What you should know before your first trip to Jamaica
You booked your first trip to Jamaica! Let me tell you, you are in for a world of adventure.
Picture this. Glorious beaches, lush jungles, melt in your mouth food, and beautiful music ringing in your ears. Are you ready to dance the night away to some live reggae at a picturesque beach bar? Well get ready, because Jamaica is everything you will hope for and more.
I know this because I just got back from a 10 day extravaganza on this beautiful island for my honeymoon.
To be clear, this was my first trip to Jamaica so I am certainly not as experienced as other travelers but we did learn quite a bit. And no, we aren’t ones to stay in an all inclusive hotel. Especially with a country saturated with culture, my husband and I really wanted to get out and see the actual country. We wanted to meet the locals. We wanted to find what is hard to find on a travel blog. We wanted an adventure.
With only a limited amount of time, and well it is our honeymoon so we wanted some relaxation, we mainly checked out three cities. We spent our first trip toJamaica exploring Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, and Negril.
As in any country, each town had its own vibe and its own draw. While most of our trip was backpacking style, by the end of our adventures, we wanted to do the touristy honeymooner thing and stay in a nice hotel. Let me tell you, Villas Sur Mer is something out of a romantic dream. They have a private cave. I mean seriously check out this view. Plus, if you don’t go with an all inclusive, you are free to check out some of the surrounding restaurants. If you are in Negril, definitely check out Murphy’s for their lobster. It’s famous for a reason.
With that being said, there are a few things I think you should all know before taking you first trip to Jamaica. Honestly, I wish someone told me about a few of these things before I left to save myself some of the headaches.
Just as a disclaimer, the Youngs are more of a backpacker, party oriented couple that doesn’t normally check bags, looks for deals, and likes to find the coolest underground bars at home or abroad.
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Here is what I wish someone told us before our first trip to Jamaica.
THINGS ARE DIFFERENT IN RESORT TOWN DURING THE DAY AND NIGHT
Like any place that draws cruise ships, the day and night drastically differ. Especially in Montego Bay, many tourists retreat back to their all inclusive resorts and cruise ships by the evening. Not to worry though! There are fun clubs and bars that you can check out outside of the resorts. Many locals are more than happy to show you around.
Since it is your first trip to Jamaica, I highly recommend checking out more than just your resort. It’s a beautiful country people!
YOU WILL STICK OUT AS A TOURIST
Unless you look and sound Jamaican, you will look like a tourist. There is really no way around it. Some destinations, you can change how you dress to blend in. This isn’t one of those places. Don’t worry about it though. Just know that people will try to sell you stuff since a lot of people make money through tourist like you and me. Just politely decline and be respectful. We are guests in their country.
SUNSCREEN IS EXPENSIVE
Ok, part of the whole obvious tourist thing is that well, we are the ones buying sunscreen. Many places jack up the prices since the marketing is literally only us, not locals. I saw places charging up to $30 USD for sunscreen! If you check your bag, bring sunscreen. When debating what you should pack on in your liquid allotment, go with the sunscreen. I bought a solid sunscreen stick thing at the supermarket that did the trick.
Trust me, you don’t want to look like the unfortunate souls that didn’t think they needed it *cough cough* at Margaritaville. Sunburns can make a vacation a lot less pleasant. Fortunately, my half Filipino complexion helps me deter any of the ultra sunburns that others may not but I doubt that all of you reading have a similar skin tone as mine. Not to mention, sun damage is sun damage no matter what color your skin is. Don’t be red on your first trip to Jamaica. Pack some sunscreen.
MEET LOCALS ON YOUR FIRST TRIP TO JAMAICA
If you are making your way to such a culturally rich countryas Jamaica, you should probably take the time to meet the locals. It personally kills me when people travel and completely wall themselves off from the country. I have family in Los Angeles. If I want to go to a beach I can. Hell, I have family in Hawaii. I can get the tropics any time I want.
This is my first trip to Jamaica and I’ll be damned if I miss the opportunity to explore the rich culture of this island.
For example, in Montego Bay, we met a wonderful local that showed us a really cool underground bar downtown, where tourists don’t usually go. From the streets, it only looks like a shop. Upstairs there was a cool little bar with pool tables, cheap drinks, and great company. All he asked for in return was for us to spread the reputation of Jamaica being cool, not scary. So here I am. It’s cool and the people are great!
Don’t get me wrong, I am not ignorant to the dangers but there are dangers here at home as well. I live in Downtown Denver and I’ve seen some unfortunate events outside my window. Honestly, I’ve been a victim to most crimes back in Salt Lake City. Just be careful and use common sense when traveling and you’ll be fine.
ROUTE TAXIS AND BUSES ARE CHEAP BUT CAN BE UNCOMFORTABLE
Any Jamaican travel guide will tell you that the cheapest way to travel across the island is by route taxi or buses. What a lot of these fail to mention is that if you are going cheap, you can’t expect it to be comfortable. I don’t mean lack of AC or anything like that either. I can handle that. Anyone can handle that.
I’m saying that they will jam pack you in there. I’m talking five people per row sitting on top of each other. If you’re claustrophobic, this may not be the best option for you but for $500 JD (~ $4 USD) for an hour and a half ride, I am not complaining. If you like to partake in the local herb, this may make it a bit more bearable.
Private taxis are a lot more expensive so recommend that you are cautious and ready to bargain for a better price. You basically can always get a private taxi, and trust me, you can’t miss them. They literally honk at you while you walk down the street. Remember how I said you will stick out as a tourist? Everyone wants to be your taxi and since it’s your first trip to Jamaica, you might not know how much these things should cost. They will charge upwards of $100 USD for a short trip if you let them. Many will be negotiated to a way lower price.
BE PREPARED FOR INTENSE DRIVING ON YOUR FIRST TRIP TO JAMAICA
If you are from the United States, be aware that they drive on the other side of the road. They also drive really aggressively. I’m talking about passing around corners, ignoring speed limits, and feeling like you’re going to hit oncoming traffic. Something that shocked me was that when passing, the oncoming traffic usually scoots over rather than the person doing the passing. This takes some getting used to and well, when I was sitting in the front seat, this was quite terrifying.
Or just be like me and avoid driving all together. I hate driving and I love to drink so this was a no brainer. Don’t drink and drive. Especially here.
MAKE SURE YOU GET JAMAICAN DOLLARS OUT
Many places will give you a bit of a discount if you use their currency. This may not be a tip for you if you only find yourself between Margaritavilles but if you choose to explore elsewhere, it does come in handy. Plus, many of the more local restaurants will charge in Jamaican dollar. The conversion for US Dollars is about 1 dollar to 120 Jamaican. Many people when pricing in USD rather give you the conversion rate 1 USD = 100 JD so you leaving you with a bit of a discount.
Get the savings and pull some Jamaican dollars out.
MAKE SURE YOU HAVE CASH
When it comes to the smaller towns or neighborhoods, many people don’t have a way to read credit cards. Again, if your first trip to Jamaica is only at the most touristy of spots, you can probably skip this step. We ended up in Falmouth, home of the Glistening Waters and nowhere near our guest house took card. I was all prepared to make a light pasta out of tomatoes, garlic, onion, and spaghetti when we realized we only had $300 JD (~$2 USD). Ramen it was!
You can pull out cash from a Scotia Bank and often a cab will take you there if you don’t currently have enough to even ride the cab. No one has a problem waiting for you to get the money out to pay them.
JAMAICA RUNS ON ISLAND TIME
It’s an island so this should go without saying. If you aren’t used to is though, know that resteraunts and bars might be a bit slower than what you are used to. Depending where you are from, this may be something you are already used to or not.
We are from Denver so it comes at a bit of a shock. Most of our meals at resteraunts took a couple of hours. You’ll need to adjust your schedule accordingly.
If you want something quickly, I recommend Juici Patties. They are everywhere and are really cheap. I honestly really liked these and ate them several times for breakfast.
GET USED TO ASSERTIVE SALESMEN ON YOUR FIRST TRIP TO JAMAICA
You’ll read this everywhere. People will try to sell you things. It’s really not that big of a deal if you know how to respond. The best piece of advice I can give you with this is to not ignore people. Not only is it rude, they will think you’re scared and try to intimidate you into buying something. No one is scary. Just speak to them like you’d speak to anyone.
I usually responded with a friendly no thank you, I’m good, I’m not hungry, or I’ve already got everything we need. People respect that. Oh and speaking of sales, people usually try to catch you leaving from Margaritaville. There are tourists in there.
THINGS SHUT DOWN ON SUNDAY
As many people are religious in this country, many things shut down. I mean whole towns shut down. Obviously, the touristy spots stay a bit more open but when we were in Falmouth, the whole pier was shut down. It may be a bit harder to travel on Sunday as well. Transit centers may be closed but private taxis are still available. If you want a route taxi, just be firm on what price you want to pay. People will try to up sell you but get the message when you are firm.
GANJA IS EVERYWHERE
Whether you like to partake in the local herb or not, it is everywhere. It’s a big part of the culture and religion. In 2015, marijuana was decriminalized in Jamaica so it’s basically everywhere and fairly safe to smoke if you would like to. Politely decline if you aren’t interested.
If you are looking to get some, just know that it is a lot cheaper than in the states and best negotiated if you have Jamaican dollars. You can get a pretty big bag for $500 JD depending where you are (~$4 USD). People will sometime give it to you for free.
Oh and if you do smoke, locals do not pass joints. You smoke your own joint. Here in the states, it’s rude not to offer a pass. Some people may understand this but in the smaller towns you might get a weird look. It’s cheap. Just smoke your own.
WHAT’S WITH MARGARITAVILLE?
Ok, I’ve been talking about this place throughout this story and here is why. They are everywhere! There is one in Montego Bay, Negril, Ocho Rio, Falmouth, and the Montego Bay Airport! And they can be completely different from day to night.
Montego Bay’s Margaritaville is a major tourist trap by day and a bumping night club at night, especially during Lady’s Night. Don’t make the mistake I made and make sure you dress to impress. They’ll let dress code slide for tourists but you’ll feel sloppy.
I am in no way endorsing this establishment but just noting that it’s a little more than a cheesy tourist trap. Yes, by day you can expect overpriced drinks and tourists who forgot to put on their sunscreen but by night, plenty of locals will hang out there.
I know what you’re thinking, and it was honestly a running joke on our trip. We partied there. It was fun.
Well, this is it for what I learned on my first trip to Jamaica.
Are you planning your first trip to Jamaica any time soon? Have you been here before and have other tips? Let me know in the comments and if you like stories like this be sure to subscribe to my blog for updates.
Love you all.