Cheap Jamaica holidays: Where to stay and how to have the best trip on a budget
Centered in the heart of the Caribbean, Jamaica is one of the top tropical vacation destinations in the world. Here you’ll find endless beaches, clear waters, shopping, culture, history, boundless outdoor activities for all ages as well as a great place to relax and catch up on some reading.
When booking a trip to this intriguing island, it’s important to keep in mind what exactly you are looking for out of your stay. Also, it’s key to understand the differences between all-inclusive resorts and other accommodations as well as whether purchasing a packaged vacation suits you better than researching and detailing the trip yourself.
Below, you’ll find tips and suggestions that should help you when planning your dream vacation to the island.
Where to stay in Jamaica
Although there are dozens of choices available for your stay, the north and eastern coasts of Jamaica offer what many consider the best beaches, towns and the friendliest people. Below is a list of 5 locations along those two coasts, each offering their own take on a Jamaican vacation.
Located close to Sangster International Airport (MBJ) and situated along the seashore, Montego Bay is great for visitors seeking endless beach time, shopping, hiking and a little reggae culture. Over the decades, the Montego Bay area has developed into a destination offering the best of all worlds; adventure travel, family bonding and relaxation.
The city itself is framed by the ocean to one side and jungle to the other. This creates a great destination for travelers who wish to do more than relax at the beach. One day you can be zip lining through the forest canopy and the next swimming with sharks and dolphins. For family travelers, you’ll find great options that are both parent and kid friendly, allowing all parties the chance to play. If you’re looking for a quiet place to rest or a honeymoon destination, you’ll find exactly that. There are many locations along the shore that take a visitor away from the mainline of hotels, vendors and adventure seekers while still allowing for a short stroll to restaurants and shopping. Due to the small size of the city (a population of about 100,000) Montego Bay is best for short stays.
An hour and fifteen minutes to the west of Montego Bay, Negril is a very small (3,000 population count) beach resort town that has become very popular over the years with most visitors aging in the 20s range.
Most travelers find themselves cliff jumping (or at least watching others), scuba diving, snorkeling and attending beach parties. Due to its heavy party scene and young crowd, Negril, although beautiful, is less suited for families and those seeking out a relaxing place to rest their feet. Those who do travel to the area will find a large amount of different accommodations ranging from busy hostels to large all-inclusive resorts.
Found in the central portion of Jamaica’s north coast lies Ocho Rios, a tourist town that was once a thriving fishing community. It is also a well known port of call for large cruise ships making their way through the Caribbean islands and is about an hour and forty five minute drive from the airport in Montego Bay.
Here you’ll find activities that are great for all types of travelers, as well as small and large groups. The town itself has many different restaurants, shopping and night clubs that are popular among tourists. Visitors also have the opportunity to interact with dolphins at a local attraction play in nearby waterfalls and zip line through the jungle. Due to its popularity, there are many different accommodation options available including all-inclusives.
Noted as one of Jamaica’s best preserved Georgian towns and located just 18 miles east of Montego Bay, Falmouth is one of the lesser known Jamaican destinations. Here you’ll find a newly opened (2011) port and a wealth of culture. Due to its strong history, many travelers visit in order to view a different side of Jamaica, one far from the hustle and bustle of the more popular hotspots.
Because of that, Falmouth caters more to those looking to relax while learning about Jamaica’s rich history as well as family travelers who have young children. Here you’ll get the chance to learn more about Jamaica’s slave history, take walking tours, buggy tours and spend time in a 1700’s charmingly built town. One thing to keep in mind when visiting is that Falmouth is a poorer town and because of that, less variations in accommodations.
Crossing all the way over to the eastern portion of Jamaica’s northern coast, is the small beach side town of Port Antonio, a shipping port for both coconuts and bananas. This town is furthest from the Montego Bay airport and it is suggested that you rent a car for the duration of your stay.
Port Antonio is a great one stop vacation spot. Here you’ll find anything and everything, from beautiful sun kissed beaches, a blue lagoon, golf, shopping, nightlife, different types of food options and a splash of culture. Due to the large availability of activities, Port Antonio is welcoming to every type of traveler and allows for easy customization of any trip including different accommodation types.
Booking a package including flights or booking separately?
Due to the fact that neither the hotel nor the airline has to disclose their prices when booked through a package, they may offer prices that are lower than what's available to the public. In some cases it can yield a significant savings, in other cases, not so much.
Cheaper package deals may be biased towards red eyed flights and cheaper hotels that may be far from where you want to be. Higher prices will generally accommodate better flights and hotels. It's a good idea to research your travel site choices as the hotel may not be located close
to where you want to be. It's also good to look into reviews.
Keep in mind, not all hotels are available through travel package sites so you can possibly save money by booking arrangements that the travel site may not offer. If you are trying to book manually, call hotel and ask for deal for booking more than one night. Most of the time they will
give you a discount. Booking each part of your trip individually could allow for more options.
Flight prices will fluctuate a lot while car rental and hotel prices don't generally fluctuate as much. This can change the price of a package deal by a lot so it's a good idea to check daily and book on a day where the flight price is cheaper.
All in all, booking sites will offer up competitive deals as the hotels and airlines have to compete. Again, the anonymous price factor really helps them compete while also not letting the general public know of the deal they're giving away.
The all-inclusive resort experience
By definition, an all-inclusive resort is a resort in a tropical location that includes at least three meals per day, some or all alcoholic drinks and sporting activities for both adults and children. The activities can vary from resort to resort with some resorts also owning their own private beach.
By staying at an all-inclusive, travelers have the opportunity to visit another country while still staying within a relative comfort zone. At the resort you’ll have everything needed for a comfortable yet fun experience.
Depending on what activities you plan to partake in, you’ll feel like everything you want is available for you on site. Activities such as beach combing, jet skiing, snorkeling and swimming are the norm while other activities such as rafting and zip lining are found outside of the resort premises and are generally not included in the price unless otherwise noted by the resort or package itself.
Prices jump around for all-inclusives depending on your chosen location on the island, but mostly you’ll find them to be around the US$375 to $650 per night range if you book straight from the resort website.
Generally, it’s best to purchase your stay through a package in order to save money per night.
Traditional Jamaican resorts and a DIY holiday
When booking a vacation to any region, including Jamaica, you generally have two main choices (outside of the budget realm) – staying at a resort or designing your stay yourself. Depending on what type of traveler you are and how many are in your group, planning a do it yourself holiday can either hinder or help you achieve your desired trip. Here are the pros and cons of each, associated with the type of traveler you are.
- Solo: If traveling alone, you automatically have more choices available as you will only have to entertain your singular wants and wishes during the trip. This can make planning a trip to Jamaica a lot less work. However, if you are busy and are unable to find the proper time to devote to researching the hotels, restaurants and activities close to your chosen area of stay, then choosing a resort with all the amenities might just be your best bet.
- Couple: Many couples who travel to the island are either traveling for their destination wedding or honeymoon. If this is the case, there is a big pro when it comes to having a resort and all its activities planned out. If you’re looking for more of an adventurous outside of the box honeymoon, or couple’s vacation, then it might be better to plan all of it yourself. This way you’ll have more options available that will meet both of your needs.
- Family: With kids in tow, you’re having to consider what area, accommodation and activities are not only fun but safe for little ones as well. With all-inclusives, you’ll have activities readily available on site that allow for the kids to play to their hearts consent, the parents to rest or join in, and the whole family to have meals prepared and waiting before a good night’s sleep all in one place. This takes the hassle out of planning. If you are traveling with teenagers however, it might be better to go with another accommodation that allows for more adventurous activities and traveling around the region.
Cheapest possible Jamaican holidays
If you’re looking for a Jamaican vacation that is softer on your wallet or plan to stay for a longer amount of time, there are plenty of options available just outside of the resort areas while still being within reach. Generally, with exception to seasonal changes, backpackers and budget travelers can expect to pay between US$15 and US$100 per night in each beachside destination.
- Hostels: Often found on the lower end of the budget spectrum, you’ll expect to pay from $15 to $40 a night in Ocho Rios up to $65 a night in Port Antonio.
- Hotels: These range in price due to both area and season with general nightly rates coming in at $30 to $100 in Negril while budget friendly hotels in Montego Bay will cost between $60 and $100 a night.
Note- When converting money over into Jamaican dollars, if you can, use a bank instead of your hotel or other accommodation. Bank rates typically run lower than rates found at most, if not all other locations.
Cheap food options
Street food: Probably the best way to experience Jamaican food at a great value is to visit one or more street vendors. In each destination you’ll come across a few that all offer different specialties. From fruits and vegetables to pork right off the bone, you’ll find it all. Some must tries are Jerk Chicken, corn on the cob right out of the pot and freshly boiled crawfish.
Warning – Jamaican food is spicier than American or European food. Be sure to have a bottle of water handy, or better yet coconut water delivered in a freshly cut coconut.
Small restaurants: This is another great way to find cheap meals that not only taste great but come in large portions. Not only will you be paying less for a great meal but getting the chance to meet some of the locals, which that in itself can be an adventure as you’re sure to meet some characters. If you love meat, try a beef, chicken or pork patty. If you have a sweet tooth, go for the banana fritter or upside down pineapple cake.
Local groceries: If you’re staying at a hostel with a shared kitchen or a hotel with a kitchenette, make sure to stop by one of the local grocery stores. They are a great place to gather all of your cooking supplies as well as some snacks. Shopping at these groceries guarantees that you’re not paying inflated prices but rather the everyday local prices.
Beer and rum: If you’re old enough (Jamaican legal drinking age is 18) then a visit to Jamaica isn’t complete without a few local beers and a rum. A Jamaica beer classic is Red Stripe, which generally retails for US$1.50 with other beers costing more. Rum prices depend on what part of Jamaica you are staying in with a general price of US$2.50 for a plastic cup of Appleton or Myers Dark Original.
Activities in Jamaican resort areas
Due to its location, Jamaica offers up a wealth of outdoor activities year round. Luckily, many of these activities are either free or cheap.
- Free activities: any activity that involves the beach- tanning, swimming, etc… and walking around town.
- Cheap activities: snorkeling, beach sports (volleyball, etc…), zip lining (available almost anywhere), rafting (Ocho Rios), walking tours and more.
Places such as Rick’s Café in Negril offer cliff jumping into the beautiful clear (and deep) water below. Jumpers are not required to eat at the restaurant, although the food is a great treat after a few jumps. Just remember, safety is always number one on any vacation. If you feel uneasy about jumping, don’t do it. It’s just as fun to sit back and watch.
Most popular things to do in Jamaican resort areas
Often times, when traveling, visitors will find a plentiful amount of activities, both indoor and outdoor that will surely keep one busy during their stay. Jamaica is no different. No matter what type of activity you’re looking for, or what time of year you visit, there will be numerous activities to choose from. Below are some examples of popular activities that can be found within your chosen resort area as well as a few found a little further away.
- Within resort areas: shopping, swimming, snorkeling, tanning, jet skiing, kayaking, scuba diving and basically any other activity that can be done on or next to the beach. If you’re a sport fan, check to see if your resort rents out sporting equipment. Jamaican beaches, because they are so long, are great for football, volleyball and soccer.
- Outside of resort areas: zip lining, waterfalls, bobsledding, river rafting and/or tubing, walking tours (both town and farm), and scenic driving. If renting a car for the duration of your stay, you’ll find smaller towns that dot the country side as well as great food stands lining the roads.
For those looking for a general price range for each activity, keep in mind that prices are always subject to change but when they do, it’s usually not by much. For example, Dunn’s River Falls, just outside of Ocho Rios, is currently priced at $20 per adult and $12 per child. Depending on what season you travel in, this price may change a few dollars either way.
By Rachel Campbell
Rachel is an avid adventurer that can be found hiking or freediving and who travels the world via truck bed camping and house sits. She is also a photographer, writer and editor whose work can be found at TreePotTravels.com