Before You Go….
- You need a passport to enter and leave the country. Do not wait until the last minute to take care of this and please check the expiration date to make sure there will be no unpleasant issues. Make at least two photocopies and leave one with a trusted contact and carry one with you at all times.
- Travel with a nice supply of singles and five dollar bills which will come in handy for tipping for in a variety of circumstances.
- Check with your cell phone carrier to for international plan rates. It is suggested you utilize your device.
Once You Get There
- Money – The exchange rate is JA$1 for US$.82. Take the Jamaican quoted price and multiply it by 0.82. Therefore JA$1000 multiplied by 0.82 is $8.20US. JA$ comes in notes of $50, $100, $500, $1,000 and $5,000. Coins in circulation are $20, $10, and $5 (with smaller coins being almost worthless). Please note, the exchange rate fluctuates, therefore you should check the exchange rate daily. US coins are worthless in Jamaica. Most major credit cards are accepted by most hotels and all types of businesses including Duty Free shops, restaurants and night clubs etc.
- Driving – They drive on the left side of the road, not the “wrong” side. Be sure to look both ways before crossing the street.
- Taxi – Your taxi might be an ancient Ford, a shiny new Lada or anything else on wheels, but is should have a red “PPV” license plate to indicate that it is a licensed public passenger vehicle. If not, it is an unauthorized taxi, commonly known as a “robot”. Beware – it often appears that Jamaicans are holding a contest as to how many bodies can squeeze into one cab. Do not compete. Get a cab for yourself and get the price clearly, before you set off.
- Marijuana – Contrary to what you might have heard or think, marijuana (best known locally as ganja) although cheap and readily available, is illegal. Govern yourself accordingly.
- The Fairytale – My sisters, How Stella Got Her Back Groove Back was both a fantasy and a cautionary tale. You will meet many sweet talkers with pretty smiles who will make you feel very Stella-esque. Don’t believe the hype. Don’t give out any information about where you’re staying or your travel plans. When asked if this is your first time in Jamaica (a popular ice-breaker question), be vague. Smile sweetly, say, “thank you” and keep it moving.
- The Men – A lot of Jamaican men are bolder in their approach than you might have encountered at home. Don’t be offended. Just smile and remain vague and mysterious.
- The Sun – The Jamaican sun is hotter than anything you’ve ever felt before so be sure to use sunscreen, wear a hat (the wider the better) and hydrate with water, sports drinks or coconut water. The local sports drink is Hy-Lyte and it’s served along the race course and at the pasta party. It’s a good idea to get acclimated to it before race day. The Red Stripe beer and rum punch will be flowing plentifully but please be reminded that alcohol can dehydrate you and make for a bad race experience.
- Mosquitos – The Jamaican mosquitos fall in love so easily, especially with fresh international cuisine…that would be you. Skin So Soft, Bug Repellant, Bull Frog Repellant, Off and whatever else you can use, use it, but make note, you will get bit.
- Dinos – You will see little lizards running around, and you might even see one or two in your hotel room. Do not be afraid. They won’t bother you.
- Time – Jamaican time can be approximate and vary greatly. “Soon come” could be anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour or more. Relax and don’t stress about it. Everything’s gonna be alright. Side note: The start time for the race is 5:15a.m. and that is not an approximation.
- Safety – Like any other beautiful rose, Jamaica has its share of thorns. Please use good judgment at all times. Stay in groups or at least in pairs. For as much as we’re all grown, it’s still a foreign country and “stuff” can happen. Do not go off on any solo ventures. This includes going in the back or downstairs in a shop or other establishment to “see another/better one.”
- Medical – Jamaica is a very healthy country with more than adequate medical care available in most of the population centers on the island
- Water – The water supply is more than adequate and healthy, it is filtered and chlorinated at a different rate than other areas of the world so for anyone who doesn’t like the taste or experiences mild stomach discomfort, bottle water is readily available throughout the island. Please note, however, that most of the hotels have filtered water which is fine to drink.
- Wi-Fi is available at all hotels. It might be a bit slow because of the number of people using it, but it is available.
- Jamaica Cuisine – Because tourism is a key component of the country’s economy, they bend over to accommodate tourist taste. However, to truly experience the country, be willing to try the cuisine. Our national dish is ackee and salt- fish. Ackee is a fruit but the cooked dish has the appearance and texture of scrambled eggs. It’s usually mixed with dried salted cod. It’s often served at breakfast with cassava pancakes called bammy, fried dough or cooked green bananas, yams, etc. It’s all different than what you’re accustomed to but that part of the joy of traveling…new experiences. Traveling to a foreign country should feel like you’ve been somewhere else. If everything is the same as at home, what’s the point?
- Street Vendors – Street vendors can be assertive to the point of aggressive so be prepared to stand your ground. Don’t let yourself be bullied into making a purchase. Also, shop around because many of the vendors are selling the same or similar items. Don’t buy the first thing you see, even if you think you’re in love. It’s OK to negotiate with street vendors but prices are usually fixed in stores. It never hurts to ask for a discount but don’t be surprised if the answer is, “no.”
- Shopping/Money – Many stores will accept US dollars as payment but will give you change in Jamaican dollars. This is cool at the beginning of your trip but when it gets close to the end, you might want to rethink this, if you don’t want to be stuck with Jamaican currency when you get home.
- Gratuities – Tipping is expected for service provided (bell hops, caps, maid service, room service, wait staff, etc.)
The Comments – Jamaicans can be blunt in ways that may seem rude to our politically correct sensibilities. Take no offense at unsolicited comments about your hair, weight, etc. If something bites, just shrug and let it go because engaging and debating won’t get you anywhere. Brace yourself for the comments and let them roll off your back and keep it moving.
- Pictures – Ask permission before taking people’s pictures (especially when children are involved.) Most people will gladly say yes but some may ask for money.
Have fun and make great memories while you enjoy the beautiful country of Jamaica!