The birthplace of Bob Marley, reggae, and jerk cuisine, Jamaica packs a lot in its punch. The third-largest island in the Caribbean attracts millions of visitors every year, not least for its dazzling landscape of white sand beaches, 7,000-foot mountain peaks, waterfalls, and glorious sunsets. But beyond its iconic beach life, mega-resorts, and gorgeous scenery, it’s Jamaica’s deeply-rooted African culture and friendly people that catch visitors by surprise. Coupled with a “no problem” outlook on life, it’s no wonder Jamaica tops many a traveler’s bucket list. As the Jamaica Tourist Board aptly says, “Once you go, you know.”

Panoramic view of Montego Bay, Jamaica on a stunning spring day.

Photo By Dean Fikar/Shutterstock


When’s the best time to go to Jamaica?

Jamaica’s peak season runs mid-December through mid-April. The tourist crowd is at its highest from December through February thanks to breezy nights (a light jacket is recommended) and plenty of entertainment options. Little known is that discounts abound during summer and hurricane season, when crowds are few and temperatures only slightly higher. Room rates can get slashed up to 50 percent during this slow season, and it’s just as fun a time to go, if slightly quieter. Whatever time of the year you choose to venture to “Jamrock,” you simply can’t go wrong. Jamaica is the island that never sleeps.

How to get around Jamaica

Major airlines fly to Jamaica. Visas are not required of U.S. or Canadian visitors for stays of up to 90 days. Montego Bay’s Sangster International Airport is well-connected to the rest of the island via public and private transportation. Upon exiting the airport, hop into your resort’s shuttle or bus if you’re staying in Montego Bay. If heading to Negril and other parts, your best bet is to book a ride with Clives Transport Jamaica—an affordable, reliable, locally-owned company offering shared vans or private transfers.

Once at your destination, get the number of a trusted taxi driver from your guesthouse or resort. All licensed taxis have red license plates, but it’s safest to know your driver ahead of time. Individual drivers and tour operators offer long-distance excursions, or you can rent your own car with an international driver’s license.

Food and drink to try in Jamaica

You won’t ever starve on this foodie island. Jamaica has the best street snacks and shacks in the Caribbean—readily available, cheap, and tasty. From peanut pushcart vendors to jerk grills steaming roadside, and from stuffed patties and juicy fruits to windows dishing out boxed lunches of rice and beans with stew for under US$5, there’s no end to the belly-filling options. Casual restaurants and fine dining are just as satisfying; seating is often alfresco or seaside. Jerk centers are located throughout the island, perfect for families and anyone on a road trip, offering picnic-table seating and child-friendly menus of chicken and french fries. For the grown-ups, drinks don’t fall short, either. Early birds will love a cup of Blue Mountain coffee, and afternoons call for a cold Red Stripe and some bar hopping. Most locals grab a rum’n Ting while catching the sunset—Appleton dark rum or Wray & Nephew white rum with a splash of the Jamaican grapefruit soda called “Ting”—or a warm Guinness. Many tourists love their rum punch.

Culture in Jamaica

Every day in Jamaica is a cultural experience. Iconic activities include cooling off in the river, playing dominoes at the corner bar, stopping for jerk chicken or pepper shrimp roadside, dancing barefoot to live reggae on the beach, and hanging out late into the night at an impromptu neighborhood street party. Jamaica’s boisterous, fun-loving people have an intoxicating energy. Even if you’re just beachcombing in tourist havens Negril or Montego Bay, there’s no escaping the local flavor in Jamaica, and that’s what makes it “irie.” For more immersion, head to the hills of Cockpit Country and meet authentic Maroon and Rastafarian communities.

Jamaica is an island of year-round festivals, from food fests to annual reggae concerts and cultural celebrations. Keep a lookout for billboards and flyers, or ask anyone in town. Scheduling your trip around one of the festivals is a great idea, too. Pick either the first week of February for Bob Marley Birthday Bash celebrations and concerts in Negril, or July for the annual Sumfest concert in Montego Bay. If you’re into cultural ceremonies, don’t miss the Annual Maroon Festival in Accompong Town, held on the south coast during the first week of January. Then hop on over to the annual Jamaica Jazz & Blues Festival held the second or third week of January.

Local travel tips for Jamaica

As with any tourist destination, beware whom you befriend and trust your instincts. Generally, however, Jamaicans are some of the friendliest people in the Caribbean and want you to enjoy their country and way of life. Ultimately, beyond the gorgeous scenery, delicious food, and reggae music, it’s the people who make Jamaica a fun and fascinating destination unlike any other in the Caribbean.

English is spoken islandwide, as is patois.

The currency is the Jamaican Dollar, but U.S. currency is accepted everywhere. Just know the daily exchange rate because it often fluctuates.

Tipping is the norm, and it’s up to you how much you decide to give, as any amount is appreciated.

Electricity is on par with the U.S. and Canada at 110-120 volts, and unlike in many other Caribbean islands, the tap water is actually safe to drink.

Be aware that you may be approached, particularly in the tourist areas, with offers to purchase marijuana and other illegal drugs. Note that “ganja,” while plentiful on the island, is illegal! Tourism police and undercover cops regularly patrol the beach and tourist nightspots.

Road or beachside vendors can get a tad persistent, but a firm “no, thank you” will go a long way.

Crime exists in Jamaica as in any other destination, but the island is by no means unsafe to tourists. If anything, most Jamaicans go out of their way to ensure tourists are happy and safe. Petty thefts occur where opportunities arise—leave your valuables at home and don’t flash any jewelry or electronics.

Guide Editor

Read Before You Go
Resources to help plan your trip
“Mon” cannot live by roadside jerk chicken alone, so here’s a list of favorites that includes other Jamaican treats like pepper shrimp, bammy, Ital vegetarian food, and, of course, the fine-dining, white-tablecloth iterations of those addictive dishes.
Ocho Rios and Jamaica’s north coast offer lagoons, bays, rivers, and waterfalls—and even a drive through a lush fern gorge. Thanks to its resorts and nearby water parks, the Ocho Rios region is popular with families; this part of Jamaica has plenty of outdoor adventures, too. Honeymooners also find their bliss here among luxurious boutique escapes such as GoldenEye and Jamaica Inn.
Explore Jamaica’s dreamy east coast landscape and experience rugged cliffs, peaks, waterfalls, and ancient forts. Port Antonio and the east is one of the lesser visited areas of Jamaica, in part due to the lack of a nearby airport. Yet the Port Antonio region is home to some of the lushest and most spectacular scenery on the island, and a string of the alluring public beaches for which Jamaica is known.
The south coast of Jamaica is rarely a first timer’s choice because of its relative isolation. But those who do venture south will find nature, wildlife, and tranquil beaches. Treasure Beach, the most popular retreat area, is a string of Jamaican fishing villages resting on black sand. Nearby are natural wonders like Black River and YS Falls, while offshore sits the famous Pelican Bar. The pace is slow here in south Jamaica, and that’s exactly why you’d come.
How to spend one week in Jamaica? Combine the west and south coasts for an ideal first timer’s look at the island. Start with the white sands of Negril, bathe in nearby rivers and waterfalls, and continue on to the charming Jamaican fishing villages of Treasure Beach before arriving back in Montego Bay.
Spending two weeks in eastern Jamaica? Start in Port Antonio, head to Boston Bay and Long Bay, and end in the majestic Blue Mountains. Eastern Jamaica offers wide-ranging natural beauty in which to play: Two weeks is plenty of time to swim in secluded coves and walk deserted beaches, hike to jade pools and waterfalls, surf the waves of Boston Bay, explore ruins and forts, raft across the Rio Grande, bike at 7,000 feet, and, of course, sample both original Jamaica jerk and reggae.
One month in Jamaica could mean four weeks of endless adventures, from beaches to museums and parties to festivals. Travel from lively Negril to lush Portland via Jamaica’s scenic north coast and fishing villages, before kicking back on the calm black sands of the south. The great thing about spending a whole month in Jamaica is that you have plenty of time to lounge on the beaches and to explore inland, so you get the best of all worlds.
You can listen to reggae everywhere in Jamaica, from dancing barefoot in the sand in Negril while a live band plays, to impromptu jams throughout the island. Real reggae aficionados should plan their trip around Sumfest, Jamaica Jazz, Rebel Salute, or Bob Marley Birthday Bash—just a few of Jamaica’s best music festivals.
Jamaica is one of the most family-friendly destinations in the Caribbean, though many people don’t realize it. From water parks to waterfalls, the island has mastered the art of family-friendly fun. Jamaican resorts play their part too, offering plenty of on-site entertainment for children and older members of the family, as well as services such as babysitting.
Discover a little-known side of Jamaica and venture inland to explore the 7,000-foot Blue Mountains—a part of the island that few visitors get to see. Travelers who do head up to this cool region an hour northeast of Kingston find that the Blue Mountains are one of the most romantic and adventurous parts of Jamaica—with opportunities to bike, cool off in hidden waterfalls, tour Blue Mountain coffee plantations, and soak up incredible views of blue peaks against an even bluer sea.
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