“Listen now what happened to us when we took a Jamaican mini bus………….What an experience this is for us, a trip into Kingston on a mini bus, It’s a little too adventurous for two white girls on a mini bus” by The Word. A popular video of people travelling on bus and taxi in Jamaica.
This video was a big hit in Jamaica in the 1980s. It was the Era when music videos were just getting to be popular. Jamaicans thought the video was hilarious, because we know how frustrating and fun public transportation can be. It must have been a real culture shock for the duet “The Word”.
Tourists are normally stuck in their air conditioned buses in Jamaica being transferred between Hotels, Attractions and Airport. They do not get to interact directly with the culture and different elements that make up the Jamaican and Rastafarian culture. The modern all-inclusive packages that are now offered seem to have dominated the market because the package also includes transportation for tourists visiting Jamaica.
We will be discussing how to travel by bus and taxi in Jamaica. Getting around in Jamaica does require some experience, wit and bravery. Even for me, who live here and have to travel Jamaica by public transportation, it is still a thrill. You never know what can happen.
What You Should Know Before Travelling Jamaica by Public Transportation
I just realized that this information also goes out to the upper class Jamaicans who have very little experience with public transportation but have to take it occasionally.
Be Yourself: Jamaicans can tell if you are from this part of town or not, whether you are rich, poor, ghetto or country. They can see your emotions. Jamaicans can tell the difference between a veteran tourist and someone that just migrated to the island. New Tourists stand out like a sore thumb. Remember to smile regularly.
Look Like You know Your Way: When you travel using Jamaican public transportation, it is best to look like you have a mission or a purpose. Try not to look lost. It is best to research your destination. Do not be afraid to ask questions. Consult with the driver or conductor.
Driver: This is the best person to ask questions and negotiate with. They can help to make your journey more comfortable. Feel free to ask the driver to slow down, if they are going too fast.
Conductor: The person that guards the entrance of the bus and coordinates seating. The conductor tries to jam pack as much people in the bus as possible and stores the luggage. He also collects the fares. They are normally crafty and cunning.
The Backup: This is the person that searches for passengers in the bus park and directs them to the bus that they are working with. The backup will use all sorts of tactics to get people to travel on a specific bus. They will coordinate with the conductor to jam pack the bus. They are paid by the driver on their ability to load a bus as quickly as possible.
The backup will normally be your first interaction when travelling, because they will come up to you and ask where you’re going and direct you accordingly. If they are more than one backups and buses going to your direction, get ready for a lot of attention.
Have Your Fare Ready: Make sure you have your correct fare ready before boarding the bus or taxi. There is a possible that it fell out your pocket before entering the bus. Try to use Jamaican currency when visiting Jamaica. American currency makes you look like a novice. Ask the driver the fare before boarding. Try to have the exact change, if possible.
Charter a Taxi Sometimes: If your journey is time sensitive or you have too many luggages its best to hire a chartered taxi. Make sure the vehicle is license to do charters. Agree on the fare before moving. Veteran tourists have enough experience to take unlicensed taxi’s. Not recommended for first time visitors to Jamaica.
Be Aware of Your Environment: Interact with the people in the bus park. Don’t be afraid of asking those at the Bus Park or bus stop about recommending a driver. Also watch and see who your driver is talking to (does he seem popular).
Travel Light and Prepared: Try to wear a backpack and have your hands free. Have snacks ready for long journeys.
How to Dress: Dressing like a hippie will make you look very cool, especially if you have dreadlocks. Try to look as natural and laid back as possible. Get ready to face very humid and hot conditions on the bus. There are a few large buses owned by the government that does have AC, but they are really slow but comfortable.
Getting Around in Jamaica
The Mini Bus is fast, exciting and reliable. This is the bus to take if you’re late for work. It may have loud reggae music blasting. It will be jam packed, because it is very high in demand. If you like group conversations during your journey, you can bring up a conversation about conspiracy theories, religion or reggae music. If you like peace and serenity, this may not be the transport for you.
For a more personalized treatment and journey, getting around in Jamaica using a taxi cab is the best option. The taxi driver is a hilarious character that you have to deal with. It is very unlikely that they will be quiet. They will immediately switch to your accent or mannerism to engage you in conversation. If it is a charter, you can request AC, music or any other minor stops. This is a more customized journey.
Toyota Hiace Coaster
These are normally used for long distant journeys. These buses are normally used for tours or airport transfers. These buses are normally air conditioned and boring. Sometimes, the driver may spruce up the journey with a little private tour on the way to the hotel.
These coasters are also used as public transportation when getting around in Jamaica. These buses are used for the long routes like Montego Bay to Kingston. There is normally at least one tourist on these long journeys.
Every vehicle has their own name and character in Jamaica
Every vehicle has their own name and character in Jamaica
If you want to back pack in the rural areas of Jamaica, this is the bus to take in Jamaica. These buses are normally old. They are used because of the poor road infrastructure in the rural areas. These buses can handle the terrain easily. Country buses are used to transport farmers and distributors along with their produce to the market. These buses can carry large cargoes (even animals). The cargo is normally carried on the roof. Rural Jamaicans are very approachable and easy to talk to in the country.
If you have ever been in Negril, you would have seen people taking bikes as taxi at the bus parks. This is because the roads are narrow in the rural areas. One passenger only (of course) and the rider may even provide a helmet to the passenger. You can even charter or rent a bike to and from your hotel. Small bikes like scooters and 90cc will be the preferred bikes.
These buses are normally used in the larger towns and in the city of Kingston. Only a veteran tourist will able to find and understand the movement of these buses in Jamaica. This is the bus used by the working Jamaica. It is the cheapest form of transportation and runs on a schedule. They do not use a backup man like other modes of transports. They are slow, because they stop at every bus stop. It is however air conditioned. It also has built in surveillance cameras. These buses also double as a school bus in the mornings and evening.
Why You Should Be Alert When Travelling in Jamaica
I am Just Going to give five bizarre mini bus experiences:
The other day my mini bus was stopped by the police and the driver did not have any license or documents. We had to unload the bus and seek another mode of transportation.
Took a mini bus to start a two hour journey. The rain started falling hard for an hour (caused a flash flood) and the bus got stranded for 6 hours. Made a lot of friends and hung out in some rural communities until the roads cleared.
Witnessed a sermon on a country bus by a pastor that had several people on the bus turning to Christ. People were praying and singing Christian songs. (This happens regularly in the rural areas). People were also speaking in tongues and calling out for JESUS.
Once I sat at the back of a mini bus that was going on a long journey, but I was just going down the road on a short journey. When I stopped the bus, the people in front did not want to unload the bus so I could get off. They thought it was too much hassle. The passengers asked me to Jump through the rear window. The lady in front of me shouted “me not moving a rass”. The driver and conductor agreed. So I had to jump through the rear window, which required some acrobatics. (they only asked me to do this because I was a young man with experience)
When I was younger around 7 years old, I was just starting to take public transport. I had to take different buses to get to school. I made one of the biggest mistakes you should never make on Jamaican public transportation. I fell asleep and missed my stop. I was taken 20 miles away from my home. I ended up in Montego Bay. After crying for a while, some nice people redirected me home.
Getting around in Jamaica by tour bus robs the tourist of the opportunity to interact with the people. The only culture that the tourist is exposed to is the employees at the hotel. These employees, even though nice have to follow hotel procedures when interacting with the guest. There are so many sub-cultures in Jamaica that tourist need to be exposed to, such as small town culture, Rastafarian culture, city culture and Country people culture.
Remember when travelling Jamaica using public transportation that the people are excited to hear a different accent. Jamaicans love a thrill and like to see when tourists explore the landscape.