Jamaica is big enough -- and public transportation is unreliable enough -- that a car is a necessity if you plan to do much independent sightseeing. Unfortunately, prices of car rentals in Jamaica have skyrocketed; it's now one of the most expensive rental scenes in the Caribbean. And fraud is a very real concern; stick with our choices below.
Most rental cars in Jamaica are picked up at the airport, not delivered to your hotel. Some hotels have car-rental desks, but in all cases we've found those desks' prices higher than if arrangements were made in advance. Most car-rental firms in Jamaica grant unlimited mileage; if the firm you're calling doesn't, switch to one that does.
You can usually book a rental car as part of a package tour, but if you're going on your own, here are some tips:
Where to Rent -- Try Budget (tel. 800/472-3325 in the U.S., 876/952-3838 at the Montego Bay Airport, or 876/924-8762 in Kingston; www.budget.com); with Budget, a daily collision-damage waiver is mandatory and costs US$10 to US$20. Hertz (tel. 800/654-3131 in the U.S. and Canada; www.hertz.com) operates branches at the airports in Montego Bay (tel. 876/979-0438) and Kingston (tel. 876/924-8028).
If you'd like to shop for a better deal with one of the local companies in Montego Bay, try Jamaica Car Rental, 23 Gloucester Ave. (tel. 876/952-5586; www.jamaicacarrentals.com), with a branch at the Sangster International Airport at Montego Bay (tel. 876/952-9496). You can also try United Car Rentals, 49 Gloucester Ave. (tel. 876/952-3077), which rents Mazdas, Toyotas, Hondas, and Suzuki jeeps, costing from US$48 per day for a standard, US$64 for automatic.
In Kingston try Island Car Rentals, 17 Antigua Ave. (tel. 876/929-5875; www.islandcarrentals.com). It rents Hondas, Nissans, Toyotas, Suzukis, and others, with rates beginning at US$50 daily in winter and US$44 in the off season.
Expedia.com (www.expedia.com) and Travelocity (www.travelocity.com) can help you compare prices for rentals -- and locate bargains -- in Jamaica.
Driving in Jamaica -- Drive on the left side of the road. You should exercise caution more than usual, and be especially cautious at night: Male drivers here can often be too reckless for comfort. Speed limits in towns are 50kmph (31 mph), and 80kmph (50 mph) outside towns. Gas is measured by the imperial gallon (a British unit of measurement that's about 25% more than a U.S. gal.); most stations don't accept credit cards. Your valid driver's license from home is acceptable for short-term visits to Jamaica.
Auto Breakdowns -- In case of a breakdown, telephone your car-rental agency for assistance.
Road Maps -- A coastal route designated by an A plus a number encircles Jamaica. It's well marked and easy to follow. More complicated are secondary roads, urban streets, and feeder roads, whose markings sometimes are infuriatingly unclear. Recognizing this problem, the Jamaica Tourist Board has issued one of the best maps of the island, the Discover Jamaica road map. It contains a detailed overview of the entire island, as well as blowups of Kingston, Montego Bay, Negril, Mandeville, Spanish Town, Port Antonio, and Ocho Rios; there's also a very useful street index to Kingston. Get it from any Jamaica Tourist Board office or car-rental agency.
Most cabs in Jamaica are older vehicles. Taxis in Kingston don't have meters, so agree on a price before you get in the car. In Kingston and the rest of the island, special taxis and buses for visitors are operated by JUTA (Jamaica Union of Travellers Association) and have the union's emblem on the side of the vehicle. Look for a red Public Passenger Vehicle (PPV) plate.
Taxis can be flagged down on the street or summoned by phone. Rates are per car -- not per passenger -- and 25% is added to the metered rate between midnight and 5am.
Technically, JUTA cabs are supposed to have meters, but most of them are not in working order. Therefore, again, agree on the price of the trip before booking. Cab fares should be posted inside the taxi; if you don't see them, you have the right to request a copy from the driver. A 10% to 12% tip is usually added.
Avoid pirate or unlicensed taxis. Not only are they not metered -- they are illegal and rarely carry insurance.
By Moped & Motorcycle
The front desk of your hotel can usually arrange the rental of a moped or motorcycle. Expect a daily rate of about US$50 for a moped or US$70 for a Honda 550. Depending on the vehicle rented, a deposit of US$100 to US$300 is generally required.
Most travelers enter the country via Montego Bay (although American Airlines and Air Jamaica also fly to Kingston). If you want to fly elsewhere on the island, you'll need to use the island's domestic air service, which is provided by Air Jamaica Express. Reservations are handled by Air Jamaica (tel. 800/523-5585 in the U.S. and Canada, or 888/FLY-AIRJ in Jamaica; www.airjamaica.com). You can also reserve from home through a travel agent or American Airlines.
Air Jamaica Express offers scheduled flights daily between the resort areas. There are seven flights a day from Kingston to Montego Bay, two flights a day between Kingston and Ocho Rios, and two flights between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios -- each about US$90 per leg. Car-rental facilities are not available at Jamaica's smaller airports.
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.