Travel guide to Jamaica

» Jamaica
Long coastal stretches and warm climate - Jamaica ensures that pale tourists return home well-tanned from baking on one of the many beautiful white beaches. The locals are friendly and obliging, and reggae constantly hums in the air - a gentle background rhythm wherever you go.

Facts

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Local name
Jamaica
Capital
Kingston
Size
10,990 km2
Principal Languages
The official language is English, but many Jamaicans speak Patois, which is a local dialect.
Principal Religion
The principal religion is Protestantism. Also, Jamaica is the home of several Catholics, Jews, Muslims and Hindus together with the Rastafarians who believe in the divinity of the dead emperor of Ethiopia.
Inhabitants
2,650,000 (2000)
Government
Constitutional monarchy
Geography
Mountainous Jamaica is the third biggest of the West Indian Islands, which are situated 145 km south of Cuba. The famous tropical beaches of Jamaica are located on the northern and western coasts of the island. But the geography of Jamaica is much more complex than these beaches might indicate. Wooded mountain regions (rich in exotic vegetation), underground caves, and river systems - are all part of the delicate ecosystem that exists on the island. Local animals have suffered much with the tourist invasion: most of the mammals of the island are now imported from other parts of the world, whilst the existing reptiles have managed to adapt themselves to the changes in the local environment.

Travel preparation

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Best time to visit

The perennial tropical paradise of Jamaica has no low-season. Rain can fall at any time of the year, but it does so mostly around the months of May and October. Jamaica is one of the islands of the Caribbean that is rarely disturbed by destructive storms.

Literature

Lonely Planet, Jamaica

Local conditions

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Currency

Jamaican Dollars (J$), 1 dollar = 100 cents

Net cafes

In the large shopping malls in Kingston, free Internet services are available. There are some Internet cafés located in the Kingston area, in Montego Bay, and in Negril.

In case of emergency

In case of emergency call the following numbers: Police (119) Hospital and Fire Department (110)

Tipping

Most hotels and restaurants automatically add 10% to the bill, but if this is not done, it is expected of you to add 10-15% by yourself. Other waiters, piccolos and bearers expect to be credited even though tips have already been added to the overall bill. It is normal procedure to add 10% to the taxi fare.

Timezone

When the time is 12:00 p.m. in England (summer time), it is 6:00 a.m. on Jamaica. When the time is 12:00 p.m. in England (winter time), it is 7:00 a.m. on Jamaica.

Weight and Measures

On Jamaica the following weight and measure units are used: Weight: Kilograms Temperature: Celsius Distance: Kilometres Cubic content: Litres

Photography

Show common decency and respect when snapping locals for your family album.

Drinking water

Normally it is safe to drink the tapwater in Jamaica, but following stormy weather water from the tap could be dirty. So just after a storm or a hurricane has passed over the island it is wise to stick with bottled water .

Electricity

On Jamaica the following power sources are used: 110V AC, 50 Hz. Some hotels use 220V AC.

Behaviour

Even though the tropical climate invites you to dress lightly, the Jamaican dress code is relatively strict. It is welcomed and in some cases even expected of you to wear tie and jacket when dining out.

Business Hours

The stores are open between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. (Monday to Saturday), but some are closed after 12:00 p.m. on Wednesdays. The banks are open between 8:30 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. (Monday to Friday).

Food and drink

Jamaican food is heavy and spicy. The main ingredients tend to be flesh, rice, and beans garnished with coconut milk - and lots of fish and shellfish. The beverage accompanying this spicy food is strong Jamaica rum. The local coffee from the Blue Mountains can be enjoyed along with Tia Maria; a crème de cacao produced by cocoa beans from the area where the coffee beans also flourish.

Disabled travellers

There are not many facilities for the disabled on Jamaica. For those confined to wheelchairs it is necessary to call hotels in advance in order to obtain information on rooms fitted for wheelchairs.

Holidays

New Years Day, 1st January Labor Day, 23rd May Independence Day, 6th August Liberation Day, 7th August The Day of the National Heroes, 16th October Christmas Day, 25th December Boxing Day, 26th December Changing holidays Ash Wednesday Good Friday, March or April Easter Monday, March or April

Accommodation / Hotel

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Camping

There are several camping sites on the island and in some places it is even possible to rent a tent.

Hotels

There are four different hotel categories (ranging from A to D) based on price level. Many of the hotels on Jamaica (especially the ones popular among tourists) use the principle of Club Med, which means that everything is included in the price.

Bed og breakfast or guesthouse

It is possible to stay at B&Bs both in the city and in the countryside. B&Bs can be found in for instance Ocho Rios, Port Antonio, and Montego Bay.

Hostels

There are hostels both in Montego Bay and in Kingston.

Other Accommodation

There are more than 800 summer residences to let scattered over the island, ranging from small apartments and charming huts to spacious houses and luxurious villas. If you are a group of people visiting Jamaica, chances are you will get a fair price on a villa, complete with cook, housemaid, and swimming pool.

Local transport

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Planes

The official airline is Air Jamaica and flights are available between Kingston, Port Antonio, Ocho Rios, and Negril.

Bus

There are bus connections between the different cities and Kingston even has buses as means of public transportation. Most of the buses are minibuses and they tend to be crowded, but then again the fares are quite cheap.

Trains

Since a disastrous train accident in 1994 all railway transportation has been stopped and currently there are no plans of reinstalling this kind of traffic.

Taxi

The taxis have a red sign saying PPV (Public Passenger Vehicle). There are no price regulations from the government, which means that it is often expensive to use this kind of transportation. Only a few cabs have a taximeter and it is a good idea to inquire about the price of the fare before you embark. The fares increase during the night.

Car rental

It is possible to rent a car in most of the cities if the driver is at least 25 years of age. Generally, this mode of transportation is the most expensive, but also the safest. Nevertheless, one must be aware of the fact that a rented car might attract the attention of car thieves and other criminals. Finally, it must be said that the roads on Jamaica often are in poor condition, which means that driving during the night or in bad weather might be a risky affair.

Special conditions

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Because Jamaica is a former British colony and thus currently a member of the Commonwealth, the daily press is in English. Accordingly it is easy to follow up on what's happening in the cultural field. Even though Jamaicans in general are a friendly people - crime and violence have increased drastically in some city areas. You are recommendable to avoid using public transportation or to walk the streets alone at night in riskier areas.

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