Jamaica is no stranger to white sand beaches and sensual sunsets, but what is often overlooked is its road trip appeal. The largest English-speaking island in the Caribbean, Jamaica can be slowly and comfortably traversed by car within a week.
Whether you’re looking for mountain views, a ride along the coast or a drive through quaint neighborhoods, these are some of the best road trips to take in Jamaica.
Falmouth road trip
Best historical trip
Montego Bay – Falmouth, Trelawny; Distance – approx 34km (21 miles)
For the history buff, Falmouth is a must. A quick 42-minute drive from Montego Bay, Jamaica’s second city, will take you to one of the best-preserved Georgian towns in the Caribbean. Many of Falmouth’s 18th-century buildings of Georgian architecture remain intact today. Drive through the historic town along Market Street, stop by St Peter’s Anglican Church and visit the post office near the cruise port.
The road conditions on this trip are good, with paved 2-way highways covering much of the trip. Coming from Montego Bay, renting a car for the journey is very easy.
Detour: On the outskirts of Falmouth is the 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.
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 strong tourism presence in Negril. Yet, Negril maintains a laid-back charm with its 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 Negril lighthouse, built in 1894. Both the cliffs and the lighthouse give great sunset views, and 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.
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. Pass through the colonial town of Mandeville with its cooler temperatures and 18th-century Georgian architecture.
Cross over to another parish and continue to Lover’s Leap in St Elizabeth. At 1700 feet above sea level, Lover’s Leap has 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. Next, you’ll arrive at the eco-conscious Treasure Beach. Known for its farm-to-table culture and tight-knit community vibes, Treasure Beach is a relaxing haven situated right on Jamaica’s southern coastline.
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) and 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.
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 an SUV 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 experience 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 are sometimes blocked.
Papine to Newcastle road trip
Best day trip
Papine, Kingston – Newcastle; Distance – approx 22.8km (14 miles)
This short yet enriching trip is often overlooked by locals and visitors alike. The one-hour drive takes you to Newcastle in the hills of the Blue and John Crow Mountains – 26,000 hectares (64,247 acres) of terrain designated as a World Heritage Site.
Newcastle, which was once a British Army military hill station, 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.
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 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.
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.