introduce African slaves to Jamaica, after the native Taino population became extinct.

The 'Doctor Bird' Hummingbird in the Blue Mountains

The ‘Doctor Bird’ Hummingbird in the Blue Mountains

By 1655, the British – concerned about Spain’s growing influence in the Caribbean – launched a poorly executed attack on the fort at Santo Domingo (Spain’s strong-hold on neighbouring Dominican Republic). After the Spanish repulsed the attack, the British force sailed for Jamaica, the only Spanish West Indies island that did not have new defensive works.

In May 1655, seven thousand British soldiers landed near Spanish Town and easily overwhelmed the small number of Spanish troops stationed on Jamaica. Despite several battles, Spain was never able to recapture the island. By signing the Treaty of Madrid in 1670, Britain gained formal possession of Jamaica from Spain.

In order to repeal any further attacks by the Spanish, the British authorities invited pirates and privateers (who preyed on Spanish ships) to establish a base on the south coast at Port Royal (close to present-day Kingston). Jamaica soon became a home base for privateers and pirates, including Henry Morgan.

Once the treaty had been signed and the threat of war removed, the British focused on establishing plantations on the island. They encouraged new settlers to come to the island through gifts of land. These settlers established sugarcane plantations, which allowed the economy to boom. At one point, Jamaica was the world’s largest producer of sugar, yielding 22 percent of the world’s supply during the 1700’s. The British also produced cocoa and coffee plants for trade.

While the English imported many African slaves to work on the plantations, the number of slaves on Jamaica was considerably less than other islands. This is in part due to Jamaica’s more westerly location in the Caribbean. Slave ships sailing from West Africa preferred to unload their human cargo as soon as possible and hence islands in the Eastern Caribbean received larger numbers of slaves than those in the west. By 1800, black Jamaicans outnumbered whites by a ratio of twenty to one. Enslaved Jamaicans mounted over a dozen major uprisings during the eighteenth century.

Jamaican boy on the Rio Grande

Jamaican boy on the Rio Grande

Following the abolition of slavery (1834), and the subsequent loss of its labour source, the island’s plantation economy suffered. The second half of the nineteenth century was a period of severe economic decline for Jamaica. Low crop prices, droughts, and disease led to serious social unrest and rebellions. Throughout, the British managed to maintain control.

Jamaica finally became an independent nation on the 6th of August 1962.

Despite all the marketing and branding of Jamaica as a tropical paradise for tourists (which it is), the country does have serious social and economic problems. The island is currently burdened with a huge amount of foreign debt, a debt which has gradually built up over decades. In 2012 more than 54% of the country’s JMD $612-billion budget was spent on servicing this debt. In addition to the debt, high unemployment (averaging 12.5%), rampant under-employment, and high interest rates are the most serious economic problems.

Violent crime is one of many serious social problems, particularly in Kingston. You need to be careful when moving around the capital, no matter what time of the day. Other large cities (Ocho Rios) are also gritty and threatening. Jamaica has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, an ineffective justice system, ‘patchy’ law and order, ‘indifferent’ education system and is perceived by it’s residents as being an ‘overwhelming’ corrupt country.

In 2011, in the lead-up to the 50th anniversary of independence, a poll conducted on behalf of the Gleaner newspaper found that 60% of those polled held the view that “Jamaica would be better off under British rule”.

Tourism is the most important economic activity on the island today. Most tourism is concentrated on the island’s northern and western coasts in the beach-side communities of Port Antonio, Ocho Rios, Montego Bay and Negril.

Bob Marley

Bob Marley tribute in Kingston

Bob Marley tribute in Kingston

Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley is Jamaica’s most famous son and one of its most famous exports. Born on the 6th of February 1945 in the small town of Nine Mile (St. Anne parish), Marley grew up playing music at school with his childhood friend Neville Livingston (later known as Bunny Wailer).

Following the death of his father when he was 10 years-old, Bob relocated to Trench-town (Kingston) with his mother, her new partner Thadeus Livingston (Bunny Wailer’s father) and Neville Livingston. Now that Marley and Bunny were living in the same house, their musical exploration intensified. They focused on the latest R&B from American radio stations whose broadcasts reached Jamaica, and the new Ska music.

While in Trench-town, Marley found himself in a vocal group with Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, Beverly Kelso and Junior Braithwaite. At this time Marley was only interested in being a vocalist. Marley then met Joe Higgs, who resided on the next block. Higgs helped Marley with his vocals but more importantly, taught him how to play guitar – thereby creating the foundation that would later allow Marley to construct some of the biggest-selling reggae songs in the history of the genre.

In 1963, Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, Junior Braithwaite, Beverley Kelso, and Cherry Smith formed a band called The Teenagers. They later changed the name to The Wailing Rudeboys, then to The Wailing Wailers, then finally to The Wailers. The Wailers would go on to release some of the earliest reggae records.

After the Wailers disbanded in 1974, Marley pursued a solo career upon his relocation to England. It was during this time that he produced the album Exodus (1977), which established his worldwide reputation and produced his status as one of the world’s best-selling artists of all time, with sales of more than 75 million records. Exodus stayed on the British album charts for fifty-six consecutive weeks.

Diagnosed with a type of malignant melanoma in 1977, Marley died on 11 May 1981 in Miami at the age of 36. He was a committed Rastafari who infused his music with a sense of spirituality. He is considered one of the most influential musicians of all time and credited with popularizing reggae music around the world, as well as serving as a symbol of Jamaican culture and identity. A visit to Jamaica would not be complete without spending some time gaining an understanding of its most famous son.

Kingston

Bob Marley museum in Kingston

Bob Marley museum in Kingston

With a population of 580,000, Kingston is the largest city and capital of Jamaica. The city is located on the southeastern coast, facing a natural harbour. It is protected by a long sand spit, which connects the historical town of Port Royal and the Norman Manley International Airport to the rest of the island.

The majority of the population is Afro-Caribbean, descendants from former slaves. The British also imported large numbers of indentured Indians who today run many of the businesses in Kingston (along with Chinese immigrants).

Despite being home to historic buildings, museums, banks and street markets – downtown Kingston feels shabby, dangerous and run-down. To the west of the downtown area lie the ghetto’s of Trench Town and Tivoli Gardens. This is not a place to be walking after dark. Many of the houses in the area lack basic services and the rule of law is thin on the ground.

The uptown area is located to the north of downtown and is known as New Kingston. At its heart is the modern and clean Emancipation park, kept safe by a legion of security guards. Located around the park you will find the city’s best hotels and restaurants. This is a good neighbourhood to stay in if you wish to be able to venture out after dark without a private army.

There are few sites of interest in downtown Kingston, the city can be covered in one day. Sites are spread around town so it’s best to take one of the many buses or a taxi.

Sites include:

  • Bob Marley Museum – Housed in a large old colonial-era wooden house on Hope Rd, this is where Bob Marley lived and recorded from 1975 until his death in 1981. It is the city’s most visited site. You must join a guided tour to view the house. Tours last for one hour.
  • Devon House – The tree-shaded lawns of Devon house are a favourite meeting place for Kingstonians. This beautiful old colonial house was built in 1881 by George Stiebel, the first black millionaire in Jamaica. You must join a guided tour to view the interior of the house. The best ice-cream in town is served by Devon House I-Scream. Locals rave about this place and you will too once you have tried their offerings. They use real Jamaican rum in their ‘Rum & Raisin’ ice-cream.
  • Emancipation Park – This green lung in the middle of New Kingston was opened in 2002 and features a controversial sculpture of a couple of nude, 3-metre tall slaves gazing to the heavens. The park is a favourite place for locals to relax, unwind or exercise. There is a good ‘Jerk’ stand on the north side of the park.
  • Port Royal – Founded in 1518 and located at the end of the Palisadoes (sand spit) at the mouth of Kingston Harbour, Port Royal was once the largest city in the Caribbean. The port provided a safe haven for English and Dutch privateers and pirates but was destroyed by an earthquake and accompanying tsunami in 1692. Today the town is a pleasant place to visit, offering seafood restaurants and a few preserved historical sites such as Fort Charles, the old British Naval hospital and Cemetery.

While in Kingston I stayed at the centrally located Jamaica Pegasus Hotel. This is one of the best options in Kingston, offering facilities and a level of service, which is a cut-above the rest. The coffee shop in the lobby brews some of the best coffee (Jamaican of course!) in town. I managed to book this 5-star hotel at a discounted rate using booking.com.

Around the Island

Negril

Seven Mile Beach, Negril

Seven Mile Beach, Negril

Located in the far western parish of Westmoreland and known for its miles of uninterrupted white-sand beaches, Negril is the perfect seaside playground – my favourite Jamaican beach.

Picture post-card perfect Seven Mile Beach is the place to base yourself while in Negril. The beach is located on a shallow bay, its  waters are normally calm and ideal for swimming and other water sports. Along the length of the beach you will find restaurants, bars, hotels, resorts and smaller guest houses.

Seven Mile Beach is a great place to watch the sunset and after dark there are plenty of nightlife options with the ubiquitous sounds of reggae music emanating from bars along the beach.

While in Negril I stayed directly on the beach at the beautiful Coco La Palm resort. The resort features a swimming pool and beachside restaurant and bar.

Montego Bay

Located in St. James’ Parish on the north coast, Montego Bay is ‘tourist central’. The city is served by Sangster International Airport, the island’s busiest airport and one which delivered four million tourists to the city in 2015. The city is also a major cruise ship port offering numerous beach resorts and other tourist attractions.

Popular beaches include Doctor’s Cave Beach and Walter Fletcher Beach, home to an amusement park. There’s snorkeling and diving at coral reefs in the protected waters of Montego Bay Marine Park.

While in Montego Bay I stayed across the road from Doctor’s Cave Beach at the Gloucestershire Hotel (also known on booking sites as the Deja Resort). The hotel is centrally located in the main tourist area.

Falmouth

Located on the north coast a short drive east from Montego Bay, Falmouth is the chief town and capital of the parish of Trelawny. It is noted for being one of the Caribbean’s best-preserved Georgian towns.

The downtown area is a pleasant place to spend an hour strolling. There is a nice cafe on the main square where you can get a good coffee and sample some typical Jamaican food.

A new cruise ship port has been built in the centre of town but provides little benefit to local businesses as the port is isolated behind a security fence and the tourists (and their dollars) are bused in an out to attractions outside of town.

Nine Mile

Museum display at the birthplace of Bob Marley

Museum display at the birthplace of Bob Marley

Nine Mile is a village located in the green hills of Saint Ann Parish, inland from the north coast. The town is famous for being the birthplace of Reggae legend Bob Marley, who was born here on February 6, 1945. 

Today his birthplace has been turned into a tourist attraction and shrine – a place of pilgrimage for dedicated fans who make the trek into the hills from all corners of the planet. The museum is owned and operated by Bob’s family and includes a small museum displaying memorabilia from his career.

Nine Mile was not only the place where Marley’s journey began but it was also the inspiration for many of his songs. You can sit at “Mt. Zion Rock”, a small rock in the garden adjoining Marley’s house where Bob used to meditate and write his lyrics.

You can only visit the museum on a fully guided tour. Tours are conducted frequently throughout the day. In order to ‘get closer to Bob’, the smoking of marijuana is encouraged. The guide on my tour was an avid fan of the ‘green weed’ and insisted on smoking it during the entire tour. Tours last about 90-min and culminate with a visit to the mausoleum of Bob and his mother.

Mausoleum of Bob Marley at Nine Mile

Mausoleum of Bob Marley at Nine Mile

Reaching Nine Mile is not easy. It’s only feasible with your own car or by joining an organised tour. The small town is located at the end of a long (really long), windy, pot-holed road. Local touts outside the museum will insist you park your car on the street and pay them to guard it. Ignore them! There is a free, secure car park at the museum entrance.

Ocho Rios

Dunn's River falls cascading onto the beach near Ocho Rios

Dunn’s River falls cascading onto the beach near Ocho Rios

Located on the north coast, in the Parish of St. Ann, Ocho Rios (English: Eight Rivers) started life as a quiet fishing village. Today it is a gritty, bustling port town.

The town is known for it’s picturesque sandy bay, which is lined with hotels, bars and restaurants. Unfortunately this little piece of paradise is isolated from everything else, fenced off behind a high razor-wire security fence. The beach is owned by a private consortium, who charge admission, and close the gates before sunset. The admission price is set sufficiently high enough to keep local touts (and locals generally) off the beach. Crazy!

The surrounding countryside is home to rain forests, rivers and waterfalls, with Dunn’s River Falls being the number one attraction in the area.

Dunn’s River Falls

Dunn's river waterfalls

Dunn’s river waterfalls

Located on the main coast road a short drive west of Ocho Rios is the beautiful and popular Dunn’s River Falls. This is one of the most popular tourist attractions on Jamaica.

The falls are fed by spring water, which is rich with calcium carbonate. This deposits travertine, which is a form of limestone. The falls are described as a ‘living phenomenon’ because the travertine is continuously rebuilt by the sediments in the spring water.

The falls are 55-m high and cascade gently over limestone for 180-m before emptying onto a beautiful sandy beach and into the Caribbean sea. The falls is one of the very few travertine waterfalls in the world that empties directly into the sea.

The waterfalls are terraced like giant natural stairs with several small lagoons interspersed among the vertical sections. The lagoons are the perfect place to take a dip on a hot day.

A popular activity is to join a guided tour and climb up the falls. This takes about 1-1.5 hours to climb with short breaks for photographs and video recordings taken by the guides. There are also stairs, alongside of the falls, for those who do not want to get wet or are unable to manage the rocky, uneven terrain of the actual waterfall.

Portland Parish

Manchioneal

Reach Falls in Manchioneal

Reach Falls in Manchioneal

Manchioneal is a small town located in Portland parish at the eastern end of the island. The town, named after the poisonous Manchioneel tree (which lines the coast) is famous for the nearby Reach Falls.

The falls are located 1-km east of town on a side road. They are described as one of the most spectacular natural waterfalls that Jamaica has to offer and are a ‘must’ if you are in the area. The falls are nestled in a lush, green, serene setting. Their remote location ensures that they are never too busy. The water is crystal clear and refreshing so bring your swimmers.

At the falls, you can choose to take it easy by relaxing and swimming in the natural pools at the base of the main falls. If you have more energy, you can hike along the river, climbing cascades, swimming in gorges, exploring caves and admiring the virgin rain forest.

Frenchman’s Cove

Frenchman's Cove

Frenchman’s Cove

Located on the north coast in Portland parish is magical Frenchman’s Cove. A serene place where a tributary of the Rio Grande enters the Caribbean sea at a small sandy beach. The cove is surrounded by lush, tropical rain forest. Swimming between the cold river water and the warm sea water is a sensation to experience. A beach-side restaurant and bar provides meals and snacks.

Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon, Portland parish

Blue Lagoon, Portland parish

Located on the north coast, next to Frenchman’s Cove, the Blue Lagoon is a natural lagoon whose water is a mystical shade of blue. Depending on the angle of the sun, the water changes shade throughout the day from turquoise to deep blue. It was once believed the lagoon was bottomless but divers have since determined it’s depth to be around 55-metres.

The site was originally called The Blue Hole. However, following the success of the Brooke Shields film “The Blue Lagoon” which was filmed here, the site was re-named “The Blue Lagoon”.

Part of the magic of the lagoon is the mixing of salt water from the Caribbean sea and fresh water from the underground streams which feed the lagoon. For a truly unique and memorable experience, you should swim in the lagoon. You’ll be able to feel the mixture of fresh (cold) and salt (warm) water while swimming under a canopy of lush trees and vegetation.

Rio Grande

Rafting the Rio Grande with my 70-year old guide

Rafting the Rio Grande with my 70-year old guide

Located on the north coast in the parish of Portland, the Rio Grande (English: Big River) was named when the Spanish occupied Jamaica in the 15th and 16th centuries. One of the largest rivers in Jamaica it is today a popular destination for rafting.

The river is fed by rainwater flowing down from the Blue Mountains. The bamboo rafts, which today carry paying tourists, were originally used to transport produce, especially bananas, from the interior of the island. The ‘rafting for fun’ craze was started by Hollywood star, Errol Flynn, who made Port Antonio his home and wanted something fun to do when his friends visited.

Rafts on the Rio Grande

Rafts on the Rio Grande

Each bamboo raft can accommodate two passengers. The journey downriver to the coast takes between 2-3 hours. The banks of the river are lined with lush, green rain forests, bamboo and banana groves. The river is very calm and shallow in most places with a few small rapids to add some excitement. My guide was a 70-year old Rasta who had spent most of his life on the river.

Rafting the Rio Grande

Rafting the Rio Grande

Rafting trips begin inland at the village of Berridale and end at Rafter’s Rest at St. Margaret’s Bay on the coast. This is directly next to the main coast road. The best option if you are using your own car or public transport is to travel to Rafter’s Rest and take one of the waiting taxis one-way to Berridale (about 40 mins). You then return back to Rafter’s Rest via the river.

Blue Mountains

Blue Mountains, home to Jamaica's famous coffee farms

Blue Mountains, home to Jamaica’s famous coffee farms

Located between Kingston to the south and Port Antonio to the north and deriving their name from the azure haze which hangs over them, the Blue Mountains are the longest mountain range in Jamaica and include some of the highest peaks in the Caribbean. The highest point is Blue Mountain Peak, at 2256-m.

Today, the mountains are renown as being the place where the famous Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee is cultivated. Coffee plants were first introduced to Jamaica by a former British governor in 1728. Their cultivation started in a field near a parish in Kingston before eventually being extended into the Blue mountains where they flourished.

Blue Mountain coffee

Blue Mountain coffee

Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee is a special classification of coffee grown in the mountains and is noted for it’s mild flavour and lack of bitterness. In recent years, the coffee has developed a reputation for ‘smoothness’, which has made it one of the most expensive and sought-after coffees in the world.  Blue Mountain Coffee beans are used as the flavour base for Tia Maria coffee liqueur.

A good place to learn about coffee production is Craighton Estate Coffee Plantation. Headquartered in a 200 year-old Georgian style ‘great house’, which was once used to house visiting dignitaries, Craighton Estate is today a working coffee farm.  The farm was purchased by the Ueshima Coffee Company (UCC) of Japan in 1981. Most of the coffee produced here is exported to Japan.

Roasting coffee in the Blue Mountains

Roasting coffee in the Blue Mountains

You can visit the company museum and walk through the plantation. On the porch of the house, you will be given a sit-down lesson on coffee and its importance to Jamaica. You will be able to taste a freshly brewed cup of coffee.

For birding enthusiasts you should keep an eye out for Jamaica’s national bird – the spectacular ‘Doctor Bird’ Hummingbird, recognisable from it’s long swallow-tail. The following photo was taken from the balcony of the house.

The national symbol of Jamaica - the 'Doctor Bird' Hummingbird

The national bird of Jamaica – the ‘Doctor Bird’ Hummingbird

Accommodation

There is a huge variety of accommodation all over Jamaica for all budgets. Refer to individual sections of this blog for recommendations.

Jamaica can get busy in the peak season (mid-December through to mid-April) and at this time it’s best to book in advance using an online site such as booking.com

Eating Out

Throughout the centuries, Jamaica has been occupied by indigenous Indians, the Spanish, the French and the British (who brought African slaves to the island). Jamaican cuisine includes influences from all of these cultures.

There is an abundance of seafood, meats, tropical fruits and vegetables on the island and a wealth of restaurants where you can sample the local cuisine.

Jamaica is famous for jerk and its patties. The Jamaican patty is based on the Cornish pasty, which was introduced in colonial times by the British. Over time, local ingredients, such as the Scotch Bonnet pepper, have been added to make the Jamaican patty more fiery.

Jerk

'Jerk' is the most popular cuisine on Jamaica

‘Jerk’ is the most popular cuisine on Jamaica

Jerk is a style of cooking native to Jamaica, but now popular throughout the Caribbean region and beyond. The cuisine has it’s roots in West Africa, being introduced to Jamaica by former slaves.

Jerk involves marinating meat (normally chicken or pork) with either a wet marinade or by dry-rubbing. The secret to good Jerk is in the seasoning. This principally relies upon two key ingredients: allspice (called “pimento” in Jamaica) and Scotch bonnet peppers. Other ingredients may include cloves, cinnamon, scallions, nutmeg, thyme, garlic, brown sugar, ginger, and salt.

The meat is then slowly cooked over an open pit fire, giving the meat a distinctly smoky flavour. Jerk is usually served with a selection of sides, including ‘festival‘ (sweet flavored fried dumplings), roasted breadfruit, deep-fried cassava and fried dumplings.

You will find Jerk stands all over the island. The roadside stands in Boston Bay on the northeast coast (above photo) are famous for their Jerk. Competition among the stands is fierce, allowing you to sample the meat before you buy.

Rum

rum_app11

Jamaica is famous for it’s bold, pungent dark rums. The lion’s share of rum is produced by the consolidated Appleton Estate and J. Wray & Nephew Ltd.

Appleton Estate traces its history back to 1655 when the estate was granted to Frances Dickinson’s heirs for their grandfather’s service to England during England’s successful capture of Jamaica from Spain. Rum production began in 1749 from local sugar cane and today the rums are distilled from molasses produced at the adjoining sugar mill. You can tour the distillery, which is located in the Nassau Valley in the parish of St. Elizabeth, on the South Coast.

Visa Requirements

Some nationalities require visas for Jamaica – check your visa requirements prior to arrival.

Getting There

By Air

There are two international airports that are operational on Jamaica:

  • Norman Manley International Airport, which serves Kingston
  • Sangster International Airport, which serves Montego Bay

There is a third international airport on the island, the Ian Fleming International Airport, located on the north coast 10-km east of Ocho Rios. This airport currently has no scheduled international services. 

Norman Manley International Airport

Norman Manley International Airport is located on a peninsula 19-km from downtown Kingston. Journey time into the city is twenty minutes. It’s the second busiest airport in the country serving 1,500,000 arriving passengers in 2015.

The following airlines provide international connections to Kingston:

  • Air Canada Rouge – provides service to Toronto (Pearson)
  • American Airlines – provides service to Miami
  • British Airways – provides service to London (Gatwick)
  • Caribbean Airlines – provides service to Antigua, Fort Lauderdale, Montego Bay, Bahamas (Nassau), New York (JFK), Orlando (MCO), Trinidad, Sint Maarten, Toronto (Pearson)
  • Cayman Airways – provides service to Grand Cayman
  • Copa Airlines – provides service to Panama City
  • Delta Air Lines – provides service to Atlanta, seasonal service to New York (JFK)
  • Fly Jamaica Airways – provides service to Guyana, New York (JFK), Toronto (Pearson)
  • Insel Air – provides service to Curaçao
  • InterCaribbean Airways – provides service to Montego Bay, Haiti (Port-au-Prince), Turks & Caicos (Providenciales)
  • JetBlue Airways – provides service to Fort Lauderdale, New York (JFK)
  • Spirit Airlines – provides seasonal service to Fort Lauderdale
  • WestJet – provides service to Toronto (Pearson)

Sangster International Airport

Sangster International Airport is located 5-km east of Montego Bay and serves as the most popular airport for tourists visiting the north coast of Jamaica. It is the busiest airport in the country, serving 3.8 million passengers in 2015. Many flights to this airport only operate during the high season (mid-December through to mid-April).

The following airlines provide international connections to Montego Bay:

  • Air Canada – services to Montréal (Trudeau), seasonal services to Halifax, Ottawa, Winnipeg
  • Air Canada Rouge – service to Toronto (Pearson)
  • Air Transat – services to Montréal (Trudeau), Toronto (Pearson), seasonal services to Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Hamilton, Ottawa, Regina, Saskatoon
  • American Airlines – services to Charlotte, Chicago (O’Hare), Dallas/Fort Worth, Miami, Philadelphia, seasonal services to Boston, Los Angeles
  • Blue Panorama Airlines – service to Milan (Malpensa)
  • Caribbean Airlines – services to Fort Lauderdale, Kingston, Bahamas (Nassau), New York (JFK)
  • Cayman Airways – service to Grand Cayman
  • Condor – services to Frankfurt, Munich
  • Copa Airlines – service to Panama City
  • Delta Air Lines  – services to Atlanta, Detroit, New York (JFK), seasonal service to Minnepolis/St. Paul
  • Delta Connection  – service to Atlanta
  • Frontier Airlines  – seasonal services to Philadelphia, St. Louis
  • InterCaribbean Airways – services to Kingston
  • International AirLink – services to Negril
  • Jetairfly – services to Brussels
  • JetBlue Airways – services to Boston, Fort Lauderdale, New York (JFK), Orlando(MCO)
  • Skylan Airways – service to Kingston
  • Southwest Airlines – services to Baltimore, Chicago (Midway), Houston (Hobby), Orlando (MCO), seasonal service to Milwaukee
  • Spirit Airlines – service to Fort Lauderdale
  • Sun Country Airlines – seasonal services to Dallas/Fort Worth, Minneapolis/St. Paul
  • Sunrise Airways – service to Port-au-Prince
  • Sunwing Airlines – services to Calgary, Edmonton, Montréal (Trudeau), Toronto (Pearson), seasonal services to Moncton, Ottawa, Québec City, St. John’s, Winnipeg
  • Thomas Cook Airlines – services to Manchester (UK)
  • Thomson Airways – services to Birmingham (UK), London (Gatwick), seasonal services to Cardiff, Copenhagen, Glasgow, London (Stansted), Manchester (UK), Newcastle
  • TUI Airlines – service to Amsterdam
  • United Airlines – services to Chicago (O’Hare), Houston (Intercontinental), Newark, Washington (Dulles)
  • Virgin Atlantic – service to London (Gatwick)
  • WestJet – service to Toronto (Pearson), seasonal services to Halifax, Montréal (Trudeau), Ottawa, Winnipeg

By Sea

International Ferry Services

There are no scheduled international ferry services.

Cruise Ships

Cruise ships dock at the following north coast ports:

  • Ocho Rios
  • Falmouth
  • Montego Bay

Getting Around

Buses

There are lots of buses on Jamaica. Exploring the island using public transport is totally feasible. Buses are cheap and frequent but it’s always best to use official buses operated by the Jamaican Union of Travelers Association (JUTA). These are indicated by a red Public Passenger Vehicle (PPV) license plate.

Most buses on the island are speedy mini-buses, which depart when the driver is happy he has a full load. These buses do not operate to a timetable and stop along the way to collect and deposit passengers.

In larger urban areas, such as Kingston and Montego Bay, you also have the choice of using larger municipal buses, which operate on fixed routes but never to the published timetable.

Taxi

While taxis on Jamaica are fitted with meters, drivers rarely use them. It is important you negotiate the fare in advance.

Like buses, official taxis on Jamaica are registered with the Jamaican Union of Travelers Association, or JUTA. These licensed cabs are indicated by a red Public Passenger Vehicle (PPV) license plate.

There are many unofficial taxis, which are referred to by Jamaicans as ‘pirate‘ taxi’s.

Car

Jamaica Travel Guide: Rental car in the Blue Mountains

Rental car in the Blue Mountains

Renting a car is the best option if you wish to explore off the beaten track. There are many agents on the island with the usual choice of international agents at the international airports (Kingston and Montego Bay).

Due to the high crime rate on Jamaica it takes longer to collect your car compared to other countries. Rental staff will do a full inventory check of all parts on the car and you sign to say you will return the car with all parts included. During the handover of my car it was pointed out to me that each of the wheels were engraved with the license plate number and that the same wheels needed to be returned at the end of the rental. Many other parts on the car were also engraved with the plate number. This prevents people swapping out parts.

Rental rates vary greatly between seasons – the same compact car that costs US$25 per day in the low season can cost US$80 per day in the high season (mid-December through to mid-April).

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Other blogs from the region – Turks & Caicos Travel GuideBahamas Travel GuideHaiti Travel GuideDominican Republic Travel GuideCayman Islands Travel Guide