JAMAICA TRAVEL TIPS
A collection of important information that can make your trip more enjoyable.
Jamaica is 4,411 square miles or 11,424 square kilometers. The island is 146 miles long with widths varying between 22 and 58 miles. It is a very mountainous country. Almost half the island is above 1,000 feet. The highest point (Blue Mountain Peak) is 7,402 feet. Because of the effects of the mountains, rainfall is evenly distributed. The annual average rainfall is 78 inches. Some hilly areas get nearly 300 inches a year while parts of the western plains get as little as 30 inches. It is summer all year round. Take a moment to brush up on the travel tips that will help you be more prepared for travel anywhere in Jamaica.
JAMAICA GENERAL INFORMATION
Area: 10,991 sq km (4244 sq miles).
Population: 2,624,700 (2002).
Population Density: 238.8 per sq km (2002).
Capital: Kingston. Population: 697,000 (1994).
Language: The official language is English. Local patois is also spoken.
Government: Constitutional monarchy. Gained independence from the UK in 1962. Head of State: HM Queen Elizabeth II, represented locally by Governor General Howard Cooke since 1991. Head of Government: Prime Minister Percival J Patterson since 1992.
Religion: Protestant majority (Anglican, Baptist, Church of God and Methodist) with Roman Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Bahai communities. Rastafarianism, a religion based on belief in the divinity of the late Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie (Ras Tafari), is also widely practised.
Electricity: 110 volts AC, 60Hz, single phase. American two-pin plugs are standard, but many hotels offer, in addition, 220 volts AC, 50Hz, single phase, from three-pin sockets.
GEOGRAPHY: Jamaica is the third-largest island in the West Indies and is a narrow outcrop of a submerged mountain range. The island is crossed by a range of mountains reaching 2256m (7402ft) at the Blue Mountain Peak in the east, and descending towards the west with a series of spurs and forested gullies running north and south. Most of the best beaches are on the north and west coasts. The island’s luxuriant tropical and subtropical vegetation is probably unsurpassed anywhere in the Caribbean.
JAMAICA ENTRY REQUIREMENTS
U.S. and Canada residents do not need passports but must have proof of citizenship (or permanent residency) and a return or ongoing ticket. A passport is the best bet, but an original birth certificate (or a certified copy) plus photo ID will usually suffice. Do check on the latest entry requirements before you travel, as the rules can change. Our advice is to always bring a passport when you're going to another country. Other visitors, including British citizens, need passports that are good for a maximum stay of 6 months. Immigration cards are given to visitors at the airport arrivals desks. Hold on to yours because you will need to surrender the document to Jamaican Customs when you leave the country. Click Here for more Visa Information
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Avoid long delays passing through Customs by brushing up on some basic information for international travelers headed to Jamaica.
The island's expressive culture makes Jamaica a paradise of arts, crafts and souvenirs for any and every taste. Knowing the customs regulations for Jamaica and your home country will guarantee a hassle-free travel experience. As a Caribbean visitor, be aware of the following customs tips and rules before entering the region:
- You may bring up to two liters of alcohol and two cartons of cigarettes to the Caribbean islands.
- You may bring a "reasonable" amount of duty-free goods for personal use; anything deemed in excess of "reasonable" may incur an import tax.
- All prescription drugs must be accompanied by an official prescription.
- Firearms and recreational drugs are not permitted.
- United States citizens can avoid paying duty on foreign-made high-ticket items, such as laptops, cameras and watches, by registering them with customs before leaving the country. Consider filing a certificate of registration for items identified with serial numbers or other permanent markings; you can keep the certificate for other trips. Otherwise, bring with you a sales receipt or insurance form to show you owned the item before you left the United States.
As an island shopper, and before returning home, remember these tips:
- You should keep receipts for all items you buy in Jamaica.
- Upon departing your island getaway, make sure your purchases are easily accessible in case your home country's customs officials request an inspection.
- If you have any questions or complaints about your customs experience, write to the port director at your point of reentry
GETTING AROUND JAMAICA
Intra-island flights can be a quick way to travel between Montego Bay, Kingston, Negril, Ocho Rios and Port Antonio. Helicopters can also be chartered for scenic rides or for personalised tours, but this will dig a deep hole in your rum money. Jamaica's bus 'system', while comprehensive, is the epitome of chaos: timetables don't really exist and buses are often literally overflowing. Buses and minibuses do service virtually every village in the country though, so if you're getting out and about, you're sure to use them. The upside is that they're inexpensive and a great way to meet the locals.
Numerous local and international operators rent cars and motorcycles. Road conditions vary from excellent to awful, and driver temperament varies from merely impatient to flagrantly suicidal. Expect to be honked at, sworn at and swerved around... stay calm and stay cautious, and if you do 'mash up', don't be drawn into an argument with an emotional Jamaican driver. Very few Jamaicans have bicycles, but you can rent bikes in towns of any size. If bringing your own bicycle from home, carry as many spare parts as you can.
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Telephone: Full IDD is available. Country code: 1 876. There are no area codes. Outgoing international code: 011.
Mobile telephone: GSM 1900 network. TDMA network, non-GSM compatible. The networks are Digicel (website: www.digiceljamaica.com) and Cable & Wireless Jamaica LTD.
Fax: This service is available daily from 0700-1000 at the Cable & Wireless office in Kingston. Widely available in most hotels and offices.
Internet: There are several free Internet kiosks at shopping centres in Kingston. Internet cafes exist mainly in the Kingston area. Internet is also available in many hotels and parish libraries. ISPs include Cable & Wireless ( www.cwjamaica.com),
Telegram: Facilities are widely available.
Post: Airmail to Europe takes up to four days. Post office hours: Mon-Fri 0830-1630.
Press: Daily papers are The Daily Gleaner, The Daily Star and The Jamaica Observer.
JAMAICA BUSINESS PROFILE
Economy: Jamaica is one of the world’s largest producers of bauxite, which accounts for half of the country’s export earnings, but, despite expanding production, low world prices and falling demand have kept revenues static. After a period of rapid expansion in the mid-1970s, tourism has become the major source of foreign exchange. Agriculture (principally sugar cane, bananas, coffee and cocoa) has also been largely stagnant, with improved efficiency and production methods offset by climatic conditions and the state of the world markets. The manufacturing sector produces cement, textiles, tobacco and other consumer goods among its products. Imported oil and gas account for the bulk of the island’s energy requirements.
Economic policy has pursued a familiar course of privatisation of state-owned enterprises, deregulation, tight budgetary controls, and reform of the tax and banking systems. The process was supervised by the IMF and aimed principally at reducing Jamaica’s large debt burden. These measures improved Jamaica’s financial position, but with little benefit to the population who still suffer from high inflation and unemployment. The economy as a whole has contracted by an average of 1 per cent annually since the mid-1990s. However, in the last few years this trend has been reversed and the economy is now growing slowly. The USA dominates Jamaica’s trade, providing half the country’s imports and taking more than 30 per cent of exports (followed by the UK, Canada and Norway). Jamaica is a member of the Caribbean trading bloc, CARICOM, and of the Inter-American Development Bank.
Business: The traditional ‘shirtjac’ (jacket without a tie), also known locally as a kareba, which was popular until the 1970s, has been replaced by a suit, jacket and tie. Usual formalities are required and appointments and business cards are normal. All trade samples now need an import licence which can be obtained from the Trade Board Ltd, 107 Constant Spring Road, Kingston 10 (tel: 969 0883/3228/2785; fax: 925 6513 or 6526; e-mail: email@example.com; website: www.tradeboard.gov.jm). Samples of non-commercial value are allowed into the country without a licence prior to arrival, although it may still be necessary to visit the office of the Trade Administrator to exchange the licence copy for a clearance copy, which the customs authorities demand before clearing the goods. Office hours: Mon-Fri 0830-1700.
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JAMAICA SOCIAL PROFILE
Food & Drink: Jamaican food is full of fire, taking advantage of pungent spices and peppers. Jamaican dishes include ‘rice and peas’, a tasty dish with no peas at all but with kidney beans, white rice, coconut milk, scallions (spring onions) and coconut oil. Another dish is salt fish (dried cod) and ackee (the cooked fruit of the ackee tree), curried goat and rice (spicy and strong), Jamaican pepperpot soup (salt pork, salt beef, okra and Indian kale known as callaloo), chicken fricassé Jamaican-style (a rich chicken stew with carrots, scallions, yams, onions, tomatoes and peppers prepared in unrefined coconut oil) and roast suckling pig (a three-month-old piglet which is boned and stuffed with rice, peppers, diced yam and thyme mixed with shredded coconut and corn meal). Patties are the staple snack of Jamaica (pastries filled with ground beef and bread crumbs) and can be found everywhere, but vary in price and filling. Waiter service is usually available in catering establishments. Jamaican rum is world famous, especially Gold Label and Appleton. Rumona is a delicious rum cordial. Red Stripe beer is excellent, as is Tia Maria (a Blue Mountain coffee and chocolate liqueur). Fresh fruit juice is also recommended, as is Blue Mountain coffee, an excellent variety. Bars have table and/or counter service. There are no licensing hours and alcohol can be bought all day.
Nightlife: There is no shortage of night-time entertainment on the island that is the home of reggae music. Every town or village has some sort of nightlife, and there are regular street dances. Folkloric shows at larger resort hotels are held and steel bands often play. At least once a week, there is a torchlit, steel band show with limbo dancing and fire-eating demonstrations. Nightclubs feature jazz, soca, reggae and other music. For details of events, visitors should consult local newspapers. The Jamaica Tourist Board arranges ‘Meet the People’ evenings in various scenic locations throughout the island. Contact the Tourist Board in Kingston, Montego Bay, Ocho Rios or Port Antonio.
Special Events: The following is a selection of special events occurring in Jamaica in 2005; for a complete list, contact the Jamaica Tourist Board (see Contact Addresses section):
Jan 26-29 Air Jamaica Jazz & Blues, Montego Bay. Feb 21-Apr 18 Negril Spring Break. May 27 Calabash International Literary Festival. Jun 8-15 Caribbean Fashionweek. Jul 1 International Reggae Day. Jul 17 Portland Jerk Festival.
Social Conventions: Handshaking is the customary form of greeting. As tourism is a major industry in Jamaica, the visitor is well catered for, and hotel and restaurant staff are generally friendly and efficient. Outside Kingston, the pace of life is relaxed and people are welcoming and hospitable. Normal codes of practice should be observed when visiting someone’s home. It may be common to see signs on the island referring to ‘Jah lives’, Jah being the name given to God by the Rastafarians. Casual wear is suitable during the day, but shorts and swimsuits must be confined to beaches and poolsides. Evening dress varies from very casual in Negril to quite formal during the season in other resorts, where some hotels and restaurants require men to wear jackets and ties at dinner. Possession of marijuana may lead to imprisonment and deportation.
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JAMAICA HEALTH & MEDICAL FACILITIES
Health and medical considerations are a concern whenever traveling abroad, but for the most part, you'll find good quality health care in Jamaica.
Travelers to Jamaica are required to meet only one health requirement. Tourists above the age of 1 must obtain a yellow fever vaccination certificate only if traveling to Jamaica from a contaminated locale. Jamaica has no other health requirements before arriving on the island, but hepatitis A is a frequently occurring disease, and acquiring proper vaccinations is advised before traveling.
For health and medical treatment while staying in Jamaica, first consult the hotel for recommendations regarding a medical clinic, dentist or doctor. The majority of hotels keeps doctors and dentists on call so, in non-emergency situations, check with the concierge before making the trip to the hospital. If you need urgent medical attention, visit one of Jamaica's 16 public or six private hospitals located around the island. The following list provides the names, locations and phone numbers of the primary medical facilities tourists should visit if necessary:
|University Hospital of the West Indies
|St. Ann's Bay Hospital
||St. Ann's Bay
|Port Antonio Hospital
||Naylor's Hill, Port Antonio
|Mo Bay Hope Medical Center
||Half Moon Resort, Montego Bay
|Cornwall Regional Hospital
||Mt. Salem, Montego Bay
For an ambulance, dial 110 immediately. Also, be sure to check if your insurance policy covers medical expenses incurred while traveling. Medical expenses in Jamaica can be costly, so if your insurance company does not provide sufficient coverage, you should obtain traveler's insurance before visiting the island.
Many larger hotels and chains in Jamaica will have a doctor on-call at all times. It is best that you have any paperwork from your own doctor if you may need it on your travels, including prescription information.
Drinking Water - Piped-in water is usually safe to drink because it is filtered and chlorinated. However, the chlorination could cause mild abdominal upsets, so if you're prone to stomach problems, it may be wise to drink bottled water, which is readily available.
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JAMAICA CRIME & SAFETY
While most of the people of Jamaica are friendly, charismatic and fun-loving, crime and violence is a serious problem on the island. However, as the Jamaican Tourist Board stresses, you are more likely to be mugged in New York than in Montego Bay, so you should not let the reputation deter you from experiencing all the island has to offer. Proper precautions and common sense make all the difference in ensuring a safe and enjoyable trip.
The U.S. State Department has issued a travel advisory about crime rates in Kingston, and there are some areas of the city that should be avoided if possible. A majority of the violent crime in the city is associated with gangs and politics, so it is always advised to be aware of any current political or social issues that may be a problem at the time of your visit. Rioting is a common reaction to social or political unrest in Jamaica and riots, of course, are notoriously dangerous.
While most headlines are monopolized by violence in Kingston, petty crime can be a problem throughout the island. In most cases, major resorts have strong security to protect the grounds, so visitors to any of the large-scale resorts have nothing to worry about. However, tourists in many north coast areas and remote accommodations that can’t afford or simply don’t provide security, or independent travelers anywhere on the island are advised to be very cautious. Don’t walk alone at night, and don’t ever leave your possessions unattended in a car, on a beach or even in a trunk. Make use of safe deposit boxes and carry your funds in traveler's checks.
If renting a car, be aware of locals offering to “guard” your car against vandalism in exchange for money. If you encounter that situation, it's probably best to find somewhere else to park because the supposed guard will likely become your vandal if you refuse their services. Only travel in taxis that are clearly marked, and beware any drivers offering to show you the “real Jamaica.”
The most common problem you are likely to encounter in Jamaica is harassment by vendors who can be quite persistent, and while Kingston's murder toll always makes headlines, the vast majority of crimes are categorized by petty theft and hustling, which can be avoided with proper precautions.
Beware anyone trying to sell you ganja (marijuana) because, although is is highly common, it is still illegal. Being caught with it is a crime that incurs harsh penalties, but not nearly as harsh as if you get caught trying to take it out of the country. There are drug sniffing dogs at the airports and harbors, and if you get imprisoned in Jamaica, you're likely out of reach of U.S. assistance.
Use common sense, be aware of your surroundings, and don't let its reputation discolor the fact that Jamaica is filled with friendly and helpful people who are eager to help make your trip the best it can be.
International visitors should be prepared to encounter a few differences when driving in Jamaica.
Road conditions in the larger cities and the more tourist-frequented areas of Jamaica are fair to good, but bumps and other roadway nuisances can be extreme in the more rural areas.
If you decide to rent a vehicle for exploring the countryside and seeing the smaller towns, an SUV is probably your best bet. A U.S. driver’s license is valid in Jamaica for one year, but you must be 21 to drive. Driving is on the left-hand side of the road with steering wheels on the right.
Traffic is fairly light, but roads in the countryside are frequented by domestic animals and can become narrow and winding. Be prepared to give up the right of way to both livestock and oncoming traffic. Most locals don't think twice about stopping in the middle of the road to carry on a conversation with a bystander, and don't be put off by honking horns; it's a Caribbean way of saying hello.
JAMAICA CURRENCY & BANKING
Jamaican currency is decimal with the dollar as the basic unit (100 cents equals one dollar). U.S. Dollars, traveler's cheques and major credit cards are widely accepted.
The official rate of exchange fluctuates daily, depending on the foreign exchange markets. The purchase of goods and services in Jamaica may be made in any currency. Jamaican dollars may be converted to foreign currency at any bank or licensed exchange bureau. Banks are generally open from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., Monday through Thursday and 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Fridays. A few are open on Saturdays. Foreign Exchange Bureaus also operate at all International Airports and Resort Hotels.
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Large department stores, malls, gift shops, local and international fashion boutiques, specialty stores and craft markets abound in Jamaica. Good buys include quality wood, straw and pottery, furniture, ornaments and kitchen ware, local paintings, fine arts and crafts, local designer fashions.
Duty-free shops are found in various locations in Kingston and Montego Bay in addition to all resort areas, international airports and resort hotels. Most galleries, museums and tourist attractions have retail outlets which stock an excellent range of interesting items.
JAMAICA TAX INFORMATION & TIPPING
GENERAL CONSUMPTION TAX (GCT) - A government tax (currently 15%) is applied to most goods and some services supplied in Jamaica.
AIRPORT DEPARTURE TAX - On leaving Jamaica, every person 12 years of age and over must pay JA$1000.00 or equivalent in foreign currency departure tax.
HOTEL TAX - There is a room occupancy tax which varies somewhat according to the type of hotel. On average there is a 10% service charge plus a 15% G.C.T. charge. Some hotels include this in their rack rate.
TIPPING - Most Jamaican hotels and restaurants add a service charge of 10 per cent; otherwise 10 to 15 per cent is expected. Chambermaids, waiters, hotel bellboys and airport porters all expect tips. Taxi drivers receive 10 per cent of the fare.
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It is estimated that nearly 750,000 enslaved persons were brought to Jamaica between 1655 and 1807 (about 200,000 were then sent to the Spanish isles). The slaves came primarily from the west coast of Africa, mostly from the Gold Coast (now Ghana) and Biafra (now primarily Nigeria).
In addition, many immigrants arrived from elsewhere around the globe. After the abolition of slavery in 1834, workers were brought in from other countries as Jamaica looked for sources of income besides sugar. Workers from Germany, Ireland and Scotland came for a while (and one community, Seaford Town, is filled with descendants of these German settlers). Asian immigrants came from India and China and eventually workers came from what is now Lebanon (although throughout Jamaica they are referred to as “Syrians.”)
Today, 92% of Jamaica’s residents are of Black African descent. East Indians and African-East Indians make up about 3.4% of the population, while Caucasians represent about 3.2%. Chinese and African-Chinese residents compose a little over 1% of the population.
JAMAICA CLOTHING & ATTIRE
In some of the most renowned resorts on Jamaica, clothing may not be required at all, but if you're traveling around the island, keep some of these fashion tips in mind.
The clothing you'll see around Jamaica is vibrant and striking, but the overarching theme in this tropical climate is comfort. No matter your plans, comfortable clothing is essential. Lightweight cottons and linens are advisable, while light woolens are suggested for evenings. Try to avoid synthetics, which may not be as breathable as woolens and linens.
Additionally, waterproof clothing and rain wear are a necessity all year long. Rain showers in Jamaica usually come up suddenly, come down hard, and then are over fairly quickly, so you need to be prepared with a waterproof jacket or umbrella everywhere you go. Opt for attire that is easy to carry around that you can quickly slip on and then put away again when the sun reappears.
Although one of the most culturally independent islands in the region, Jamaica still retains some of the influences of its days as a British colony. If you are traveling for business, a suit, jacket and tie are expected, and the usual formalities and courtesies are observed.
Jamaica is known as the birthplace of many popular musical genres including raggamuffin, ska, reggae and dub. Jamaica's music culture is a fusion of elements from the United States of America with its R&B, rock and roll, soul, Africa and neighbouring Caribbean islands such as Trinidad with its calypso. Jamaica's music has become popular across much of the world. Reggae's popularity is especially popular through the international fame of Bob Marley. Jamaican music has also had an effect on the musical development of other countries, such as the practice of toasting, which was brought to New York City and became rapping, one of the four elements of hip hop. British styles as Lovers rock and jungle also originate in Jamaican music.
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Jamaica has established and maintained a remarkable sporting record over the past half-century. Since 1948 Jamaicans have won many Olympic gold, silver and bronze medals. Jamaica's track and field athletes are acknowledged to be among the best in the world. In addition, Jamaica has held several world records, and produced world famous cricketers, boxers, footballers, cyclists, weight lifters and wrestlers.
Bobsledding - In 1998, Jamaica participated in the Calgary Winter Olympics in the bobsled event, finishing 29th overall in their first Winter Olympics Games. The team also participated in the 1992 Winte Olympics in albertville and finsihed 34th. In 1994, at Lilehammer, the team had its best finish, placing 14th in the four-man event, ahead of Japan which finished 15th. The performance of the Jamaican Bobsled Team - a phenomenon made more remarkable by the fact that Jamaica is a tropical island which has never seen snow - achieved additional fame through the Walt Disney movie "Cool Runnings".
Track & Field - In the 1996 Olympic Games, Jamaica won six medals - one gold, three silver and two bronze. In the 400 metres hurdle Deon Hemmings won Jamaica's first Olympic gold medal in a female event and James Beckford won Jamaica's firt long jump medal.
One of our greatest sports personalities and olympians is Merlene Ottey, OD, who received the appoint of Ambassador at Large by the Government in 1993.
Ottey was the first female Jamaican Athlete to have won an olympic medal, and the first female in the English Speaking Caribbean to have won two olympic medals. Merlene has made and broken many track and field records and has won many awards.
Jamaica also performed well in the 1997 Junior Carifta Games, accumulating 61 medals - 28 gold, 20 silver and 13 bronze. The 1998 Carfita Track and Field Games, were held in the Hasley Crawford Stadium, Trinidad and Tobago between April 11 and 13. Jamaica dominated the games and placed first with 31 gold, 21 silver and 17 bronze medals.
Jamaica has also exhibited outstanding performances in football and netball. Jamaica currently holds the number 5 world ranking in netball.
In addition to traditional sports such as horse racing, auto racing, seasonal bird shooting and regattas, there are several `new' sports. These include ballooning and go-kart racing. Deep seas fishing tournaments are held periodically throughout the year an attract international participation.
Cricket is one of the most popular sports played in Jamaica. It was passed down from the English colonial masters, and today serves as a unifying force among Jamaicans.
Many Jamaicans have excelled regionally and internationally in cricket including George Headley, Alfred Valentine, Jackie Hendricks, Collie Smith, Michael Holding, Jeffry Dujon and Courtney Walsh.
Courtney Walsh, former Jamaica, West Indies and Gloucesteshire captain is presently the leading wicket taker in West Indies Cricket history. At the end of the 1999 Cable & Wireless series, his tally stood at 434 test wickets. He is also the third highest wicket taker of all time.
Football - Jamaica's national football team (known as the Reggae Boys), created history when they qualified for World Cup 1998. The were the first team from an English Speaking Caribbean nationa to do so. At the World Cup, Jamaica faced Croatia, Argentina and Japan. They lost to Croatia and Argentina, but were 2-1 winners over Japan.
The Government through the Institute of Sports (INSPORT) - the organisation responsible for the development of sports locally - and the Social Development Commission (SDC), has broadened the base of participation in other sporting activities. These include volleyball, basketball and softball, in addition to football and netball.
JAMAICA TIME ZONE
Jamaica is an island in the Caribbean Sea, south of Cuba. Jamaica Time Standard Time is GMT - 5
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