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