Jamaica has about 250 miles of railway track, 77 of which are currently operated by Windalco to carry privately run bauxite (aluminium ore) trains. Public passenger and freight services were discontinued in 1992, but increasing congestion and poor road conditions have prompted the government to re-examine the economic feasibility of operating the railway.
- Clarendon Express. A tourist railway in Clarendon, on Windalco tracks, with Jamaica Railway Corporation cars, with American-built diesel-electric locomotives as motive power.
Driving as a tourist in Jamaica is an adventure in itself.
Jamaican roads are not known for their maintenance or for the care taken by drivers. Roads in and around larger cities and towns are usually congested, and rural roads tend to be narrow and somewhat dangerous, especially in bad weather. Attentive and considerate driving is advised at all times. There are also very few north-south roads, so travelling from north to south can mean trekking on mountain roads. These journeys can cause nausea in the weakest stomachs, so people who suffer from motion sickness are advised to carry Dramamine or a similar medication. The roads can be very narrow, so be extra careful when turning. Jamaican drivers do not slow down because of these turns, so be careful.
Jamaica, as a former British colony, drives on the left-hand side. Be aware of this when driving, especially when turning, crossing the road and swerving.
Outside the city centres, there are relatively few traffic lights; they are mostly located in the larger city centres, such as Montego Bay, Falmouth, Kingston, Mandeville, Spanish Town and Ocho Rios. In towns where traffic lights are not installed, roundabouts are used.
Renting a car is easy and it is advisable to go through a large, established car rental company, such as Island Car Rental, Hertz or Avis. Do your research before you rent and drive.
Avis rents GPS units for JMD 12 per day with a JMD 200 deposit.
With the boat
Travelling by boat is not advisable unless the service is operated by a hotel or tourism company. It is not a fast means of transport unless you want to take a tour along the coast. Many fishermen offer this service to willing tourists, but may charge exorbitant prices.
Don’t be afraid to take the local Jamaican buses – they are cheap and save you from having to negotiate with tourist taxis. Be prepared to tip the porters who load your luggage onto the bus. The ride is very different from what you are probably used to. Many resorts offer bus tours. Contact the resort office responsible for planning day trips for more information. Bus tours from Ocho Rios to Kingston and Blue Mountain, can be a long bus ride without many stops. A visit to Kingston can consist of a stop at a mall for lunch, a visit to Bob Marley’s house and a 2-minute stop at Jamaica’s Beverly Hills. A guided tour of the Blue Mountain coffee factory can be interesting and informative.
Local taxis (called “regular taxis”) are an interesting way to get around and are much cheaper than tourist taxis. For example, it can cost 50 JMD (less than a dollar) to drive 20 miles. It will just look like a local’s car, and that’s exactly what it is. Those who have a licence usually have taxi signs sprayed on their front wings, although there seems to be little enforcement of things like business licences in Jamaica. It is rare that you will find one with a taxi plate on the roof as few do. The colour of the number plate is telling. A red number plate indicates that it is a transport vehicle, while a white number plate indicates that it is a private vehicle. The yellow plate indicates a government vehicle (e.g. a police car or ambulance) and the list goes on. Although regular taxis usually go from the centre of one city to the centre of the next, you can hail a taxi anywhere along the highway. Walk or stand on the side of the road and flag down passing cars and you will be surprised how quickly you can get one.
The regular taxis are often crowded, but they are friendly and happy to have you along. Regular taxis are the primary means of transport for Jamaicans and have the same function as a bus system in a large metropolis. It’s how people get to work, children to school, etc.
Regular taxis usually serve specific locations, but if you are in a city’s taxi centre, you can find taxis going in any direction you want. Regular taxis don’t go very far, so if you want to cross half the island, you’ll have to do it in stages. Worst case scenario, repeat your final destination to anyone who asks you where you want to go, and they will put you in the right car and send you on your way. You may have to wait until the taxi has enough passengers to make the journey worthwhile for the driver, and many regular taxis run with far more people on board than a Westerner might think. If you have luggage, you may have to pay extra for your luggage as you are taking up space that would otherwise be sold to another passenger.
If money is no object, you can travel between the island’s small airports by small charter plane. There are some companies that offer this service and you need to make an appointment at least one day in advance. A flight across the island (e.g. from Negril to Port Antonio) costs about 600 USD.