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Know Before You Go
Jamaica is the third largest island in the Caribbean. Everyone that we encountered on our trip spoke English. There are plenty of resorts throughout Jamaica, this just isn’t feasible for budget travelers. Jamaica has three main airports located in Montego Bay, Kingston, and Ocho Rios area. We flew into the Montego Bay airport. Travelling between cities is fairly easy. We visited three cities and used the Knutsford Express. These buses are affordable, have air-conditioning and Wi-Fi.
Visas aren’t necessary for most people entering the country for under 90 days. However, the border crossing was very strict. We were asked numerous questions including a dispute about my age (My youthful face will pay off when I am older). Before planning any trip, ensure that your passport has at least six months left before the expiry date.
The main currency is the Jamaican Dollar (J$), this is commonly used in souvenir shops and local restaurants. Jamaican dollars are often referred to as “jays” by locals. This is confusing if you are Canadian where jays are also known as joints. American Dollars (USD) are commonly used for booking excursions, such as paragliding, and in mainstream, tourist restaurants. On most days, I was able to spend less than $100 CAD.
When to Go
The high season is December- March, when the weather is warm and sunny but rates might be higher for accommodations. April and May still have dry weather but with lower rates and fewer tourists. June through November is the low season and may contain rainfall. However, we visited in July and didn’t experience a lot of rain but were able to take advantage of the lower rates and fewer tourists. If you are travelling on a 20-something year-old budget, the lower season could be a good time to go. As is common with tropical rain, it will rain hard for a brief period of time.
Leading up to my trip, people often expressed concerns about our safety. Even at the bag check counter in America, the staff member working was shocked to hear we weren’t staying in a resort. Our cab driver from the airport warned us about male harassment. We often found that men honked their horns or catcalled as they drove past us and when we visited our beach in Montego Bay a man swam to where we were to attempt talking to us and inquired about our contact information. This was a common theme throughout Jamaica; however, at no point did we ever feel particularly unsafe.
To be fair, I have been harassed in almost every country that I have been to and the men of Jamaica were no worse than anywhere else. My typical strategy for dealing with unwanted male attention in an unfamiliar place is to figure out a polite exit strategy. I generally, say thank you to any compliments that I receive and politely walk away. If applicable, do not lead men to your hotel; if someone is following you, and you were planning on heading back to your hotel, then stop somewhere else along the way.
Jamaica has a great culture and vibrant people. Plus, the food is so delectable. Our favourites included jerk chicken and festivalAnd now, how to see Jamaica on a 20-something year old’s budget.
Things to Do In Montego Bay:
We stayed at The Wexford, which was a little bit more expensive than the other places we stayed but they included free breakfast and free access to the beach (In Jamaica, beach entrance often costs money). Unfortunately, we didn’t love the Montego Bay beach.
On our drive to our hotel, our cab driver advised us that our hotel was on the “Hip Strip.” This is essentially the street where everything tourist oriented is located. There are gift shops and Margaritaville was a five minute walk up the street. The cab driver let us know that the “Hip Strip” is about five minutes away from the main city of Montego Bay and suggested that if we planned to go into the city we needed to use a map to plan an exact route and to not go at night. We didn’t end up going into town but this is an important tip if you do plan to.
Wasted away again in Margaritaville…
Margaritaville serves excellent food and massive drinks. The cost is in US Dollars. A bartender was roaming around pouring free shots into people’s mouths. There was also a waterslide which ends directly in the sea. Margaritaville is a nice place to visit for a first night in Jamaica. Especially in Montego Bay where people expressed concerns for safety.
Things to do in Negril:
Where to Stay: Travelers Beach Resort. This is a ten minute walk from the Knutsford Express station. There are cabs waiting there for you if you choose to take that route. We opted not to and one of the cab drivers tried to give us weed as he passed us walking. Travelers Beach Resort is not all-inclusive; however, it had a great location on 7 Mile Beach. This narrow strip of beaches lines the beautiful blue water of the Caribbean. This is the sea we came to see. The resort also employs a beach security guard to watch your things while you swim. Additionally, they have a cab driver in the lobby in case you need a ride anywhere.
Where to Eat and Drink: Visit Margaritaville for a tourist spot; however, this is for day drinking and you would be remiss not to go anywhere else.
Cliff jumping at Rick’s Cafe.
Rick’s Café is my favourite spot in Negril. It’s located on the west end where the beaches stop so everything becomes cliffs and rocky. Make sure you go close to sunset for some stunning views. The view of the sunset isn’t what makes Rick’s Café unique; however, it’s the cliff jumping. There is an approximately 35 food ledge which you can jump off (There is a slightly lower one below for the faint-hearted). Additionally, there is an even higher treehouse where locals may show off for a tip or a nearby grassy area where daring people can jump. The bar plays live music and has reasonably priced drinks. After the sun sets, the bar clears out rapidly. Since we are daring enough to cliff jump, we went the next day for opening. This worked out great as there was no one else in any of our photos.
The sunset from Rick’s Cafe.
Other Negril Activities: Premium Parasail Jamaica is about $100 USD per person and makes for a unique, amazing experience. They picked us up from our hotel’s beach by boat and brought us to the main area for payment. This gives you a chance for a boat ride 😉
Things to do in Ocho Rios
Where to Stay: Reggae Hostel, they employee a security guard for the evenings which is a nice layer of security.
Ocho Rios Activities:
Dunn’s River Falls: This is 600 feet worth of waterfalls. We arranged a Jaital tour to take us to the falls, this tour included a private beach afterwards. If you’re unable to do the whole falls there is a shorter entrance. The climb itself is so much fun but you will need some water shoes which can be bought along the highway. These shoes are similar to ours to what we were able to buy on the side of the road. Ours cost about $10 USD. During the climb everyone holds hands and supports each other. The falls are bustling with people but this adds to the atmosphere. The water itself is refreshing and beautiful.
A portion of Dunn’s River Falls.
Glistening Waters on the Luminous Lagoon: The effect of this microorganism is only visible at night. Reggae Hostel arranged a driver to take us there but at $40 USD it was expensive. Through the hostel we think we went to a dodgier place to view them instead of the more mainstream location. Overall, it was a bit disappointing and our photos did not turn out well. The location of this was in Falmouth which was about an hour away from Ocho Rios.
The Blue Hole: Our guides told us that the water gets up to 600 feet deep. There is an upper level to the falls in addition to the lower level, make sure that you see both. The Blue Hole contains jumps including ropes, waterfalls, and cliffs. How cool is it that you get to jump off a waterfall? The Blue Hole is full of adventures and was not very busy. We took a route taxi to get there (More on route taxis below).
The Blue Hole didn’t get its name for no reason.
Markets: Ocho Rios has a market where you can get souvenirs and other neat Jamaica objects.
Where to Eat: Check out the Jerk Centre. You can get jerk chicken, jerk pork, and jerk ribs. Jerk food is simply delicious. Locals dine in the Jerk Centre which is always a nice sign of authenticity.
Note our reef shoes that we bought on the side of the road.
Getting Around in Jamaica
We used the Knutsford Express with ease to travel between cites.
Fun Fact: Jamaicans drive on the opposite side of the road from Canada. Sadly, most of the cabs are not clearly labelled in some way because Jamaican cabs are typically a local’s personal vehicle which is driven for extra cash. Assuredly, during any travels you should be mindful of the vehicle you are getting into but in Jamaica you will be harassed to accept a ride. If you do find yourself in need of a cab, talk to your accommodations; this will ensure you are getting someone trustworthy.
There are route taxis are local taxis where often there are more people than allowed in the vehicle. This provides a reduced cost, it was about 100 jays versus 300 jays. On the other hand, private taxis are more expensive but it will just be you and your travel companions. Route taxis are the way to go for a budget traveler.
Travel Tips for Jamaica
We found that the people were very willing and eager to help us. We were 45 minutes early to our Rick’s Cafe cliff jump. But our cab driver patiently waited for us, waited while we jumped, and took photos for us after our jump. He didn’t even charge us extra for how much of his time we took up.
- Yes, the men did harass us but the men can be harassing in any country. I wouldn’t base my decision to travel or not travel based on how the men will treat me. If anything, you could always wear a wedding band.
Jamaican Words to Live By
- “You have to do what you want in life, money or not.”
- “Jamaicans do nothing fast except drink, drive and talk.”
- “You have to do what you want in life; don’t let nothing stop the party.”
- “I wish I could travel, even to sleep on the streets just to be in another city.”
Overall, we spent about under $100 CAD a day for food and activities. Our accommodations for the week came out to about $300. I can’t accurately report on flight costs as we visited other cities in Florida on our way to Jamaica and post Jamaica. Plus, these will vary depending on where you are flying from.
- For finding the cheapest flight prices, my go-to is Skyscanner. I use them for all of my flight booking needs.
- If group tours are your more your style, I had an amazing time on my Intrepid Tour of Egypt and I cannot recommend them enough.
- Lonely Planet is one of my go-tos for finding out information about a travel destination.
Plus, look how beautiful this Negril water is. You can’t go wrong with a Jamaican vacation!