Getting Around Jamaica

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Getting Around Jamaica

By train

Jamaica has about 250 route miles of railroad, of which 77 are currently active to handle privately operated bauxite (aluminum ore) trains. Passenger and public freight service ceased in 1992, but increasing road congestion and poor highway conditions have caused the government to re-examine the commercial feasibility of rail operations.

  • Clarendon Express. A Tourist Railroad in Clarendon, on Alcan Railroad tracks using Jamaica Railway Corp. Coaches, with American-built diesel-electric locomotives for motive power.

By car

Driving as a tourist in Jamaica is an adventure in and of itself. Jamaican roads are not renowned for their upkeep nor are their drivers renowned for their caution. Roads in and around major cities and towns are generally congested, and rural roads tend to be narrow and somewhat dangerous, especially in inclement weather. Alert and courteous driving is advised at all times. There are very few north-south routes as well, so travel from the north to the south can involve treks on mountain roads. These trips can induce nausea in the more weak of stomach, so it is advisable that if you suffer from motion sickness to bring Dramamine or similar medication. Roads can be very narrow, and be especially alert when going around bends. Jamaican drivers do not slow down because of these twists and turns, so beware.

Jamaica, as a former British colony, drives on the left. Make note of this when driving, especially when turning, crossing the street, and yielding right of way.

There are relatively few stoplights outside of urban centers; they are generally found in major city centers, such as Montego Bay, Falmouth, Kingston, Mandeville, Spanish Town and Ocho Rios. For towns where stoplights are not installed, roundabouts are used.

Renting a car is easily done, and it is advised to go through an established major car rental company such as Island Car Rental, Hertz or Avis. Do your research before renting and driving.

Avis rents GPS units for $12 per day with a $200 deposit.

By boat

It is not advised to travel by boat unless the service is operated by a hotel or tourism company. It is not a quick way to get around unless you want to tour the coastline. Many fishermen may offer this service to willing tourists but they may overcharge.

By bus

Don't be afraid to take Jamaican local buses—they're cheap and they'll save you the headache of negotiating with tourist taxis. Be prepared to offer a tip to the luggage handlers that load your luggage into the bus. The ride is very different from what you are probably used to. Many resorts offer excursions by bus. Check with the resort's office that is in charge of planning day trips for more information. Excursions by bus from Ocho Rios to Kingston and Blue mountain, can turn into a long bus ride without many stops. A visit to Kingston might consist of a stop at a shopping center for lunch, a visit to Bob Marley's home and a 2 minute stop in the Beverly Hills of Jamaica. The guided tour at the Blue Mountain coffee factory can be interesting and informative.

By taxi

Local taxis (called "route taxis") are an interesting way to get around and far cheaper than tourist taxis. For instance, it may cost 50J (less than a dollar) to travel 20 miles. It will just look like a local's car, which is precisely what it is. The licensed ones usually have the taxi signs spray painted on their front fenders, although there seems to be little enforcement of things like business licenses in Jamaica. Seldom you will find one with a taxi sign on the top, because not many do this. The color of the license plate will tell you. A red plate will tell you that it is for transportation, while a white plate will tell you it is a private vehicle. The yellow plate indicates a government vehicle (like a police car or ambulance) and the list continues. Although the route taxis generally run from the center of one town to the center of the next town, you can flag a taxi anywhere along the highway. Walk or stand on the side of the road and wave at passing cars and you'll be surprised how quickly you get one.

Route taxis are often packed with people, but they are friendly folk and glad to have you with them. Route taxis are the primary mode of transportation for Jamaicans and serve the purpose that a bus system would in a large metropolitan city. This is how people get to work, kids get to school, etc.

Route taxis generally run between specific places, but if you're in the central taxi hub for a town you'll be able to find taxis going in any of the directions you need to go. Route taxis don't run very far, so if you need to get half way across the island you'll need to take it in stages. If worst comes to worst, just keep repeating your final destination to all the people who ask where you're going and they'll put you in the right car and send you on your way. You may have to wait until the taxi has enough passengers to make the trip worthwhile for the driver, and many route taxis travel with far more people in them than a Westerner would ever guess was possible. If you have luggage with you, you may have to pay an extra fare for your luggage since you're taking up space that would otherwise be sold to another passenger.

Pricing can be a little foggy, but between two nearby towns (e.g. Montego Bay and Lucea) it shouldn't likely be more than $100-200JMD. If you get "cheated" in a route taxi, it'll likely be for only tens of jamaican dollars (like, the driver will just keep the coins he owes you). If you want to be a stickler, just pay close attention to what the locals pay. Really though, no sense in arguing over $0.25USD.

Act like a local. It's proper to give an appropriate greeting when entering a taxi (e.g. Good Morning) and to reply similarly when a greeting is given to you. Stop the taxi by saying "One Stop, Driver!"

By plane

  • Jamaica Air Shuttle has several daily flights between Kingston Tinson Pen (closer to downtown than the main airport) and Montego Bay for around US$70. There are additional flights at weekends.
  • Air Jamaica has a couple of daily flights between Montego Bay and Kingston for around US$75 each way. However, Air Jamaica was scheduled to be taken over by Caribbean Airlines in April 2010 and it was not clear whether these domestic flights would continue.

If money is no object, you can fly between the minor airports on the island on a small charter plane. There are a couple of companies that provide this service and you need to make an appointment at least a day in advance. A flight across the entire island (from Negril to Port Antonio, for instance) runs about US$600. 

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