When many people think of Jamaica’s beauty their first thoughts may be of beaches and rivers, but this country’s landscape boasts so much more beyond the coasts! Green foliage carpets much of the island, from the valleys to the surrounding hills and mountains. Rural countryside rich with character and urban cities abuzz with excitement combine to create the diversity that makes Jamaica the dream destination that it is. Driving in Jamaica first-hand can be 1 of the most convenient ways to get a true experience of the island, but it also may not be everyone’s plate of plantain.
I think many would agree with the statement ‘driving in Jamaica can be considered an extreme sport’. In addition to having many experiences of my own, I have listened to others detail their shock (lined with amusement and/or fear) about their road encounters. Truth be told, being an experienced, licensed driver elsewhere may not adequately prepare you for driving in Jamaica. Whether you’re a local or foreign resident, this guide can help prepare for the instilled adventure of a Jamaican Road Trip in your personal or rental vehicle.
This Post Includes:
- Driving in Jamaica Checklist
- What to Know when Driving in Jamaica
- Road Trip Checklist
- What to Carry on a Road Trip
- Don't Miss Out!
Driving in Jamaica Checklist
First things first: ensure both you and the vehicle are up to the task! Even though persons are legally allowed to drive from age 17 (with a permit and under supervision by a licensed driver), the minimum age to be granted a driver’s license in Jamaica is 18.
What Motorists Need to Drive in Jamaica
- Driver’s License (Jamaican or overseas)
- * International Driving Permit (IDP) – If your driver’s license is not in English you may need to apply for an IDP in your home country before visiting.
What Vehicles Need to Drive in Jamaica
- Car Registration
- Fitness Report
What to Know when Driving in Jamaica
- Driving on the left – If you’re from a country that drives on the right side of the road, this will probably be your initial culture shock. In such case, you should also not be surprised if the steering wheel of your rental car is on the right side of the vehicle.
- Road conditions– Whether you’re driving through a developed city scene, streaming highway, or a battered off-the-beaten path you should always be on the lookout for obstacles…better yet, expect them. Jamaican streets are notorious for potholes, and many roads are quite narrow and/or rough.
- Other road users – Be on the lookout for people, in the form of [sometimes daring] drivers and pedestrians. Also keep eyes peeled for roaming animals (like dogs, cats, goats, cows, and pigs).
- GPS accuracy– In some cases roads in Jamaica are not very well marked (if at all). Before embarking on a road trip to a new place, I usually check the directions on Google Maps AND ask someone who has been there. I have said this from experience many times: do not put all your faith in Google Maps, or at least not in Jamaica. You could also ask persons along the way, however there is a chance you may get a relativity false sense of proximity or an earful of directions in a dialect you barely understand.
- Weak phone signal – Cellular and internet data services can be inconsistent in some areas, especially if you’re on an off-the-beaten path adventure. If you’re heading to the mountains or countryside for example, you may almost expect weak signals at times.
- Rest stops – It’s fairly easy to grab a meal and drink along main roads during a Jamaican road trip. Many official rest stops are preceded with signs, and are usually decent spots to dine and use the restroom. Some gas stations are also good stops to grab a bite, and possibly basic car accessories.
- Speed traps – Strategically-placed police are often on the lookout for speeding drivers, especially on the highways. The last week of the month, weekends, and public holidays seem to be when they are more common.
- In-street Hustle – If driving in the city especially, you may come across persons at stoplight intersections with hands out asking for money. Sometimes this is in exchange for products on display, washing your windshield, or just in hopes that you take pity. In most cases they’re harmless but some may be overly persistent and/or rude at times.
Driving Laws in Jamaica
Depending on the offence (and police officers you encounter), you could get as little as a warning and as much as jail time for breaking driving laws in Jamaica. I’m confident a few of these laws may even surprise some local drivers.
- Always travel with your driver’s license. In the past, drivers had 3 days to present a license at a police station if caught without it while driving; now you can face prosecution and a fine for not presenting it instantly.
- All vehicle passengers should wear seat belts, in both the front AND back. The driver is held responsible if a passenger does not wear a seat belt.
- On-the-spot fines are illegal.
- Children under 3 years old must be in car seats, facing backwards.
- Only hands-free devices should be used while driving in Jamaica.
- Drink & Drive Limit is 35 mg per 100 ml of blood, and because Jamaica is known for some of the best local rums, even 1 potent drink can tip you over the legal limit.
Road Trip Checklist
These may sound obvious to some but TRUST ME, do a quick check of the following auto parts before each road trip departure. For some, I have learned the hard way during multiple travels around the island. Please note that most of these general suggestions are based on my personal experiences and knowledge; some tips regarding parts/functionalities may differ from vehicle to vehicle.
Quick Vehicle Check
- Tyres – Including the spare, ensure they’re firm but not overinflated. Otherwise you’re heightening the risk of a flat or blowout on the road.
- Check that you have a jack, handle, and lug tools in the trunk for tyre changes.
- Windshield wipers – If the rubber on your wipers aren’t up to par they won’t be very effective during rainfall. For vehicles with wiper fluid, check that it’s topped up.
- Indicators – Not only should the left and right indicators work, but also your hazard lights button.
- Horn – An audible horn (and driving with conviction) are essential when driving in Jamaica. I have had the nail-biting experience of driving a car out of town without a working horn. That may have been the last time I rented from an individual (I highly recommend using an official rental company).
- Engine Oil – Oil level on the stick should be at or near the highest mark when the car is on a level surface. Learn which grade of oil your vehicle uses and add a quart or few if needed.
- Transmission Oil – Similar process to checking engine oil, except the oil level should be noted when the engine is already warmed. Check after the engine has been running for a few minutes. If you need to top up on transmission oil, you may also need a funnel to pour in the fluid.
- Coolant / Deionized Water – When the car is off and engine cold, unscrew the radiator cover to check if the liquid meets the inside of the cap. You should also fill the reservoir connected to the radiator. Coolant is best choice, followed by deionized water; in a sticky situation, regular water may be used but isn’t encouraged all the while because it clogs the radiator quicker over time.
NB. A working heat gauge on the dashboard typically will let you know if your engine becomes too hot. Unfortunately for me some years ago, I didn’t realize mine wasn’t working after a 3-day 3-parish birthday celebration, and just like that my engine severely overheated on a highway.
- Gas – This seems like the most obvious thing but many don’t realize that habitually driving on a low level of fuel can do a big disservice to other parts of the engine over time.
- * Scratches/ Dents – If renting a car in Jamaica you should point out any aesthetic flaws you notice to a company representative before leaving the compound. In my car rental experiences with Enterprise Jamaica, a rep will cross-check in your presence. That way, when the car is returned you can’t be charged for any damages that were already existing.
What to Carry on a Road Trip
In addition to making sure the vehicle is ready for the road, here are my suggestions for what to have in the vehicle. At some point or another, these have all come in handy for me during a Jamaican road trip (+ any issues I’ve had along the way).
- Water (for hydration plus extra for radiator)
- Cellphone (credit and internet data recommended)
- Actual cash
- Basic first-aid kit / items
- Chamois (shamoy) cloth
- Thick blanket
- Long rope
- Rubber gloves
- Car tool kit
- Battery jumper cable
- Fuel storage container
- Hand sanitizer and/or small soap
What to Do on a Jamaican Road Trip
- Eat and drink – Staying hydrated and nourished in the standard Jamaican heat is essential. 1 of my favourite Jamaican road trips stops is to food stalls where I can support small vendors and local farmers while being enriched by good ole local produce! Whether you choose to indulge at a fruit stand, town market, cook shop, or restaurant, you’re helping to support locals and our economy.
- Sight see – Something we could likely all agree on is Jamaica is nowhere short of natural beauty and diverse attractions. Take a few moments to [safely] admire and snap pics of some awesome sights you’re likely to encounter from point A to B.
- Collect souvenirs – 1 travel tradition I’ve picked up over the years is to collect keepsakes from extra special trips. Souvenirs don’t always have to be bought but if that’s your plan I highly recommend getting an item from a local craft market or independent vendor.
- Talk to People – I believe everyone has something to teach us, and I’ve learned and experienced many new things on road trips just by holding conversations with people at / around the destination. This is just 1 reason why I think travelling can improve you and your quality of life.
- Read site signs – Many places of interest on the island include educational signage that provide history, fun facts, and what to expect. It doesn’t hurt to learn more about the places you go, plus new information can unlock new adventures and appreciation!
Jamaican Road Trip Safety Tips
- Do drive at a safe distance; it’s not uncommon for cars to halt without warning while still in the road.
- Don’t pick up hitchhikers; this isn’t a common practice nor generally recommended in Jamaica.
- Do lock your vehicle doors right after entering and leaving, and take keys with you.
- Don’t leave the engine running or vehicle unattended.
- Do have a copy of car documents.
- Don’t leave valuables inside vehicle in plain sight; better yet, take them with you out of the vehicle if feasible.
- Do beep horn when approaching sharp/blind corners and bends, especially in the hills and mountains.
- Don’t drive at night if not comfortable. Most roads in Jamaica aren’t well lit so visibility could be an issue. Like everywhere else in the world, some areas are safer than others so you also don’t want to be driving slowly in an unfamiliar place.
- Do keep your windows at least halfway up, especially if in a populated area you may expect to stop or slow down a lot.
- Don’t drive on a road with high water. If driving through rain, aim for the middle of the roadway where there tends to be less flowing water, once it’s safe to do so.The rainy season in Jamaica is typically between June and November, but weather systems can happen throughout the year.
- Do turn on your fan/AC to defog your windshield in cooler temperatures. Make the air blow through the vents at the base of the windshield.
Did you learn anything new???
Let me know some of your memorable experiences while driving in Jamaica in the comments!
BOOK YOUR RENTAL
My Enterprise Jamaica Car Rental Experiences
Enterprise Rent-A-Car is a global company that operates in over 100 countries. My initial experiences with their vehicles and service were on visits to Fisherman’s Inn in Trelawny and Poet Reef in Hanover.
Both round trips spanned 4+ parishes each way, included multiple stops, and covered hills and valleys between cities and countrysides. My main takeaway from both trips despite being different vehicles was an exceptionally smooth ride, even through some bumpy routes and winding mountain roads. The embodiment of ‘service with a smile’, each Enterprise Jamaica staff member I spoke with was always pleasant and helpful!
Reserve your car, SUV or van at 876-906-0084 or book online to start your Jamaican road trip.
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