With its slow pace, long sandy beaches, lush rainforests, stunning waterfalls, and great music scene (Reggae started here!), it’s easy to see why visiting Jamaica is so popular. This Caribbean island has plenty to offer travelers of all kinds – from those seeking resorts, a party scene, a relaxing holiday, or a more local look at the culture.
Although it would be very easy to spend most of your time on beaches, try to experience the local music scene and Rastafarian culture. Additionally, avoid going during spring break when college students swarm the island, and prices skyrocket.
This Jamaica travel guide will give you all the practical information you need to help you plan your visit!
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Jamaica
1. Go to Rick’s Cafe
2. Go on a rum tour
3. Visit the Bob Marley Museum
4. Lose yourself in the clouds
5. Explore Montego Bay
Other Things to See and Do in Jamaica
1. Go rafting
Head to the Port Antonio area and take a guided trip down the Rio Grande River on a bamboo raft. This is one of the best ways to see the many caves, waterfalls, and crystal springs that are tucked away throughout the island. A three-hour rafting trip costs from 16,196 JMD ($120 USD) per person with Rio Grande Rafting Tour.
2. Go snorkeling
On Jamaica’s Northern Coast, you’ll find the widest array of sea life. Here you can go snorkeling and see coral, stingrays, lionfish, and even barracuda. Ocho Rios is another exciting place to snorkel, with plentiful scorpionfish, lettuce sea slugs, and nurse sharks. Trips start around 4,723 JMD ($35 USD).
3. Go caving at Green Grotto Caves
Over 1,000+ caves dot the Jamaican landscape. Green Grotto Caves on the North Coast is probably the most famous. The caves are made of limestone, and the tides have etched the walls with the green algae that has given the cave its name. As you move through the cave, you’ll walk through a forest of stalactites and stalagmites. Fun fact: Spaniards hid here in the 17th century when the English invaded Jamaica. Entry is 2,700 JMD ($20 USD) per person.
4. Tour the Sun Valley Plantation
Visit the Sun Valley Plantation in Ocho Rios to learn about the island’s history from the slave trade to the present day, and what life was like living on a plantation growing coffee, bananas, and tropical fruits. It’s an immersive experience, where you’ll get to meet the owners and the hardworking staff. The tour takes 90 minutes and costs (2,500 JMD/$18.50 USD), which includes samples of the plantation’s tasty fruits. This tour doesn’t gloss over the hard facts that this plantation once used slaves for profit.
5. Explore Kingston
The capital of Jamaica, Kingston, is a rough-and-tumble kind of place. It’s worth a visit for a day or two. Check out some of the important landmarks, like Devon House, King’s House, and the prime minister’s house. Devon House has Georgian Jamaican architecture, typical of the plantation homes built by colonists during the slave trade. It’s 1,350 JMD ($10 USD) to visit. Be sure also to visit the Bob Marley Museum, listen to some live reggae at the Dub Club, visit the National Gallery of Jamaica, go shopping at the Coronation Market, or chill out in Emancipation Park.
6. Climb the Dunn’s River Falls
Located in Ocho Rios, these falls cascade over plateaus 600 feet above the ground. You can actually climb up them if you’re feeling adventurous or just walk the trail that follows the river and go for a swim in one of the many azure pools at the base of the falls. Entrance is 2,700 JMD ($20 USD).
7. Birdwatch at Cockpit Country
Jamaica has 150 resident species of birds, with 29 of those species being endemic to the island. Just southeast of Montego Bay lies Cockpit Country, an area rife with nearly 110 of these species. Keep an eye out for Black-billed Parrots, endangered Jamaican Blackbirds, and Blue Mountain Vireos. The area itself is lush and scenic, with sinkholes of dissolved limestone and a lot of rivers.
8. Swim the Blue Hole
Blue Hole is one of the less touristy swimming spots on the island. You’ll pay a small fee to enter the park (1,350 JMD/$10 USD) as well as a “tip” to your guide, who will walk you to the top of the falls when you can jump off varying sized waterfalls. There is also a rope swing and cliff to jump off. (Word of caution: There’s not anywhere you can store your bags, so if you don’t have in a car to keep your belongings, bring a waterproof bag you can keep your stuff in while you swim.)
9. Day trip to Portland
This area is off the tourist trail and a nice alternative to the crowds on the coast. Here, you’ll be rewarded with peaceful beaches, endless natural beauty, and friendly locals who aren’t afraid to chat you up. While you’re here, visit the Blue Lagoon, see Somerset Falls, and sample plenty of jerk chicken in the town of Boston.
10. Hang out at the beach
Jamaica is rich with soft powdery beaches giving way to vibrant waters and sunsets. In Montego Bay, if you want to be where the action is, head to Doctor’s Cave Beach. If you want something more secluded, all you have to do is walk down the street to Cornwall Beach. In Negril, the aptly named Seven Mile Beach has a little something for everyone. Once you move past the overpriced hub around Margaritaville, you’ll find quieter stretches of pristine sand and little beach shacks selling cheaper food and drinks.
For information about other Caribbean destinations, check out these guides:
Jamaica Travel Costs
Hostel prices – A bed will cost about 2,970 JMD ($22 USD) per night for a room with four-six beds in touristy places like Montego Bay, but start from 2,160 JMD ($16 USD) in places like Port Antonio. A dorm with eight beds or more costs from 2,700 JMD ($20 USD) per night.
A basic twin private room with a shared bathroom costs about 6,075 JMD ($45 USD) per night for one person, while a double room costs the same for two people. A standard double private room with an ensuite bathroom is about 7,423 JMD ($55 USD) for two people.
Budget hotel prices – Nightly rates for a budget two or three-star hotel room with a private ensuite bathroom start at about 4,725 JMD ($35 USD) in less touristy areas like Port Antonio, but are about 7,425 JMD ($55 USD) near beach resort areas.
Airbnb is available everywhere in Jamaica, with shared accommodation (like a bed in a dorm) starting at 2,700 JMD ($20 USD) per night. For a private room, expect to pay from 7,423 JMD ($55 USD) per night, while a full apartment averages about 19,570 JMD ($145 USD) per night.
Average cost of food – Fish is a big staple of Jamaican diet and will be served everywhere for around 450 JMD ($3.35 USD). You can grab a filling Jamaican patty from a street vendor for about 130 JMD ($1 USD).
Lunch at an inexpensive, streetside restaurant will cost you no more than 675 JMD ($5 USD). You’ll find stewed chicken or beef on most menus for about 450 JMD ($3.35 USD), and jerk chicken is about the same price.
Dinner at an upscale restaurant will cost about 2,700 JMD ($20 USD) for a seafood entree, although lobster dishes can be twice as much (especially in Montego Bay). A beer will cost 350 JMD ($2.60 USD) at a restaurant but is about 250 JMD ($2.85 USD) at a supermarket.
A meal at McDonald’s costs about 810 JMD ($6 USD). Pub grub (like fish and chips) is about 1,600 JMD ($12 USD) per meal. A medium pizza at Domino’s will also cost you about 1,600 JMD ($12 USD).
Expect to pay 8,773 JMD ($65 USD) per week for groceries if you plan on cooking. That price includes foods like pasta, vegetables, chicken, along with other basic foods.
Backpacking Jamaica Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Jamaica, my suggested budget is around 7,423 JMD ($55 USD) per day. This budget will cover a hostel dorm, public transportation, some fast food and lunches, lots of free attractions, and one or two activities like touring the Green Grotto Caves or snorkeling.
Jamaica tends to be a place where people party a bit so if you’re going to be doing a lot of drinking, your pricing will probably rise by an average of $10 USD a day!
A mid-range budget of about 13,497 JMD ($100 USD) will cover staying in a private hostel room, eating out once or twice at nicer restaurants, a few drinks, some intercity bus travel, and more attractions and tours.
For a luxury budget of about 39,816 JMD ($295 USD) or more per day, you’ll get a nice four-star resort, any meal you want, lots of drinks, private transportation, and endless tours. From this floor, the sky is the limit.
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.
Jamaica Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Although Jamaica can be a resort destination, there’s more to the destination than the resorts Americans get drunk on and couples honeymoon in. Once you step out of that kind of travel, you’ll really lower your costs (and get a more local version of the country). Here are some ways you can save money in Jamaica:
- Shop around for tours – If you’re going snorkeling, shop around for the best price as equipment and tours can vary widely even along one beach front.
- Avoid spring break – If you visit during the American spring break season in March, you’ll pay 25% or more for everything (not to mention have to have to deal with all shenanigans those kids cause).
- Enjoy nature – Relax on the beach, go for a hike, or take in a sunset. Jamaica’s natural beauty is breathtaking and free, so drink it in!
- Pay in Jamaican dollars – When possible, pay for anything in Jamaican dollars. You’ll often get a better exchange rate.
- Look for deals and discounts – Visit Jamaica has a whole section on their website (visitjamaica.com/travel-deals) dedicated to travel discounts, deals, and bundles. Some are lame, but sometimes there are discounts up to 60% off for hotel rooms.
- Shop for souvenirs at supermarkets – If you want to purchase souvenirs like coffee, jerk seasoning, or hot sauce, go to a supermarket like Quality Traders rather than a souvenir kiosk.
- Couchsurf – There are many Couchsurfing hosts in Jamaica. This way, you not only have a place to stay, but you’ll have a local host that can tell you the best places to go and things to see.
- Pack a water bottle – It’s not safe to drink tap water everywhere in Jamaica. A water bottle with a purifier will help you save money and thousands of plastic bottles by purifying the tap water for you. My preferred bottle is LifeStraw ($49.99).
Where To Stay in Jamaica
Jamaica has a fair number of hostel and budget accommodations around the country. Here are some of my suggested places to stay in Jamaica:
How to Get Around Jamaica
Public Transportation – Jamaica has an extensive transportation network of buses, mini-busses, and taxis that link almost all villages and towns – and they’re ridiculously cheap. There is often no set timetable – buses leave until they’re full. Buses and minibusses charge about 100 JMD ($0.75 USD) per a 30-mile (50-kilometer) trip, while a 10-minute taxi drive will cost the same price.
Bus – Coach buses will get you to and from most of Jamaica’s touristy destinations. Knutsford Express is one of the most popular buses, with a two-hour trip between Kingston and Ocho Rios costing about 2,150 JMD ($16 USD). A four-hour trip from Kingston to Montego Bay is about 3,250 JMD ($24 USD).
You can also take mini-busses (“coasters”) everywhere. Licensed mini-busses have a PPV license plate (public passenger vehicle) or a JUTA sticker (Jamaica Union of Travelers Association) and are exclusively used by tourists. They tend to leave on a pre-set schedule. A two-hour trip from Kingston to Port Antonio is 600 JMD ($5 USD).
Bicycle – Resorts and hotels will often have bicycle rentals for about 1,350-4,050 JMD ($10-30 USD) per day. The roads aren’t the safest for cycling, though, so only do this if you’re an experienced rider.
Scooter Rental – You can rent a scooter or motorcycle from various places around Montego Bay, Negril, and Ochos Rios for about 4,725-10,797 JMD ($35-80 USD) per day, with motorcycles being on the higher end. Scratchy’s Scooters (Montego Bay), Jah B’s (Negril), and Spice Joy (Ochos Rios) are a few good companies for rentals. Always wear a helmet!
When to Go to Jamaica
Jamaica has pleasant weather year-round, with temperatures ranging in the mid-70s°F (low 20s°C) to high 80s°F (30s°C). October to mid-December is the best time to visit if you want to take advantage of the highest temperatures in the shoulder season. Hotel and flight deals are the best during this time.
January to March is the peak season for the island, with prices spiking all over the place. Avoid popular breaks like Christmas, Easter, and Spring Break if you don’t want to be overwhelmed with tourist crowds.
How to Stay Safe in Jamaica
Jamaica is a relevantly safe place to backpack and travel. Crime does happen here, especially at night and around the party areas of the country. Petty theft is the most common type of crime here, so keep an eye out for pick-pocketing, especially when you’re at the beach. Do not flash around your valuables, and keep them at your hotel in a safety deposit box whenever possible. This is especially true in touristy areas like Montego Bay, Ochos Rios, and Negril. Keep your hotel/accommodation doors and windows locked at all times!
Kingston is, unfortunately, no stranger to violent crime and gang activity and is pretty rough. If you want to explore Kingston, do not go out alone at night.
Gay and lesbian travelers should also practice caution here. Homophobia is rampant, and gay sex is illegal and often punishable by jail time.
If you’re worried about getting scammed, you can read about the 14 travel scams to avoid right here.
Remember to always trust your gut instinct. Avoid isolated areas at night, and be aware of your surroundings at all times. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID, and don’t keep a lot of valuables on you.
And be sure to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.
Jamaica Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Jamaica. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engine which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around the Caribbean, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Jamaica Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Jamaica Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Under a Blue Flag, by Daniel Putkowski
Fifteen years ago Luz Revilla, a young prostitute, sent her son Hernán off to be raised by Nathan Beck, a tugboat captain who brings him up to “become a man.” Now she learns he is coming back to San Nicolas, Aruba, and Revilla’s life becomes ruled by the anticipation of reuniting with her son as he learns about her life in the red light district. This is the darker side to Aruba but it’s an easy beach read.
Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys
This book was released a few years after the Jamaican independence of 1962, and it explores some of the postcolonial issues from that time. It’s set in the 1830s and brings to life the fictional “madwoman in the attic” from the novel Jane Eyre. Antoinette Cosway is a sensual woman sold to Mr. Rochester, and this book is about the woman’s backstory as it explores inequality of race, culture, and gender. It’s heavy reading, but it’s a beautiful one.
An Embarrassment of Mangoes: A Caribbean Interlude, by Ann Vanderhoof
In the mid-1990s, the author and her husband decided to take a break from their soul-sucking jobs in publishing and sail from Toronto down to the Caribbean and back again. During the trip, they traveled more than 7,000 nautical miles, dropped anchor in 16 countries, and adapted to ‘island time’. What I loved about this book was the change in the author: how she and her husband went from workaholics with rigid schedules to just going with the flow people who realize they don’t need a lot of stuff and loved the freedom of their journey. This book is well written, smart, inquisitive, and paints a vivid picture of the Caribbean. Highly recommended!
Out From Nassau, by Fia B. Scheyer
Out From Nassau takes you back to the Bahamas in the 1920s, when Prohibition was on in the United States and much of its illegal booze was being smuggled in from here. The book focuses on the lives of people in Nassau and the Out Islands, including the McKenzie family, as they become entangled in this dangerous trade. It’s a real page-turner, and although it’s fiction, much of the story is rooted in reality.
Jamaica Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling the Caribbean and continue planning your trip: