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The island of Jamaica is a traveler's dream, offering distinct traditions, delicious food and unique handcrafted art, not to mention the breathtaking landscape and inviting climate. But, to see it all, you'll first need a safe method of transport. Here's what you need to know.
Renting a vehicle in Jamaica is relatively easy. Driving there is the real challenge. Road conditions, in general, are poor, with heavy congestion in the major cities and narrow, winding curves in the rural areas (which are plentiful).
There are potholes aplenty, and a definite lack of street signage which can make it all but impossible to find your way around without a good map or knowledge of the area. Additionally, construction zones are rarely noted and it's not uncommon to see livestock leisurely crossing the road, so remain alert at all times.
The terrain in Jamaica can be challenging, particularly during inclement weather. From dirt roads to mountain treks, complete with hair-raising twists and curves, it's certainly not for the faint of heart. Add to this the fact that Jamaican drivers are notorious for fast speeds, aggressiveness and reckless maneuvers and you've got a recipe for disaster.
Driving at night is particularly dangerous and should be avoided. Traffic circles, or roundabouts, are not often well-marked, nor are the exits to get off such roads. Keep in mind that these circles require drivers to go in a clockwise direction. Entering the wrong way could result in a dangerous head-on collision.
Breakdowns occur more frequently than in other countries due to ill repair on vehicles. It's important to note that roadside assistance in the event of a breakdown can be hard to come by, especially in more rural areas. This can make drivers and passengers easy targets for criminals.
Not surprisingly, given the many hazards renting a vehicle can pose, many tourists choose instead to hail a taxi to get them to where they want to go. This is a viable option, but keep in mind that there are several phony cabs on the road and getting into one could result in robbery, rape or worse.
Stick with licensed taxis, which can be clearly identified by their red and white license plates inscribed with the letters "PP". Your best bet is to ask your hotel concierge to assist you in hiring a legitimate cab.
Another option is to travel by bus, but these can be very crowded and therefore havens for petty thieves. The rough terrain and winding curves can toss you around quite a bit and make it hard to recognize when someone is picking your pocket. If you do decide to go this route, make sure your valuables are well concealed (preferably underneath your clothing).
There are a few boat services in Jamaica however it is advised that you shouldn't use this means of transportation for safety reasons unless it is being operated by your hotel or a reputable tour company. Local fisherman may offer to give you a ride in their boats but many of them overcharge. Besides, you don't want to find yourself stranded on a boat with a complete stranger.
Finally, it is certainly possible to make your way around on foot in Jamaica; however, you should be very careful around roadways. Drivers do not consider pedestrians to have the right of way and can pose a threat to your safety if you're walking near or across a busy street.
The tourist areas of Montego Bay and Negril are particularly dangerous for reckless drivers. In early 2009 a tourist was hit and killed while crossing a busy road to get to his hotel. A vehicle stopped to wave him across but he was hit by another car overtaking. If you do decide to travel on foot, do so with extreme caution.
There are plenty of options available to get you around this beautiful island, but just about all of them come with some type of risk. Many resorts offer transportation to and from points of interest and excursions, and often free of charge so you may be better off checking into that possibility.
If you do choose to arrange your own form of transportation, take the above into consideration and be careful. Jamaica has a lot to offer, with countless things to do and see, but in order for you to enjoy it all, you'll have to first get there safely.
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From aggressive street vendors, to friendly locals offering you the ganja, here are a few tourist scams and local hassles to be on the lookout for in Jamaica.