10 Things to Expect When Visiting Jamaica

Welcome to Montego Bay, a sign on the street read. It was real. We were finally in Jamaica. We had just made it past Customs, where my cousin took out her phone to take photos and was warned staunchly by a Jamaican native traveling from New York that she was in on a risky business. “Just like in the US. you don’t take pictures at Customs, you don’t do that here. Trust me honey, you do not want to experience Jamaican prison,” the lady said pointing at a no camera sign. My cousin quickly put it away and we thanked her. “You are welcome. Be very careful out here,” she said after learning we were traveling alone. “People here will act nice even when they are trying to rob you.” This was a warning we got several times. Fast forward at our resort, a security guard also warned us to be home no later than 10pm because he said it was dangerous for two young girls to be roaming the streets of Mobay (Montego Bay) late at night. In my opinion, this advice holds true most places – especially when relying on public transportation. As they say, it is always best to error on the side of caution and security.

Truth be told, though, my cousin and I did not take much of this advice. We were all in for the adventure and lets just say did some questionable things. How questionable? Well, imagine going to a local dark beach at 2am and jumping on a commercial motorcycle to head to the middle of nowhere. In 10 days, we visited two Jamaican cities – Mobay and Negril – and lived life on the tourist and local side. Based on our experience, here are 10 things to expect when visiting Jamaica:

1.Friendly & Free-Spirited Jamaicans

The favorite part about my Jamaican experience was walking around, striking conversations with random people. My cousin, a photographer, had a ton of fun taking photos of locals who were always excited to strike a pose. So, my word of advise when visiting is to leave the resort or hotel, walk the streets and interact with the locals. You would be amazed how much fun you would have learning about people’s daily lives.

 

 

 2. Tourist Price

Welcome to Jamaica – You will be duped. While Jamaicans are some of the warmest people, be careful not to get too carried away. Note that there is bad in every society. While we did not experience any extreme unpleasant event, we dealt with the dreaded tourist price – I’m talking $10 for one small coconut, $15 for piece of jerk chicken on the sidewalk, $200 quote for transportation from Mobay to Negril (we didn’t take this option after learning how ridiculous that was!). This may not sound like a big deal but it gets frustrating REALLY FAST when you are on a budget and realize that you are only being charged a certain way because of your accent. We were able to beat this sometimes by making friends and having them do the talking. A word of caution: take a bit more extra cash.

3. Dramatic Money

Jamaican money will throw you off – and make you feel rich. When we were there December 2016, the USD exchange rate was $1USD to $123 Jamaican dollars. This means that you could be spending thousands of dollars on items that would cost you two digits in the US.

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4. Street Sellers

Whether on the beach or side walks, expect to be approached by multiple sellers who would try to pursue you to buy their goods. This amplifies when you enter a store to window shop. You may also encounter taxi and bus drivers as well as motorist who would honk at you, in attempts to book them.

5. Aggressive & Thirsty Men

Jamaican men are aggressive. They are chasers. When they want you, they will follow you – literally. Be prepared for some of the most dramatic “cat” calls – I’m talking about a driver putting his entire head outside a car window to whistle at you. This happened to us several times.

6. Party till the Sun Comes Out

While the clubs are shutting down at 3am in some parts of the world, in Jamaica, it is often just kicking. Local Jamaican clubs (such as Jungle), not the tourist ones like Margaritaville, start to explode around 2-3am. By this time, everyone is high enough and the craziness comes out. Be prepared to dance until the crack of dawn. I mean you can always leave of course. But what’s the fun it that?

7. Colors

Jamaica is a colorful country. From apartments to resorts to small and large businesses, expect to see loud bright colors most places.

 

 

 

8. Facade

Jamaicans know that foreigners are fascinated by their language, accent, music, and the good/fun stereotypes associated with them. Sometimes, they play into the fascination and create a facade. For instance, we were told by a few locals that “yeah Mon” is not something that they say to each other regularly. But they tend to do so when a foreigner is around. Sorry to ruin it for you.

9. Freedom of the Ganja

If there is one stereotype true about Jamaica it is the availability of weed (marijuana, Ganja – however you call it). Upon your visit, you will likely be approached a couple of times to buy a blunt and when you give the “I don’t smoke response,” be prepared for a shocking look and prepared to answer – “But why?”

10. Police Women in Skirts

Yep, the picture below says it all.

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Negril Vs Montego Bay

Margaritaville (Left: Negril | right: Montegobay). Margaritaville is located on the Hip Strip in Montegobay and on the Seven Mile beach in Negril.

Negril and Monetgo Bay are two of Jamaica’s most popular cities. Both beautiful and full of tourist attractions, they are perfect choices for relaxation and adventure. However, depending on what you like to do for fun, you may find one city more appealing than the other.

Negril

  • Laid back and relaxing vibe
  • Lots of breath-taking sceneries
  • Home of the famous Seven Mile beach, Rick’s Cafe, and Jungle Night Club
  • Nice places to eat: Rick’s Cafe, Seven Mile beach (7 mile has tons of restaurants, bars, and sellers, which gives several options in one location!)

 

 

Montego Bay

  • Home of Montego Bay International Airport, which means easier airport access!
  • Busy and city vibe
  • Home of the famous Hip Strip and Dr. Caves beach
  • Nice places to eat: Pier One, Pork Pit, Pelican Grill, Scothies, Margaritaville

 

 

My Pick: Montego Bay

Truth be told, a lot of people I spoke with said they prefer Negril to Montego Bay. I can easily see why. Negril is quite beautiful with lots of attractions and things to do – whether it is jumping off the cliff at Rick’s Cafe, walking the Seven Mile long beach, or enjoying authentic Jamaican music and nightlife at Jungle Night Club. However, there is something about Montego Bay that captivated me in ways that I felt Negril lacked. I loved walking the Hip Strip, meeting and chatting with new people every day. The busyness of the strip, the ease at which I could walk to a restaurant, local beach, or a bar to chill,  sold me into the city!

Whenever I visit Jamaica again, I will definitely stop by both places. Who knows – my preference may change in the future, but for now, Montego Bay has a special spot in my heart.

Dont Go Jamaica to Eat Burgers

Don’t go Jamaica to eat burgers. Or fries. And/or fries. I mean you can do whatever you want, but really – don’t. What is the fun in going all the way across the sea to stand in line at Burger King or order the same thing you always order at home? You probably have a good answer for that, but really I will insist that you be adventurous and indulge in local delicacies. It is part of what makes travel – travel.

With that being said, here are some Jamaican delicacies to ditch your burger for (okay okay, you can have the fries after):

Rice & Beans (sometimes called rice & peas) with curried goat

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Unless beans makes you gassy, rice makes you itchy (yep, no kidding – some folks really do get itchy from eating rice), and goat makes you (well, lets stop there – you get the idea), you should indulge in this meal at least once. Literally almost all restaurants that I visited had rice and beans and curried goats on their menu, so you would have no excuse not to. I am not really great at describing good food other than saying it’s delicious so here you go – it was delicious! (Place: eatery at Dr. Cave’s Beach in Montego Bay)

Rice & Beans (sometimes called rice & peas) with  steamed fish

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Another rice and beans again, you say? Well, if Jamaica had a national meal, I want to bet it would be rice and beans. It is everywhere – in every place.  And as you can see, they are creative with pairing it with different protein. The Pork Pit in Montego Bay makes some really yummy grilled pork that goes along with it and the Pelican Grill in Montego Bay also makes good oxtail. Honestly, this particular fish was not seasoned to my standards – that’s right, I have high seasoning standards. But, hey, at least I can say I had fish in Jamaica! I know – super important. (Place: eatery at Dr. Cave’s Beach in Montego Bay)

Jamaican Patties

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I bet you are thinking there is more than just patties – I know I know. The spread was so beautiful, so I had to take a picture of them all, but ignore the rest and focus on the star here. The beef stuffing was tender and nice and the pastry was light with just the right amount of crisp. Look at me -using other words than delicious !

I must say, while on the pricey side, the food at Rick’s Cafe, where this meal was produced and devoured,  were my favorite !

Breakfast: Yam, plantain, acheke, banana, collard greens & cabbage

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If I should be honest, this breakfast meal was my least favorite. I was not a fan of anything other than the collard greens and fish which was nicely seasoned. There is not much to say about it other than I gave it a try. If you were to stay at El Greco Resort in Montego Bay on your next trip, give it a shot also. You  just may call me crazy.

Fried plantain and scrambled eggs

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Plantains are part of Jamaican cuisine but this combo is not necessarily Jamaican. I love fried plantains and scrambled eggs, didn’t like the Jamaican breakfast, so why not? I bet the chef at The Westernder Inn, Negril will never forget how annoying I was with my special requests. I was really kind and smiled when I made my orders – I promise.

Red Stripe beer

DSC_3602.jpgWell, I dont drink beer so here we go-  along with rum punch, Red stripe is quite popular there.

Jamaica Travel Budget: How Much is It?

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It is 15,000. I’m joking! Of course, there is no magic number! But if you are considering a trip to Jamaica and wondering how much you should budget, you have come to the right spot. First, let’s cover the fact that the amount a person spends on a trip is contingent on a number of factors. I would argue preference is number one. If you prefer to fly first class, for instance, you can imagine that you would spend more on airfare than someone who would rather economy. Your preference of fun is also a big determinant of your budget. A person who thrives in excursions will spend more than someone who would rather spend every day of their vacation on a sunny beach with a book. I don’t know why anyone would, but we don’t judge ; )

In my case, I spent a lot on food and drinks – hey, foodie here!  I did not care so much about excursions. Fun for me was making friends and interacting with the locals, trying new foods, and just “going with the flow.” Truth be told, though, I did wish I had a lot more cash to travel to other parts of the country like Kingston and Orcho Rios. And every now and then, I wished I knew how to swim so that I could do cool stuff like snorkeling or scuba diving. Yep, you heard me right – I really do not know how to swim.

Anyway, as I was saying, the amount of money you spend in Jamaica will also depend on how “street smart” you are. Here’s why. Jamaicans will charge you ridiculously as soon as they realize you are a tourist or foreigner. To beat this, you have to bargain and not settle. One strategy is to make friends with the locals and have them do the talking for you! [Check out 10 Things to Expect When Visiting Jamaica]. Honestly, I wasn’t always the smartest with bargaining. Sometimes I was just lazy to do so and just gave them whatever they asked for. Stay strong! For this reason, I did spend a lot more here and there.

Based on my activities and such, here is the estimated cost of my trip:

Estimated Cost Breakdown (For my cousin & I)

Flight -direct from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Mobay, Jamaica: $1,132.00

Sun Country baggage fee – $100, $25 each way per person

Hotel (El Greco Resort) 4 nights  breakfast included- $392.64 + $100 mandatory deposit -$492.62

Transportation from Airport to El Greco using random bus at airport – $30

Transportation from Mobay to Negril – $100 ($80 + tip)

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Westender Inn 6 nights no breakfast – $740.25

Food, drinks, gifts, transportation around Negril etc no excursions – approximately $1000

Transportation from Negril to Mobay Airport – $80

Approximate Total for Two persons – $3,674.89 USD