Jamaica transportation starts with Norman Manley International Airport (KIN), which has been going through a series of renovations over the years, to the tune of millions of dollars. Some of that money has been spent on upgrading Wi-Fi access, which now often seems to be free—unlike Donald Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay that offers Internet access for sale. Manley Airport is an easy 15 miles from Kingston’s main hotel district and convenient to the Kingston Free Zone. Carriers flying into Kingston include Caribbean Airlines (Air Jamaica), American Airlines and Air Canada. Flying time is about three hours from New York and about 40 minutes from Miami. Whether coming or going, you’ll find lots of shops and restaurants inside this Jamaica airport (if you’re on a budget, a juicy Jamaican beef patty and a Ting—Jamaica’s popular grapefruit soda—will beat anything served on a plane). The immigration process can be super-quick or slower than you could ever imagine; it’s the luck of the draw. You can expect a blur of action once you step outside, with plenty of touts coming up with offers of taxi transportation. Intra-island flights are offered by Jamaica Air Shuttle, with scheduled flights from Kingston to Montego Bay, as well as charter flights to other Caribbean islands.
Fans of train travel will have to bite the bullet when they’re in Jamaica. The Kingston railway station
, with trains that formerly ran back and forth between Kingston and Montego Bay
, is now defunct. The line carried its first passengers back in 1845 and closed in 1992. This was also when all train traffic on Jamaica bit the dust, probably for good.
Kingston Harbour is the seventh-largest natural harbor in the world, measuring 10 miles long by 2 miles wide. Most of it is deep enough to accommodate large ships, even close to shore. If you’re on a cruise you won’t be docking in Kingston. Cruise ships dock on the northwest coast at the terminals in the resort areas of Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. Unlike other island nations, Jamaica is one large land mass instead of part of a series of island chains. This means travel by ferry is almost unheard of, although there are ferry services between Kingston and Port Royal. While Port Royal may also be reached by car, many visitors opt to ride the ferry because ticket prices are cheap and the views are camera-ready during the half-hour ride.
If you don’t mind cramming in with (mostly) friendly strangers, Jamaica transportation options might have you jumping on buses, minibuses and route taxis plying the roads between Kingston and virtually every resort area and hamlet on the island. Most buses can be found coming and going from the downtown terminal on Beckford and Pechon streets, near the dicey district of Trench Town. You can also catch a bus at Half Way Tree junction—a more secure choice—where it’s easy to transfer to a local bus into New Kingston. If you’re arriving into Kingston, always inquire into which district you’ll be arriving and then decide accordingly. When you’re traveling back and forth between cities, more often than not Jamaica transportation choices will have you traveling in a minivan. You’ll find the price is right, the schedule loose, and the driver’s skills may have you crossing yourself. Be sure to greet with a “good morning” as you board the bus as it’s a sign of politeness. It will bode well should you need to ask for further directions from the bus driver.
Taxis are not only the most efficient way to get around. Jamaica’s taxi drivers tend to be educated and opinionated—qualities not always found in combination, although you may want to keep topics such as religion and politics to a minimum. You can hire them for short trips around Kingston or longer treks between cities. In Kingston, they call gypsy, or unlicensed cabs, “robots.” Do yourself a favor and stay clear of them. Only hire a JUTA taxi (stands for Jamaica Union for Travelers Association). They’re easily distinguished by their red Public Passenger Vehicles license plates. These drivers are certified by the Jamaica Tourist Board. Maybe even more important, their cars are air conditioned. Taxis aren’t metered, so you’ll have to settle on a price before taking off. For good service, tip 10 to 15%.
Kingston doesn’t have a metro system, so you’ll be driving a rental or relying on taxis, buses and minibuses during your visit.
There are a few things you need to consider before you take the wheel in Kingston. Driving is on the left, roundabouts can be disorienting, and too many drivers have a devil-may-care attitude, especially about passing other vehicles. If the above doesn’t sound daunting, by all means, rent a car. Visitors from North America can use their country’s license for up to three months per visit. Jamaica also recognizes valid International Driver’s Licenses. The speed limit is 50 mph/80kph for the open road and 30 mph/50kph in built-up areas, towns and villages. On the new highways, the speed limit is a maximum of 65mph/110kph. The minimum age for renting and driving a car is 21, though some companies require a surcharge for drivers between the ages of 23-25. Some car rental companies, such as Budget Rent A Car
, require drivers to be 25 years old. On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re over 65-70 you’ll face restrictions renting a car, depending on the car rental company. Seat belts are compulsory and children under 3 years need to ride in a child seat; you can rent these for about $6 per day. Jamaicans call speed bumps "sleeping policemen."