Experience Jamaica: The Local Way

Kate and Kayla
Puerto Seco Beach, Jamaica
Puerto Seco Beach, Discovery Bay, Jamaica.

It doesn’t matter whether you stay at a resort or a local villa, just get out there and experience everything the Jamaican culture has to offer!  If you want to experience Jamaica the local way, here’s some advice, and some of the things you will definitely want to do on the island … and best of all, you can do it on a budget, as accommodations, transportation, attractions, food and drink can be found on the cheap!

Throughout everything listed below, what will make your Jamaican experience incredible is the people you will meet.  The best advice is to not be afraid to stop and chat, ask questions, and get to know people!  Jamaicans are incredibly friendly, kind, helpful, always willing to get to know you, and often times very humorous!!  They will offer suggestions of things to do or see, give directions, give advice of where to get the best food or drinks, and anything you need to know!  If you end up stranded on the roadside, you’re sure to have someone pull over and help you pretty much right away.  And, when you’re in Jamaica, learn from the Jamaicans: everything is irie, and remember that you’re on island time!  To make the most out of your experience, try mastering “the art of just chillin” at whatever local spot you end up at: you will find a great sense of freedom and relaxation from just letting it all go and taking time to enjoy the moment!

Accommodations

It doesn’t matter whether you are more of a resort or villa type person, Jamaica has endless options!  Of course, the more local option is to stay at a villa.  You can find the villa that suits you best:  there are small ones, big ones, all-inclusive, beach villas, mountain villas, high end, low budget … and all run by Jamaicans who will give you a taste of Jamaica you won’t soon forget (or probably ever!!).
If an all-inclusive resort is more your cup of tea, as they say in Jamaica, no problem mon! There are tons of resorts lining the coasts around the island: family resorts, couples resorts, adults only resorts, naturist resorts, low budget to high end resorts … whatever you want, Jamaica’s got it!  These resorts are staffed by Jamaicans who will make your stay incredible, but don’t be afraid to leave the resort and experience the local scene too!

Means of Travel

You’ve got a few options to get around:
Local Taxi:  If you’re just going from place to place in a town or neighboring towns, there are taxis everywhere (a car with a red license plate means they are licensed to carry passengers).  If you’re taking a taxi, always make sure to agree on the price before you get in the taxi.  You can usually bargain the price down too, if you feel so inclined.
Bus:  Much cheaper than a taxi!  Find the local bus stop or ask around (don’t expect to see a sign, you’ll just see people waiting around on the side of the road).  As the bus drives by, they will shout out where the are headed, just give a little wave or nod your head and they’ll stop for you.  Be prepared to get cozy, they pack the buses full and you may have to get on and off the bus to let others off at the different stops.  You’ll pay the ducta (conductor) when you arrive at your destination.
Rental Car:  You can rent from the big car rental companies, or try a “private rental” which is a much cheaper alternative.  Be aware that Jamaicans are aggressive drivers, some roads are pretty treacherous, and they drive on the left side of the road, so if you’re not used to that, it could be challenging!  Having said that, a car gives you the freedom of taking your travels at your own pace and going anywhere you want which is great!

Food and Drink

Fresh steamed fish
Fresh steamed fish.

Two words:  jerk center!! Jerk centers of every size and kind are found all over the island, and this is where you’ll get your taste of authentic Jamaican cuisine for cheap!  For those of you who don’t know, Jamaica is famous for it’s style of cooking called jerk:  its a mix of spices (that typically includes pimento, allspice, ginger, thyme and hot peppers) that they dry rub onto their chicken, pork, fish, vegetables, etc and is normally slow cooked/smoked over certain types of wood to give it a special smoky taste.  Ackee and saltfish is the national dish, so definitely give that a try!  Other must-tastes in Jamaica are curried anything, boiled green bananas, bammy, festival, sweet potato pudding and of course steaming hot Jamaican patties!  And be sure to try some Devon House ice cream, made in Jamaica!  And don’t forget, you’ve got roadside vendors with fresh fruit (mmmm… mangoes and passion fruit!) and vegetables anywhere: there’s nothing like drinking coconut water straight from a freshly picked coconut and eating the jelly inside after!

Jamaica fruit market
Roadside fruit vendor in Jamaica.

Roadside bars are everywhere … don’t be afraid to pull over and stop for a drink (unless of course you’re the driver, then we suggest a non-alcoholic beverage for you!).  Alcohol is very cheap in Jamaica and there’s nothing better than sipping a cold red stripe on a hot day in Jamaica!  Drink it fast though, in the heat, they warm up quickly!  The famous (and delicious) Appleton Rum comes from Jamaica, which is amazing when blended with ice and fresh mangoes.  And don’t forget to start your day off with a little Jamaican Rum Cream in your coffee.  Another popular drink is Magnum Tonic Wine which is said to improve your energy and vibe!  To take it one step further, you’ve also got Wray and Nephew overproof white rum – drink at your own risk though, that stuff is strong!  As for the non-alcoholic options, we have a couple Jamaican favourites: Ting (a grapefruit soda – just so happens to go well with Appleton Rum)  and  CranWata (water that is light pink in colour, ever so slightly cranberry flavoured – oh so refreshing and addicting!)

Beaches and Countryside

The Jamaican landscape is simply breathtaking.  Beaches line the coasts of the island covered in soft, white sand with a gentle breeze swaying through the leaves of palm trees above.  Sparkling turquoise water with the waves crashing into the shore while you feel the heat of the sun sinking into your skin.  It’s a beach lovers paradise!  Most visitors to the island experience only the beauty of Jamaica’s beaches, but travel inwards to the countryside and you’ll see that it is just as beautiful, and a few degrees cooler too!  Drive on the country’s winding roads and you will see rolling hills, fishing villages, Blue Mountain, 9 Mile (the home of Bob Marley), plantain fields, small Jamaican towns and much, much more.  A drive through the countryside is an absolute must!

The hills near 9 Mile, Jamaica
The hills near 9 Mile, Jamaica.

Music and Dancing

Jamaica is a music lover’s paradise.  No matter where you are or what you’re doing, there is always music playing!  The two most common types of music in Jamaica are reggae and dancehall.  Reggae music has that chilled out vibe, and usually promotes the Rastafarian principles of peace and love (i.e. One Love, One Heart – Bob Marley).  Dancehall, more commonly, has a deejay, who raps/sings over a prerecorded rhythm track.  Although dancehall lyrics can be explicit at times its just as popular as reggae music and a huge part of their culture.

Rastafari sign
Rastafari sign.

Along with their music, Jamaicans love to sing and dance and they certainly know how to move and shake!  It’s amazing – people, young or old, will dance and sing anywhere there is music playing.  If you’re at a night club, beach party or local party, you’ll probably see a style of dancing known in Jamaica as “daggering” which is a lot of bumping and grinding, to say the least!

Attractions

The options for things to do and see in Jamaica are absolutely endless!  Here’s a list of only a few attractions, but depending on what area you are in there are so many more.
Ziplining or bobsledding at Mystic Mountain, Bob Marley Museum or Mausoleum, Black River Crocodile Tours, Blue Mountain (where they grow the coffee beans), Dolphin Cove, Seven Mile Beach, cliff diving, glass bottom boat tours, Dunn’s River Falls, Blue Hole, Blue Lagoon, Green Grotto Caves, Firewater, bamboo rafting on the Martha Brae River, Luminous Lagoon, Rose Hall, Port Royal, National Heroes Park, Treasure Beach, Little Ochi, local vendor markets and a gazillion other options!!  Whatever type of attraction you prefer, Jamaica is sure to please!

The Blue Hole, Jamaica
The Blue Hole, Exchange, St. Mary, Jamaica.

Experience Jamaica the local way, for an incredible adventure that you won’t soon forget!  So what are you waiting for?!  As they say in Jamaica: once you go, you know!

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*This is a guest post by Kate and Kayla:

Kate and KaylaWe’re two Canadian girls who quit our jobs, sold everything and moved to Jamaica in pursuit of sunshine, adventure and happiness!  Our mission is to have as much fun as possible while we discover everything that Jamaica has to offer!  Please note that we are not trip planners and do not arrange vacations in Jamaica, but if you have questions or need advice, please don’t hesitate to contact us and we’ll do our best to help you out or point you in the right direction!
Blog: kateandkayla.com
Twitter: @kate_and_kayla
Facebook: KateandKayla love Jamaica
Email: kateandkaylablog[at]gmail[dot]com

*All photos belong the authors of this article (Kate and Kayla) and can not be used without their permission.

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