Be ready to shake hands, the island's standard greeting, and to be invited into the home of a stranger, where normal politeness is expected. Don't wear beach clothes downtown or in the countryside. Ask permission to take a person's photo and offer to send them a copy.
Crime and Safety
With the third highest murder rate in the world, visiting certain neighborhoods, like Trench Town in Kingston, invites trouble. Wear a money belt with a small amount of cash and leave valuables in a hotel safe. Vocally discourage drug dealers -- ganja and cocaine are illegal. Drive with doors locked and windows up in questionable city areas. Contact your government's embassy if you have an emergency.
See Jamaica's interior, using your hotel concierge as a source for a reputable car and driver to keep you away from dangerous places and suggest interesting sites. "Free villages," the settled sites of runaway Maroon African slaves (Nanny Town, Moore Town, Accompang and Seaford Town), plantations, caves, forts parks, lighthouses and archaeological digs are some of the more tourist-free objectives.
Negril, Montego Bay and Ocho Rios are Jamaica's most famous beaches. Go between January and March for the best weather and, when in Ocho Rios, visit nearby mountains and waterfalls and the 500 fern species of Fern Gully on the North Coast.
Jamaican Creole, or Patois, is widely spoken between Jamaicans and is incomprehensible to native English speakers, but English is used when tourists are spoken to.
Take passports, required for entering and leaving Jamaica and useful throughout your stay. Visas are required only for business visitors and stays longer than 90 days. Carry just one bag and you will get through customs much more smoothly. Don't attempt to bring flowers, plants, uncanned foods, guns, drugs, indecent material or printed matter concerning magic or cultism into Jamaica.
Try the local fare, like ackee and saltfish, made with the local fruit called ackee and dried codfish mixed with onions and tomatoes, or "bammy," an Arawak Indian invention that is a flat cassava pancake tasting like cornbread . Jerk chicken, pork and conch take their names from the jerk seasoning spice that is spread on the meat, which is then grilled. A vegetable stew called "ital" food is usually found only in smaller restaurants.
Air Jamaica Express (website: www.airjamaica.com) offers flights between resort areas, with regular service out of larger cities.. Water taxis and cruises can be booked throughout Jamaica and sailing yachts may be chartered from Negril, Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. Don't plan on sailing in cyclone season, July to November, when heavy rains occur. The Jamaica Tourist Board (www.visitjamaica.com) can provide details and service. Bus service is poor, except between Kingston and Montego Bay, and taxis (use hotel-assigned) are hired on a per-car basis. Driving (on the left side of the road) is an adventure in gang mentality.
Blue and John Crow National Park, on Jamaica's east end, is a nature preserve of nearly 200,000 acres, encompassing Grand Ridge's Blue Mountain Peak, at 7,402 feet, tropical forests and fern groves and rare plants, birds and other animals. Other lush ecosystems reside in the Cockpit Country, Hellshire Hills and Litchfield forest reserves. Montego Bay is the home of a stunning marine park.