Jamaica is a beautiful country. In January, 2016 I had the pleasure of spending eight days there to celebrate my 40th birthday. Though our time there was short, we covered a lot of ground and got to taste a bit of what Jamaica has to offer from a scenic, culinary and cultural perspective.
Jamaica is an island in the Caribbean, located about an hour and a half (by plane) from Miami/Fort Lauderdale. English is the primary language, though the thick accents and patois dialect spoken by natives can be hard to understand at times. The currency is the Jamaican dollar, but US dollars are accepted nearly everywhere.
The people in Jamaica are very friendly, though rather aggressive about trying to sell you stuff. Whether you’re walking down the street or chilling on the beach, you will likely be approached by someone trying to sell you goods or services (from jewelry to CDs to weed to a taxi ride). A firm but polite “No” usually is enough to deter them; I used the line “Sorry, I don’t have any cash on me” frequently. If you do decide to purchase something or grab a taxi, negotiate the price up front.
Also, keep in mind that things in Jamaica run on “Island Time.” What that means is, the pace of life is slowed way down (unless you’re in a car–see below), so prepare to wait a little longer than you’re used to for the food you order, service at the car rental counter, etc.
Weed aka “ganja” has been decriminalized on the island as of 2015. Possession of up to two ounces has been reduced to a petty offense, which will result in a $5 ticket if a cop decides to cite you. And if you’re looking to toke, it is not hard at all to find. My friends were offered weed by the cab driver who picked them up at the airport! Of course, with anything, use caution. But you don’t have to worry about being tossed in a Jamaican prison for smoking a joint.
Jamaicans drive on the left side of the road. Before we arrived, I was nervous about the challenges this might present, but we got used to it. While there, we drove the coastal route from Montego Bay, all the way to Kingston. The stretch between Montego Bay and Port Antonio was manageable and well-paved, while the roads between Port Antonio and Kingston (along the coast) were pothole-ridden and in poorer condition. Budget extra time if you plan to take the coastal route from Port Antonio to Kingston.
Jamaicans drive very aggressively, with a lot of honking and passing when someone is going too slow or in the way. Driving in the cities can be quite hectic due to the traffic (pedestrian and vehicular), but I found the ride on the coastal roads to be quite pleasant. However, I wouldn’t recommend renting a car unless you’re confident behind the wheel and have driven before in other countries or congested U.S. cities (such as New York or San Francisco). Driving in Jamaica is an adventure.
If you do rent a car, GPS is essential. Many roads do not have street signs, so it will help to have something directing you where to turn, etc. And don’t drive under the influence! Trust me, you will need all your wits about you to navigate Jamaican roads!