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Jamaica’s capital, Kingston, is a vibrant mix of waterfront city centre highrises, leafy suburbs and sprawling slums, giving a realistic overview of the country itself. Its claim to tourism fame is undoubtedly its connection with the late, great reggae superstar Bob Marley, with his former home now a museum set on Hope Road. His simple lifestyle, in spite of his fame, is demonstrated here, alongside the memorabilia and his personal recording studio. His unmistakeable music is still heard all over the city today. Self-drive combined with alertness as to social conditions is the safest way to get around, and also the best way to be sure you’re travelling in a reliable vehicle.
Who to Book With
Hertz, Alamo and Avis are three of the best-known car rental companies operating from Kingston’s Norman Manley International Airport, along with several local Jamaican companies including Island Car Rentals. Booking online well in advance in order to ensure the latest, safest model, as well as the best price, is highly recommended.
Best Time to go
Tourism is Jamaica’s major industry, egged on by the tropical weather, which draws in visitors all year round. However, the best time to go is from October to mid-December, when the weather is at its most glorious, there are no hurricanes to worry about and room rates aren’t as high as in the peak travel months of January through to March.
Need to Know Essentials
The following documents should be presented when you collect your hire car:
- Your valid UK photo driving license
- Your passport to confirm your ID
- The credit card used for your reservation
- A print-out of the rental agreement and confirmation
If you’re determined to drive in Jamaica, you’ll need to take extra care, as the roads are mostly poorly maintained and adequate street lighting is a rare luxury. Stick to the upscale areas in the city and avoid driving anywhere at night if possible. Speeding and drink driving are favourite games for local motorists, with defensive driving at all times your best protection. Keeping windows and doors locked during your trip is also advised. A good map is essential, while bravery and practice will get you through any interesting situations you may meet on the road. As regards to petrol stations, cash is the best option. Driving in Kingston is an adventure seasoned by other road users’ antics. The best bet for parking is finding a hotel with its own secure car park.
Your best bet, in regards to public transport in Kingston, is to take the special buses and taxis offered by the Jamaica Union of Travellers Association (JUTA), as the vehicles are generally better maintained, insured, and their drivers are more responsible. Bus travel in general is now more comfortable than previously, as express and longer-distance buses have been upgraded to include aircon. There is no rail service in or around Kingston.
Most of Kingston’s cabs are unmetered older vehicles, so fares should be agreed before the journey commences. Whether you flag a cab down on the street or pre-order by phone, the fare is per car, not per passenger. After midnight and before 04:00, a 25 per cent surcharge is added. Unlicensed cabs are best avoided, as they’re illegal and rarely insured. Route taxis are convenient if you’re travelling to one of their destinations, clearly marked on the side of the vehicle, but be prepared to share with locals, as it’s a cheap form of transport. On Time Taxis offer five convenient booking numbers.
The Jamaica Urban Transit Company runs Kingston’s buses, with extensive routes set out on their website. Fares range from around 13p for short urban routes to £2.00 for longer journeys on express buses, making bus travel the cheapest way to get around.
Exploring Jamaica’s lush tropical jungles, soaring mountains, unspoiled beaches and laidback towns and villages, with their traditional markets, is one of the most enjoyable parts of a holiday here. For a taste of resort life, the Ocho Rios coastline, Montego Bay and Negril offer charm, comfort and Caribbean exuberance.
Kingston to Port Antonio - This road runs along the dramatic east coast of the island, taking just over two hours and winding through the forested foothills and along the rugged coast. The scenery is spectacular, but the road itself leaves a lot to be desired in regards to condition, while its alternative route through the mountains features hairpin bends and steep drops.
Kingston to Ocho Rios - The drive from Kingston to the upscale resort and port of Ocho Rios is relatively short, at around 1.5 hours, taking you past typically traditional Jamaican villages set in stunning countryside. As you approach the resort, the reason for its name (which means ‘Eight Rivers’) becomes obvious. The nearby Dunns River Falls and Park are must-visit locations.
Montego Bay to Kingston - This road takes around four hours, and runs south through some of Jamaica’s loveliest regions of natural beauty. A highlight is the dense, tropical glory of Fern Gully, with its more than 500 species of tropical ferns. A spectacular diversion along the way takes you to the Mount Diablo Hills, with their panoramic views across the island and the ocean.