Is Jamaica worth visiting? Stunning sea views and greenery outside Negril Jamaica

Is Jamaica Worth Visiting? Alluring Jamaica From An Expert Traveler (2024)

Jamaica is a rebel country that grooves to its own reggae beat, unlike any other. It’s vibrant, lazy, and full of soul, just like a slow Sunday morning. Incredibly chill. Are you asking yourself (or the internet) “Is Jamaica worth visiting?

Well, yes, I say it is. Jamaica has a bit of everything and is quite unique, versatile, and a bit weird. I traveled the island for over a month, and in Jamaica, you have lots of contrast, a particular culture, music, nature, and stunning beaches!

If you picture Rastafarians with dreads, bright-colored beanies, and a rocking walk, that is part of it but far from all. Here, it’s time to move to a slower rhythm.

Affiliate disclosure: I only recommend tours, services and purchases I know and love on this website.

Is Jamaica Worth Visiting Then?

The cliffs in Negril West End, with beige sunkissed rocks and incredible crystal-clear water.
The cliffs at Negril West End

Jamaican people are known for their bright, welcoming spirituality (and occasional joint), and a very relaxed and laid-back approach to most things in life. And lots of rhythm.

This is the island that gave the world reggae legends Peter Tosh and Bob Marley, after all. Yet Jamaica is a mountain full of all sorts of hidden sparkle for the ones that have the time to dig them out.

After traveling around Jamaica for over a month, my conclusion is that the island is absolutely worth visiting. My favorite destination in Jamaica is Negril, but also in Ocho Rios and Montego Bay, there are many fun and interesting things to do.

On a note slightly off point, it is truly remarkable how two Caribbean Islands so close to each other, like Cuba and Jamaica ninety miles apart, have developed so incredibly different in absolutely all aspects.

Trending Topic: Is Jamaica Safe?

At the beginning of 2024, travel advice to Jamaica changed and many travelers now wonder if it is a safe destination to visit. I looked into the numbers and combined them with my own experience, and here is my advice.

Jamaica is still a relatively safe destination to visit.

The number of registered murders in Jamaica (which was the talking point) for January this year is actually a decrease in numbers from last year. According to the Jamaica Tourism Board, crime against visitors affects around 0.01% of the total registered crimes.

Most violent crimes in Jamaica are gang-related and do not affect tourists. The most common tourist-related crimes are petty crime and pickpocketing.

Traveling around Jamaica as a solo female, following the advice from locals and other travelers, I had no unpleasant or dangerous incidents. I did, however, get some unwanted attention in public, but not dramatically more than in other destinations I have visited alone.

In conclusion, if you stay normally vigilant and follow travel advice from officials, locals, and staff at hotels and resorts, you will highly likely have a great holiday. Here is a list of the advice I tended to get traveling in Jamaica.

16 Best Jamaica Safety Advice From The Locals!

Emancipation Park in Kingston at night, you can barely see the trees lit from behind, and the street lights and buildings in the background
Emancipation Park at night

These are the concrete advice the locals gave me to stay safe and minimize the risk of bad things happening to you in Jamaica.

  1. Carry a small bag with only what you need, and DON’T carry it facing the road (there are motorcycle snatchers)
  2. Keep your (closed) purse on your front, not on your back
  3. Remember that wearing a fanny pack screams tourist
  4. Remove valuable jewelry
  5. Don’t carry a lot of cash with you
  6. Bring several credit cards, and only carry one with you
  7. Keep your money in different places (even in your bra!)
  8. Avoid using your phone in crowded areas, and be vigilant (again, snatchers)
  9. Keep your phone in your waistband or a hidden pocket, not in your purse
  10. Be vigilant at ATMs and when handling money
  11. Don’t walk around alone at night
  12. Avoid public transport at night
  13. Use registered taxis that have red number plates with white numbers
  14. Stay in populated streets and avoid desolate areas 24/7
  15. Watch the locals and do what they do
  16. Walk with confidence!

Why Go For A Jamaica Holidays

Travelers on holidays in Jamaica can screech across rapids on ziplines, dip their toes into glowing blue lagoons, and travel between waterfalls in search of wild climbs and even wilder dives.

The island packs watery fun into every minute, whether that entails whitewater rafting in rainforests or leaping from impossible heights at Dunn’s River Falls. Those who don’t have an inner water baby needn’t worry, though. There’s plenty to keep you entertained.

Jamaica is happy to occupy travelers with scenic horseback rides across the farmlands or domino games with the locals at the famous Pelican Bar built like a shack, a boat ride off the southern shore beach.

Be sure to pack the binoculars because dolphins often stop by to find out who’s winning the game. Jamaica is more than its spicy nature and spicier foods (you MUST try the jerk chicken); it has an inner Picasso, too.

What To Expect From Jamaica Holidays

A happy smiling rastafari in Jamaica, wearing a white t-shirt and long grey beard on a bright sunny day seaside in Jamaica
Happy rastafari

Most people know Jamaica for its reggae and Rastafari religion. Or culture, it is probably more of a culture than a religion, although there are quite a bit of ceremonies involved.

The island is more than its celebrity culture, though, and it doesn’t always present itself in the colors of the Rastafarian flag.

Its lush hills and lazy rivers offer an often ignored natural heritage. The country has a developing economy with a strong upper-middle-class contingent.

The island also has all the luxury a sybarite could wish for.

So there’s no need to leave the hairdryers at home, but travelers should definitely leave their inhibitions back at home. Jamaica is best enjoyed with a free spirit.

Bright colored murals are everywhere in Jamaica, this one saying Boonoo noonoos, in blue, green, oragne, and yellow.
There are murals everywhere

The History | What Is Jamaica Known For?

The island was a colony of Spain for roughly 150 years until 1655, when England conquered it, renaming it Jamaica.

Under British colonial rule, Jamaica became a leading sugar exporter, with a plantation economy dependent on the African slaves and later their descendants.

The island achieved independence from the United Kingdom in 1962, but politically it is a Commonwealth realm, with Elizabeth II as its queen.

As an upper-middle-income country with an economy heavily dependent on tourism, Jamaica has an average of 4.3 million tourists a year (more than its population!).

The country ranks high in measurements like press freedom and democratic governance and also ranked first in the Caribbean on the World Happiness Report for 2021.

There are almost three million people living on the island today, of which roughly half of them populate Kingston.

View towards Kingston in the distance from the Blue Mountains, that are actually deep green and lush with neverending forest, under the blue sky on a bright sunny day.
View towards Kingston from the Blue Mountains

Cultural Events In Jamaica

The island’s artistic heritage is reflected through its intricate pottery and sculptures displayed at The National Gallery of Jamaica.

The nation even gave birth to the famous poet Derek Walcott, who was just one of the many representatives of its powerful literary culture.

The National Dance Theatre Company is equally impressive, but casual travelers might enjoy the island’s steady lineup of festivals more.

A charming cake shop in the blue mountains with lots of sweet cakes displayed in the venue with chocolate and red walls.
A small cake shop in the Blue Mountains

Events In Jamaica Not To Miss!

There’s no better way to get that mento music groove on than during Bob Marley Week every year in February. The Caribbean lifestyle is punctuated by steel drums, bustling markets, and lively crafts.

Jamaica has enough soul to launch a thousand music genres, and it’s also one of the most beautiful islands in the world. If its world-class beaches and yummy jerk chicken aren’t convincing enough, its scuba dive sites are sure to impress.

Under the ocean, the Maize Reef shows off its Rasta side through its vivid reef colors and even brighter sea life. Yep, Peter Tosh’s spirit even haunts the deep.

Jamaica is truly an island of adventure, with enough rafting to satisfy the toughest adrenaline junkies.

However, if one asset rises above all the rest, it’s the island’s people. Traveling is, after all, supposed to immerse you in new cultures, and Jamaica’s is well worth the time.

A wooden bar dest in a restaurant somewhere in the Blue Mountains that we visited on my day trip, with a local guy sitting by the bar being served by the bartender.
Mountain bar in the Blue Mountains

Locals’ cultural heritage comes from Africa, Europe, and North America. This is a veritable treasure trove of ethnographic complexity that straddles the divide between Afro-centered and Euro-centered cultures.

That fascinating blend has resulted in a complex cultural inheritance that’s as flavorful as its spicy food.

Friendly, sociable habits have a way of immersing people in the Jamaican Patois, which means that Jamaica is primed for new friendships, even if they only last a few hours!

Jamaica Holidays Must Include Kingston

At first glance, Kingston appears to be a scruffy, rugged kind of place. Lots are going on, lots of people, lots of cars, lots of everything, and hot. After a few days, though, the picture is a bit more nuanced.

Kingston is perched on the planet’s seventh-biggest natural harbor, right on the cusp of the Blue Mountains, super famous for its Blue Mountains-branded coffee beans.

I booked a day tour in the Blue Mountains with Viator, and had the whole day and a private guide to myself, making it an amazing personal experience!

It’s the nation’s cultural and economic core, but most visitors celebrate it for its music. The region has been named a UNESCO Creative City of Music site, and it has all the bustle that goes with that title.

Downtown Kingston

Downtown Kingston is a historic center crammed full of art museums and street markets. Trench Town Culture Yard dishes up green, red, and yellow murals and an authentic journey into Jamaican history.

The Bob Marley and Peter Tosh museums (the latter has varied reviews) offer audiophiles an exceptional day out, particularly as part of the Jamaican Music History Tour.

The entrance to Bob Marleys old house in Kingston that is now a museum. The front garden is fenced in by black iron racks, and the yellow house is visible behind a huge tree in the front yard.
Bob Marleys old house now museum

The Olympia Gallery offers a thrilling dive into contemporary Caribbean art. It isn’t the Louvre, but that’s the entire point. This is the largest private gallery on the island, and its collection is as celebratory as the country itself.

Uptown Kingston

Uptown Kingston is more concerned with history than art. It’s primed for historic walking tours and even has a canopy to protect visitors from rainy weather.

An important part of Kingston’s history is also the old Port Royal fort, located on a narrow peninsula partly protecting downtown Kingston from the Caribbean Sea.

There is a road all the way out, so go there with your rental car (Kingstoners drive; they don’t walk), or take a (registered) taxi. The uptown and downtown districts present two very different sides of Jamaican history.

The former whispers tales of the immigrants and entrepreneurs who developed the maritime area. The latter represents New Kingston—a cultural and commercial capital that contrasts dramatically with Jamaica’s flamboyant, joyous nature.

Of course, Jamaica is nothing without its beaches.

Hellshire Beach, about 20 minutes outside Kingston, is one of its most popular coastlines, so find an umbrella and rent a ski boat. Fort Clarence Beach blends ragga rhythms with the thrum of the ocean.

This is the spot for trying sweet fried dumplings!

What Is Negril Jamaica Known For?

The white sands on Negril Beach in Jamaica, with a sign pointing to a beach massage parlor behind some small palmy bushes.
Negril Beach

Negril has Jamaica’s longest natural beach. It was a hippie colony in the Disco Era, but these days, it’s better known for its crafts than its tie-dye bellbottoms.

The beach stretches across four miles below precipitous cliffs, and every single meter has enough character to win an Oscar Award.

It’s the site of frequent impromptu reggae concerts, but those who don’t want to leave their musical experiences to chance can dance the night away at Miss Lily’s Beach Resort.

Pushcart Restaurant & Rum Bar also dishes up a long series of nightly performances that cover everything from Afrobeat to Reggae.

View of the greenish crystal clear waters from with scattered brown large rocks atop the cliffs at the West End.
The cliffs in West End Negril

Negril’s scuba dives are as legendary as its resorts. The Throne Room, a fairly low but wide cave with openings on both ends, lies just off this stretch of coast and is named after its massive sponge “throne”.

The orange elephant ear sponges that flourish here are the largest in Jamaica. This is one throne game that Bran can’t win, so put on those flippers and explore! The site carries divers to depths of up to 70 feet, where an artificial reef was created from a sunken plane.

Seven Mile Beach, though, tells tales of a different kind. Bloody Bay once hosted a real pirate battle, but today, people visit peacefully for its artificial reef.

Cruiser Paradise Ocho Rios Port Town

Ochos Rios is an Eighties fishing village-turned-tourist hotspot. It’s a renowned gastronomic destination that crams fun activities into every square foot for the active adventurer.

Ocho Rios Port is also where large cruise ships stop by regularly, letting myriads of cruisers onshore for a day to explore.

When you arrive, step right up for a soak in the famous Blue Hole, where paradise expresses itself through a series of artfully rendered waterfalls. The area is accessed via an easy cave climb, which leads to a lush, overgrown forest.

Those who arrive by car can access Spanish Bridge (take an ATV ride here!) — one of Ocho Rios’ most magical watery attractions.

Another amazing thing to do is float down the giant bamboo rafting and lazy river bends creating the perfect scenery for a sedate day. Don’t forget to pack a picnic!

Me doing a
Old tricks in the Blue Hole in Ocho Rios

Dunn’s River Falls is a few kilometers from Ochos Rios’ town center.

This didn’t become Jamaica’s top-grossing attraction without reason. This is a natural wonder crafted from layers of limestone, which are gorgeously lined by lush rainforest canopies.

The greenish crystal clear fresh water in Dunns River Falls in Ocho Rios Jamaica, where you can walk up the terraced little waterfalls and pools to the beach and about 300 meters into the hills!
The beautiful Dunns River Falls

Montego Bay On The Northern Shore

Montego Bay is a lot like Tom Hardy. On the surface, it’s handsome and glossy, but if you dig beneath the skin of things, it has a fascinatingly resolute interior.

The grit of the city goes beyond its urban appearance.

Ironshore dishes up all the hipster class one could wish for, but its hustlers and musicians bring a certain ambiance to the streets.

Chill in a hammock on the beach in Montego Bay, under the palm trees on the white sands by the blue crystal clear ocean.
Chill in Montego Bay

Things To Do In Montego Bay

Sam Sharpe Square was the sight of the famous Christmas Rebellion of the 1800s—an event it salutes at its National Heroes Monument in Montego Bay.

The cage is now open to tourists in the form of a craft shop, but it used to hold vagrants, louts, and slaves.

The Marine Park and Bogue Lagoon offer plenty of watery entertainment, whether that means fishing, watersports, or a lazy stroll amongst the mangroves.

The park stretches towards Bogue Lagoon, where anglers can rent canoes for the day.

Twitchers will love its feathered population more, of course, so grab some binoculars and see how many pelicans you can spot.

River rafting in Marta Brea River in Jamaica, a green calm running river underneath a canopy of green trees lit from above by the sun making everything golden.
Martha Brea River in Jamaica

One can’t experience Jamaica without giving a nod toward Rastafarianism.

Most cities do have a Rastafarian center where you can learn about the religion, or way of life, as some prefer to call it. Make sure to visit Montego Bay’s indigenous Rasta Village to know what it is all about.

Lonely Planet aptly called it “a living interpretive exhibit”. It’s always buzzing with dreadlocked craftsmen and piles of medicinal plants.

Finish the tour at the National Museum West, which beautifully explores Western Jamaica’s indigenous Tainos and Cohaba cultures.

Montego Bay has a side for foodies, too, so don’t leave without tasting some red snapper, ackee, and saltfish.

The city’s cuisine is dripping in homeliness. Its curry goat is endemic and delightfully tender. In between meals, Montego Bay residents snack on addictive Jamaican patties, best bought straight from the street vendors.

The Best Time For Jamaica Holidays

Even Mother Nature is generally laid back in Jamaica. You will have year-round tropical weather with no winter to speak of.

So, supposing winter is not your zen thing, any season goes, really. Temperatures rarely rise above 81 degrees, so the island serves up comfortable, clear beach days all year.

The two dry seasons fall between July and August and December and April, so these months are primed for sporty travelers.

A wet bench in the Blue Mountains after the afternoon rain, with the incredibly green hilly forests below and in a distance.
After an afternoon shower in the Blue Mountains

July also is the hottest, quietest month of the year. Hotels and restaurants gear up for an influx of tourists in November and December, the island’s top tourism months.

With hurricane season in the rear mirror, Jamaica offers clear-weather days for months on end during this period.

Festivals In Jamaica

The island’s festival circuit is as important as its weather, so music fans should plan for Jamaica’s finest fests.

The Reggae Sumfest brings Rasta rhythms to Montego Bay every July.

The country gets together to celebrate its greatest musical export with February’s Bob Marley week, and the Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival springs back to life in January.

A clear photo of lightning from the clouds hitting the sea in a distance on a dark night outside Negril Jamaica
Thunderstorm outside Negril Jamaica

Those who’d rather eat than boogie can break their diets with the Portland Jerk Festival in October. Delish!

What is the currency in Jamaica?

The Jamaican dollar (JMD) is the island’s monetary unit, and 1000 Jamaican dollars equals around US$ 6.45.

Most inclusive resorts and tourism hot spots also largely accept US dollars in cash, as well as credit, and debit cards.

The island is an emerging economy, so its prices will give backpackers a happy heart. Locals can expect to pay just US$20 for a meal and US$11 for public transport.

Photo of jamaican dollars with drawings of important national personalities.
Jamaican Dollars

Jamaica does have its expensive areas, though. In some hotspots, prices are jacked up by as much as 40%, so budget carefully and do your research.

In Kingston’s up-town high-end areas, you can expect the prices to be higher in shops and malls, while street markets downtown are a lot nicer to your wallet – but also a lot more crowded and busy.

Hostelworld offers accommodation down to $15 a night for dorms and $30 for privates for the vagabond low-budget end travelers.

My first floor patio in the airbnb in Kingston, with a cozy terrace chair, table, and a green garden outside the fence on a bright sunny summer day.
My Airbnb patio in Kingston

On the other end of the spectrum, you can get a room at high-end hotels like the Courtyard by Marriot in Kingston for $146 a night.

I booked a one-bedroom apartment with a kitchen, access to a pool, patio, and parking in New Kingston through Airbnb for $78 a night.

This was an apartment complex with a security guard at the gate, which is normal in Kingston. Perfect for anyone wanting the privacy of an apartment and who prefers to organize meals and such on their own.

Jamaica Holidays And Safety!

During the very first few days in Kingston, I was a bit taken aback by all the precautionary advice I got regarding safety and security from people I met.

Although I consider myself a rather experienced solo female traveler, I think the only other place where the level of recommendations has been on this level, probably is in some cities in Columbia.

After a couple of weeks, the picture is a bit more nuanced, though. My brilliant Kingston guide, Marlon, helped me understand the dos and don’ts and then not to worry.

Still, Jamaica is not like a lazy village where you can walkabout 24/7 waving your phone.

A rugged street in Kingston with pedestrians, cars, in a busy city environment
Streets in Kingston

Crime Rate In Kingston Jamaica & Hot Zones

Violent crime in Kinston is still mostly connected to gangs and internal fighting, and in this respect, the biggest danger for you as a traveler would be if you somehow happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There have been some reports of violent criminal acts, particularly in Kingston.

Areas that you probably should avoid (on your own) are:

  • Tivoli Gardens
  • Whitfield Town
  • Payne Land
  • West Kingston
  • Grant’s Pen
  • Trench Town
  • August Town
  • Denham Town
  • Hannah Town
Atmosphere from Downtown Kingston at night, with lots of people, lights, and activity.
Downtown Kingston at night

A Few Safety Advice For Kingston

This is why it is clever to ask the hotel staff or your hosts for general advice for the area where you are staying and for safety advice in general.

If you want to explore anyway, book a guide who knows the area thoroughly and who will make sure you are safe while not missing out on any of the vibrant parts of the city.

ATM and credit card fraud is reported to increase in Kingston, so be vigilant when you are handling your card, ATMs, and money.

There are ATMs inside banks or in little booths, which is preferable to ATMs on the street. In any circumstance, stay vigilant of your surroundings.

In the daytime, you are okay to walk around if you prefer (although Kingstoners drive, they don’t walk a lot), but stick to open public areas.

At night, you definitely should take a taxi or Uber or drive your rental car if you have one. Also, avoid taking public transport at night.

If you drive, use a GPS to find your way in order to avoid finding yourself lost in parts of the city you don’t want to be, like Trench Town.

If you are a woman traveling alone, the particular rule is do NOT walk alone anywhere at night. If you want to go out, take a taxi from door to door, in both directions.

Keep Your Pockets And Bags Closed

Pickpocketing and robberies are quite common, so don’t wear your bag on your back. Keep your bags and pockets closed, and don’t carry a lot of money or valuables with you when you are exploring.

Minor thefts and robberies can also occur in hotels and resorts, so don’t make the mistake of dropping your guard there, either.

Use safe storage or the safe in your room.

If you, unfortunately, should be subject to Murphy’s Law and find yourself in a confrontational situation, the best thing you can do is stay calm and just comply – don’t resist.

Emancipation Park in Kingston at night, a close up photo of the two naked black sculptures staring up at the sky in the park lit by strong lamps, surrounded by trees.
Emancipation Park

Is Jamaica Safe For Solo Female Travelers?

Walking around Kingston as a solo female, you are going to get comments on the streets in variable intervals, including in the daytime.

A mixture of compliments, obscenities, or just “hey babe” from a passer-by or someone passing you in a car.

One of the advice I got from local women was to work on my confident “bad bitch” attitude when walking in Kingston!

Even if you normally prefer to be polite and inviting, here you should use your posture to signal confidence and that you are not a lost tourist.

Violent crimes, which include sexual assault and robbery, are not uncommon, and they often happen after a person has taken ‘spiked’ food or drink.

If you are out in bars or clubs, make sure to watch your drink, and don’t accept anyone offering to buy you one either. So if you had to leave your drink for some reason, get a new one. Full stop.

You definitely should avoid responding to friendly strangers and not accept anything from them. Stay alert to your surroundings, and keep a distance from anyone who gives off a bad vibe.

Getting Around Jamaica!

Jamaica is not really a huge island, and to get around Jamaica, you are only a few hours away from a different destination.

If you like your freedom and flexibility, renting a car is a great option for you. However, keep in mind they drive on “the wrong side” of the road in Jamaica (unless you are British or Australian), which might take some getting used to!

If that is not a problem, you’ll be fine, and remember to use your GPS in the cities in order to stay out of areas you don’t want to find yourself as a lost tourist.

If you don’t want to take on the driving challenge, there are great long-haul bus services readily available between the main destinations, like the Knutsford Express.

The beautiful green graas, flowers and trees in Emancipation Park during the day time on a bright day with light cloud cover
Emancipation Park during the day

You can make a Knutsford Express account really quickly online and make all your bookings from their home page.

Within city or parish limits, getting a taxi from place to place is a good and easy option.

Remember to use registered taxis only; you can recognize them by their red number plates with white writing. You can haul them on the streets or call a taxi company for pick-up or drop-off.

Traveling To Jamaica

Six major US airlines fly directly to Jamaica every day. American Airlines, JetBlue, Delta, Virgin Atlantic, KLM, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, and Caribbean Airlines all fly non-stop to Jamaica.

There are also direct routes from New York City and The Windy City, Chicago.

Travelers can also fly in from Boston via Aruba. Those traveling from the South can take a direct flight from Hobby International to Belize—a trip of fewer than three hours.

There are also non-stop flights between Jamaica and Midway International Airport in Chicago.

Wrap-Up Is Jamaica Worth Visiting!

Jamaica is one of the most popular destinations in the Caribbean, and there are numerous reasons to choose the Jamaica holidays. More than a holiday destination, there is a particular lifestyle in Jamaica that seeps into every visitor’s bones.

The island has one of the world’s finest ports, so sea travel comes with top-notch facilities. There’s no better way to get into the Caribbean spirit than by toasting the ocean on a deck at sunset.

The cultural buzz is indelible, and visitors often find their hearts still beating to a different “riddem” long after they have arrived home from their Jamaica holidays!

There are 334 miles between Miami and Jamaica, and a cruise trip usually lasts about 3 -7 days.

Ya Man!

Related blog posts:

Travel From Kingston To Ocho Rios? Expert Travel Guide

Ocho Rios vs Montego Bay – Two Jamaican Paradises

13+ Awesome Kingston Jamaica Tours And Attractions From An Expert

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