It’s no secret that Jamaica excels at white sand beaches and sensual, apricot-colored sunsets. What travelers often overlook is the island’s road trip appeal.
Whether you’re after mountain views, a ride along the coast or a cruise through quaint neighborhoods, the largest English-speaking island in the Caribbean can be slowly and comfortably traversed by car within a week. Here are the seven best road trips to take in Jamaica.
1. Falmouth road trip
Best historical trip
Montego Bay – Falmouth, Trelawny; Distance – approx. 34km (21 miles)
For the history buff, a trip to Falmouth is a must. A quick 45-minute drive from Jamaica’s second city Montego Bay will take you to one of the best-preserved Georgian towns in the Caribbean, with a paved two-way highway covering much of the journey. Many of Falmouth’s 18th-century buildings of Georgian architecture remain intact. Drive through the historic town along Market Street, stop by St Peter’s Anglican Church, and visit the former post office, a stunning yellow building from 1832.
Detour: On the outskirts of Falmouth is Glistening Waters (known locally as Luminous Lagoon), home to bright bioluminescent life that lights up the water in a cool neon blue. Drive there and book a night tour to experience one of the rarest and most magical water phenomena.
2. Negril ‘sand-and-sunset’ road trip
Best romantic road trip
Montego Bay – Negril; Distance – approx. 80.8km (50 miles)
With seven miles of white sand beach and sensual sunsets, Negril is the romantic getaway road trip. Located about 81km (or 1½ hours) from Montego Bay, the roads are smooth and well-maintained due to the town’s popularity with tourists. Yet, Negril still maintains a laid-back charm with lush tree-lined streets, local restaurants and independent boutique hotels.
Continue to the West End community for stellar limestone cliffs, and watch daredevils dive off the cliffs into the clear blue Caribbean Sea. Next, drive to the most western end of Jamaica to visit the bright-white Negril Lighthouse, built in 1894. There are great sunset views from both the cliffs and the lighthouse, which is handy as Negril is often touted as one of the best places in the world to watch the sun go down.
Local tip: Rick’s Cafe in Negril is one of the best places to watch the sunset, but it can get crowded very quickly. Make sure you arrive early and find a good spot at one of the multi-layered cliffs.
Detour: Visit Barney’s Flower & Hummingbird Garden to see an abundance of exotic plants and flowers. The garden is also home to the unique Jamaican swallowtail hummingbird.
3. South coast Treasure Beach road trip
Best off-the-beaten-path trip
Kingston – Treasure Beach; Distance – approx 138km (85.7 miles)
Travel along the rugged southern coast of Jamaica from the bustling capital city of Kingston to the eco-friendly beach town of Treasure Beach. This trip takes you through many small communities and across five parishes. Unlike the north coast, the roads are less developed with potholes of various sizes – some large enough to swallow a small vehicle – so drive with caution. Pass through the colonial town of Mandeville, which has some cooler temperatures and some 18th-century Georgian architecture. Check out its historic courthouse too.
Cross over to another parish and continue to Lover’s Leap restaurant in St Elizabeth, which at a dizzying 1700ft up, offers splendid panoramic views of Jamaica. The elevated spot is also an ode to Jamaican folklore about star-crossed lovers who jumped the cliffs to escape their jealous plantation master. Carry on down to Treasure Beach, a relaxing haven situated right on Jamaica’s southern coastline that’s known for its farm-to-table culture and tight-knit community.
Local Tip: Although it’s located beachside, be careful of the waves at Treasure Beach because there are many rip tides. Heed all “no swimming” signs and advice even if the water seems shallow.
Planning tip: Plan your trip to align with the annual turtle-hatching season (most hatch from August through October) to watch hawkbill sea turtles return to the sea in droves.
Detour: Cooldown at YS Falls, one of Jamaica’s top natural attractions about an hour north of Treasure Beach. The seven-tiered waterfall flows into natural swimming pools surrounded by lush vegetation and towering trees.
4. Buff Bay off-road trip
Best Off-Roading trip
Kingston – Buff Bay, Portland; Distance – approx 62.7km (39 miles)
If you like off-roading, then this is the road trip for you. Driving from Kingston to Port Antonio offers a breathtaking experience through the winding mountain roads of Jamaica. There is a relatively clear route that’s almost a singular road. However, the roads are rough, and corners are sharp and winding, making it difficult to see oncoming traffic; drive slowly and carefully. While you can certainly use a normal car, it’s best to take a 4WD to navigate the bumpy unpaved roads that cut through the Blue Mountains.
Buff Bay is located in the parish of Portland on the northeast side of the island. It’s known for its high vegetation and rainfall and is home to the Blue Mountains, Jamaica’s highest mountain range. Before you arrive at Buff Bay, stop by Newcastle to admire dreamy, misty views of the famed peaks. Continue east along the Portland coastline to soak up rays on some of Jamaica’s most pristine beaches.
Local tip: The best time to take this trip is during the dry season. The area experiences landslides during the rainy season, and roads can sometimes get blocked.
5. Papine to Newcastle road trip
Best day trip
Papine, Kingston – Newcastle; Distance – approx 22.8km (14 miles)
This enriching one-hour drive to Newcastle glides through the Unesco-listed Blue and John Crow Mountains but is often overlooked by both locals and visitors. Once a British Army military hill station, Newcastle is now a training facility for the Jamaica Defense Force. To get there, take the route from Kingston to Papine and onwards to Irish Town, pass the Red Light district (possibly a misnomer for the tiny sleepy mountain village), and continue along the main road.
Along the route, pause to take pictures of the mesmerizing ridgelines or try some iconic Blue Mountain coffee, such as at Cafe Blue or Mavis Bank Coffee. This trip is a fantastic way to spend the day.
Local tip: Unlike Papine, Newcastle is often chilly and misty, so bring a jacket.
Detour: Pack your lunch and visit Holywell National Park for a picnic in the Blue Mountains. The park is located en route to Newcastle and offers generous views of Jamaica’s landscape. There are cabins to rent, and you can go on a guided hike to a waterfall.
6. Ocho Rios to Port Antonio road trip
Best beach views trip
Ocho Rios – Port Antonio; Distance – approx 102km (63 miles)
This trip prioritizes the beach, taking you along the coastline from touristic Ocho Rios to unspoiled Port Antonio. Leave the tourist bustle of Ocho Rios behind and continue east along the gently meandering road that hugs the oceanside. Take the A3 road and drive through St Mary Parish, then connect to the A4 road that will lead you towards Annotto Bay and finally Port Antonio.
This is one of the more languid drives in Jamaica. The road is paved but has a few potholes, and it passes along small seaside communities and slowly slopes through the panoramic hills of St Mary. As you drive through the quiet village of Oracabessa, be on the lookout for the famous Goldeneye Hotel – once the home of author Ian Fleming and the birthplace of his most famous character, James Bond. The journey descends into Port Maria, welcoming banana fields and a short spurt through the mountains inland before returning to the seaside at the A4 road exit.
The A4 road from St Mary takes you straight to Port Antonio in Portland parish. Much of this drive will be along the northeast coastline. Pass through Annotto Bay and Buff Bay, the first major towns you’ll meet in Portland, and continue east. You’ll arrive at Port Antonio, Jamaica’s friendly, unspoiled, gorgeous seaside. Have a meal at the Marina and sip on Jamaican Red Stripe beer while listening to the lapping waves at Trident Castle.
Local tip: The parish of Portland is a natural rainforest, so expect a few light showers on this trip.
Detour: Goldeneye is exquisite, but Firefly touts the best view in all of Jamaica. Take a stop at this national heritage site, which English playwright Noel Coward used to call home. Firefly’s sprawling views across the Spanish Main and the old pirate look-out is a breathtaking pause worth every minute.
7. Treasure Beach to Negril
Best for rugged landscapes
Treasure Beach – Negril; Distance – approx 99 km (61.5 miles)
The beauty of this road trip is that it explores some of Jamaica’s most untouched landscapes. Vegetation flourishes here, where the sights and sounds of fauna in their natural habitat coincide peacefully with the local community. Spot crocodiles in the Black River and drive through the picturesque Bamboo Avenue – a 4km (2.5-mile) stretch of bamboo canopy forming an elegant arch on both sides of the road. Stop by the Border community to eat fried fish from roadside stalls along your way.
From Border, continue to Bluefields, a small community in Westmoreland parish with one of the best public beaches you can find. The next major town is Savanna-la-Mar, known locally as “Sav” or “Sav-la-mar,” where you can replenish and stock up on personal items. Sav, the capital and main commerce town in Westmoreland, has excellent infrastructure for renting vehicles, finding mechanics, banking, etc.
Local tip: Bamboo Avenue is pockmarked with a few potholes. Be careful when driving, as the shade from the bamboo causes the potholes to look like shadows.
Detour: From Parottee Bay, book a boat ride to Floyd’s Pelican Bar – a rustic and charming bar on stilts in the middle of the Caribbean sea that sells the freshest seafood. If you’re lucky, you might spot a dolphin or two on your way.
Tips for driving in Jamaica:
- Always drive on the left.
- Jamaica has a compulsory seatbelt law.
- Speed limits range from 50km/h to 80km/h and vary from place to place across the island.
- Carry ID and all relevant car-rental paperwork at all times, since police may pull you over.
- You can expect any road with the designation ‘A’ to be in fairly good condition. ‘B’ roads are generally much narrower and often badly potholed, but still passable in the average rental car. Many B roads are not shown on maps.
- Minor roads, particularly those in the Blue Mountains and Cockpit Country, can be hellish. If you plan to drive off the major routes, it’s essential to have a stalwart 4WD.
- Signage on main roads is good, but directional signs are few and far between as soon as you leave them.
- On B roads, what may appear on a map to be a 30-minute journey may take several hours.
- More often than not, there are no signs to indicate sharp curves, steep ascents or work in progress.
- Road are often poorly lit at night, if at all.
- Jamaica has some of the world’s rudest and most dangerously aggressive drivers. Cars race through towns, play chicken with one another and cut across the opposite lane on blind corners. Use extreme caution and drive defensively, especially at night when you should be prepared to meet oncoming cars that are either without lights or blinding you with high beams.
- Use your horn liberally, especially when approaching blind corners, and watch for pedestrians and livestock.