Jamaica
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Jamaica

Smart Travel Tips

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Arriving & Departing |  Contacts & Resources |  Getting Around


Arriving & Departing
 
By Air

Donald Sangster International Airport (MBJ) (PHONE:876/952-3124), in Montego Bay, or MoBay as the locals call it, is the most efficient point of entry for travelers destined for MoBay, Ocho Rios, Runaway Bay, and Negril.

Norman Manley International Airport (KIN) (PHONE:876/924-8452; www.manley-airport.com.jm), in Kingston, is the best arrival point for travelers headed to the capital or Port Antonio.

Flights from New York to Kingston or Montego Bay take about 4 hours, from London or Paris roughly 7 hours.

Carriers

Air Jamaica (PHONE:800/523-5585; 876/952-4300 in Montego Bay; 876/924-8331 in Kingston; www.airjamaica.com) provides the most frequent service from U.S. cities, including Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.

American Airlines (PHONE:800/433-7300; 876/952-5950 in Montego Bay; 876/924-8248 in Kingston; www.aa.com) flies nonstop daily from New York and Miami.

Copa (PHONE:876/926-1762 in Kingston) offers service between Miami and Kingston.

Northwest Airlines (PHONE:800/447-4747; 876/952-9740 in Montego Bay; www.nwa.com) offers service to MoBay from Detroit, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Memphis.

US Airways (PHONE:800/428-4322; 876/952-5532 in Montego Bay; www.usairways.com) has service to Jamaica from Philadelphia and Charlotte, N.C.

From Canada

Air Canada (PHONE:888/247-2262; 876/952-5160 in Montego Bay; 876/942-8211 in Kingston; www.aircanada.ca) offers direct service from Toronto, Winnipeg, and Montréal in conjunction with Air Jamaica.

From the U.K.

Air Jamaica (PHONE:0208/570-7999; 876/952-4300 in Montego Bay; 876/924-8331 in Kingston; www.airjamaica.com) has flights from London and Manchester.

British Airways (PHONE:0845/77-333-77; 876/924-8187 in Kingston; www.britishairways.com) connects Kingston with London.

Transfers Between the Airport and Town

If you don't arrange a transfer ahead of time through your hotel, a fleet of coach buses, minivans, and taxis awaits at both airports. Ground transport booths are located outside customs.

 
 
Contacts & Resources
 
Business Hours

Banks

Banks are generally open Monday-Thursday 9-2, Friday 9-4.

Post Offices

Post office hours are weekdays 9-5.

Shops

Normal business hours for stores are weekdays 8:30-4:30, Saturday 8-1.

 
 
Customs & Duties

Arriving in Jamaica

Although many Caribbean islands wave tourists through customs inspections with only a cursory question or two, customs inspectors in major hubs, including Jamaica, inspect all baggage to allay their concerns about smuggling or drug running. If you're yachting through the islands, keep in mind that harbor customs are often thorough as well.

These rules generally apply throughout the Caribbean: you are limited to bringing in 2 liters of alcohol, two cartons of cigarettes, and a reasonable amount of duty-free goods for your personal use. More than that, and you'll be asked to pay a hefty import tax.

 
 
Electricity

Like the electrical current in North America, the current in Jamaica is 110 volts but only 50 cycles, with outlets that take two flat prongs. Some hotels provide 220-volt plugs as well as special shaver outlets. If you plan to bring electrical appliances with you, it's best to ask when making your reservation.

 
 
Embassies and Consulates

Canada

Canadian High Commission (3 West Kings House Rd., Kingston, PHONE:876/926-1500).

United Kingdom

British High Commission (Trafalgar Rd., Kingston, PHONE:876/510-0700).

United States

U.S. Embassy (2 Oxford Rd., 3rd Floor, Kingston, PHONE:876/929-4850).

 
 
Emergencies

Air Rescue (PHONE:119).

Ambulance and Fire (PHONE:110).

Police (PHONE:119).

Hospitals

Cornwall Regional Hospital (Mt. Salem, Montego Bay, PHONE:876/952-5100).

Mo Bay Hope Medical Center (Half Moon Resort, Montego Bay, PHONE:876/953-3981).

Port Antonio Hospital (Naylor's Hill, Port Antonio, PHONE:876/715-5778).

St. Ann's Bay Hospital (St. Ann's Bay, PHONE:876/794-8565).

University Hospital of the West Indies (Mona, Kingston, PHONE:876/927-1620).

Pharmacies

Great House Pharmacy (Brown's Plaza, DaCosta Dr., Ocho Rios, PHONE:876/974-2352).

Jamaica Pegasus (81 Knutsford Blvd., Kingston, PHONE:876/926-3690).

Scuba Diving Emergencies

St. Ann's Bay Hospital (St. Ann's Bay, PHONE:876/972-2272).

 
 
Etiquette & Behavior

As you travel the island, you'll see Rastafarians with their flowing dreadlocks. Rastas often smoke marijuana as part of their religious rites and generally do not eat salt or pork (many are vegetarians). Many Rastas sell crafts all over the island, at markets, at hotels, and elsewhere.

 
 
Guided Tours

Half-day tours are offered by most tour operators in the important areas of Jamaica. The best great-house tours include Rose Hall, Greenwood, and Devon House. Plantations to tour are Prospect, Barnett Estates, and Sun Valley. The Appleton Estate Tour uses a bus to visit villages, plantations, and a rum distillery. The increasingly popular waterside folklore feasts are offered on the Dunn's, Great, and White rivers. The significant city tours are in Kingston, MoBay, and Ocho Rios.

Caribic Tours (1310 Providence Dr., Montego Bay, PHONE:876/953-9878; www.caribicvacations.com) offers tours of Jamaica, as well as to Cuba.

CS Tours (66 Claude Clarke Ave., Montego Bay, PHONE:876/952-6260) has island sightseeing tours to major attractions.

Glamour Tours (Montego Freeport, Montego Bay, PHONE:876/979-8207; www.glamourtours.com) offers guided tours to many top sightseeing spots on the north coast.

Safari Tours (Mammee Bay, Montego Bay, PHONE:876/972-2639) offers guided jeep, bike, and horseback tours.

Tourwise (103 Main St., Ocho Rios, PHONE:876/974-2323) offers guided tours of top attractions including Dunn's River Falls, Black River Safari, Cockpit Country, Kingston, Mayfield Falls, and Blue Lagoon; tours are available in English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, and Dutch.

SunHoliday Tours (Donald Sangster International Airport, Montego Bay, PHONE:876/979-1061) offers sightseeing tours across Jamaica; you can sign up for one-day or multiday tours.

Boat Tours

Calico Sailing (North Coast Hwy., Montego Bay, PHONE:876/952-5860) offers snorkeling trips and sunset cruises on the waters of MoBay; costs are $35 and $25, respectively.

Martha Brae River Rafting (Claude Clarke Ave., Montego Bay, PHONE:876/952-0889) leads trips down the Martha Brae River, about 25 mi (40 km) from most hotels in MoBay. The cost is $35 (two per raft) for the 1½-hour river run.

Mountain Valley Rafting (31 Gloucester Ave., Montego Bay, PHONE:876/952-0527) runs trips down the River Lethe, approximately 12 mi (19 km, a 50-minute trip) southwest of MoBay; the excursion costs about $36 per raft (two per raft) and takes you through unspoiled hill country. Bookings can also be made through hotel tour desks.

Rio Grande Attractions Ltd (St. Margaret's Bay, Jamaica, PHONE:876/993-5778) guides raft trips down the Rio Grande; the cost is $45 per raft.

South Coast Safaris Ltd (1 Crane Rd., Black River, PHONE:876/965-2513) has guided excursions up the Black River for some 10 mi (16 km, round-trip), into the mangroves and marshlands to see alligators, birds, and plant life. The trip on the 25-passenger Safari Queen or Safari Princess costs around $15.

Helicopter Tours

Helitours Jamaica Ltd (North Coast Hwy., Ocho Rios, PHONE:876/974-2265 or 876/974-1108), 1 mi (1½ km) west of Ocho Rios, offers helicopter tours of Jamaica, ranging from 20 minutes to an hour, at prices from $65 to $225.

Special-Interest Tours

Countrystyle (62 Ward Ave., Mandeville, PHONE:876/962-7979) offers unique, personalized tours of island communities. You're linked with community residents based on your interests; there are tours that include anything from bird-watching in Mandeville to nightlife in Kingston.

Maroon Attraction Tours Co. (North Coast Hwy., Montego Bay, PHONE:876/952-4546) leads full-day tours from MoBay to Maroon headquarters at Accompong, giving you a glimpse of the society of Maroons who live in Cockpit Country. The cost is $50 per person.

 
 
Health

The staff at your hotel can recommend a doctor, dentist, clinic, or hospital should a need arise. Sometimes, particularly at family resorts, a nurse is on-site during the day and a doctor is on call. Doctor visits, incidentally, can be costly -- even on islands where the general cost of living would make you think otherwise. Doctors and hospitals may require cash payment or take a major credit card; Medicare, Medicaid, and many U.S. medical insurance policies are not valid outside the U.S.

Divers' Alert

Do not fly within 24 hours of scuba diving.

Food and Drink

Traveler's diarrhea, caused by eating contaminated fruit or vegetables or drinking contaminated water, isn't a big problem in the Caribbean, but it does occur. So watch what you eat. Avoid ice, uncooked food, and unpasteurized milk and milk products, and drink only bottled water or water that has been boiled for several minutes, even when brushing your teeth. Mild cases may respond to Imodium (known generically as loperamide) or Pepto-Bismol, both of which can be purchased over the counter. Drink plenty of purified water or tea -- chamomile is a good folk remedy. In severe cases, rehydrate yourself with a salt-sugar solution (½ teaspoon salt and 4 tablespoons sugar per quart of water).

Over-the-Counter Remedies

Island drug stores and supermarkets are well stocked with familiar over-the-counter medicines and other health products that you might need. If you don't see precisely what you want, ask the pharmacist to recommend an appropriate substitute. If you can only use a specific or an uncommon medicine, be sure to bring a sufficient supply with you.

Pests and Other Hazards

The major health risk in the Caribbean is sunburn or sunstroke. Having a long-sleeve shirt, a hat, and long pants or a beach wrap available is essential on a boat, for midday at the beach, and whenever you go out sightseeing. Use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 -- especially if your complexion is fair -- and apply it liberally on your nose, ears, and other sensitive and exposed areas. Make sure the sunscreen is waterproof if you're engaging in water sports, limit your sun time for the first few days, and drink plenty of liquids, monitoring intake of caffeine and alcohol, which hasten the dehydration process.

Even experienced swimmers should exercise caution in waters on the windward (Atlantic Ocean) side of the islands. The unseen currents, powerful waves, strong undertows, and rocky bottoms can be extremely dangerous -- and lifeguards are rare. Even in the calmest water, watch out for black, spiny sea urchins; stepping on one is guaranteed to be painful for quite some time.

The small lizards native to the islands are harmless (and actually keep down the bug population), and poisonous snakes are hard to find. Beware of the manchineel tree, which grows near the beach and has green applelike fruit that is poisonous and bark and leaves that can burn the skin. The worst insect problem may well be the tiny no-see-ums (sand flies) that appear after a rain, near swampy ground, and around sunset; mosquitoes can also be annoying. Bring along a good repellent.

Shots and Medications

No special shots or vaccinations are required for Caribbean destinations.

 
 
Language

The official language of Jamaica is English. Islanders usually speak a patois among themselves, a lyrical mixture of English, Spanish, and various African languages. Some examples of patois are me diyah ("I'm here"; pronounced mee de-ya); nyam ("eat"; pronounced yam); and, if someone asks how your vacation is going, just say irie (pronounced eye-ree), which means "great."

 
 
Mail

Postcards may be mailed anywhere in the world for J$25. Letters to the United States and Canada cost J$25, to Europe J$12.50, to Australia J$40, and to New Zealand J$30.

Airmail between Caribbean islands and cities in the United States or Canada takes 7-14 days; surface mail can take 4-6 weeks. Airmail to the United Kingdom takes 2-3 weeks, to Australia and New Zealand, 3-4 weeks.

Kingston Post Office (13 King St., Jamaica, PHONE:876/922-2120).

Montego Bay Post Office (122 Barnett St., Jamaica, PHONE:876/952-7389).

 
 
Money

ATMs

ATM machines do not accept American bank cards, although cash advances can be made using credit cards.

Credit Cards

Major credit cards are widely accepted throughout the island, although cash is required at gas stations, in markets, and in many small stores. Discover and Diners Club are accepted at many resorts.

Currency

The official currency is the Jamaican dollar. U.S. money (currency only, no coins) is accepted at most establishments, although you'll often be given change in Jamaican money.

Currency Exchange

Currency can be exchanged at airport bank counters, exchange bureaus, or commercial banks.

Throughout the island you'll find branches of the Bank of Nova Scotia (Sam Sharpe Sq., Montego Bay, PHONE:876/952-4440).

Taxes

The departure tax is $27 and must be paid in cash if it is not added to the cost of your airline tickets; this policy varies by carrier, although many ticket prices now include the departure tax. Be sure to ask.

Jamaica has replaced the room occupancy tax with a VAT of 15% on most goods and services, which is already incorporated into the prices of taxable goods.

Tipping

Most hotels and restaurants add a 10% service charge to your bill. When a service charge isn't included, a 10% to 20% tip is appreciated. Tips of 10% to 20% are customary for taxi drivers as well. However, many all-inclusives have a strict no-tipping policy.

 
 
Passports & Visas

When traveling internationally, carry your passport even if you don't need one (it's always the best form of I.D.) and make two photocopies of the data page (one for someone at home and another for you, carried separately from your passport). If you lose your passport, promptly call the nearest embassy or consulate and the local police.

Entering Jamaica

U.S. and Canadian citizens must have a passport (not expired beyond one year). Or, to prove citizenship, bring an original birth certificate (with a raised seal) or a naturalization certificate along with a government-issued photo I.D. (all documents must bear exactly the same name). British, Australian, and New Zealand travelers must have passports. Everyone must have a return or ongoing ticket. Declaration forms are usually distributed in flight to keep customs formalities to a minimum.

Passport Offices

The best time to apply for a passport, or to renew your old one, is in fall or winter. Before any trip, check your passport's expiration date, and, if necessary, renew it as soon as possible.

Australian Citizens

Australian Passport Office (PHONE:131-232; www.passports.gov.au).

Canadian Citizens

Passport Office (Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0G3, PHONE:819/994-3500 or 800/567-6868; www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca/passport).

New Zealand Citizens

New Zealand Passport Office (PHONE:04/474-8100 or 0800/22-5050; www.passports.govt.nz).

U.K. Citizens

London Passport Office (PHONE:0870/521-0410; www.passport.gov.uk).

U.S. Citizens

National Passport Information Center (PHONE:900/225-5674; travel.state.gov/passport_services.html). Calls are 35¢ per minute for automated service, $1.05 per minute for operator service.

 
 
Safety

Don't let the beauty of Jamaica cause you to abandon the caution you would practice in any unfamiliar place. Crime in Jamaica is, unfortunately, a persistent problem. Although many of the headlines are grabbed by murders in Kingston, often gang-related, crime is an island-wide problem. Visitors should be extremely cautious about visiting many of the neighborhoods in Kingston that are outside the business district of New Kingston; Kingston visitors should also maintain an awareness of political situations that can trigger rioting.

Never leave valuables in your room; use the safe-deposit boxes that most hotels make available. Carry your funds in traveler's checks, and keep a record of the check numbers in a secure place. Never leave a rental car unlocked, and never leave valuables in a locked car. Ignore efforts, however persistent, to sell you ganja (marijuana), which is illegal across the island.

Independent travelers, especially those renting cars, need to take special precautions. Some travelers have been harassed by locals offering to "guard" cars and have experienced vandalism when requests for money were denied.

The most common problem visitors encounter is hassling by vendors on the public beaches; offers of everything from hair braiding to ganja can be very persistent.

 
 
Telephones

To dial Jamaica from the United States, just dial 1 + the area code 876.

Most hotels offer direct-dial telephone services; local businesses provide fax services for a fee.

International Calls

Some U.S. phone companies, such as MCI, won't permit credit-card calls to be placed from Jamaica because they have been victims of fraud. The best option is to purchase Jamaican phone cards, sold in most stores across the island.

The country code for the United States and Canada is 1; for Australia, 61; for New Zealand, 64; and for the United Kingdom, 44.

Long-Distance Calls

While on the island, calls from town to town are long-distance.

Public Phones

Pay phones are available in most communities.

 
 
Visitor Information

Tourist Offices

In Jamaica

Jamaica Tourist Board (2 St. Lucia Ave., Kingston, PHONE:876/929-9200; 888/995-9999 for the on-island help line).

At Home

Jamaica Tourist Board (801 2nd Ave., 20th floor, New York, NY, 10017, PHONE:212/856-9727 or 800/233-4582; www.jamaicatravel.com).

Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) (80 Broad St., New York, NY, 10004, PHONE:212/635-9530, FAX: 212/635-9511).

 
 
When to Go

The Caribbean high season is traditionally winter -- from December 15 to April 14 -- when northern weather is at its worst. During this season you're guaranteed the most entertainment at resorts and the most people with whom to enjoy it. It's also the most fashionable, the most expensive, and the most popular time to visit -- and most hotels are heavily booked. You must make reservations at least two or three months in advance for the very best places (sometimes a year in advance for the most exclusive spots).

Hotel prices drop 20%-50% after April 15; airfares and cruise prices also fall. Saving money isn't the only reason to visit the Caribbean during the off-season. Temperatures are only a few degrees warmer than at other times of the year, and many islands now schedule their carnivals, music festivals, and other events during the off-season. Late August, September, October, and early November are least crowded.

The Caribbean climate is fairly constant. The average year-round temperatures for the region are 78°F-88°F. The temperature extremes are 65°F low, 95°F high; but it's the humidity, not the heat, that makes you suffer, especially when the two go hand in hand.

As part of the late-fall rainy season, hurricanes occasionally sweep through the Caribbean. Check the news daily and keep abreast of brewing tropical storms. The rainy season consists mostly of brief showers interspersed with sunshine. You can watch the clouds thicken, feel the rain, then have brilliant sunshine dry you off, all while remaining on your lounge chair. A spell of overcast days or heavy rainfall is unusual, as everyone will tell you.

High altitudes can be cool, particularly when winter winds hit Caribbean peaks (late November through January). Since many Caribbean islands are mountainous, the altitude always offers an escape from the latitude. Kingston swelters in summer; climb 1,000 ft or so and everything is cool.

Holidays

Public holidays include New Year's Day, Ash Wednesday (beginning of Lent, 6 weeks before Easter), Good Friday, Easter Monday, Labor Day (May 23), Independence Day (1st Mon. in Aug.), National Heroes Day (Oct. 15), Christmas, and Boxing Day (Dec. 26).

 
 
Getting Around
 
By Air

Air Jamaica Express (PHONE:876/952-5401 in Montego Bay; 876/923-8680 in Kingston; www.airjamaica.com), a subsidiary of Air Jamaica, provides shuttle services on the island. Reconfirm your departing flight a full 72 hours in advance.

Tim Air (PHONE:876/952-2516 in Montego Bay) offers quick flights between resort areas as well as to Kingston.

Tropical Airlines (PHONE:876/920-3770 in Kingston; 876/940-5917 in Montego Bay) offers service between Kingston and MoBay as well as flights to Cuba.

 
 
By Bicycle & Moped

At most major hotels you can rent bicycles, mopeds, and motorcycles, but isn't a very good idea to do so. The strangeness of driving on the left, the less-than-cautious driving style that prevails on the island, the abundance of potholes, and the prevalence of vendors who will approach you at every traffic light are just a few reasons why.

 
 
By Bus

Buses are crowded, slow, and uncomfortable. They're also not air-conditioned. Yet the service is fairly frequent between Kingston and Montego Bay and between other significant destinations. Schedule or route information is available at bus stops or from bus drivers.

 
 
By Car

Car Rentals

Jamaica has dozens of car-rental companies (you'll find branches at the airports and the resorts among other places), but rentals can be difficult to arrange once you've arrived. Make reservations and send a deposit before your trip. (Cars are scarce, and without either a confirmation number or a receipt you may have to walk.) Rates are expensive, averaging $65-$120 a day after the addition of the compulsory CDW coverage, which you must purchase even if your credit card offers it.

In Jamaica

Budget (PHONE:876/952-3838 in Montego Bay; 876/924-8762 in Kingston).

Hertz (PHONE:876/979-0438 in Montego Bay; 876/924-8028 in Kingston).

Island Car Rentals (PHONE:876/952-5771 in Montego Bay; 876/926-5991 in Kingston).

Jamaica Car Rental (PHONE:876/952-5586 in Montego Bay; 876/974-2505 in Ocho Rios).

At Home

Budget (PHONE:800/527-0700; 0870/156-5656 in the U.K.; www.budget.com).

Dollar (PHONE:800/800-6000; 0124/622-0111 in the U.K.; where it's affiliated with Sixt; 02/9223-1444 in Australia; www.dollar.com).

Hertz (PHONE:800/654-3001; 800/263-0600 in Canada; 020/8897-2072 in the U.K.; 02/9669-2444 in Australia; www.hertz.com).

Gasoline

Gas stations accept cash only.

Requirements

You must be at least 25 years old, have a valid driver's license (from any country), and have a valid credit card. You may be required to post a security of several hundred dollars before taking possession of your car; ask about it when you make the reservation.

Road Conditions

Driving can be frustrating, what with the enormous potholes and aggressive drivers, not to mention the people and animals darting into the street.

Rules of the Road

Traffic keeps to the left in Jamaica.

 
 
By Taxi

Some but not all of Jamaica's taxis are metered. If you accept a driver's offer of his services as a tour guide, be sure to agree on a price before the vehicle is put into gear. (A one-day tour should cost between $100 and $180, depending on distance traveled.) All licensed taxis display red Public Passenger Vehicle (PPV) plates. Cabs can be summoned by phone or flagged down on the street. Rates are per car, not per passenger, and 25% is added to the metered rate between midnight and 5 AM. Licensed minivans are also available and bear the red PPV plates.

JUTA (PHONE:876/974-2292 in Ocho Rios; 876/957-9197 in Negril; 876/952-0813 in Montego Bay) is the largest taxi franchise and has offices in all resort areas.

 
 
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