Backpacking Jamaica + 7 travel tips
For a long time, we did not travel by plane. So why not traveling Jamaica, we truly love reggae music and we always admire the laid back lifestyle. Tropical happy island with sunshine, friendly people and lush greenery.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have the possibilities to go on a long holiday in recent years because we were busy running our company. In 2011 was our last far away destination to Mauritius. During our study we lived there for a half year. It was the best time ever, Mauritius is an amazing island!
I am going to write about traveling itself in Jamaica, not about the places we have visited and things we have seen on the island. You can read our experiences in Treasure Beach, Port Antonio and Ocho Rios here.
What we definitely needed was a tropical island with amazing beaches! First, we couldn’t choose which country to discover, because our bucketlist is way too long. Backpacking in Jamaica has become the winner!
Jamaica is so much more than marihuana, reggae and rum. This island has fantastic beaches, it is mountainous and the northern part of the island is very green. And despite the fact there are rumors that Jamaica would be unsafe, we never felt unsafe for a single moment, in contrary.
Everyone was super friendly and helpful during our road trip.
- Location: south of Cuba
- Residents: almost 3 million
- Language: English
- Currency: Jamaican dollar and US dollar
- Size: more than a quarter of the Netherlands; 235 kilometres long and varies from 35 tot 82 kilometres wide
Preparation traveling Jamaica
Once we had decided to explore Jamaica, the preparation began. Maybe other people hate it, but I like planning a trip. I am going to search for information on the Internet and read experiences of other travelers who have been backpacking Jamaica. Places you must have seen, hotels where to sleep, restaurants where to eat, beaches to relax.
Remco is the one who prepares less. Yes, booking a ticket and extending the passport is going to be okay, but I often take the lead to plan things. I am fine with that, because planning and gathering information is what I always do. Sometimes I am annoyed by myself that I always want to know everything, but that aside.
How backpacking Jamaica?
How did we want to experience Jamaica in 2 weeks? One thing we knew for sure was, we didn’t want to stay in a luxury resort in one place. We surely needed a relaxing holiday to refuel, but we also wanted to see the country and then traveling through Jamaica is the best thing to do.
Obviously, you can choose a hotel and make day trips from there, but it is almost impossible to see the entire island from one location because of the distances.
For this holiday we were actually looking for a balance between ”a luxury (I’m only laying on the beach) vacation” and ”backpacking” on a low budget. It’s more like flashpacking. Older backpackers who still travel with a backpack but have more to spend.
Our transportation in Jamaica
Based on research on the Internet and reading the Lonely Planet, we decided to stay in 5 places on the island (in addition to our first night in Montego Bay) ranging from 2 to 4 days.
Normally we always want to rent a car, but this time we decided not to after reading horror stories about shitty roads and Jamaicans driving as crazy. We thought using the public transport (route taxi) is a good way for traveling through Jamaica.
Less stuff is less carrying
After an almost 14-hour flight (with a stopover in Punta Cana, normally it is around a 9 hours flight to Jamaica from Amsterdam) we were exhausted and wanted to go straight to our hotel. So even though we knew we would be overcharged by a taxi driver, it didn’t bother us.
For USD $15 he brought us from Sangster Airport in Montego Bay to our hotel Toby’s Resort in Montego Bay, 2 kilometres from the airport. We went straight to bed and the next day we decided to leave stuff behind at the hotel, because we already realized our backpacks were way too heavy.
At Schiphol Airport we saw that they weighed 30 kilos together. For our trip we no longer needed the thick winter clothing we did wear on the plane and there was more stuff that could left behind.
Our plan was to pick it up after backpacking Jamaica. Toby’s was close to the airport, very easy to go there. A good decision because we immediately felt much lighter.
Public transport traveling Jamaica
After we checked out at Toby’s we immediately traveled to Oche Rios, our next destination, because you can skip Montego Bay for sure. How would we traveling through Jamaica?
First time we see Jamaica in daylight and the taxi drivers directly offer us a ride. There are two kinds of taxi’s; the “normal” expensive and the route taxis, the cheaper variant that the locals use.
Most route taxis are white station wagons marked by their red license plates. The taxi’s should have ‘route taxi’ marked on the front door. Don’t take any taxi that lacks the red license plate. They run on set routes, picking up as many people as they can along the way.
Route taxi’s (should be) very cheap. At any time, you can grab a taxi in Jamaica and step out whenever you want.
Taxi drivers are constantly honking to you if you need one. You can flag them down on the road and tell the driver where you want to get off. Sounds very easy for traveling in Jamaica right?
Other transport options traveling Jamaica
We also traveled several times with a mini bus, they also have a red license plate. They don’t run to set timetables, but depart their point of origin when they’re full.
Don’t expect any comfort if you travel with a route taxi or mini bus during your ride because you get squeezed in. And don’t be surprised to sit on one half of your butt and with the other half of your butt on someone else’s lap.
But it’s definitely an interesting ride; loud music, chaos, chit chatting, you are in the middle of the daily Jamaican life. How local can you go? We definitely saw hardly any locals traveling like this.
Large buses are few in Jamaica. Jamaican people do almost everything by taxi. There are no bike- and footpaths along the road either. In our country we are used to do a lot with the bicycle, but in Jamaica it’s very dangerous.
Normally we like the freedom of walking and cycling, but that was not a possibility while traveling Jamaica. Only in Treasure Beach hiking and cycling was a good option. We walked as much as possible, but the roads have a lot of bends and to walk on the street (especially when it’s dark) is not without danger.
Besides, people drive like crazy.
Our experience with route taxi's
From Montego Bay to Ocho Rios it is 92 kilometres. That may seem short, but it will take you more than an hour and a half to get there.
We decide to take a route taxi and he asks 12.000 JMD, which comes down to around €85,- euros. You will think it’s a lot of money, but when asking other taxis this they ask the same prices. We know now this price is way to high and they overcharged us. Once back in Holland we hear from other travelers they paid €5,- for the same ride! Say what?
But we decided to get in the taxi and he takes us to Sunrise Villa Guest House in St. Mary, located 7 kilometres from Ocho Rios. We get out, pay the taxi driver and walk inside. Well, we try, but there is nobody home. But after a phone call with Dwayne, the owner, it appears the door is open and we move into our room.
It’s Dwayne’s home as it turns out. It appears that 2 other American travelers are spending the night in another room.
During that night and some Red Stripes the American travelers told us about the Knutsford Express, a bus with air conditioning and toilet that rides from city to city, quite luxurious. They inform us about how it works and how we can reserve and pay tickets. Everything can be arranged online.
It turns out to be so much cheaper than traveling Jamaica with the route taxi, so we were very happy with this information. On average, the prices are about USD $35 for 2 people traveling between 2 cities. We immediately checked the website and booked tickets to our next destination Port Antonio. Traveling Jamaica from Port Antonio to Kingston, Treasure Beach and finally Negril we did by Knutford bus.
The route taxi is ideal if you make short rides, the long rides turned out way too pricey for us. In the beginning you don’t know what the regular prices are for a route taxi, but after a few days you are familiar with the local prices and it’s very annoying they often ask way too much money. The Knutsford cannot overcharge us like taxi drivers can. Short rides, about 5 to 15 minutes normally cost you a few dollars.
Once a young Jamaican wanted to overcharge us enormously; he asked USD $25 to take us to the center of Ochi. Normally this should cost a few dollars, it was a ride of only 10 minutes.
If you are not known with the rates, you spend lots of money on transportation! We found it sometimes exhausting and unfriendly people try to overcharge us that much. Once back at home, we are still confused about the rates for long taxi rides.
Too many time wasted traveling Jamaica
We disliked the many travel hours we made on the island. In 2 weeks, holiday, we had 6 travel days with at least half a day lost on traveling days. If we would visit Jamaica again, we’d probably choose for 3 or 4 hotels instead of 6. It was just too much.
Most importantly, we definitely regret that we did not hire a car in Jamaica. That’s always the best way to explore a new country. We always like to be independent; to go wherever and whenever you want. It gives freedom and more time left to do activities.
Of course, roads were in some places bad and bumpy, people often do not wear a seatbelt and Jamaicans sometimes drive like they have a deadwish. Also, you should avoid big cities like Kingston as it is very chaotic and crowded. We often skip cities anyway and prefer to look for nature and drive along the coast. Despite the poor road conditions, it would be drivable for sure.
Now we dependend on the Knutsford bus and the route taxi. It involves a lot of waiting. Don’t get me wrong. For other people who want to travel with public transport it might be fine, but we didn’t like it that much.
Besides that, the longer rides were quite expensive (because they overcharge us all the time, maybe we were unlucky) to travel with the route taxi. In addition, we skipped several activities because we also were tired of traveling all the time and wanted more relaxing time.
Accept that it’s not possible to see everything in 2 weeks. You shouldn’t even want that. Danger is it turns into “a must do”. Don’t do that, after all you are on vacation to enjoy and relax. Keep that in mind!
7 backpacking Jamaica tips
- Make sure you have a comfortable backpack and daypack. Our backpacks are second hand. Buying second hand saves you money and it’s environmentally friendly. For less money, you buy more quality. Remco has a Lowe Alpine, Cerro Torro 65 + 15 and I bought a Lowe Alpine, Diran 55 + 15. Daypack is from The North Face, Borealis.
- Make a checklist of stuff you really need on your trip. Essential for chaotic travelers. Use the same list every time you are planning a trip.
- Prepare your trip, but not too much. Note places you really want to visit. Search on Internet and read travel books. I bought the Lonely Planet as it always contains useful information. We always carried it with us while traveling.
- Arrange your first night at a hotel close to the airport. It saves you a lot of hassle when you just arrive, especially late at night like we did in Jamaica. Do not book all accommodations in advance, unless you really want to stay somewhere or if the country is not really “backpack friendly”. Jamaica has not a huge choice of cheap accomodations.
- Don’t take too many things with you must carry your backpack a lot. Our backpacks weighed 30 kilos together, but certainly can be reduced to 20 to 25 kilos and perhaps even less. Choose a smal backpack when you are an adventurous traveler. Obviously, you need more space for gear when camping.
- Rent a car. It depends on your destination. What are the road conditions and how is the public transport organized. If you travel with route taxi you have to negotiate a lot, we found it very exhausting.
- Take your time in the place you stay, this results in fewer travel days and more free time.