How to experience Jamaica like a local
January 1, 1970
I had planned a trip to Jamaica since I first fell in love with reggae music and the Jamaican culture. But, being a full-time student and only having small student jobs it wasn’t easy to save up all that money (around 2000€) for the whole trip. Finally, on the 24th of December 2016, we were on our way to Jamaica. We had booked our flight already in May 2016 via Skyscanner, which was 1,100€. Having a small budget, we booked our apartment in Montego Bay via Airbnb. Which by the way is in my opinion always the best solution if you want to have a whole apartment for yourself, pay a good price (417€ for 12 days for two people) and be with locals.
Don’t take private taxis for long trips
Once we got there the big shock. We had made some plans with our Airbnb Host about travel options, he had arranged drivers for us to get around the island. Private taxi drivers who would drive us from one city to another was going to cost us a day between $150 and $180. Now, of course, these are normal prices for private taxis who will take you from A to B and wait for you the whole day and then take you back. But our budget of $800 each was going to take us only to two major cities and some days to the beach and that was it. You can imagine the frustration we were experiencing after having saved money for so long we weren’t even able to see everything we wanted to see.
Travel like locals!
After one sleepless night, I begged my Airbnb host to please show us how to get around like locals do because I was sure that was the only way to see everything we wanted to see. The reasons why he had hold back was that he didn’t want us to have any bad experiences on the way, being the first time in Jamaica and not knowing our way around he wanted to save us from any harassment or any uncomfortable situation. Mind you, he was a very kind Jamaican dad who wanted only the best for us! But finally he told us what to do and his sister in law went with us on our first trip to Negril! So, I naively asked well where are the “bus stops”? We walked down the hill where we lived and then just stood next to the side of the street. That was is! That was the bus stop. “And now? ” “We wait for a car to pass by that has enough seats for us”. Oh boy, and there begun our adventure!
Seven miles beach in Negril – a must see!
After being shoved in the back of the car next to a nice gentleman who was on his way to work at the Dolphin Cave in Negril, I offered him some of my mom’s Italian Christmas cookies and he exchanged them with some of his coconut cake. My friend turned around and said: “Well Jess aren’t you already making friends back there.” I sure was, as an Italian, you have to share your food with others and it was Christmas so hello! With a short stop in Lucea, we took another cab to Negril and stopped right after Kool Runnings Waterpark. Of course, you just yell “Driveeeerr I’m coming offff!” And the driver will immediately stop wherever you want him to stop. We paid per person only (!) JMD$400 which is less than US$4, for a trip around one hour and a half from Montego Bay to Negril.
There we entered a Beach Park that had an entrance fee of JMD$150 which again is about US$1,20. From there we could walk all the way at the end of Seven Mile Beach and the view was just spectacular!
In the mood of saving a lot of money and doing it the local way, we asked some guys how much it would be to go on a boat and do some snorkeling. One of the guys started at $80 then I said how about $60, we went from $80 to $60, $50, $40 until I said: “Look I am Italian so the whole thing about trying to rip me off won’t work with me because we are the masters in that matter. So, we will pay $40 for all three of us, you will take us on a boat and we will have a good time! “Bumboklaaat, you are just like us Jamaicans huh!”.
And there we were on a boat in the middle of the ocean looking for Nemo and Dora. After that, we had some great lunch at Juicy’s Restaurant and Grill Bar. With fresh juice, jerk chicken, fries and salad we only paid about $5. We ended our wonderful day in Negril at Rick’s Cafe since we did want to see at least some of the typical touristic attractions. And Rick’s Cafe was quite nice. The view was amazing and the atmosphere nice as well even if it was packed with lots of tourists.
What we learned from our first adventurous day in Jamaica was to watch how locals are doing it and copy them. Don’t get ripped off by drivers who know you are a tourist and want to charge you way more. Ask first how much the ride or activity will cost and then start bargaining the price. Always ask other locals how much they are paying for the ride and pay the same amount. And then, just do it! Indulge yourself in the real Jamaican experience, ride next to strangers in cars and feel their sweat on your body, have nice conversations with them while you are praying to Jah that the driver won’t kill all of you while he is driving 120kmh. Oh ja and be bold! If you don’t yell at the driver to stop for you, he won’t.