Picture a holiday in Jamaica and you will most likely think of lounging on a spotless resort beach, the sounds of smooth reggae tunes in the distance and a cocktail in hand. While this is the dream for many visitors to Jamaica, it is not the full experience. For those willing to venture beyond the resort, a tour of Jamaica is an incomparable blend of thrill and relaxation, culture and nature.
On one hand, the country’s lush jungles, tall mountains, and crystal-clear waters allow for a multitude of adventures, including rafting, diving, hiking, trekking, and spelunking. On the other hand, Jamaica’s smaller towns each offer something unique to visitors, from the historical charm of Port Royal to the wild nightlife of Kingston and the smell of delicious jerk meat in Boston Bay.
And that’s not to mention what is perhaps the greatest draw of the island: a laid-back, relaxed attitude towards life that will leave you in a contented daze that will last well beyond the end of your holiday.
Beyond the plush resorts and bustling towns, Jamaica has some truly stunning nature which offers a multitude of unforgettable experiences. Thrill-seekers and nature-lovers will be spoilt for choice, and even those who tend to prefer a sun lounger to a kayak will find something for them among the many activities on offer.
Jamaica adventure tours offer you the opportunity to hike up the island’s highest point in the Blue Mountains for dramatic views and plunge to its lowest depths in the subterranean Windsor Caves. You can dive among tropical fish in Montego Bay, take a slow bamboo raft down the Rio Grande Valley, or go explore one of Jamaica’s many beautiful waterfalls in the thick of the jungle. Just don’t forget your camera to capture it all.
Jamaica is a paradise for foodies, who flock to the island savor original Caribbean jerk cuisine at the source. Boston Bay, in particular, is the birthplace of the spicy, smoky Jamaican barbecue and is proud of this heritage, with the scent of smoking meat permeating the air around the beaches.
If seafood is more your thing, this island nation serves it freshly caught and simply grilled in food stalls along the coast, or in the form of saltfish & ackee, Jamaica’s national dish. Book a food tour in one of Jamaica's port towns to fully explore the seafood, along with plantains, patties, greens, and an abundance of tropical fruit.
Rum plantations are also a popular visit in Jamaica, with the Appleton Rum Estate being the largest and most easily accessible. During these visits, you can learn about how rum is made in its various forms while also sampling a generous amount of the Caribbean’s favorite spirit.
Jamaica’s biggest cultural export and most enduring symbol, reggae is as pervasive in the country’s everyday life as you would expect. Various tours on the island offer you the opportunity to explore the history of reggae, including the places that marked the life and career of its most iconic figure, Bob Marley.
You can visit the small mountain village of Nine Mile where the artist was born and is buried, as well as the house in Kingston where Marley started his record label, which is now a museum dedicated to him. Tours can also take you to remote Rastafarian villages to meet the followers of this religion and engage in various cultural activities with them.
Planning Your Trip
Jamaica is a relatively small island, with only a 2-3 hour drive separating Montego Bay from Kingston. This compact layout makes it easy to fit a lot into a short trip. However, if you have time for a longer stay, you should definitely take the opportunity to enjoy Jamaica at an appropriately slow and laid-back pace.
Best Time to Visit Jamaica
Jamaica experiences warm, sunny weather most of the year. The peak tourist season is December to March, which has the driest weather. However, this also brings higher prices and more crowded tourist attractions. Rates get cheaper again by April, making spring a good time to visit.
The midsummer has searing temperatures, but also many cultural festivals, including the world-famous Reggae Sumfest in Montego Bay. There is a risk of heavy rainfall throughout most of the summer and autumn, with hurricanes and storms picking up from August to October.
What to Look for in a Tour of Jamaica
Most tours cover the same few key areas: Kingston, Montego Bay, Rio Grande rafting, and the Blue Lagoon in Port Antonio. Start by making a list of all the places and experiences you absolutely don't want to miss and look for a tour that fits everything in.
There are generic tours that focus on the highlights, while others are specialized for certain interests. In order to make a decision, you will need to choose what kind of activity you are most interested in, whether it’s sunbathing in Negril, exploring Kingston’s reggae scene, or hiking the Blue Mountains.
Typical Tour Cost
There are several price points for a tour of Jamaica, which depend on how long your trip is, the quality of amenities, and the activities included. On the cheaper end, a quick three-day tour can cost as little as $500, while longer trips (10-15 days) will usually cost $2500-$3000.
Packing Tips & Gear Rental
Jamaica has a hot tropical climate and a laid-back attitude, so bring all your summer basics, including a few swimsuits (so you’re not always waiting on your one swimsuit to dry), a hat, and a pair of sunglasses. It’s not acceptable to walk around in a swimsuit outside the beach, so bring some easy cover-up options.
Most hotels offer complimentary beach towels or at least allow you to rent one. Consider using this option to save space in your suitcase. A waterproof beach bag that you can take into the sea with you is a good idea so you don’t have to worry about leaving your valuables on the beach.
Most tours will include the gear rental for activities such as diving or kayaking in the price, but it’s always a good idea to double check before booking. If your tour does not cover these expenses, gear rental will be easily available on the site of the activity.
Other Tips For Travel in Jamaica
The U.S. State Department advises caution when traveling to certain parts of Jamaica due to crime. This includes certain areas of Kingston and Montego Bay and the entirety of Spanish Town. The vast majority of tourist itineraries do not include these parts, but it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the areas you should be avoided.
Health & Safety
The biggest health risk for a traveler to Jamaica is diarrhea from contaminated food or water. To avoid this, drink bottled water wherever possible (although tap water in the cities is generally safe) and be careful what street food you eat. As a general rule, the more popular the food stand, the safer it is.
Midges, known locally as “no see ums," are a common annoyance around large bodies of water. Pack a DEET-containing insect repellent and limit exposed skin when near swarms of them.
Make sure you have adequate insurance before traveling to Jamaica, and that it covers any activities you plan to do during your trip such as diving or spelunking. You need to know exactly what you are covered for, how to make a claim, and how you get the money.
Most towns in Jamaica have a decent level of health care, but in case of an emergency, you may need to be transferred to another country. Check whether the insurance covers this, as well.
Jamaica has a bad reputation when it comes to crime and violence. While it is true that some areas of Kingston and Montego Bay are potentially dangerous to visitors, the truth is most people who come to Jamaica do not come into contact with any violent crime. This is especially true of those visiting as part of a tour.
As is the case when traveling anywhere in the world, common sense is the best prevention. Here are a few things you can do to stay safe in Jamaica:
- Stay aware of your possessions and surroundings at all times.
- Do not take large amounts of cash out with you on the street, and keep the rest in a safe at your hotel room.
- Practice discretion when using your phone or camera when out in public.
- Do not go out alone after dark.
- Lock your hotel doors and windows.
Drugs are widely sold and offered to tourists in Jamaica, but only ganja (cannabis) has been decriminalized. Practice your best judgment if you choose to buy or use ganja in Jamaica, and remember it is still illegal -- getting caught could incur a fine of up to $100.
Aside from this, your biggest issue is likely to be harassment from touts. Staying with your tour can help to protect you from this, as guides are used to brushing these guys off. If you are alone, remain polite but stand your ground with a firm “no, thank you."