Driving in Jamaica
Jamaicans drive on the left, a legacy of their British heritage. An international license is not required. Breakdown assistance is limited in urban areas and virtually unavailable in rural areas, so its best to go with a rental company that offers that service. Jamaicans are generally quite helpful, especially in the country areas, so don't hesitate to ask for help or directions.
Regardless of what your GPS tells you, it will take a lot longer to get to a destination than what the device reports. It takes about 15 hours to drive around the island, using the major roads.
Most roads are paved, but suffer from poor maintenance, poor traffic controls, inadequate signage and large pot holes.
Car RentalMost of the popular rental companies, Hertz, Avis, Budget, are available in Jamaica and are located at the airports in Kingston and Montego Bay. Local rental companies are also available, and can be less expensive, but they may be located off the airport property.
Get the extra collision coverage. Do not rely on the coverage offered by your credit card. The conditions of the roads are not good and Jamaican drivers can be daredevils, especially on mountain roads.
Inspecting the Car
Before handing your the keys, the rental companies will ask you to inspect the cars for scratches, dents and any damage. They will document any damage or major blemish. They will keep the original and provide you with a copy. On return of the car, they will inspect it and compare it to the original record.
Make sure the car has a spare and a jack.
NOTE: They pay special attention to the wheels because the road conditions are so bad in areas.
Road Conditions and Hazards
Driving in Jamaica requires all 6 senses... yes, the sixth sense is Intuition... you have to anticipate what others will do.
Pot holes are a major hazard, so be alert. Animals can also be a problem, look out for Goats! Pedestrians will play Chicken. Stick to main traffic routes as much as possible. The less travelled routes tend to get less attention for repairs.
Use a GPS
Roads are poorly marked, so use a navigation device or App but do not rely entirely on it. When in doubt, ask questions of locals but add a dose of skepticism... "just around the corner" is likely a bit further than that.
GPS estimated travel times are almost always wrong because of the road conditions and traffic. Because the GPS shows a road is on the map, it doesn't necessarily mean it's navigable. Some of the less travelled routes require slowing to 5-15 miles an hour in order to negotiate hazards such as potholes.
Cellular coverage is fairly extensive across the island, but can be spotty in the mountains. Download a copy of Google maps to your phone, for the region you'll be travelling. This will allow you to continue using the GPS navigation with the downloaded map without relying on WiFi or cellular data coverage. Make sure to do this before you leave, while you have WiFi coverage. Instructions for doing so is included on this page.
Use the Buddy System
It's advisable to drive with a companion to help with the navigation... plus, four eyes are better than two.
How long does it take to drive around the Island?
It takes 14 to 16 hours to drive the full circle the island. The distance is about 398 miles using the major roads, A1, A2, A3 and A4. The major roads tend to stay close the coastline around the majority of the island with the exception of the south coast between Kingston and Black River where it travels more inland. Read more on Jamaica's road network.
Southern coastal towns such as Barnswell Beach, Alligator Pond, and Treasure Beach are accessible from the main thouroughfare via minor B roads, but these roads are typically in bad condition in many places.
Our interactive map allows you to plot trips between popular start and end point. It allows you to add popular waypoints, with results that include the highlighted route, distances and estimated time.
Steps to Download Google Map
- On your iPhone or iPad, open the Google Maps app
- Make sure you're connected to the Internet preferably via WiFi and signed in to Google Maps
- Search for Jamaica The name of the place or address searched is returned at the bottom of the map
- Click on the name of the place at the bottom (Jamaica in this case)
- Select Download
- Remember to drive on the left.
- Seat-belts are required and recommended even as a passenger.
- Yield to the traffic on the right when approaching Roundabouts (traffic circles).
- The north coastal road ls much improved, but most are still poorly maintained and have poor signage.
- Smaller roads are often unpaved, narrow, winding.
- When driving on mountain roads, use your horn when approaching bends.
- Look out for pedestrians and livestock.
- Oncoming vehicles flashing their lights, often mean police is ahead checking speed.
- When parking, look for a spot within your view, preferably off the street in a parking lot.
- Hide valuables in the trunk and always lock your car.