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FAQ for a Jamaica Holiday

/ Jamaica Travel Tips

Pineapple LadyWe are often asked many questions about Jamaica, questions about the cost of living in Jamaica, about transportation, taxi fares, safety and crime. In order to assist you, we have answered some questions often posed to us. We hope this will enable you to appreciate Jamaica and the Jamaican culture. We would like you to enjoy your Jamaican vacation as much as possible so we have tried to put things into perspective for you so that you know what to expect and are not caught unaware. One of the best ways of ensuring that your holiday experience meets if not exceeds your expectations is to prepare yourself as well as you can. Remember every country has it’s own culture and customs. Accepting and respecting them will make your experiences more enjoyable.

We want to rent a car and explore the country, are the roads good?
Jamaican roads cannot be compared to the highways in Europe or the U.S. Most roads need upgrading and repairing and are often narrow, winding and full of surprise potholes. Although the road directions have recently been improved island wide, they are restricted to the main routes. You will therefore still encounter many crossroads off the beaten track with no directions and more often than not there are no signs to indicate sharp curves, steep ascents or work in progress etc. In addition the roads are often badly lit if lit at all.

So, the roads are not so good, what’s the traffic like?
We drive on the left side of the road in Jamaica. Provided you are not in a rush and drive in a leisurely fashion while enjoying the beautiful countryside, you should not find driving difficult in Jamaica. Generally people will recognise that you are a visitor and allow you to weave in to the traffic. As long as one allows those in a rush to overtake, and is careful of oncoming traffic that may be too far on your side of the road, you can manage fairly well. Be aware that not everyone indicates a stop or turn and be prepared for surprises. Old cars often do not have working signals and in anycase at night many are not properly lit. An unpleasant and tiring aspect of driving at night is that most Jamaicans do not dip their lights with oncoming traffic. Blowing the horn here is often a method of communication – either to indicate that they are overtaking or thanking you for allowing them to do so. So don’t let this disturb you. Our suggestions are to take it easy and enjoy the trip.

We want to drive from Port Antonio to Kingston through the Blue Mountain. Our guide book says that it is a beautiful drive. How is the road?
This route is currently not open due to road blockages caused by major landslides that have occurred during the last two years. Although most guide books describe this route, they may not have been recently updated and therefore do not contain the most current information. It is however possible to visit the Blue Mountains from both the Kingston and Port Antonio and wonderful hikes can be arranged.

We are arriving in Montego Bay. It’s a long drive to Port Antonio. Are there any flights?
There are charter flights to from Montego Bay to Port Antonio offered by Timair and International Airlink land at the Ken Jones Aerodrome, about a half an hours drive from Hotel Mockingbird Hill. The flying time is about 50 minutes.

The island is quite small, how long will it take us to get around?
Information about mileage or kilometres can be very misleading. This does not indicate the time you will require to cover a certain distance. Depending on the road conditions, you may need one to two hours for 50 km. As an example, it’s only 69 miles from Kingston to Port Antonio but it takes you approx. 2.5 hours, partly because the road is very winding. The drive from Montego Bay takes you approximately 4.5 to 5 hours. If you are planning a round trip, check the driving times between the various stops.

I think I won’t rent a car after all, what transportation is available?
Unfortunately transportation is one of the more costly features of a Jamaica vacation. High import duties and high cost of car repairs and maintenance are the primary factors behind costly car rental and taxi prices. Unless you intend to really drive around a lot, for example do a round trip of Jamaica, it may not be in your best interest to rent a car. The average car rental fee per day is US$ 75.00 and it is a shame to pay this if you just drive down to the beach and park it there. For short journeys from the hotel to the town or to the various beaches, the taxi fares are quite reasonable. (Approx. US$ 7.00 – US$ 10.00) Remember that on request Hotel Mockingbird Hill offers a daily shuttle to Frenchman’s Cove. For sightseeing in the area, we recommend chartering a taxi. For not much more than renting a car, your own taxi gives you the same independence – with your own personal tour guide thrown in! Having a guide also gives you the freedom of venturing “inland” to areas of the island that may not be easily accessible to you when driving yourself. This way you get to see the “heart and soul” of Jamaica, off the beaten track, that’s not always described in the guidebooks. It allows you to truly relax and enjoy the beautiful countryside without having to concentrate on potholes and oncoming traffic.

What’s fair for a taxi fare?
We always get lots of questions on what taxi fares are since the rates are not posted. Always negotiate the rate before you get into the taxi. Often the taxi driver will try and ask for more at the end, claiming he didn’t realise just how far you wanted to go. Generally the rates increase after dark. At the hotel we work with a few licensed taxi companies that are trustworthy and reliable and have very friendly staff. In your interest we have ensured that you will be given the best rates. Some people believe that they are getting a better deal by negotiating cheaper rates with taxis in town. This is generally done with taxi drivers who are not officially licensed as such. Please be cautious when doing this because in the event of an accident these cars are not properly licensed or insured. The official taxi must have a red number plate with a PP sign on it to show that they are authorised to transport passengers. Taxi fares can be paid either in J$ or US$. Remember that unlike chartering a taxi, the regular taxi fare does not include the services of a guide nor do their fares include waiting time once you are at your destination.

Which airlines fly to Jamaica and to which airports?
There are many scheduled and charter flights with service to Jamaica.

Is Jamaica expensive?

Since the wages of the average unskilled worker are not high, people are generally surprised to note that Jamaica is not a “cheap” destination. There is also the expectation that it is possible to enjoy the advantages of the rate of exchange considering that Jamaica is a developing country with a weak currency.

Some visitors may feel they are being used or manipulated. Although this can happen – as it does all over the world – this is generally not the case but rather a matter of not knowing the background and the various reasons that contribute to the high prices.
There are many factors, among them:

Jamaica is not an industrialised country. Most items have to be imported to Jamaica. Most of the items are taxed heavily in addition to the high transportation costs. As a small island, Jamaica also does not enjoy economies of scale. In fact, to highlight some of the paradoxes, it is cheaper to import many food items such as chicken for example, rather than buying them from the local farmer. Even the chicken feed has to be imported here so the chicken farmers start with a disadvantage. Also, local farmers do not have the support of government subsidies which many producers enjoy in Europe and the United States.

The general cost of living is much high partly due to the island’s geographical position in a region known to be at a high risk of hurricanes and earthquakes. As a result insurance premiums are much higher here. The basic utilities are expensive because we do not enjoy the benefits of having any internal resources, nor are there any rivers large enough to generate hydroelectric power.

Maintenance and wear and tear is generally much higher here due to the poor infrastructure and lack of a well educated working class.

The high taxes and monetary policies strangle business. In order to bring inflation down, the government has pursued a policy of high interest rates for years.

Like countries all over the world, Jamaica is facing an increase in the cost of living due to global increases in the cost of oil and the rise in food prices all over the world.

There is a perception that Jamaica should be cheap because labour is cheap. While this may apply to the unskilled labour force, employing the services of professionals in Jamaica is anything but cheap.

Listing these examples may help you to gain an insight into the various factors that affect the price levels in Jamaica – all the more reason for you to expect value for money. Attention to quality is of great importance to us at Hotel Mockingbird Hill.

Why are there such price differences?
Prices vary widely from one place to the next, particularly if you are comparing, for example, the price of a “Jerk Chicken” served at a roadside eatery and at a hotel. Why are there such variances for the same chicken dish? Unlike the US or Europe where every business enterprise must abide by their responsibilities in terms of paying their taxes and their employee benefits, here only a small percentage do. The Jamaica Tourist Board only recommends those properties that comply with these regulations and who also have members of staff with certified health certificates. The “man on the street” can therefore offer you the Jerk Chicken for much less because his business does not have to calculate the necessary margin to take these aspects into account. If one also takes fair wages into account and allow people a fair opportunity to improve their quality of life, then the benefits offered by the formal establishments, such as job security and a decent wage, take on a bigger impact. This will hopefully illustrate the positive role the formal establishments play in terms of the economy.

  • We hear a lot about crime in Jamaica, is it really as dangerous as it sounds?
    Due to negative press reports in the past, many people are very skeptical about their safety in Jamaica. Like anywhere in the world, it is really a case of putting this question into perspective. Since this is such a small island, with few events of international importance, the local newspapers highlight incidents, many of which would not even be mentioned in the papers of major cities. Many of the incidents are internal family episodes and many more are between fractions in the inner city areas. Just as any other city in the world has its less reputable and dangerous areas, the cities and towns here have areas where we would not recommend you venture. This does not however imply that you cannot go to these cities and towns at all or that the whole island is crime ridden. As anywhere else in the world, if the visitor applies common sense and takes the same precautions as at home then he or she can enjoy a safe holiday and appreciate the warmth and friendliness of the people.

    Port Antonio in particular is a small town, boasting some of the lowest crime rates in Jamaica

    While we encourage you to discover the beauty of the area we are also concerned about your safety and therefore are only too happy to assist you with tips, information and actually helping with the organisation of your holiday to ensure that you will return with pleasurable memories of your vacation here.


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One Comment

  1. Barbara Walker September 17, 2009 at 1:47 am

    Now that the north coast road is completed its about 4 hours and it is now a very pleasant drive. Worth stopping on the way at one or two places for sightseeing.