I recently travelled to Kingston, Jamaica to renew my expired passport. I had a great time, but as a native of Montego Bay, which is on the other end of the island, I wouldn’t advise anyone to visit Kingston if you don’t absolutely have to.
Kingston is not a tourist-friendly destination. I hear the night life is pretty active though, and it can also be a great place to shop if you know where to go. However, the top reasons almost anyone finds themself in Kingston are work, school, immigration, or a long stopover.
But, whether you’re in Kingston for work or play—or you’re just curious to see the island’s capital city—here are the safest ways to get around town.
1. Ask the Police for Directions
If you plan to do some walking around Kingston, and you’re worried about getting lost, please do not take your smartphone out to ask Google for directions. It might be the last time you use that phone. Sadly, reselling stolen smartphones is a hot market in Jamaica.
Thankfully, the police maintains a strong, visible presence in Kingston. You will usually find them standing on busy streets or monitoring chaotic intersections. They are approachable and will gladly assist you with any queries you have, whether it’s how to get to Juici Beef for breakfast or where you can find a taxi to take you to New Kingston.
Note: Most Jamaicans are good, hard-working people who haven’t the slightest inclination to cause you harm. However, there are some bad apples who will do anything to make a quick and easy buck. Wandering around asking random people for directions will make everyone know you’re not a local, especially if you have an accent, thereby making you a target to those bad apples.
2. Call Jamaican Uber & Lyft
Long before Uber and Lyft appeared in US markets, Kingston had Ontime and El-Shaddai taxi services. Unfortunately, being years ahead in experience did not put them years ahead in technology. You do have to manually call and book a trip over the phone and you may have to call several times before getting through. You will also have to pay by cash, so keep some handy.
There are regular taxi cabs called “hackney carriages” in Kingston, but if you don’t want to be jammed in like a sardine with impatient locals, stick to the private taxi services. Actual Uber and Lyft, at the time this article was written in November 2018, were not available on the island.
Note: Another reason I don’t recommend regular taxi cabs is that they drive like mad men. I have seen two-lane streets be turned into four by impatient taxi drivers. I have seen them speeding down the road on the wrong side while honking loudly, and cutting in less than 2 feet in front of other cars without indicating. It’s a madhouse on Kingston streets.
3. Rely on Friends
Do you have friends in Kingston? If so, try to plan your trips around their schedule. Be sure to give them a heads-up and be courteous enough to pay for gas or buy them a drink or pay for dinner. Jamaicans are by nature generous people, but will not appreciate being taken for granted.
When I was in Kingston, I had three friends who were able to pick me up and take me out when I needed it, including Alyssa, who some of you may remember is the Senior Graphic Designer at my company. The rest of the time, I walked or called the taxi service.
Note: Some family and friends may offer to lend you the car while they’re busy at work. Decline. Remember those taxi drivers I mentioned earlier? Keep in mind that you’re sharing the road with them. I would never drive in Kingston. I saw my life flash before my eyes a dozen times a day. The good thing is, like New York, because of all the traffic, people don’t usually pick up enough speed to do any real damage to each other.
4. Jamaican Urban Transit Company
Some foreigners really love the authentic experience in Jamaica and want to be shoulder-to-shoulder with the everyday locals. If this is you, I still don’t recommend regular taxi cabs. I do, however, recommend our public city transport system, JUTC.
You will have to get familiar with the bus routes, but this won’t be too hard. Remember, you can always ask police officers for help. You can also wait until you get to the bus stop and ask the cashier or any bus driver you come across.
Note: If after you find the right bus, you’re not sure where your stop actually is, then let the driver know when you get in. You can also ask him to let you know when to get off. I did this a lot in college and never found a driver who wasn’t happy to assist me.
5. Knutsford Express
Have you tired of Kingston already? Me too. Ready to head out of town? That’s where Knutsford Express comes in. This bus service is not your typical Greyhound in the United States. This is a first class ride on wheels. You can expect:
- Restroom on-board
- Free WiFi
- Charging outlets
- Complimentary bottles of water
- Reclining seats
Knutsford Express has connecting routes around the island and is the safest and most convenient way to explore Jamaica. It is also extremely affordable. I paid less than $25 each way going from Kingston to Mo-Bay, and then back again. And yes, they do take credit cards.
Note: Never wait until the last minute to book your Knutsford ticket. You might get lucky, but the tickets can go very quickly, especially on Friday evenings and over the weekend, when people are most likely to be travelling across the island. Try to at least book from the day or the night before. If you must go last-minute, try to get there as early as possible. The early morning bus routes tend to not be as full.
If Kingston sounds like a scary place, then that’s because it probably is. At least, I sure think so. However, I lived there for five years, from 2008 to 2013 and was never robbed, physically attacked, or intentionally injured by anyone. I do, however, know some unfortunate people who were. So, this advice is not to protect you against the everyday Jamaican, but our bad apples. Enjoy your stay in Kingston. Or, if it’s your family, friend or spouse who will be headed their soon, please do share this article with them.
Thanks for reading!
*This is not a sponsored post. I did not receive any compensation in cash or kind for any of the businesses or government organisations mentioned in this post.