Driving in Jamaica
Jamaicans drive on the left, a legacy of their British heritage. Wearing seat-belt is compulsory. 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. Both manual and automatic cars are available from rental companies.
The conditions of the roads are not good, and Jamaican drivers can be daredevils especially on mountain roads. Get the extra collision coverage. Many, if not all, of rental companies will tell you this coverage is mandatory. If you are relying on the coverage offered by your credit card company, get a letter from the credit card company confirming your coverage before flying. Many credit card companies will email or fax you a standard letter within a few minutes of asking.
Inspecting the Car
Before handing over 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. They will inspect and and compare the car to the original record when you return it.
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 much further than what you think it means.
GPS estimated travel times are almost always wrong because of the road conditions and traffic. Because the GPS shows a road 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 for the region you'll be travelling to your phone. 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, i.e. 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 of 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 about Jamaica's road network.
Southern coastal towns such as Barnswell Beach, Alligator Pond and Treasure Beach are accessible off 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.
Quick Steps to Download Google Map
- Open Google Map and search for Jamaica
- Scroll horizontally, the options below the name of the place at the bottom (Jamaica in this case) to the option to Download
- Select Download
Downloading from the Menu (if the Quick Way doesn't work)
- 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
- Select the Menu () in Google Map
- Select Offline maps from the menu options, the select the option to download and offloine map, denoted by "Custom Map"
- Zoom in/out of the map to the portion of Jamaica you which to download. Make sure it fits within the highlighed frame of the map.
- Select Download. Wait for it to complete.
- 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 is much improved, but most are still poorly maintained and have poor signage.
- Smaller roads are often unpaved, narrow, winding, slow down and take your time.
- 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.