10 Ways Jamaica Surprised (and Didn’t Surprise) Me

Jamaican woman in water

Before traveling to Jamaica, I wondered what it would be like. Tourists everywhere? Super expensive? Rastas on every corner? Cheap Jerk chicken? And would I smell ganja being smoked 24/7?

Most of my questions were answered on my recent trip. I spent most of my time in Treasure Beach, which is off the beaten path, and some of it in the Negril area, which is not. I must say that the country took me by surprise and it was all quite positive!

Longman's Beach, Jamaica


1. Tourist-Oriented Transportation Can Be Very Expensive

I shouldn’t have been surprised. In destinations like Bali and in some parts of Costa Rica, where tourism is common, private and semi-private transportation tends to cost a lot. In Jamaica, it was no different. Some private ‘rides’–eg, Montego Bay to Treasure Beach–could run $100 or more. One way.


But read on. I was surprised and happy to learn that it’s possible to avoid paying that kind of money–if one is a bit adventurous and willing to put up with some inconvenience. By taking the local transportation–known as shared taxis and route taxis–I spent $12 instead of $100 for the trip I mentioned above. Not bad, right?

2. Local Transportation Is An Option–and Isn’t As Complicated As It Seems

In some countries, the local transportation can be tricky. But in Jamaica, it wasn’t as bad as it was portrayed. I remember arriving at the airport and inquiring about ‘shared taxis’ and ‘route taxis,’ which I wanted/needed to take to get to Treasure Beach, a few hours away. The people working at the Tourist Info desk looked at me like I was from another planet. That’s how infrequently this type of transport is used by foreigners.

I didn’t let that stop me, however. And I’m glad I didn’t. I saved money and had fun.

Route Taxi, Jamaica

3. Not Surprised: The Drivers Could Take On Any Chicken Bus Driver at Any Time

Once I figured out the local transportation, I realized it was somewhat typical.  In this case, there were a lot of mini buses. As much as I got a kick out of them, I must say–they’re not for everyone. The drivers drove like race car drivers in training! I remember being on a road where the limit was about 40 mph. The guy did 65, maybe 70. My nerves were shot for a while. The Jamaicans, of course, were unfazed. :)

Somehow, this did not surprise me.


4. Experiencing the Real Culture Was Easier Than I Imagined

I’d read that Treasure Beach was considered part of  the “Real Jamaica”–and for me, it was a great authentic travel experience. It was worth the effort it took to get to there. Sure, there’s a tourism infrastructure there, but not it’s not super developed. Just enough. Which means one can see how the locals (many of whom fish for a living) actually live.

5. The Locals (and Other Travelers) Were Friendly and Great to Get to Know

It’s easy to engage in conversations with the locals–and other travelers–especially in a place like Treasure Beach. I’d often sit on a bench and have a nice chat with adults and children and one little girl (Martika), the one in the photo, became my buddy for a few days. There was usually a hello hug and sometimes we walked together, arm in arm. It was sweet.

Kids hanging out in Billy's Bay, Jamaica

Dawn of Smurf Cafe, Calabash Bay

Fellow traveler Maria with Dawn, owner of Smurf Cafe

Negril was a bit different, of course, because it is geared to tourists and people automatically assume you’re rich and distance themselves. Still, I managed to get to know some of the people there, too. I let them know rather quickly that I’m a teacher and not wealthy and within a short time, we were able to connect. It didn’t feel the same as it did in Treasure Beach, but it was nice nevertheless.

6. The Food Was Amazing

I had a feeling it would be good, but I had no idea just how good. It was fantastic! The fried chicken was the best I’ve ever eaten in my life. And the seafood was wonderful. Shrimp in coconut cream sauce. Yum. Curried lobster. Wow. And, of course, the Jerk chicken. All good!

In this photo, you see a great meal I had as part of a buffet dinner at Smurf Cafe (Calabash Bay), which was my favorite restaurant of all. It was curried lobster, fried chicken, fried rice and salad. All for about $11. Wow!

Smurf Cafe meal, Treasure Beach, Jamaica


7. Not as Many Rastas as I Thought

I only met a few Rastas during my trip. Each one I met was quite different, too. One was a wood carver and had a sweet, mellow energy. Another was an outgoing bartender. A third one was a hotel owner, an older dude, who was a sort of mysterious and seemed high on life–and maybe something else. Still, he was friendly.

Floyd's Pelican Bar, Jamaica

8. Ganga Not Quite Omnipresent

I wouldn’t say it was omnipresent, but I was certainly aware of its presence. Quite often, when I’d be walking down the street in Treasure Beach, I’d smell the fumes wafting out from behind some bushes. And in the Negril area, several guys on the beach tried to sell it to me.

There was also this tree that I saw that I named the ‘Ganja Tree.’ There was something about it that made me think that it was created by someone who’d smoked marijuana.

ganja tree 3

Language and Culture

9. Not So Hard to Learn Patois

Jamaica has a fascinating history and a rich culture. You hear plenty of reggae and see images of Rasta culture, especially Bob Marley. And there’s the Patois, which Jamaicans speak. I noticed it right away and did my best to learn it. I loved it, too! The couple you see below gave me an impromptu Patois lesson at one point on a porch. I still have the notes and will bring them when I return to Jamaica.

A couple of vendors

10: Not Too Surprised: The Beauty of the Country

I knew it would be beautiful in Jamaica–I’d seen photos. :) But it was really impressive when I saw it in person. The mountainous areas, the black sand beaches and the flowers were gorgeous. And oh yeah, the sunsets. Wow! I felt I was under Jamaica’s spell. That’s why I want to return and plan to.

Veranda in Billy's Bay


Longman's Bay, Jamaica

Sunset, Billy's Bay, Jamaica

Your Thoughts/Experiences/Reactions?

Have you been to Jamaica–either on or off the beaten path? If so, what did you think? What, if anything, surprised you? And if not, then how was it what you expected?

What is your favorite island in the Caribbean and why?

12 Responses to 10 Ways Jamaica Surprised (and Didn’t Surprise) Me
  1. Karyn Colombo
    June 10, 2014 | 7:54 pm

    Now I want to visit Jamaica even more!

    • CB Driver
      June 12, 2014 | 8:27 pm

      Yeah? I might get a small group together to go in early January. Will you be off from school? :)

  2. Nick @ theboywander
    June 11, 2014 | 1:55 am

    Shrimp in coconut cream sauce sounds divine! I’m really curious about exploring Jamaica and this post definitely gave some insight into it and has only fueled my curiosity.
    Nick @ theboywander recently posted..Video: Rock Climbing in ManaliMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      June 12, 2014 | 8:27 pm

      Hi, Nick. Yeah, that shrimp was quite wonderful. The lobster, too. And the chicken. Etc. I could go on and on.

      I think you’ll really enjoy it if what I wrote about appeals to you. I highly recommend Treasure Beach!

  3. Michelle C
    June 12, 2014 | 3:06 am

    Glad you chose to experience Treasure Beach- it was one of our favorite areas when we lived in Jamaica as Peace Corps Volunteers the past two years. We share many of your observations about TB compared to Negril. Also ‘big ups’ on taking public transit. You’re right, it’s not that complicated but if you don’t already know your way around, it requires putting yourself out there and relying on the advice of strangers. We took public to work and market daily but always asked friends for directions when traveling outside our community.
    Michelle C recently posted..On Being IntentionalMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      June 12, 2014 | 8:26 pm

      Hi, Michelle. Cool that TB was one of your favorite spots. I totally get it. Any favorite restaurants? Did you get a chance to go to Dawn’s (Smurf Cafe)?

      So you took the shared and route taxis, too? Nice. I’m glad I’m not the only one. Did you learn some Patois, too? I found the people to be very helpful and cool, especially when I took the time to approach them.

      • Michelle C
        June 12, 2014 | 11:48 pm

        As a matter of fact we did eat at Smurfs. Also picked up box lunches from a place I can’t remember the name of and otherwise did our own cooking. Peace Corps does 2 1/2 months of language and culture training before service so we did learn patois, although we didn’t use it that much for various (somewhat complicated) reasons.

        • CB Driver
          June 13, 2014 | 12:49 pm

          Cool that you ate at Smurfs! If I return to that area, I might want to get a room right by it so that I can eat all of my meals there. :)

          PS: I really admire you for being in the Peace Corps. That’s awesome!

  4. Pamela
    June 12, 2014 | 8:02 pm

    Great post! We recently returned from Jamaica and were so much more impressed than our first visit on a cruise. Getting off the beaten path gave us the chance to experience the real Jamaica and now we’d love to return!

    • CB Driver
      June 12, 2014 | 8:28 pm

      Hi, Pam. Glad you got to get away from the tourist areas. Huge difference, huh?

      PS: Love your domain name!

  5. Mera
    June 13, 2014 | 9:55 am

    Jamaica is paradise! Glad you went and experienced it for yourself!
    Mera recently posted..Sports – Bringing People Together Through TravelMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      June 13, 2014 | 12:50 pm

      Hi, Mera. Sounds like you’re a fan of Jamaica, too. Cool! I hope to go back at some point!

Leave a Reply to Michelle C

Wanting to leave an <em>phasis on your comment?

CommentLuv badge

Trackback URL https://chickybus.com/2014/06/10-ways-jamaica-surprised-me/trackback/
Hop on Board...
Join Our Facebook Fan Page

Like this blog?

Get my book!

don't miss the bus! sign up for the monthly newsletter


I was syndicated on BlogHer.com


Review chickybus.com on alexa.com

Chicken Busology
Learn more about chicken buses by checking out these links:

Chicky Bus: The Real Story: Join me on a wild 12-hour chicken bus ride through Central America. Meet cheese smugglers and other characters. 

Chicken Bus Q & A: I answer all the questions you might have about chicken buses, but were afraid to ask. 

Want the quick fix
Watch the YouTube video to the right of this box. Vicarious thrills guaranteed!

come ride a Chicken Bus