Looking for important travel information while backpacking in Jamaica? Here you will find information on working in Jamaica, entry visas, Jamaica hostels, and much more.
Table of Contents
- Facts About Jamaica
- Entry Visa Requirements for Jamaica
- Foreigner Work Permits and Backpacker Jobs in Jamaica
- Official Language in Jamaica
- Jamaica Hostels
Facts About Jamaica
Part of the Great Antilles and situated in the Caribbean Sea, Jamaica is the 3rd largest island in the Caribbean, being some 234 kilometres in length and 80 kilometres in width, and one of the most populous English-speaking nations in the world. It is also a hugely popular tourist destination due to its laidback reputation, fantastic climate and the vibrant culture found in urban areas like Kingston, Montego Bay and Portmore.
A brief history of the island starts with the South American Taino peoples, who became the island’s first settlers somewhere between 4000 and 1000 BC. Fragments of Jamaica’s distant past are few and far between and, as such, many stories begin with Christopher Columbus, who claimed the island for Spain in 1494. Renamed as Santiago, the country would be used by Columbus as his private family estate. However, Jamaica’s relationship with Spain was cut short when William Penn, an English admiral, captured the island in 1655. Secured and renamed the British West Indies Crown Colony of Jamaica, it prospered thereafter as a sugar exporter. Decisive moments in Jamaica’s subsequent history were the Abolition of Slavery, which took place in 1834, and the independence movement, which concluded with full independence from Britain in 1962.
Despite this decisive shift though, Jamaica is still connected to Britain as a constitutional monarchy, with the Queen represented by a Governor-General, nominated by a Prime Minister and the Cabinet. The complexion of the island also displays signs of its British heritage, most notably in the three counties of Surrey, Middlesex and Cornwall.
- Population – 2.651 million (2005 estimate)
- Language – English
- Tel Services – Country Code +876
- Currency – Jamaican Dollar
- Time – GMT +5 hours
Climate in Jamaica
Remarkably, Jamaica possesses two types of climate. On the windward side of the Blue Mountains, there is a tropical climate, while on the leeward side it is more semi-arid. That said, the temperatures are consistently warm throughout the year, and the rain generally falls between May and October (an average of 196cm annually). Although the weather is a big draw for visitors, it is worth remembering that Jamaica is part of the Atlantic hurricane belt and has suffered in the past courtesy of Hurricane Charlie in 1951, Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 and Hurricane Ivan in 2004.
Things to do in Jamaica
When deciding the best things to do in Jamaica, there is an abundance of options. Here are the top bucket-list items when backpacking Jamaica.
Enjoy World Famous Beaches
Jamaica is practically a byword for relaxation, in large part due to the 50 or so public beaches on offer. The most popular of these are Bluefields Beach in Westmoreland Parish, Doctor’s Cave Beach Club in Montego Bay and Hellshire Beach near Portmore. However, wherever you go on the shoreline, you’re guaranteed a beautiful view of the clear blue seas.
Explore the Blue Mountains
The geography of Jamaica is dominated by the Blue Mountains and a hike up to the peak is one of the great activities unique to the region. Looking out at some 7,402 feet, it is possible to see Cuba on a clear day, and there are a number of groups who provide walking or biking tours up to the top.
Gardens and Museums
The natural beauty of Jamaica is also on show in Kingston’s Hope Botanical Gardens, covering some 50 acres next to the University of the West Indies and even encompassing a small zoo. Other popular spots for visits include the National Gallery of Jamaica in Kingston, which hosts the work of local artists like Kapo Reynolds and hosts some international art exhibitions, and the extremely popular Bob Marley Museum, also in Kingston and dedicated to the reggae star who was heavily involved in the-then fractious politics of Jamaica until his premature death in 1981 at the age of 36.
Attend a Cricket Game
Sport is an integral part of Jamaican culture and, in particular, cricket. The island has a pedigree in the game, having produced such luminaries as Courtney Walsh, George Headley and Michael Holding. Should you want to see a game or two, try Sabina Park Stadium, which is home to the Kingston Cricket Club and used by the West Indies cricket team as a Test match venue. It is also employed by the Jamaican cricket team in the island competitions, the Carib Beer Cup and the KFC Cup.
Attend a local festival
As you might expect, there are plenty of festivals and events going on in Jamaica from month to month. These include International Reggae Day in Kingston and the Emancipation Jubilee in Ocho Rios. During such celebrations, you can see first-hand the unique and extremely influential music of the island, with dancehall music back on the way up courtesy of artists like Buju Banton and Beenie Man.
Sample Jamaican Cuisine
Be sure to check out some of the fantastic cuisine, made up of a mixture of Spanish, African, Indian, Asian and English influences, and responsible for dishes like jerk chicken, curry goat and Jamaican patty.
Booking Activities in Jamaica
Since popular places in Jamaica can get crowded during tourist season, it is wise to reserve tickets and activities ahead of time. GetYourGuide sells entrance tickets to museums and landmarks at face value so you can avoid the lines and save that precious time for more exploring.
Viator is another popular travel website that helps you book things to do in Jamaica. They work directly with local tour operators in Jamaica, so you won’t have to scour the internet or roam around town trying to find the best deal.
If you know your schedule ahead of time, a great insider tip is to buy tickets for major tourist attractions ahead of time. Tiqets has entrance tickets and skip-the-line passes for major attractions in Jamaica, which can be a worthwhile cost during peak tourist season.
How to Find Cheap Flights to Jamaica
Getting to Jamaica is no problem. There are five airports on the island, including Norman Manley International Airport, Tinson Pen Airport and Sir Donald Sangster International Airport. The latter is the best choice if you are coming via plane, with Air Jamaica offering a service to London-Heathrow and Thomas Cook Airlines travelling from London-Gatwick and Manchester.
In order to find the best flights to Jamaica we recommend using a few well-known flight comparison search engines. These websites offer powerful search options, like entering flexible dates and airports in order to find the cheapest flight to Jamaica.
Our go-to flight search engine is Skyscanner, which we love for its extremely flexible search options. Our favourite way to get travel inspiration is their “Everywhere” feature. Simply enter “Everywhere” as a destination, and it will then list all available flights from your departure city in order of price. This also works when entering the entire country of Jamaica as your destination. Skyscanner will search all possible airports in the country in order to find the cheapest option.
Kiwi is another new favourite flight search engine among savvy travelers. Kiwi works by combining flights from different carriers in order to get the best deal. Also, if there is a better ground or ferry option for the route you’re searching, Kiwi will include that in the search results. On average, we have found the cheapest flights to Jamaica with them compared to the other websites out there.
How to Travel Around Jamaica on a Budget
Once on the island, you’ll find cars and scooters are widely used to get around. However, if you do choose to rent your own mode of transportation, be warned that the roads are bumpy and other drivers can be unreliable, to say the least. The drink driving limit is also strict, being 0.035 (as opposed to 0.8 in the UK).
Alternatively, you’ll find taxi and bus services, and even trains available to get where you need to go. A popular option for tourists is the service provided by the Jamaican Union for Travellers Association (JUTA), composed of cars, buses and coaches connected to the Tourist Board and offering special routes for visitors.
Renting a Car in Jamaica
You may also want the flexibility to stop in smaller towns between the major cities. If you decide you want to rent a car in Jamaica, you can use DiscoverCars to compare offers from the major car rental agencies in the region.
Backpacking Group Tours in Jamaica
Though part of the fun of backpacking Jamaica is exploring on your own, there are situations, especially when venturing off the tourist trail, when it does make sense to go with a guide or a small group.
G Adventures is another great option for organized travel, but with a smaller group. It’s a great choice for anyone backpacking Jamaica alone who would like to meet up with like-minded travellers. It’s also a practical option for exploring places where you need an experienced guide, like a long hiking adventure or visiting a place well off the beaten path. You can choose from different styles of small group tours like active, wellness, hiking trips, 18-30somethings, and more. Their most popular trips in Jamaica is their 8-day Jamaica Encompassed tour.
Health and Safety in Jamaica
As with travel to all other countries abroad, it is vital that you get travel insurance before you leave for Jamaica. Even for short trips, our go-to travel insurance provider is World Nomads, which is also recommended by Lonely Planet, HostelWorld, and other major travel companies.
Superficially, Jamaica is well stocked with hospitals, particularly in Kingston. However, the quality is mediocre and prices are exorbitant, so be wary about using their services.
Before arriving on the island, be aware that dengue, leptospirosis and malaria are all major risks, along with the traveller’s perennial foe, diarrhoea. As such, avoid dams and rivers and be sure to use mosquito repellent. Routine vaccines (influenza, polio, chickenpox etc.) are also necessary.
Entry visa requirements for Jamaica
If you are a UK or a US citizen, a passport is the only thing you’ll need to enter Jamaica. Anywhere in the Commonwealth is also fine, with the exception of the Cayman Islands, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Pakistan.
Visa requirements for Jamaica can vary widely depending on your country of origin and can change over time. To avoid any unpleasant surprises, be sure to check the latest visa requirements while you’re still planning your trip.
Foreigner work permits and backpacker jobs in Jamaica
According to law on the island, non-Jamaicans must apply for work permits, which are dealt with by the Minister of Labour. If you are a citizen from a Commonwealth country, this can be done after arriving but, if this is not the case, your application must be completed prior to arrival.
Bar work and helping out in the tourist trade are the two obvious choices. Should you feel more altruistic though, volunteers are always needed in the Blue Mountains.
Official Language of Jamaica
English is the official language of Jamaica and is spoken throughout the country.
Jamaica Hostels and Budget Accommodation
Jamaica is naturally well stocked with lodgings for visitors. The range of prices is large but it is possible to find a good price. However, if you are backpacking, you’ll want to avoid the higher prices in Kingston. Instead, try areas like Negril and Ochos Rios. The former has a few hostel type set-ups, for example, Jamaica Tamboo and Errols Sunset Cafe and Guesthouse on the Beach, both on Norman Manley Boulevard and offering rooms for approximately $15-25 per night.
We have had good experiences finding hostels in Jamaica on HostelWorld. They have the largest inventory of hostels worldwide, and with over 10 million reviews and ratings from other travellers, you know exactly what to expect.
Another good way to find accommodation in Jamaica is by checking booking.com. You’ll find hotels, homestays, hostels, and other unique accommodations. They have the most reviews and advanced filtering of any accommodation-booking site, so you’ll be sure to find a great place in your budget. Many of the places on booking.com also offer free cancellation, which takes the pressure off the planning phase of your trip to Jamaica.
If you are backpacking with another travel companion, we highly recommend booking a rental via VRBO. With a vacation rental in Jamaica, you’ll have more space, your own kitchen, and you’ll get a better feel for how the locals live. Plus, the cost of a vacation rental can be split among your group, oftentimes making it cheaper than doing individual hotel rooms.
If you’re looking to save even more money while backpacking in Jamaica, there are plenty of creative ways to get free accommodation in exchange for work. For example, one of our favorite ways to stay in amazing locations for free is by signing up as a petsitter with Trusted Housesitters. The site connects responsible animal lovers with petsitting opportunities in Jamaica and all over the world. It’s a win-win for both sides – travellers can stay in amazing locations for free, and homeowners can rest easy knowing that someone is watching over their place.
And lastly, CouchSurfing is a great community that connects travellers with local hosts in Jamaica. You can stay for free with verified hosts, who will usually take some time to show you around the local spots.
Useful Links for Backpacking Around Jamaica
- GAdventures – guided small group tours in Jamaica, great for solo travellers or for those interested in a more adventurous trip which would require a guide
- DiscoverCars – The world’s leading rental car search engine to rent a car in Jamaica
- Kiwi and Skyscanner – Flight comparison search engines to find the cheapest flights to Jamaica and within the country
- GetYourGuide and Viator – a collection of local tours and activities in Jamaica. Also offers Skip the Line tickets for crowded attractions
- Tiqets – Website selling entrance tickets and skip the line tickets for major tourist attractions in Jamaica
- HostelWorld – #1 hostel search website to find accommodation while backpacking Jamaica. Thousands of hostels and millions of reviews from fellow travellers
- Booking.com – commonly used booking site for accommodation in Jamaica. Find hostels, hotels, and other unique accommodations in Jamaica with advanced filtering and millions of reviews
- World Nomads Travel Insurance – Comprehensive travel insurance for long and short trips when backpacking Jamaica
There you have it, the ultimate Jamaica backpacking guide. We hope you have found all the information you need for backpacking around Jamaica.
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