How to do Jamaica on a shoestring budget

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The largest English-speaking Caribbean Island, Jamaica is packed with plenty of perfect vacation destinations, from party-ready Negril to laid-back Montego Bay. While Jamaica remains less expensive than some other Caribbean islands, costs can still add up if you’re not careful. Jump start your savings with a flight deal (found on, of course). Then read on for even more ways to save.

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Time your trip right

Timing is everything. (Image: Jamaica Tourist Board)

Jamaica’s low season runs from summer through December and overlaps with hurricane season, which runs from June to November. Sandwiched between rainy season and the winter crowds, December is a sweet spot where both weather and affordability collide. However, don’t write off travel during hurricane season, which spans half the year. You can save significantly during this period, and there are ways to troubleshoot the small risk that weather may pose to vacation plans. Here’s why you shouldn’t be afraid to travel during hurricane season.

Location is key

Head to the Blue Mountains for coffee. (Image: Jamaica Tourist Board)

Montego Bay boasts one of the Caribbean’s largest airports, making flights easier to find and more affordable to book, especially when considering direct flight options. For even more savings, consider staying on the less touristy South Coast, about two hours by car from Montego Bay. With public beaches, cheap local eats and a relaxed vibe, your stress will melt away.

Find cheap eats

Take the plunge at Rick’s Cafe. (Image: Abir Anwar, Rick’s Cafe 14 via Flick CC by 2.0)

Jamaica is known for its ackee (a bright yellow fruit) and saltfish breakfasts, meat patties for snacks, and jerk for lunch and dinner (or anytime!). National chain restaurants Tastee and Juici Patties offer authentic interpretations of the nation’s popular meat patties. You won’t have to go far to find a street-side or beach-side stand serving the country’s favorite jerk (meat that is marinated for hours in peppers, pimento seeds, scallion, thyme and nutmeg, then cooked over an outdoor pit lined with pimento wood). Arguably the most celebrated roadside jerk shack is Scotchie’s in Montego Bay, but Rick’s Café in Negril is also a popular spot for jerk and drinks. Perched on the West End Cliffs, Rick’s Café is also known as a classic beach bar where intrepid bar-goers take a plunge off the cliff into the waters below.

Freebies are your friends

Who doesn’t like free stuff? (Image: mararie, negril beach via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

There are plenty of free things to do in Jamaica, from walking Negril’s famous Seven Mile Beach and strolling the city’s art market to watching the sunset and enjoying live reggae in Montego Bay. Ask the staff at your accommodation and at restaurants and bars for suggestions too.

Go all-inclusive

RIU Palace Jamaica
Get more bang for your buck at an all-inclusive resort. (Image: Jamaica Tourist Board)

If you’re just looking to get away without the stress of vacation planning, consider an all-inclusive resort where you can leave your cares (and wallet) at home. Most of the all-inclusive resorts are clustered on the island’s western tip in Negril, on the northwest coast in Montego Bay and in the middle of the northern coast in Ocho Rios. Staying at an all-inclusive may not always be the cheapest, depending on what you’re looking for, but it’s worth considering (check out our Insider’s guide to all-inclusive resorts to help you decide).

Go budget

Get added savings by booking budget accommodations. (Image: Jamaica Tourist Board)

Jamaica boasts more than 24,000 guest rooms, from fancy five-star resorts to less expensive options like private villas, small inns with under 50 rooms, guesthouses,and condominiums that offer comfortable accommodations and warm hospitality for a fraction of the price of larger, luxury resorts. In areas like Montego Bay, which has more guest rooms than any other part of the island, there is a higher chance for lower room rates as resorts compete to offer the best deals. Hostels are also an option. Try The Bird’s Nest or Mobay Kotch in Montego Bay, Reggae Hostel in Ochos Rios or Catcha Falling Star Gardens in Negril.  For hostel tips, check out our first-timer’s guide to staying at a hostel.

Journey off-the-beaten path

Explore Jamaica’s parts unknown. (Image: Jamaica Tourist Board)

Most of the mega resorts and tourists are in Montego Bay, Negril and Ocho Rios, so heading further afield to places like Kingston, Port Antonio and the South Coast can mean big savings. The capital, Kingston, features attractions like the Bob Marley Museum, housed in the late musician’s former home and recording studio, and Port Royal, the former pirate capital of the Caribbean. Kingston is one hour from the Blue and John Crow Mountains, the longest mountain range in Jamaica. Nestled between twin harbors on the island’s northeast curve, Port Antonio is popular for ecotourism. Visitors can swim, snorkel, or dive in the 200-foot deep Blue Lagoon, go rafting on the Rio Grande, admire Somerset Falls and relax on the sand at Frenchman’s Cove and Boston Beach. The remote South Coast is the ideal place to enjoy a quiet holiday. Each town in the region has its own charm like the Georgian architecture in Black River, the sugar plantations in Savanna-La-Mar, the colorful gardens of Christiana and Quashie’s River Caves in Trelawny.

Try new places

Save big by taking a chance on new places. (Image: Jamaica Tourist Board)

In a country-wide effort to accommodate tourism, the Jamaica Tourist Board plans to add more than 1,100 rooms in 2017 and 12,000 more rooms between 2018 and 2021. This is good news for travelers as new hotel openings often bring added savings during “soft” openings and grand openings. During a soft opening, the resort’s facilities may not all be up and running or there may be construction still underway, so check with the property prior to booking. However, booking a stay at a newly-opened hotel provides the chance to try a luxury property first and for greatly reduced rates. Some of the new properties scheduled to open this year include Jewel Grande in Montego Bay and The R Hotel in Kingston.

Consider a cruise

Cruise in and out of Jamaica. (Image: Jamaica Tourist Board)

Depending on the time of year, it may be cheaper to visit Jamaica via a cruise, as you will only have to pay for excursions and food. Ports of call for cruise ships include Falmouth, Kingston, Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Port Antonio. There is plenty to see and do with just one day in port. Falmouth is on Jamaica’s northern coast between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, making it easy to access either hotspot. In Montego Bay, visit Rose Hall plantation, which is said to be haunted by Annie Palmer, who murdered three husbands before meeting a gory death at the hand of her slave lover, and taking a dip in Doctor’s Cave Beach, which is believed to have healing powers. In Ocho Rios, work up an appetite for jerk chicken by swimming with dolphins at Dolphin Cove and climb up the limestone tiers of Dunn’s River Falls.

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Photo cred: Miles Holder

How to do Jamaica on a shoestring budget was last modified: June 26th, 2019 by Lauren Mack
Author: Lauren Mack (163 posts)

Lauren Mack has traveled to 40 countries on five continents, including Cuba, New Zealand, Peru and Tanzania. For many years, she called China, and then Taiwan, home. Countries at the beginning of the alphabet, particularly Antarctica, Argentina and Australia are on her travel bucket list. Lauren is a multimedia travel and food journalist and explorer based in New York City.