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When 20-somethings decide it’s time for their next backpacking trip and risk embarrassing responses from their aunties when posting “looking for suggestions” on Facebook, most people probably don’t anticipate Jamaica as an answer. Potentially the best-known island in the luxurious Caribbean, Jamaica doesn’t tend to jump out as a place for budget travel. While much of the country has been overrun by mega-resorts and those looking to cash in on tourist traffic (many beaches charge around five dollars to visit), there are still some places to be found on Jamrock for a more local, and backpacker-friendly, experience. Here’s our guide to backpacking Jamaica.
Where to Go
Investors, hotel conglomerates, and businessmen have done their best to monopolize paradise in Jamaica, having a large degree of success. Needless to say, the image of the infinity pool overlooking the sea, while double fisting daiquiris at a resort, is not for the backpacking crews. Below are some of our top, and bottom, picks for escaping the expensive tourist traps.
Perhaps having a water park named “Kool Runnings” should be a giveaway that tourism runs the town. Seven Mile Beach is free but expect to be paying tourist prices everywhere else.
Port Antonio: Check it out
As far as larger towns in Jamaica go, Port Antonio is one of the most authentic. Sure, a visit here will mean sacrificing the 2-for-1 special at the comfortable chain restaurants, but for those eager to see less sunburnt tourists on the beach and more nature and outgoing locals, head to Port Antonio.
Our accommodation recommendation: Ocean Crest Guest House
Montego Bay: Depends
The beaches here are lined with all-inclusive resorts — that’s unavoidable — but the city of Montego Bay, known locally as MoBay, is filled with the noise and rugged exterior associated with some of the larger Jamaican cities.
Treasure Beach: Go
With premier beaches and a cool bohemian local population, it’s hard to understand how this town has slipped under the radar for tourists. However, as the tourist tendrils creep across the island, anyone interested should get to Treasure Beach before it’s robbed of its current charming chill vibe.
Our accommodation recommendation: Irie Rest Guest House
There are two foods synonymous with Jamaica: seafood and jerk chicken. While everyone should try both, these are potentially the most expensive things to order on the island. The waters around Jamaica are so overfished that seafood meal prices have spiked. Meanwhile, because of jerk chicken’s reputation, its cost is usually inflated. If you’re looking for that same collision of flavors on the cheap and are willing to get your taste buds off the beaten path, try eating at a curried goat restaurant.
Instead of hiring a car, use public transport whenever possible. The bus from the Kingston airport will cost less than a dollar, and even taxi trips from one town to another usually cost less than $10 USD.
Essentially the theme of this entire article — avoid the big-time resorts. Opting for guesthouses make even the most expensive cities, like Negril and Montego Bay, viable destinations. Staying in a guesthouse can take some faith, as many are not online or in the guidebooks, and are booked by walking up to the front door and asking for a room.
Like most island escapes, Jamaica has a cheaper off-season. While a trip during the months from April to November might mean risking a storm or two, the prices will be lower.
Why Backpack in Jamaica?
By now we have hopefully convinced you that getting by on a budget in Jamaica is totally feasible. But why choose Jamaica over other destinations? Because, although many tourists experience a neatly packaged version of the country, there is still a lot of authenticity, beauty, and fun to be had outside of the typical Jamaican resorts. Chance an interaction with a friendly Rastafarian and you might just find the location of a secret beach. Get off the beaten path and you might uncover cuisine like nowhere else in the Caribbean. Backpacking is the way to get as close as possible to real Jamaican culture.