14 Tips to Surviving Jamaica (as a Tourist/Traveller)

Jamaica can be overwhelming- in a good way- if its your first time there, especially if you’re not doing the all-inclusive resort type of trip (which means you are going to experience the REAL Jamaica, hurrah!)

As a “foreigner” having been to Jamaica -particularly Kingston- a handful of times, here are a few helpful survival tips:

1. Wear long pants at night.
Yes, you are fresh blood and hence an all you can eat-buffet for mosquitoes. Nuff said.

2. Learn some Patois
Read up on some basics BEFORE you get to Jamaica. From greetings like “Wha gwaan?” to bumba, blood, rass and everything else “claat”. Practice makes perfect, read up on jamaicanpatwah.com But!!! There is more to just words, there are SOUNDS that you will hear a lot of too. The most common one being a ttsssskkk kiss-your-teeth kind of thing which is often made to show disapproval towards something.

3. Learn the handshakes
Things are not so straightforward in Jamaica when it comes to greetings. There is the standard handshake, there’s the “lion paw” (popular with Rastas), the “thumb-rub”, the “hand shake and finger snap” (which I’ve only seen once) and many others that you’ll have fun learning about…

4. Buy your produce at the markets
Don’t get ripped off at the fancy supermarkets, buy your fruits & vegs fresh and ripe at local markets and support local farmers. Some prices in Jamaica are out of control, so choose wisely.

5. Apples & Pears
On the subject of markets, know that “apples” in Jamaica are often used to refer to the delicious Otaheite apples (which look nothing like the “standard” apple) and avocados are referred to as “pears”.

6. Familiarize yourself with….. the cockroach!!!
Every destination has its monster. NY has rats (and heck, bedbugs), London has mice, Mexico (parts of it) has lizards….. and well Jamaica has cockroaches and they will be a part of your trip whether you like it or not 🙂

7. Water lock-offs
I experienced my first water lock-off during my last trip. At 11PM one night I turn on the tap… for nothing to come out of it. Yes, it was a water lock-off!!! Fortunately, the place I was staying at had bottles and gallons of water filled up for these just-in-case moments. If you’re there during a drought, stay informed via the National Water Commission (www.nwcjamaica.com). I wish someone had told me about it earlier!! 🙂

8. If you like a taxi driver, get his/her number!!
If you’re getting good vibes from a taxi guy (or gal), ask for their number and keep it. I have kept a driver’s number for over a year now, and she has always been there when I need her. Otherwise, at all costs have a taxi office number on you, I like On Time (876 926-3866 if you are in Kingston).

9. Get your 876 digits…buy a Sim card
Well, obviously if you want to call a taxi, you’ll need a phone number. It doesn’t cost much but it will be a life saver. As for Digicel vs Lime (the two main phone providers), let’s leave that debate for another day…

10. “R” is for Route Taxis and Red license plates
You are going to become very good friends with route taxis if you want to get around. Route taxis are the shared cabs that many locals hop in & out of and their license plate is red. Bonus: you’ll overhear some of the best conversations and discover some great music along the way.

11. Learn to be PATIENT 🙂
Patience is indeed a virtue in Jamaica. Set your watches to island time and don’t take the comment “mi soon come” too literally. Things will happen and work out, just not right now.

12. Have a sense of humour
There is going to be a lot of random, unexpected things that will happen during your trip. But you’re going to have to learn how to laugh at most of them. It’s nothing more then just life happening in front of you 🙂

13. Learn the trick to opening/closing a gate and door.
If you stay at someone’s place or are renting your own place, know that there is a certain “way” to lock/unlock a gate and door. It might take a few times to “feel” it… but you will have fun figuring it out: pull away, jiggle or push down… something along those lines.

14. Smile- it’s simple and free
Seriously, this is probably the best piece of advice I can give you. Yes, you are a foreigner and more then likely, you will stand out in a crowd whether you like it or not. People will approach you, they will “pssssst” you and they will want to talk to you. More often then not, it’s out of friendliness with no bad intentions. The best thing you can do is smile, keep walking, or stop and strike a conversation. The latter sometimes leads to wonderful things.

If you are interested in this feature, please contact the Real Jamaica team! Thanks!


Culture Nut & Curious Cat, Owner of Marianna’s Kitchen (67 Constant Spring Rd, Kingston).
Follow me on Instagram or check out my photography at Flickr.

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