Jamaica Travel Guide

Essential Tips

  • 5th biggest cruise ship destination in the Caribbean
  • US dollars are widely accepted in Jamaica, especially at tourist resorts and in the center of the main cities

Do You Need a Visa to Visit Jamaica?

If you are from the US or Canada you only need your passport to enter the island via cruise ship or plane. You can stay for up to 6 months without a visa. 

Around the world this is generally the same, here are a couple specific country guidelines. The same is true for Japanese citizens but the limit is 30 days. German and Italian citizens can stay for 90 days without a visa and similar terms apply to other countries in the Schengen Union. French and Czech citizens can stay for 30 days without a visa. Hungarian citizens can easily apply to get a visa on arrival.

Read on: Packing list for Jamaica

Weather In Jamaica

Jamaica is pretty hot. The climate is classified as tropical, with hot and humid weather throughout the country. But, higher inland regions are more temperate. 

The optimal time to visit Jamaica is sometime in November to mid-December. The island boasts temperatures of mid-70s and 80s year round but these months really have pleasant days PLUS room rates are low. If you want to travel to Jamaica on a budget check out the summer, room rates are low but do be aware of hurricane season. January through March is the peak of travel season to Jamaica. Flights are costly and room rates can spike to more than $700 per night at some hotels.

Do I need to worry about hurricanes when I visit Jamaica?

Yes.

Jamaica lies very much in the hurricane belt of the Atlantic Ocean. Officially, the Atlantic hurricane season starts on June 1 and runs until Nov. 30.  Generally, though, September is the most active month. The good news is that hurricanes are forecasted days (and even weeks) in advance. So don't worry too much about being surprised by a hurricane. In general, I would avoid visiting the island from late August to mid-October. 

Is Jamaica safe?

I felt this needed a full article and don't even want to attempt to sum the safety risks in a quick paragraph. Check out the full article on Jamaica's safety issues here. 

How To Get To Jamaica

By Plane...

There are two big international airports in Jamaica. One is Norman Manley International Airport (code: KIN) in Kingston and the other is Donald Sangster International Airport (code: MBJ) in Montego Bay. They are literally on opposite sides of the island which make it very convenient no matter what your plan in Jamaica is. When I flew to Jamaica I used the Montego Bay airport and had no trouble booking flights or getting through security.

By Cruise Ship...

Jamaica sees around 1.3 million cruise ship visitors per year. The island has three main ports, Ocho Rios, Montego Bay and the newest port at Falmouth. You can find cruises that include Jamaica on almost every major ship. Typically ports of call that will also be included are Grand Cayman and Cozumel.

By Boat...

Another option is visiting Jamaica by sailing in on a yacht (or smaller ship) or gliding in via motorboat. Jamaica has 350 miles of coastline with three secure marinas to choose from: Port Antonio Marina, Montego Bay Yacht Club and the Royal Jamaica Yacht Club in Kingston. 

Best Way To Get Around Jamaica

Don't do this: Rent your own car

Driving yourself around Jamaica is not recommended. First off, as a former British Colony, you will be driving on the left side of the road. Then you have to add in that Jamaican roads are not known for their up-keep and potholes surprise you at every sharp turn. Also, Jamaican drivers are as crazy as they come.

Personal Note: It you're still thinking, it's OK - I can drive here, let me put it this way: I have many friends who have family in Jamaica and they know my husband and I love to rent cars when we travel. When I announced I was heading to Jamaica they reached out to me and told me DO NOT RENT a car in Jamaica. It isn't very safe (again, due to roads and drivers). 

Best Way: Private Driver

To make the most of your time in Jamaica you should go with a private driver. There is so much to see and a private driver will really help you pack it in. Also, it really isn't that expensive to rent a driver by the day. We recommend this option especially if you don't want to be rushed (like many tours tend to do). While we were in Jamaica we hired a private driver through Paradise Travels Jamaica and we highly recommend them. Our driver was Willy and he was awesome! If you can ask for him do it!

Most common way: Group Tours

There are many group tours on Viator or tours that can be booked upon arrival through resort concierge desks. These are good options if you want to go to popular places as almost any type of tour is available. Do remember that you will be seeing the spots at their most crowded. If you want more peace and quiet I would book a private driver and start early in the day.

Should I stay at an all-inclusive in Jamaica?

Listen, I am almost always going to say no to all-inclusive resorts over normal hotels and experiences. Jamaica is a generally safe country if you stick to the cities and don't wander at night. I encourage you to see what the local restaurants and shops have to offer. I notice that if you stay at an all-inclusive resort you don't see the 'real' destination.

That being said, I did stay at Secrets in Montego Bay and had a kinda good experience. When it came to the location and layout of the hotel, it was very nice. Tons of pools to relax at, tons of cabanas on the beach to chill at all day. The food, in my opinion, was only ok. And when it came to vegetarian options they were mediocre to downright laughable. 

You can read my full review of Secrets in Montego Bay here.

Best Things To Do In Jamaica

Jamaica is a pretty big island, what activities you do while there really depend upon which side of the island you are staying. There are 4 big cities that most travelers base their trips out of. Here are the top sites for each city.

Read on: Waterfalls you must visit while in Jamaica

Kingston Top Sights

Ocho Rios Top Sights

Read on: Best things to do in Ocho Rios

Montego Bay Top Sights

Remember that when staying in Montego Bay you can take day trips to the surrounding areas of Ocho Rios or Negril. In fact, this is what we did for our trip - we spent one whole day in Ocho Rios while staying in Montego Bay.

Read on: Best things to do while in Montego Bay Jamaica

Negril Top Sights

Best Restaurants & Food in Jamaica

Jamaican food is a mixture of Caribbean dishes with local dishes. Don't be too afraid of Jamaican food being too spicy, local food tends to be less spicier than you think. There are a couple of things you should definitely try while in Jamaica thought...

  • Jamaican patties: they look like what other Spanish speaking countries call empanadas. I ate amazing (and cheap ones) at a chain called Juici Patties. They had vegetarian and soy patties alongside beef and chicken patties. 
  • Ackee and Saltfish: The national dish in Jamaica is definitely a must try. Ackee is a local fruit and looks like scrambled eggs with a very unique (but delicious) taste. Ackee is one of the most unique things in Jamaica and it's probably the only place in the world you'll be able to try it. It sounds weird (scrambled egg looking fruit...?) but please, take your chance!
  • Puddin: Yeah, I didn't spell this wrong. It is puddin, with no G. Basically it is a pie looking slice that is made traditionally over coals in a pot outside. There are very few places in Jamaica to even get this (other than at a locals grandmothers house). Our amazing private driver (we used the company Paradise Travels Jamaica) suggested we stop at a small roadside restaurant outside of Ocho Rios called Puddin Man. I'm so glad we did. We tried potato and caramel and both were DELICIOUS. Literally one of the best things I have ever eaten.

As for specific restaurants in Jamaica, I suggest a local restaurant called The Pelican Grill in Montego Bay. This place has been around for over 50 years and although now it is full of tourists - and locals call it expensive - it's a great place to try truly local dishes. This is where we tried Ackee and saltfish among other traditional Jamaican dishes. 

How Much Should You Tip In Jamaica?

Note: In Jamaica, tipping can be done in either Jamaican dollars or in U.S. dollars.

Restaurants: Some restaurants include a 10 percent to 15 percent gratuities charge into the final bill, others do not. Make sure to review the bill or ask your server. If you see no charge tip as you would at a restaurant at home, 10%-18%, depending upon the level of service. 

Hotels: Bellhops expect $1(USD) to $2(USD) per bag, and maids anticipate $1(USD) to $2(USD) per day. 

Shuttle bus drivers: In most cases tip the driver $1(USD) to $5(USD) per person based on the length of the trip from the airport to the hotel.

Final Thoughts on Traveling to Jamaica

One last thing... even though researching ahead of time is great, I definitely recommend bringing a guidebook along with you. Here are some books I recommend...

Also, a super common question I get is: What camera do I use for my travels. The body is a Nikon D3300 and I use the kit lens and a Sigma wide-angle lens which I am genuinely obsessed with.

My full list of travel gear, that I take on every trip can be found here.

And of course, if you have any questions DO NOT hesitate to reach out to me via Instagram, Twitter, or just shoot me an email (tessajuliette@gmail.com). 

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 Heading to Jamaica soon? Plan your trip with this one article! Everything you need to know about Jamaica including what to do, where to stay, and tours you can't miss!

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