In Kingston, most domestic flights use Tinson Pen, 3km west of downtown; it’s a 40-minute ride to the domestic airstrip from Norman Manley International Airport. Ian Fleming Aerodrome near Ocho Rios handles private charters.
Airlines in Jamaica
Jamaica's small size makes domestic flights largely redundant, but (ridiculously expensive) charter flights are available with TimAir (www.timair.net) between its hub in Montego Bay and Kingston, Negril, Ocho Rios and Port Antonio. Rates start at around US$320 for two passengers; fares go up or down for fewer or more passengers.
Mountain bikes and ‘beach cruisers’ (bikes with fat tires, suitable for riding on sand) can be rented at most major resorts (US$10 to US$30 per day). Road conditions can be poor when off the main highways, and Jamaican drivers are not considerate of cyclists. For serious touring, bring your own mountain or multipurpose bike.
Tourists may use boats for day trips, but there are currently no organized boat services for getting from A to B in Jamaica. Paradise Ferry (www.paradiseferry.com) has a planned ferry service between Ocho Rios, Montego Bay and Negril.
Bus & Public Transportation
An extensive transportation network links virtually every village and comprises several options that range from standard public buses to private taxis, with minibuses and route taxis in between.
There is usually no set timetable – buses leave when the driver considers them full – and passengers are crammed in with little regard for comfort. Taxis and buses tend to fill quickly early in the morning (before 8am) and around 5pm as people depart for work or home. There are fewer public transport options on Sunday.
Public buses, minibuses and route taxis depart from and arrive at each town’s transportation station, which is usually near the main market. Locals can direct you to the appropriate vehicle, which should have its destination marked above the front window (for buses) or on its side.
Large buses are few and far between in Jamaica due to the narrow twisting roads. Throughout the island there are bus stops at most road intersections along routes, but you can usually flag down a bus anywhere except in major cities. If the bus doesn't have a bell to indicate when you want to get off, shout out 'let down' or 'one stop' to the driver.
Knutsford Express operates big comfortable, air-conditioned coaches and covers most destinations. Sample fares/times are Kingston–Ocho Rios (J$1850, two hours), Kingston–Montego Bay (J$2950, four hours). Online booking is available, along with student, senior and child fares.
Taking public transportation is terrifically inexpensive. Buses and minibuses charge in the neighborhood of J$100 per 50km, and route taxis charge about J$150 to J$250 per 50km, with short rides of around 10 minutes costing J$100. As an example of longer routes, at the time of writing a coaster from Kingston to Port Antonio (two hours) cost J$600.
Private minibuses, also known as ‘coasters,’ have traditionally been the workhorses of Jamaica’s regional public transportation system. All major towns and virtually every village in the country are served.
Licensed minibuses display red license plates with the initials PPV (public passenger vehicle) or have a JUTA (Jamaica Union of Travelers Association) insignia. JUTA buses are exclusively for tourists. Public coasters don't run to set timetables, but depart their point of origin when they’re full. They’re often overflowing, and the drivers seem to have death wishes.
Communal route taxis are the most universal mode of public transportation, reaching every part of the country. They run on set routes, picking up as many people as they can along the way. They're very convenient and are a cheap way of getting around the island. Simply pick them up at their terminal in town (they go when full), or flag them down on the road and tell the driver where you want to get off. If you get in an empty taxi – particularly at the taxi station – be clear if you just want to pay the regular fare instead of a charter.
Most route taxis are white station wagons marked by their red license plates. They should have ‘Route Taxi’ marked on the front door, and they are not to be confused with similar licensed taxis, which charge more. Avoid any taxi that lacks the red license plate.
Car & Motorcycle
There is no national roadside organization to phone when you have car trouble. Most car-rental agencies have a 24-hour service number in case of breakdowns and other emergencies. If you do break down, use a local mechanic for minor work only; otherwise the car-rental company may balk at reimbursing you for work it hasn’t authorized. If you can’t find a phone or repair service, seek police assistance. Never give your keys to strangers.
To drive in Jamaica, you must have a valid International Driver’s License (IDL) or a current license for your home country or state, valid for at least six months, and be at least 21 years of age.
Fuel & Spare Parts
- Many gas stations close at 7pm or so. In rural areas, stations are usually closed on Sunday.
- At the time of writing, gasoline/diesel cost about J$120/112 per liter.
- Most gas stations only accept cash payment, although a growing number of modern gas stations in larger towns accept credit cards.
Most major international car-rental companies operate in Jamaica, including Avis (www.avis.com.jm) and Hertz (www.hertz.com).
Local car-hire firms can be a lot cheaper than the international brands. Recommended firms:
High-season rates begin at about US$40 per day and can run as high as US$100 or more, depending on the vehicle. Cheaper rates apply in the low season. Some companies include unlimited distance, while others set a limit and charge a fee for excess kilometers driven. Most firms require a credit-card imprint as a deposit. Keep copies of all your paperwork.
Check in advance whether your current insurance or credit card covers you for driving while abroad. All rental companies will recommend damage-waiver insurance, which limits your liability in the event of an accident or damage.
You can reserve a car upon arrival, but in the high season be sure to make your reservation in advance. Reconfirm before your arrive.
Before signing, go over the vehicle with a fine-tooth comb to identify any dents and scratches. Make a note of each one before you drive away. You’re likely to be charged for the slightest mark that wasn’t noted before. Don’t forget to check the cigarette lighter and interior switches, which are often missing.
What Kind of Car
Most of the companies rent out modern Japanese sedans. A big car can be a liability on Jamaica’s narrow, winding roads. Some companies also rent 4WD vehicles, which are highly recommended if you intend to do any driving away from main roads.
Stick shift is preferable because frequent and sudden gear changes are required when potholes and kamikaze chickens appear out of nowhere. Remember that you’ll be changing gears with your left hand. If this is new to you, you’ll soon get the hang of it.
Motor Scooter & Motorcycle
Dozens of companies hire motorcycles and scooters; they’re available at any resort town. These companies are far more lax than the car-rental companies; you may not even have to show your driver’s license. If you are not an experienced motorcycle driver, it might be better to rent a scooter, which is far easier to handle. Scooters cost about US$35 to US$50 per day and motorcycles about US$45 to US$60 per day; note that deposits can be high.
Road conditions in Jamaica are hazardous. Always wear a helmet.
Jamaica’s roads run from modern multilane highways to barely passable tracks.
Jamaica's best road is the new highway between Kingston and Ocho Rios, which has dramatically cut transit times to the north coast. It's a toll road – cars pay around J$1000.
You can expect any road with the designation ‘A’ to be in fairly good condition. ‘B’ roads are generally much narrower and often badly potholed, but still passable in the average rental car. Minor roads, particularly those in the Blue Mountains and Cockpit Country, can be hellish. If you plan to drive off the major routes, it’s essential to have a stalwart 4WD.
Signage on main roads is good, but directional signs are few and far between as soon as you leave them. Many B roads are not shown on maps. And what may appear on a map to be a 30-minute journey may take several hours. More often than not there are no signs to indicate sharp curves, steep ascents or work in progress. Road are often poorly lit at night, if at all.
Laid-back Jamaica has some of the world’s rudest and most dangerously aggressive drivers. Cars race through towns and play chicken with one another with daredevil folly. Use extreme caution and drive defensively, especially at night when you should be prepared to meet oncoming cars that are either without lights or blinding you with high beams. Use your horn liberally, especially when approaching blind corners, and watch for pedestrians.
- Always drive on the left.
- Jamaica has a compulsory seat-belt law.
- Speed limits range from 50km/h to 80km/h and vary from place to place across the island.
- Carry ID and all relevant car-rental paperwork at all times.
Hitchhiking is common enough among Jamaicans but, because public transportation is absurdly cheap, few tourists stick out their thumbs.
Hitchhiking is never entirely safe in any country in the world and we don’t recommend it, especially in Jamaica where there are a lot of people looking to take advantage of naive tourists. Travelers who decide to hitchhike should understand that they are taking a small but potentially serious risk. If you choose to take that risk, you will be safer if you travel in pairs and let someone know where you are planning to go.
Kingston’s municipal bus system (www.jutc.com) operates a fleet of large yellow buses. Buses stop only at official stops. Fares are J$100, but students, children, disabled passengers and pensioners pay half fare.
Licensed taxis – called ‘contract carriages’ – have red PPV license plates (those without such plates are unlicensed). They’re expensive, but affordable if you share the cost with other passengers.
Jamaica Union of Travelers Association operates island-wide and is geared almost exclusively to the tourist business. Kingston has a number of private radio taxi firms.
The Transport Authority has established fixed rates according to distance (different rates apply for locals than for tourists, who pay more). Licensed cabs should have these posted inside. Taxis are also supposed to have meters, but many don’t use them.
The following are typical fares, based on up to four people per taxi:
Montego Bay–Ocho Rios or Negril
Norman Manley International Airport–Kingston (Uptown)
Donald Sangster International Airport–Montego Bay
Jamaica's train system, once mainly used to transport bauxite, is defunct. There are periodic rumors that the Jamaica Railway Corporation intends to revive passenger services for tourists, but don't hold your breath.