Ahh, Jamaica. Just the name evokes images of reggae music, jerk chicken, pristine beaches, and lush forests with unspoiled rivers and waterfalls. A culture uniquely its own. It’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Caribbean, and sure, you can stay in an all-inclusive resort and partake of the fare and entertainment that has been pasteurized, homogenized and pre-packaged for tourists. Truth be told, though, it won’t be that different from any other resort on any other island.
To get a real taste of this remarkable country and its culture, you need to blend in as much as possible. Don’t be a tourist. Act like a local. Okay, you might not fool anyone, but in the end, you’ll find it a much more enriching experience. Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your trip to Jamaica:
Rent an Apartment
You can insulate yourself from most things Jamaican at beach hotels or resorts, but the best way to act like a local is to live with the locals. You can rent a modest apartment for a few days, a month, or more. This will put you in a normal, work-a-day neighborhood. A small kitchen means that you can shop at local stores, buy local food, and cook it yourself. If you’re not sure about something, ask store workers or people in the neighborhood, and they’ll be glad to help.
Dress the Part
Although Jamaicans have adopted many styles of western dress, there are a few things that still scream “I’m a tourist!” First, get rid of the sneakers. They may be your go-to footwear, but they’re generally not worn by locals out and about. Opt for comfortable walking shoes. A backpack is a telltale sign as well. Instead, carry a messenger bag.
Jamaican women like to wear a dress or a skirt and a top made from brightly colored calico fabrics. A headscarf is common as well. For men, trousers and a short-sleeved shirt are recommended. Jamaicans dress quite modestly, so save shorts and bathing suits for the beach. You’ll get glares and stares if you wear them out in public.
Eat Like a Local
Burger King, KFC, Hard Rock Café, and TGI Friday’s are all available in Jamaica. But to get a real taste of Jamaica, you have to sample the local cuisine. Eat at local places where Jamaicans eat. Street vendors are quite common and will be happy to explain their fare. Along with jerk chicken, look for seafood, ackee, salt fish, callaloo, and bammy, which is a traditional flatbread made from cassava. If you have a craving for fast food, Jamaica has its own versions; avoid the ones you already know, and try something new.
Get to Know the People
In spite of what your mother told you, talk to strangers – the waiter, the bartender, the shop worker. Be the first to say hello, and try to do it in the local language, Patois (“Wah gwaan?” or “What’s up?”). Ask them questions about their lives and families. Jamaicans are known for being quite open and friendly, and if you break the ice and start a conversation, they might just give you some great suggestions as to what to see, do, and eat locally that are off the beaten track of the tourist crowd.