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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.