Some who go on vacation prefer to call themselves travellers. These are people who want to fully experience every new location they visit. This means leaving all the luxurious amenities of your hotel or cool rustic comfort of your bohemian getaway to explore all Jamaica has to offer, and that’s quite a list.
Jamaicans are passionate about a lot of things, their work, their play, their food, their family and their country, which is present in the pride they take in the island they call home. So, one of the first ways to experience Jamaica like a local, is to ask the people. The simplest way to do this is to start with what’s easiest - the people behind the desk at check in at wherever you’re staying. They can usually recommend the best options for taxi drivers, great places to eat and where to go to mix and mingle with the local community.
It doesn’t hurt however to do a little research on your own before you get here. With all the information available on the internet, traveller you can tap into reviews for places to see if more traveller says that it’s worth checking out, as well as how safe it is and how easy it is to find transportation there and back.
Also, the farther away you travel from the main tourist areas means that you can usually increase your odds of interacting with residents of that community. If you stick to stopping off at roadside bars along the way as you road trip your way across the country, you can relax and fully enjoy the interaction without worrying about getting lost or being in an unsafe area. The smaller the village, the more common it is to have this opportunity pop up around every corner.
Head to one of the many public beaches like Fort Clarence or Lime Cay on a Sunday (a small islet just off the coast) close to Kingston, Burwood Beach near Falmouth, Winnifred or Long Bay Beach in Portland, Bluefields Beach Park and others on a Sunday or public holiday and hang with the residents. Enjoy good food and a Jamaican laid back vibe like no other, after all, you are on an island and the beach is one of the main draws.
Heading to the hills though is another great option to have an authentic local experience. Small bustling towns like Mandeville in the cool hills of Manchester Parish where the whole town gathers for special occasions and national pride is evident, along with a Saturday morning market experience can show you a whole different side of urbanites in Jamaica. For a laid-back vibe though, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Blue Mountains & John Crow Mountains National Park offers a unique peek at farming communities built around strong foundations of family and church.
Options like AirBnB, privately owned guesthouses and hostels usually pave the way to more direct interaction with members of the local communities and other guests who might invite you along on a particular excursion. There are also quite a few independent tour guides who will show you a more authentic side of Jamaica. Again, double check, get reviews and references. Not just for validity but make sure you’re getting a value for your money.
No need to head to the hills for that homey feeling however, head to the smaller communities and former fishing villages along the coast and wake up to views of the multi-hued Caribbean Sea before you head out for a stroll along the main road. In places like Drapers in the area by Port Antonio ,you can head to the local ice cream spot to hob knob or drive right into town where everyone hangs out in the streets and you can possibly catch a good game of dominos or dance the night away. Central Ocho Rios is noisy and extremely pedestrian friendly where you can rub shoulders and feel the heartbeat of the day to day life of the town and still retire to all the comforts of your hotel at the end of the day. In Bluefields, a stroll will take you to the small Peter Tosh Monument or the nearby Park, while in Treasure Beach you can catch a Jamaican themed film at Jack Sprat Restaurant while you share a beer with other guests and locals alike.
There’s lots of choice to rent a car, scooter or bike if you want to roam a little more freely or try something like Island Routes MINI-Routes tour, where you get to drive with all the security of someone showing you the way. For the more adventurous, but who don’t wish to drive, the local bus routes will take you through local communities. And for those who want someone to help them discover Jamaican local culture, there are major tour companies that can design full unique experiences from start to finish, whether you want to explore Jamaican music in all its forms, or have fantastic, authentic foodie experiences or just a tour to give you a taste of a little of everything of our culture.
So go ahead, start planning your immersive exploration of all things Jamaica, just remember to allow for some relaxing downtime because if it’s one thing you need to truly experience Jamaica like a local it’s definitely the mindset.