21 Must-Know Tips for a Magnificent Vacation to Jamaica

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Jamaica stands out compared to the other islands in the Caribbean, not only because of its energetic reggae and dancehall music, but also because of its stunning beaches, lush mountains, beautiful waterfalls and delicious food.

Jamaica is famous for both music and gangs. Last year, I worked in Jamaica as a paralegal and had to visit different neighborhoods and prisons. Looking back, there were so many things I wish I knew before going there.

Learning about Jamaica is a great way to understand why it’s such an amazing place. So here are some important things you should know before you go.

One of the most popular events in Jamaica is Reggae Sumfest, which happens each year in Montego Bay. So if you’re visiting, make sure that you don’t miss out!

Discover Jamaica

Jamaica is a really big island in the Caribbean Sea. Depending on what you like, you can stay in different places. For swimming, surfing and other water activities, Negril and the north coast are great choices. Montego Bay and Ocho Rios have some exciting food spots, plus local attractions and lively nightlife. But if you wanna enjoy Jamaican music, Kingston is where you should head to – it’s the capital city of Jamaica after all!

If you’re looking for a hassle-free and laid-back vacation spot, then head to Treasure Beach on the south coast or Port Antonio on the north coast. If you want to learn about traditional Maroon culture, Charles Town on the northeast coast is your best bet. If you want an adventure, climb Blue Mountain peak in Kingston or explore Cockpit Country near Falmouth!

Protect Yourself from Mosquitoes and No-See-Ums in Jamaica!

Mosquitoes in Jamaica don’t carry malaria, but you can get dengue fever. Some hotels and guesthouses do not have mosquito nets, so make sure to bring your own. It’ll cost between 23-60 US dollars.

If tiny bugs called no-see-ums are around, the best repellent you can use is Avon Skin So Soft. These bugs bite and the bitescan be itchy.

Exploring Jamaica

In Jamaica, you can find a variety of transportation to get around town. Buses with air conditioning and crowded minibusses are some of the options available. To explore other places, you might need more time or your own car. You can rent a car at the Kingston or Montego Bay airports if you want to drive yourself around.

Financing Your Trip to Jamaica

In hotels, shops, and restaurants that are fancy, it’s very common to pay with a credit card. But in other parts of Jamaica people usually just use cash (Jamaican dollars). If you’re at a place popular with tourists, you should be able to buy things with US dollars.

If you’re going to Montego Bay, Kingston or Ocho Rios, it’ll be easy to find ATMs and currency exchanges (also known as “cambios”). Getting money from the airport won’t get you a good exchange rate though and there might be some fees if you take out cash from an ATM. You’d do best to bring small change so that you can buy stuff from street vendors or pay for public transportation.

Take the Necessary Preparations if Visiting Jamaica During the Atlantic Hurricane Season!

Visiting Jamaica during the Atlantic hurricane season (from June to November) can be dangerous, since most hurricanes come during August and October. If you decide to go despite this risk, here are 3 things you should do:

1. Get travel insurance that covers any harm from hurricanes

2. Download a hurricane tracker app on your phone

3. Decide ahead of time whether you’d try and get home early before the storm or stay in Jamaica until it passes over.

Before a hurricane hits, make sure to check if your hotel or the place you are staying has a safe place to go like a shelter. Also find out if where you are is likely to get flooded or have lots of landslides. Note that only hotels with a generator will most likely not lose power.

Don’t forget to charge all your electronic devices and bring along some things that would come in handy like a flashlight, first aid kit, food and water. When an evacuation order is given, follow it and consider relocating somewhere closer to Kingston’s airport or Montego Bay’s airport as this will probably be easier for you to get help from or to quickly get out when the hurricane reaches its peak.

If Jamaica is hit by a hurricane, don’t be frustrated and prepare to stay for a longer period. To enjoy the great nightlife of Jamaica, jump right in and join the fun!

Get Your Groove On

It’s totally okay to wear comfortable summer clothes for most events, but you might want to dress up a bit if you’re going to fancy resorts or restaurants. For nightclubs in Kingston and Montego Bay, it’s popular for girls to wear tight shorts or tops while guys usually wear jeans and shirts. Don’t stare or judge other people because it’s bad manners!

Don’t worry about getting all dressed up, just come as you are. It’s a party, so have fun!

If you haven’t gone dancing in a dancehall before, it can be really exciting. People usually try to show off their best moves when dancing, called “whining” which basically means making sensual hip movements.

When you go out to dance, you may find yourself in the center of a big group. If you try your best to keep up with everyone else, people will notice and may even offer to teach you their moves.

Explore Jamaica’s Nightlife

Jamaica is always lively! If you’re looking for a place to have fun, check out Negril for beach parties, or Kingston for clubs and awesome music events. Ocho Rios and Montego Bay are also amazing spots to explore nightlife in Jamaica.

Parties at night usually start after midnight and go all the way until sunrise. Reggae and dancehall concerts have many performers and people in the audience shout out “bullet bullet” and make a two-finger gun salute to show their excitement. It’s loud, but it’s all in good fun.

“Friendly Greetings are Essential in Jamaica!”

In Jamaica, it doesn’t matter whether you are a stranger or not. People can talk to you even if they don’t know you. Some might want to do business with you but most of them just want to be friendly and know more about you. Standing away from people is seen as rude in Jamaica.

Greeting is important in this culture! Whenever you meet someone, be sure to say “good morning”, “good afternoon” and “good night”. It also shows respect if you are talking to someone older than you. Also, it’s better to exchange friendly words when someone like a vendor tries to sell you something instead of just ignoring them since they are trying to make money.

“Discovering the Unique Lifestyle of Rastafarians”

About 1% of people in Jamaica are Rastafarians. They believe that Ethiopia is a holy place, and they use marijuana when praying to God (called Jah) as part of their religion. On top of that, they follow a special “natural” lifestyle with food free from artificial ingredients and men growing out their hair and beards, calledlocs or locks.

Some Rastafarians live in really secluded places and usually outsiders aren’t allowed to visit unless they ask the elders first. However, there is one particular village called the Rastafari Indigenous Village near Montego Bay which is more welcoming and open to visitors.,

It’s okay to try bargaining at markets but you must pay the listed amount for goods elsewhere.

Master the Art of Bargaining – When Shopping Locally!

When you go shopping for souvenirs from individual sellers or in local markets, it is normal to try and negotiate a lower price. But if you are shopping at other places, you should stick with the listed price.

“LGBTIQ+ Travelers Welcomed, But Not Always Safe in Jamaica”

In Jamaica, people often use rude words to talk about gay men. When the movie “Brokeback Mountain” (2005) came out, many people in Kingston were mad and stopped going to the cinema. Also, it is illegal for two men to do sexual activities together and if they get caught, the penalty can be up to 10 years in prison!

Jamaican society does not like gay people very much and it’s not safe for them to show affection in public.

Lots of hotels (even some that offer all-inclusive services) around popular tourist areas are open to LGBTIQ+ travelers.

“Cleanliness is an Investment

If you go to a mall, cafe or restaurant, you will have to pay if you need to use the facilities. These places do not necessarily follow proper cleanliness standards and if you look for a bathroom somewhere else, it might not be your best option.

Enjoy Jamaica with Caution

The tap water in Jamaica is usually safe to drink in most places. But it’s better not to have tap water in rural areas, or the ice cones sweetened with fruit juice that you can find at street stands. It’s also a good idea to bring your own container when going out as it help reduce plastic waste caused by bottled water.

“Indulge in Traditional I-Tal Cuisine

I-Tal food, which is very important to the Rastafarian religion, can be easily found and is really tasty! Think freshly squeezed juice, tasty plantain fritters, steamed spinach-like vegetable called Callaloo, yummy tropical fruit and more. In non-Rasta restaurants you will often see a side dish of Rice n’ Beans (rice with kidney beans). Enjoy!

Be Firm and Polite

When travelling to popular spots like Montego Bay, Negril and Ocho Rios, it’s very likely that you will come across people trying to sell things to you. Some may be quite pushy in wanting you to buy their products, so make sure you are firm yet polite if you don’t want to buy anything from them.

“Beware the Unexpected Costs When Visiting Tourist Spots!”

If you are visiting an interesting tourist spot, like a waterfall or swimming pool, watch out for guys offering a ride back. They might only ask for money up front and say it’s for a one-way fare. Also, be careful of people who offer to be your guide because they could try to charge extra at the end of the tour. So before accepting the service, make sure you know exactly how much you’re expected to pay.

Say No Without Fear

If you’re a single woman, people may try to flirt with you or even ask you out directly. Use polite words but say no if it’s not what you want.

In the past, there have been bad things happening to female tourists at some of Jamaica’s most popular beaches – like getting attacked by people working in those resorts or having their experiences covered up afterwards, and being asked to keep quiet in exchange for money back.

How Gangs Take Over Communities in Jamaica and Their Impact on the Locals

In Jamaica, gangs have cause a lot of trouble. Around the 1970s, two political parties in Kingston gave weapons to their followers and this created conflicts that last for many years.

People who live in areas connected to the People’s National Party (PNP) may not enter neighborhoods that are linked to the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). These days, these areas are controlled by local leaders called ‘dons’, who don’t need help from politicians as much anymore since they get money from illegal activities like drug trafficking. Also, these gang members often have better weapons than the police do.

The government doesn’t help very much with those who are the poorest. In neighborhoods where many people can’t afford things, teenage boys don’t often have the money to go back to school and don’t have many places to work. So, they end up working for powerful businesspersons called “dons” as a way to make more money.

Gangs will usually not cause trouble for visitors unless you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. But it’s still possible that someone might try to mug or steal from you, so it’s important to be careful (like taking a taxi back at night and carrying as little money as possible).

“Treating the ‘Holy Herb’ with Respect

Marijuana – called the “holy herb” by Rastafari people – is really popular in Jamaica. People might come up to you and ask if you want to buy joints (cigarettes) of it.

In 2015, smoking marijuana became legal in Jamaica as long as you don’t do it publicly. You can even have some for personal use without facing any criminal record but could end up paying a small fine of 500 Jamaican dollars if caught.

It is possible to purchase marijuana legally if you have a medical prescription from a doctor. This can be done at one of the many dispensaries found in Jamaica, like Kingston, St Ann’s Bay, Falmouth and Montego Bay. Once there, people can access smoking rooms. However, taking any marijuana home will mean that you could end up spending two years in either Fort Augusta prison (for women) or Spanish Town prison (for men).

Drug Culture & Life on the Streets in Jamaica

In Jamaica, ganja (marijuana) and cocaine are both common and easy to find. You can also get some strange drinks made from wild mushrooms. These drugs help lead to gang fights especially in Kingston and Montego Bay, and if you’re caught with hard drugs, you’ll get a harsh punishment.

You may find the police stopping your car for searches and wearing special combat clothes. It is possible that people might try to get money from you without permission. Also, be careful not to accept drinks from anyone you don’t know in a nightclub as someone might have slipped something dangerous into your drink.

Driving in Jamaica

When you’re in Jamaica, people usually drive differently than usual. They speed around cities and on curvy mountains roads. Be careful of drivers who pass around curves without seeing what’s ahead and swerve to the other side of the road so they can avoid common potholes. When driving in Jamaica, remember to stay on the left side and if this is your first time there it might be smart to avoid Kingston and Montego Bay.

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