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Vacations are getting shorter, and a lean-and-mean schedule is called for if you want to experience the best of Jamaica in a ridiculously small amount of time. If you're a time-stressed traveler, as most of us are, you may find these itineraries helpful. Think of them as "Jamaica in a nutshell."

Jamaica is arguably the most beautiful island in the Caribbean for scenery. Seeing its attractions is a joy. Getting to some of them is hell.

While touring Jamaica by car, you must drive on the left-hand side of the road. Breakdown assistance is quite limited in urban areas and virtually unavailable in rural sections.

Drivers and passengers in the front seat are required to wear seat belts (and will you ever need them!).

Drivers, if possible, should make every effort to avoid areas of high crime and civil strife. Most sudden explosions of violence take place in and around greater Kingston. Road blocks are sometimes employed by residents as protests to draw attention to particular issues. Extreme caution by drivers is urged. Keep the windows up and the doors locked when driving.

Most roads are paved, but suffer from ill repair, inadequate signage, and poor traffic-control markings. City roads are often subject to poorly marked construction zones, pedestrians, bicyclists, and, occasionally, livestock. Street corners are frequented by peddlers, window washers, and beggars walking among stopped cars. Small roads are often narrow and are frequently traveled at high speeds. Drivers should be aware of roundabouts, which are often poorly marked and require traffic to move in a clockwise direction. Motorists entering a roundabout must yield to those already in it. Failure to turn into the correct flow of traffic can result in a head-on collision.

The A1, A2, and A3 highways are the primary links among the most important towns and tourist destinations on the island. These roads are not comparable to American highways, and road conditions may be hazardous because of poor repair, inadequate signage, and poor traffic-control markings. The B highways and other rural roads are often very narrow and frequented by large trucks, buses, pedestrians, bicyclists, and open-range livestock. Highways are traveled at high speeds, but they are not limited-access and are subject to the hazards outlined above.

With More Time to Spare, Go Jamaican

With either the North Coast or South Coast itinerary, you will have covered the major sights of Jamaica. But if your holiday schedule finds you with 2 weeks in Jamaica, spend your second week perfecting the fine points of being laid back and discovering in greater depth the multiple charms of the island. Here are some possibilities, any of which can profitably be repeated in case you're not sure you understood the details the first time. (A rigid assignment of specific activities to specific days would be completely un-Jamaican, so we've left the actual scheduling of these recommendations to you.)

  • While sampling whichever of the island's rum drinks best appeals to your palate, you might experiment with having your hair braided into different styles including plaits or cornrows, and learning the nuances of Jamaican patois, the island's unofficial language.
  • Do some research into the Rastafarian religion, using what you learn to better appreciate the lyrics of reggae music.
  • While sunning on an island beach, ponder the technical issues of the eventual construction of your own backyard jerk pit. Ask lots of questions about preferred cooking times and spices used during the jerk process.
  • If you're interested in government, study the ideologies and practices of the island's political parties.
  • Go shopping! Multiple opportunities for this art form present themselves throughout the course of any day, and by all means, don't limit yourself to whatever (and whoever) happens to approach you on the beach. Consider fine-tuning your respect (through visits to local art galleries) for the island's increasingly visible body of paintings, learning about the many woodcarvings produced by Jamaican artists, and watching for the cautious but subtle fashion statements that continue to emerge from the ateliers of the island's dressmakers.
  • Read a book, meet people, go swimming, and, if only for the last week of your stay, BE JAMAICAN! (The locals will love it.)

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.