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7 Rookie Mistakes to Avoid in Jamaica

Breathtaking beaches, a lively nightlife, and warm weather all year-round are some of the major attractions of Jamaica. The Caribbean island is a popular travel destination for anyone from well-healed honeymooners to budget-conscious families. With many destinations and hotels within the country to choose from, first-time travelers may find themselves making poor decision(s). So read on and avoid them on your next Jamaican getaway.

1. Exploring the Island by Cab

Most travelers to Jamaica choose to get around by taxi, or use shuttles if they’re included in hotel rates. While this makes sense for people who plan to spend most of their time at one property, those wanting to explore the island will find that cabs are expensive. Buses offer a much cheaper alternative, but they don’t go everywhere and we saw some scary bus driving during our most recent visit to Jamaica.

That’s why it’s worth renting a car. Anyone who wants to go sightseeing or drive to many cities will have much more flexibility with a car. Overall, it’s cheaper than taxis and roads are easy to navigate — just beware of potholes and aggressive drivers. Also, keep in mind that cars drive on the left-hand side.

2. Eating Non-Local Seafood

Being an island in the Caribbean, Jamaica has some delicious seafood. Some hotels will prepare non-local seafood such as salmon and tiger prawns to please foreigners. Steer clear from imported seafood, as it’s not as fresh and probably more expensive.

Try excellent local fish like snapper, mahi-mahi, grouper, lionfish, and mackerel, plus shrimp is abundant. Lobster is also a mouth-watering option, but only order it when it’s in season (July through March), as it’s illegal to catch lobster outside of those months. Better yet, catch your own or find a beachside jerk shack that buys seafood daily from fishermen and cooks whatever is available.

3. Avoiding Roadside Jerk Shacks

Speaking of jerk shacks, do not skip dining at one of these low-frills spots. From Best in the West in Negril to Scotchie’s in Montego Bay, there are some well-known jerk shacks serving up mouth-watering dishes and typical Jamaican sides such as rice and peas, roasted yam, and festival (a doughnut-like bread).

Food is a lot cheaper here than most area restaurants, and is often also tastier. Many all-inclusive restaurants serve jerk-style fare at lunch or have jerk barbecue nights, but it’s hard to beat a small jerk shark where locals and tourists mingle.

4. Only Staying in Montego Bay

Many visitors to Jamaica pick a hotel in Montego Bay, due to its proximity to the airport, and stay in this spot for their entire trip. While we’re all for ease of travel, tourists will miss a lot of the beauty and culture in Jamaica if they only stick to Montego Bay.

There’s always the option to do excursions to other places — such as Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios or the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston — but much time will be spent traveling to and from these attractions. Instead, spend at least a couple of days in a different area that appeals to your taste.

Negril is a laid-back place with both a beach and cliffs; Port Antonio is a quiet, nature-centric area on the northeast coast; and the southern Treasure Beach is an undeveloped spot with black sand.

5. Expecting Punctuality

With popular sayings like “ya mon” and “irie” (meaning everything is okay), Jamaica oozes a relaxed atmosphere. The laid-back vibe exhibited by locals helps put tourists into the vacation spirit, but travelers expecting punctuality may be disappointed.

Island time is alive and well here, where restaurants are often slow to take orders and serve food, and tour groups and cabs often leave later than the specified time. We suggest embracing the slower pace (you are on vacation, after all), and book earlier transport or get to dinner before you’re starving to make up for the difference.

6. Sticking to An All-Inclusive Vacation

An all-inclusive resort has its pros, from making budgeting simple to allowing guests to leave their wallets in their room. Yet, many all-inclusives in Jamaica are big, impersonal affairs where guests stay put on the property and don’t experience much in the way of local culture.

For those who are set on an all-inclusive getaway, we recommend spending some of your Jamaican holiday at a smaller, non-all-inclusive hotel. A smaller property without buffet dining can generally put more time and energy into each guest, and the atmosphere is often a better representation of the country.

7. Walking Around Kingston at Night

Jamaica has a reputation for being dangerous, and while most tourists will feel safe, there are some places to avoid. Spanish Town and nearby Kingston are two places where it’s wise to exercise precautions.

Since Kingston is the capital of Jamaica, it is home to a lot of worthwhile sights, including the 19th-century Devon House, Bob Marley Museum, Hope Royal Botanical Gardens, and the National Gallery of Jamaica, which should make your itinerary. Several nightclubs and music venues provide a taste of the music-centric culture, though tourists should stick to populated areas and walk around in groups. Generally, avoid inner-city areas of Kingston at night.


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Jacqueline Cameron is an editor/writer with many years of writing experience running the gamut from blogging to reporting. She lives in Kingston, Jamaica and is the chief writer for the Jamaica So Nice Blog. She is a trained engineer and musician and loves to see people transformed through her work.

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