Jamaica is the land of reggae and rum, wearing a mantle of roughshod romance that attracts travelers the world over looking to escape the routine of daily life. The landscape is a mosaic of palm-lined, golden beaches and a beautiful mountainous interior.
Where is Jamaica?
Jamaica is so popular that its music and culture are probably familiar to you, and it’s among the best choices in the Caribbean for a free- spirited and festive escape.
History of Jamaica
Jamaica Visa Requirements
Jamaica encourages tourism and does not require visas for vacationers from many countries including the U.S., Australia, Britain, Canada, Japan, and European Union countries. Nationals from all countries require a visa with validity for the length of intended stay. The requirements for US and Canadians are less strict and they may be able to enter the country on a passport that has expired less than 12 months before (however you should check this with you local embassy before travelling).
Upon arrival, tourists are issued a travel card valid for up to six months. The card costs around $30 US and is payable on entry.
You may be required to show immigration officials that you have return or onward tickets and adequate means of support and accommodation upon entering.
As entry requirements may change from time to time it is strongly advised that you check with the department of foreign affairs or your local consulate or embassy for the current requirements.
Jamaica Travel Health
Jamaica is relatively safe as a tourist destination. It is free from endemic diseases, and though the island does experience occasional gang and drug-related violence, visitors who following basic precautions will find Jamaica a relaxed and enjoyable place.
For instance, when in Jamaica, it is best to leave expensive jewelry at home. It is also advisable not to carry large amounts of cash, not to use ATMs outside business hours, and to avoid wandering the streets alone at night. As with any unfamiliar location, use common sense when it comes to safety.
Kingston and Montego Bay have comprehensive medical facilities and many smaller cities have clinics and small hospitals as well. Visitors in need of health care may be required to pay for treatment in advance and it is strongly advised that insurance companies be consulted regarding travel coverage prior to arrival. Travel insurance is recommended for those without requisite coverage.
Jamaica is located in the hurricaine belt and travelers visiting Jamaica in the off-peak season should be aware that storms are a possibility. However, Jamaica has experienced very little damage from hurracaines over the years.
In case of emergency, there are two important numbers: dialing 110 for ambilance or fire, and 119 for police.
What is Jamaica Local Currency?
Jamaica’s currency is the Jamaican dollar (J$) and at the time of writing, 1 US dollar bought 85 Jamaican dollars. Jamaican banknote demominations are $1000, $500, $100, $50 and coins ranges from a $20 coin down to a $.01 (one cent) coin. Although the law requires the use of Jamaican currency, US dollars are widely accepted throughout Jamaica.
Major credit cards are also widely accepted in Jamaica and provide a safe and relaible means of exchange. Travellers checks can also be used, and although ATMs are available, they are not as numerous as they are in many other parts of the world.
What is Jamaica’s Weather?
The climate of Jamaica is maritime tropical and offers pleasant temperatures year round. The average during the winter peak season (December-April) is 25.5º C (77º F), and in summer (June-September), 28º C (82º F). Showers are frequent but generally brief and occur year round.
The rainy season extends from May through October, which is also roughly hurricaine season, although Jamaica is rarely very affected by hurricaines.
Warm sunshine can be expected most days, and the coastal regions are often cool in the evenings and mornings, so light-weight long-sleeved clothing may come in handy for evenings on the town.
Culture of Jamaica
Jamaican culture is both ecclectic and unique. It retains elements of the island’s earliest inhabitants, the Taino people, as well as displying clear African, Spanish, and British cultural influences. Add to this mix an Indian and Middle Eastern influences and Jamaica’s uniqueness becomes partly understandable. This cultural variety has impacted on Jamaica is in terms of its religion, which is predominately Christian, but also includes adherents to Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Bahai faiths, as well as Jamaica’s own Rastafarianism.
Music and dance are also important aspects of Jamaican culture and many styles of live music can be found on the island, including reggae, which was developed in Jamaica and popularized by Bob Marley in the 1970s.
Jamaican people are friendly and out-going and it is not uncommon to become engaged in lively conversations about all manner of topics with locals, including vendors and shopkeepers. When shopping, bartering is a common practice so do not feel shy about offering what you think is a fair price.
Tipping is recommended in Jamaica and although sometimes a service fee is included in the bill, often it is not. 10% to 20% is a customary gratuity in resaurants, hotels and taxis, and $1-$2 US for bell hops and maids.
What Languages Are Spoken In Jamaica?
The official language of Jamaica is English, however, first time visitors may be surprised to discover that the mother-tongue of most Jamaican people is not English. Instead, Jamaicans speak a highly unique patois referred to as Creole, which is primarily made up of English and African languages, but also of Spanish words and phrases as well as idioms from numerous other languages.
Telecommunications services in Jamaica are reliable and mobile roaming is available. The island has relatively good coverage, but visitors should check with their phone service providers for the availability of roaming in Jamaica.
The international code for dialing into Jamaica is +876.
When dialling out of Jamaica, use the international access code which is +00 followed by the country code of the nation you are phoning (e.g. +00 1 for the US).
Internet cafes are relatively common in Kingston and Montego Bay and offer fast connections at reasonble prices. Many hotels also provide wireless as well as wired access for guests, although inquires should be made while booking.
Jamaica Post is the national postal service with branches across the island. Post offices offer a full range of services including international and express delivery.
Jamaica Transport Options
There are two international airports in Jamaica, but most visitors will fly into Donald Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, which is ideally located to service the island’s many holiday spots. Travellers with business may arrive at the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston, Jamaica’s capital. There are also four domestic airports that cater for tourists, business, and light cargo.
Most major hotels as well as many smaller hotels and hostels in the Montego Bay area have shuttle buses from Sangster Airport. However, taxis, rental cars and mini-bus services are also useful means of getting to and from accomodation to the airport, as well as to the many tourist destinations around the island. (Those considering car rentals should be aware that Jamaican roads are left-hand drive.)
Jamaica Travel Tips
Although the solicitation and use of marijuana is common in Jamaica, visitors should be aware that marijuana is illegal and penalties for drug possession are severe.
Jamaica Local Food
There are several notable varieties of Jamaican food, foremost amongst these is the “jerk” style barbecue, which refers to a method of preparing meat that can be traced back to West Africa. It involves the skewering, spicing, and grilling of meat. Jerked chicken, beef and pork are widely available at hotels and restaurants, as well as from street vendors.
Other foods visitors may want to try are Jamaican curries and Rastafarian Ital cuisine. Curries were brought to the island by Indian immigrants around the turn of the century and ItaI cuisine has grown out of Rastafarianism. Ital food (from the word “vital”) is a largely vegetarian cuisine based on the use of fresh vegetables and spices and characterized by the avoidance of salt and other preservatives. Ital restaurants can be identified by the Rastafarian flag and/or the image of a lion.
Jamaica Local Timezones
The island of Jamaica is in the same time zone as the Eastern United States, which is “GMT -5:00” or US Eastern Standard Time.
Jamaican electrical outlets and voltages are the same as those used in the US, which is 110V/50 Hz
Jamaica Dutyfree Limits
There are over a hundred Duty Free shops across Jamaica and visitors can find bargains on jewelry, crystal, china, perfumes, and leather goods.
Products made from coral and turtles are prohibited and will not be allowed out of the country.
For those traveling to the US from Jamaica, be warned that Cuban cigars puchased in Jamaica will be confiscated by US customs.