What to Expect During a Road Trip around Jamaica

What to Expect During a Road Trip around Jamaica

Now that Jave and I are safely back home following our two week trip to Jamaica which included a weeklong road trip around the island, I can confidently say that it was one of the best travel experiences of my life. You see, I’ve been traveling to Jamaica since 2006 when I first went with friends to celebrate my 26th birthday. After meeting Jave on our last day in Jamaica and getting to know him better through frequent phone conversations once I was back home, I started making return visits – usually two or so times a year until we got married and Jave immigrated to the U.S. a year thereafter.

During my birthday trip to Jamaica, my friends and I based ourselves in Montego Bay and had the chance to visit Ocho Rios (better known as “Ochi”) and Negril. But with the exception of me and Jave’s honeymoon stay in Ochi and a day trip to Port Antonio, during all of my other visits to Jamaica, I only ever got to really see and experience Negril and the parish it sits in, Westmoreland.

For years, I’ve been whining to Jave about how I want to take a road trip around Jamaica to see and explore all of its 14 parishes. While we made it to and through all parishes during our recent road trip, we didn’t get to explore everything we’d planned to which is fine since we have a lifetime of visits left to Jamaica and a lifetime to get to know the island more intimately.

But this trip solidified my love for this beautiful island and its people, and I strongly encourage anyone visiting Jamaica to venture off the resort and get to know Jamaica beyond its most visited beaches.

The best way to get to know the island is by taking a road trip, but before you do, here are some things you can expect as you plan and embark upon your journey…

Picking up our rental car from a guy who runs his rental car company out of his house
Picking up our rental car from a guy who runs his rental car company out of his house
Expect to rent a car from a non-traditional rental car company if you’re traveling on a budget…

Since Jave and I were traveling in Jamaica for two weeks and recently wrapped three weeks of travel in South America in October and a week in the UAE in early December, we knew that we had to buckle down on our budget and cut costs as much as possible during our road trip. Fortunately, Jamaica is a great destination for cutting costs, especially when it comes to eating on the cheap, finding cheap activities (especially when you get to take advantage of local entry rates), and filling your tank with inexpensive gas.

Another way Jave and I were able to cut costs on this trip was by renting a car from a non-traditional rental car company.

Originally, we booked a rental through Dollar, but when we went to pick up the car, we discovered that we had to pay a $1,000 security deposit and we had to purchase daily insurance through them which messed up our budget. Instead, I was hoping that we could use our own car insurance that was a part of our travel insurance package with World Nomads. But nope, Dollar wasn’t having it! We budgeted $400 for a rental car, but the additional cost of insurance took us beyond our budget’s comfort zone.

So Jave and I asked our driver and newfound friend, Al, if he knew of any local rental car companies that didn’t require a security deposit and that didn’t require us to purchase additional insurance. Sure enough, he was able to hook us up with a local agency that only charges about 5,000 JMD (approx. $42 USD) per day with no security deposit or additional insurance required. World Nomads advised that our Explorer policy would cover our rental as long as we had a written agreement with the company.

Fortunately, the agency Al found for us also had a standard form agreement which I carefully reviewed and asked questions about; the owner of the company was kind of taken aback by my questions, but analyzing legalese is what I do! We were kind of surprised that the rental company is run out of the man’s home, but when in Jamaica – right?

After signing the agreement, paying cash for the full week (about $290 USD – wow!), getting a copy of the car’s registration and insurance, and thoroughly inspecting the car which entailed Jave videotaping every last nick and scratch, we were on our way.

The best way to get to know #Jamaica is by taking a road trip. Click To Tweet



Expect near misses with crazy ass drivers

Driving on the wrong side of the road is something that you’ll quickly have to get used to during your road trip around Jamaica. Even Jave had some moments of doubt as to whether he was in the right lane when turning onto the road.

But driving on the wrong side aside, you also need to be aware that people tend to drive a bit crazy in Jamaica – motorcyclists and drivers alike. They speed, they tailgate, and they even seem to be playing a game of “chicken” when approaching oncoming traffic in an effort to go around other drivers on the narrow, two-lane roads. There were lots of cringeworthy, sweaty-palm moments as I watched Jave calmly avoid accidents with other drivers.

Sadly, the day we made it back to Negril, two motorcyclists died in a head-on collision on the main beach road, and we saw one of the covered-up bodies still laying in the street. Unfortunately, this seems to be the norm in Jamaica. It’s unlikely that you’ll find a Jamaican who doesn’t know someone who was killed in a car or motorcycle accident.

You'll find lots of potholes on small roads like this
You’ll find lots of potholes on small roads like this
Expect to be slowed down by potholes, lots and lots of potholes

The majority of the roads around the island are two-lane country roads FULL of pothole after pothole; yet another reason to slow down on the road. Keep in mind that there’s no AAA service in Jamaica (at least not that we know of), so if you pop a tire or have any other car problems during your drive, you better know how to fix it or you’ll likely be stranded in the middle of nowhere with no tire or car repair shop in sight.

A smoother road on the north coast
A smoother road on the north coast
Expect better roads on the north and northwest coasts and on the roads in and around Portmore and Kingston

In and around Portmore and Kingston, and all along the north and northwest coasts, the roads tend to be much smoother and are more likely to have fewer potholes. Still, slow down so as to avoid those crazy ass drivers I mentioned.

Learn to use colofrul buildings like this as markers on the road
Learn to use colofrul buildings like this as markers on the road
Expect to get lost without navigation

A snippet of the directions we received from our AirBnB host from Negril to Treasure Beach:

  • Drive through Black River, by driving clockwise around its central market until you see the ocean again and you see a bridge at your left.

  • Take to the left and drive over the bridge, and keep on following the road, until you see an indication for Treasure Beach and thereafter a yellow sign saying “Jack Sprat” (which is a well known bar/restaurant in Treasure Beach)

  • Keep on following the “Jack Sprat” signs until you are in Treasure Beach.

  • Once you are in Treasure Beach you keep on following the ‘Jack Sprat’ signs, until you pass ‘Jack Sprat’ (on your left hand side)

  • You keep on driving straight, until you reach ‘Kim’s Place’ (on your right hand side), where you take to the left

  • You keep on driving straight, until you reach ‘Treasure Beach Hotel’ (on your left hand side), after which you keep on following the road by taking a right turn

  • You keep on driving straight, until you reach ‘Smurf’s Cafe’ (on your right hand side), after which you keep on driving straight, shortly followed by a left turn

Needless to say, we stopped and asked for directions a handful of times to make sure that we were still on the right track. It was only after we arrived that I realized that my phone’s navigation will work even when I turn off my data. Going forward, we relied on our navigation. Thank you, Google Maps. Thank you.


Expect to be wow’d again and again by stunning scenery…

There’s so much beauty in Jamaica beyond its beaches. That’s saying a lot coming from me, a self-professed beach bum. But when driving around Jamaica, you’ll come across so many stunning green scenes like this, and you’ll find yourself stopping again and again to take it all in.

Mmmm…Jave eats his with coco bread
Expect to take frequent patty breaks

I find it really refreshing that Jamaica hasn’t succumbed to the likes of McDonald’s and Starbucks on every corner. In fact, we didn’t see any. However, Jamaicans love Burger King and KFC, and you’ll find the latter in every major city. But my go to meal of choice during our trip was Jamaican patties. Juci Patties and Tastee dominate the patty scene in Jamaica. Personally, I prefer Tastee because their chicken patties have more kick. Man, give me a chicken patty with a lemon lime boxed Squeeze juice to wash it down, and I’m a happy road tripper.


Expect to eat at seedy-looking cook shops

When you look at this picture, I know you’re probably thinking that there’s no way you’d eat at a restaurant that looks so seedy. I used to feel the same way when I first started traveling to Jamaica. But I guarantee you that small cook shops like this serve some of THE BEST food in Jamaica. Menus will usually feature fried chicken, brown-stewed chicken, curry chicken or goat all served with rice and peas, as well as stewed peas and cooked food (i.e., yams, dasheen, dumplings and other starchy foods).

See...it's not so bad
See…it’s not so bad

And although cook shops like Hazel’s may look kind of run down on the outside, if you peep into cook shop kitchens, they’re usually pretty clean. Jave says that cook shops are especially clean when women are running them.

But the best part about eating at cook shops? Expect to pay no more than about 400 JMD (approx. $3.30 USD) for a filling, nutritious meal.

Many travelers book accommodations based on their surroundings and the views they offer, but inside, it's another story
Many travelers book accommodations based on their surroundings and the views they offer, but inside, it’s another story
Expect to sleep in run down accommodations if you’re traveling on a tight budget…

Now usually, I’m all about affordable luxury, and when I travel, I usually don’t mind spending about $170 max per night for a room in a nice boutique hotel or even at a chain. But since we were traveling for two weeks in Jamaica, I had to cut costs at every corner which meant that I relied on AirBnB rentals (I think the most expensive rental we booked was $90/night). We also stayed at one hotel while in Portland which cost about $100/night and a hotel on the beach for one night in Negril for $158.

So here’s the thing. AirBnB is still relatively new in Jamaica, and while you may find lots of available listings, many of them have zero reviews. And zero reviews means we don’t stay there. Period. So from jump, our AirBnB pickings were narrowed way down. The rentals that we found within our $90 or less per night budget looked good on paper, but with the exception of our rental in Orange Bay, every last one of them had major issues: a doorless rental in Treasure Beach (i.e., open to the elements and lots of bugs – none of which was mentioned in the description), a dingy-looking room and collapsed bathroom sink at our rental in Kingston (the owner was quick to fix it, but still…), and a rather crusty-looking rental in Ochi where Jave killed a roach crawling on our bedspread (I’m cringing!).

The icky bathroom inside of our beach cottage hotel in Portland
The icky bathroom inside of our beach cottage hotel in Portland

Our hotel stays weren’t much better. While our hotel in Portland was cute from the outside, on the inside, it was beyond outdated and dingy looking. While scrubbing my feet in the shower, I only placed one finger on the dingy looking tile to keep my balance. And one night during our stay, Jave killed not one, but two roaches that wandered into our cottage (still cringing!). While our stay at Rooms on Seven Mile Beach in Negril was much better, Jave and I have noticed how the hotel is quickly falling into disrepair (we’ve stayed there a few times before – the first time was after the hotel just opened).

When it comes to accommodation in Jamaica, it seems that there’s no real middle ground or options for those of us who value affordable luxury. Your options are either the ridiculously pricey resorts or the more affordable accommodations that turn out to be rather dingy and bug-infested. (Our stays in Jamaica have inspired me to write a post about how to choose a hotel which I’ll be sharing soon here on the blog.)



Anyway, these are just some of the things you can expect while road tripping around Jamaica. Have you ever driven around the island? What’s missing from my list?

  • Anika Spence

    In Jamaica motorists are mandated to drive/ride on the “left” side of the road. To drive on the “wrong” side of the road would be contrary to the road traffic act. There are several companies which provide roadside assistance, the Jamaica Automobile Association (JAA) being the most popular island wide. The Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), an agency of the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), has many registered members with accommodations likened to that of an airbnb. These members are regulated by the JHTA and listed on their website, if you are looking for a non traditional accommodation, are new to the island and travelling sans local assistance your best bet is to check with the JHTA and the JTB generally.

  • Véronique Lesage

    Hi Carmel! We are going to Jamaica on Dec 23, 2016 and found your blog really interesting! We were wondering if you still had the name of that private car rental company? We are trying to find something cheap and easy and would be interested in contacting him! Thanks in advance 🙂

  • cesar

    Thanks. Me and 2 friends are going to Jamaica for 7 days. We fly into Montego Bay. We want to road trip so hopefully our hostel wlll hook us up with a local travel agency. We want to visit Negril , Ocho Rios and Kingston. Any route recommendations would be appreciated or places other than the ones I listed we should visit. Thanks in advance.

    • Hi Cesar! There aren’t many options in terms of routes around the island – you’ll definitely want to stick to the main roads. From MoBay, I would suggest heading west towards Negril and then to Kingston. If you have time, stop at Treasure Beach in St. Elizabeth (between Negril and Kingston). After leaving Kingston, I’d highly recommend spending 2-3 days in Portland Parish/Port Antonio which is one of my favorite parts of Jamaica for its sheer beauty. There you’ll find Rio Grande, the Blue Lagoon, Frenchman’s Cove (don’t miss this!!), Reach Falls, Boston Beach and more. Jamaica is pretty safe, but definitely be on guard. You’re going to love it!

  • skpoca

    Very useful to know! I don’t any locals but I’d love to go for the ‘real experience’. Do you have any tips for anybody who’s going without a local? For example, how could we find a local car rental company which doesn’t charge deposits?

    • If you’re going without a local, I’d strongly encourage you to befriend a local who can show you the ropes once you get there. But you have to be sure to befriend someone who’s not trying to hustle you. We found out about the car rental company from our driver who we met through the property manager at our AirBnB rental. He picked us up and dropped us off at the airport and drove us around when we initially checked in to buy groceries, etc., and we felt like he was very dependable. So when the time came to rent a car, we felt like we could trust him enough to make a recommendation, and he assured us that he often used this particular rental car company himself. Another good thing about road tripping with my Jamaican husband is that I could let him just do all the talking and people never had to hear my American accent which meant that we got charged local prices to get into certain sites and people couldn’t really take advantage of us.

  • Frank Thomae

    It’s great that you were able to do a road trip with someone who’s spent most of their life there – most tourists wouldn’t be comfortable going into small cook shops or unknown apartments. And would end up overpaying and having tourist food. So sounds like a great experience!
    Frank (bbqboy)

    • Yes, it definitely helps that my husband is a local. I used to be reluctant about cook shops too, but after years of living like a local when going home with Jave, I’ve realized that those are absolutely the best places to eat.

  • Starkey

    I’ve never driven around an island, but it looks like you had a great time overall. I hope to travel this year to Jamaica or another Caribbean island so this was helpful. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks, Starkey. I hope that 2016 will be the year of your Caribbean adventure!

  • Staci Ann

    Nice!! Sounds like a wonderful trip. I’m happy the cabdriver was so resourceful. I love how you guys budget. The food looks great!!

    • Oh yes…we definitely stick to a budget or else we wouldn’t be able to travel. And I’m also so thankful for our cab driver…he’s our new homie. 🙂

  • What an adventure!! Good to know about the high deposits for rentals, I have been hearing about this a lot abroad. Out of all the locales I’ve visited in the Caribbean, I still have yet to get to beautiful Jamaica. This post puts to rest a lot of the myths about being safer confined to a resort! Definitely sharing!

    • Thanks so much, Keisha. We definitely didn’t have any safety concerns. I think it helped that our rental car was somewhat old and slightly battered – lol. And of course, it helps that my husband is Jamaican and speaks the language. Resorts are great if you want to just kick back and be catered to, but the real fun happens outside of the resort!

  • Nadeen

    OH you have just made me homesick especially for the food!! Tastee patties for me too! I have only been to 4 major cities in Jamaica. I have never even been to Portland! I hope to do a two week trip as well as explore more of the island. Sorry about those accommodations! And yes Jamaicans drive and ride crazy and on the “wrong” side which is why I have been afraid to drive there!

    • Yesss! Tastee all the way! You absolutely MUST go to Portland the next time you go home. Negril still has my heart and always will, but I fell in love with Portland the first time I went after Jave and I first got married, and I fell in love with it all over again this time around. Treasure Beach is also very beautiful. We still didn’t get to do/see everything we wanted to – especially rafting down Rio Grande, but there will be a lifetime of trips to Jamaica in our future, so we’ll do it the next time around. Driving on the wrong side is very scary and takes a lot of thought especially when making turns or going through roundabouts, but you should definitely do it!

  • Kirstin Fuller

    Great idea! I love taking road trips through the islands. That’s how we toured St.Lucia. There’s an app called ‘Record360’ that is perfect for documenting rental cars with video and photos with notations of dings and such. It’s free too! check them out at Record360.com Those patty’s look so delicious! 🙂

    • St. Lucia is at the top of my Caribbean travel wish list and I’d love to take a road trip there. Thanks for the app recommendation – will definitely put it to use the next time we rent a car.

  • Kemkem

    I love this! Are you sure you weren’t driving in Nigeria?:-). I love how things are so similar everywhere. We went to Montego Bay, and even though it was a resort, we “snuck” out a couple of times to check out local life which l loved doing. I laughed at the roach, Federico totally hates them, l kill them with no problems, wall geckos, mice..l will scream and destroy the house and until it’s found, there is no peace. Thank god l haven’t seen mice here, unlike Houston..but those damn little wall geckos get in and he has to find and kill them anytime l see one..I won’t let him open the windows in like 3 rooms of the house no matter how hot it gets because the mosquito nets are not secured..Great tips, and very handy. Those rental companies suck! We paid $475 for one week in Houston, yet $207 for 18 days in L.A!!!!

    • So, I’ve never been to any country in West Africa, but I swear that Jamaica reminds me of what life is like there. It’s hard to explain, but I can only guess that I have roots somewhere in West Africa, and traveling to Jamaica is like a journey back to the motherland or something…lol. Ok, so I’m going to need you to teach me how to kill a roach. They’re so big and crunchy that I just can’t do it, so I run and scream instead – lol. Strangely, I could totally deal with geckos (I guess because I grew up with them in Panama), but mice…oh hell no! Again, I’d run and scream. And I can’t understand the rental companies for the life of me. The stupid thing is that on our confirmation from Dollar, it didn’t say anything about a $1000 security deposit or being required to buy their insurance. :-/


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