Touring with Dave
If you’re going to pack as much into a single day as we did, especially over so scattered an area, you’ll need either your own car or a driver for the day. I’ve written elsewhere about the challenges of driving yourself in Jamaica, so if you can afford it I would recommend the latter option. We were getting on great with our fellow guests at the Blue House, so we all got together for our day out in Kingston, thus reducing the cost and as a bonus getting some great travelling companions to share the experience with. Thanks to Elise at the Blue House, we were able to have the same driver for both the tours we did from Ocho Rios, and for our transfers, so we got to know Dave pretty well by the end of the week and he us. We really appreciated his careful driving (well, careful by Jamaican standards, that is!) and enjoyed his company. He took us to some places we wouldn’t have found alone (the Pam Pam Rock) and some we might not have thought to look for (Juici Pattis for breakfast and Strawberry Hill for coffee). So thanks Dave :)
Having the same driver throughout your trip is definitely a great arrangement, and it worked out as better value too. We paid US$250 for the whole day, i.e. US$50 per person as there were five of us, and as Dave had picked us up at 7.30 AM and we returned “home” at about 7.30 PM, I think that was excellent value.
Arriving by air
If you’re flying to Kingston you’ll arrive at Norman Manley International Airport, which is located to the south of the city on a peninsula in the bay. Be prepared to feel as if you’re coming down in the sea ;) The scenery in the immediate vicinity of Kingston is great, and we had some wonderful views of the Blue Mountains and of the coastline as we came into land.
The airport is small and from our brief time there seemed to have fairly limited facilities. Queues at immigration were long, disorganised and painfully slow. Once you leave the airport you’ll be accosted by hopeful taxi drivers – if you want a taxi get ready to practice your haggling skills right from the off. A reasonable fare to uptown Kingston, where most of the better hotels are located, would be between US$25 – US$30. Alternatively you can arrange a private transfer with your hotel as we did, or pick up a rental car from one of several companies based here.
Once you leave the airport you’ll find yourself driving along the Palisadoes, a road made famous in the James Bond movie Dr No – it was here, in the opening scene, that Bond’s driver tried unsuccessfully to poison him with a cyanide-laced cigarette. On your right is the Caribbean Sea, separated from the road by a thin line of scrubby bushes. Dave told us that until a recent spate of hurricanes this area had been much greener but most of the trees and larger bushes had been uprooted and were only now growing back. On your left you get good views of the city and rising behind it, the Blue Mountains.
We hired a private guide to take us from Ocho Rios to Kingston for the day. It wasn't inexpensive to do this costing about $30 more per person than the organized group tours that left from our resort. But we got to spend our time doing what we wanted which is always preferable to me.
Unless you are in Kingston for a long time, it may be wise to have a guide with you so you can avoid the rougher areas of Kingston.
Kingston airport tips.
The airport serving Kingston is Norman Manley International airport (NMIA) which sits on a spit of land lying opposite the town which forms a natural lagoon. It is supposedly going to be upgraded with work starting in September 2005 to be completed for the cricket world cup in 2007.
Although the airport for the capital, it is much less busy than Sangster at Montego Bay (see separate tip). Despite the lower volume of passengers than Sangster, this airport is brutally slow, both when arriving and departing. It can take up to two hours to clear immigration and at least another hour to get through Customs. When departing, especially at busy times (Easter etc.) allow at least an hour to clear security and immigration.
You check in at different places according to airline. Air Jamaica has it’s own check-in area which is to the left of the check-ins as you look at the front of the airport. All other airline check-ins are reached by a different entrance on the right. Be sure that you queue up at the right door as there are different entrances for each airline, albeit that they go into the same area. You will have to weigh your baggage at this stage, with no single bag over 32kgs. permitted.
The departure lounge is quite small and gets very crowded. There are a limited number of refreshment options, namely a coffee shop and the ubiquitous Island Grill (see separate Island Grill tip). There are a few shops selling souvenirs and duty free alcohol and cigarettes. The souvenirs are available much cheaper in town.
The British Airways business class lounge has been closed for months, with no sign of an imminent re-opening (see “soon come” tip).
Smokers should be aware that there is no smoking facility inside the airport, so you have to go outside. If you do this, you have to clear security again, which is a hassle.
Porters, who wear red caps, are available at a cost of $0:50US per bag or equivalent in local currency.
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Norman Manley Airport
If you are heading to one of the AI's in the west, then you'll land in Mo'Bay, otherwise you'll land at Kingstons Norman Manley Airport. The airport is on a narrow strip of land called the Palisadoes that juts out into the sea and connects to Port Royal.
From here to Kingston you can catch city bus #98, though bus service in Kingston is pretty erratic, so who knows how long it'll take. Best just to take a taxi into town.
Side note: If you ever have seen Dr. No (James Bond), the airport has not changed since this was filmed about 40 years ago.
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From Kingston to Ocho Rios by public bus
The bus station is in the center of Kingston downtown, so if you aren't a jamaican never go alone. Pay a trustable kinstonion to be you guide and ask him to go with you to the bus station. While you arrive there many people will try to sell you any kind of stuff and they'll ask you for money. Don't listen to them, continue you way.
The buses doesn't left until they are full, and full in Jamaica means crowded, OK? I couldn't imagin that so many people could travel in the same mini bus.
Don't pay more than 6us$, they are going to try to charge you for the luggage, tell them that you are not going to pay because you are going to bring it in you legs.
Is better if you ask your guide to negotiate the price for you.
The travel takes about 3-4 hours, and it isn't a nice trip, but I won't forget this experience in my life!!
Every person who owns a car could be a taxi driver in Jamaica, so be careful!! The most trustable company is JUTA, but they are more expensive.
* JUTA TOURS:
Adress: Norman Manley Boulevard. Negril. Jamaica WI
Tlf: (876) 957-4620 OR (876)957-9197
Web Sites: http://www.jutakingston.com OR http://www.jutatoursnegrilltd.com/
They are going to try to charge more money always, so negociate the price before go inside the taxi and don't pay much more than 5us$ for travels inside Kingston. If you know somebody from Kingston let him to negotiate the prize.
People drives like crazy in Jamaica, in this country the claxon is more important than the brakes. Don't worry about that, you'll get used in a pair of weeks. ;-P
Avoid "Rush Hour"
It seemed to be quite congested leaving Kingston around 6:00 PM. Took us twice as long to get back to Ocho Rios then it had for us to get there earlier in the day. Also, lots of "windshield cleaners" approached and cleaned our vehicle without asking first, throughout our day in Kingston.
My homegirls and I went to Kingston from Runaway Bay, Jamaica. Now, me being as slow as I am sometimes, thought that we would have to travel all the around the coast of Jamaica to get to Kingston, but that is not true. We crossed over to Kingston, by going up through the mountains. The trip of course was very scary, because you are driving close to the edge and it literally looks like your going to run off the road. We had a homeboy that took us, but normally this trip would have costs us $150. But we just paid for gas and we were straight!
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Use ONLY JUTA Tours in Jamaica. They're Reputable
Because Jamaica is one of the best tourist spots in the Caribbean (for various reasons which I will not get into), many people go to Jamaica each day.
If you plan to visit Jamaica, there are airlines flying there (USAIR, SPIRIT, AIR JAMAICA, AMERICAN, DELTA(?)). All of these have had good reviews.
However, while in Jamaica, many taxi "companies" and tour companies exist. Some of these are good but USE JUTA TOURS. They are reputable and has been around for years and years. There are no incidents with the drivers who are professional. They are members of Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) , American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) ,
Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC) , and Caribbean Hotel Association (CHA) so they are THE COMPANY to use. Visit their website (http://www.jutakingston.com) before traveling because you can negotiate a deal with them.
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