A Guide To Gap Year in Jamaica
Jamaica is a culinary underdog, ready to make your taste buds take off faster than their Olympic phenom Usain Bolt. It is located south of Cuba, and is a melting pot of cultures, beaches, and history, making it an ideal location for gappers looking for serene escape. Immerse yourself in the music, dancing through the night, and walk to watch the sunrise on one of their many beaches. Jamaica gap years have impactful work for everyone, and an activity for the foodie, hiker, beach bum, and shopaholic, in all of us.
So you’ve decided on a gap year in Jamaica, but don’t know which location is best for you? Well you’re in luck because there are multiple options to choose from, that can best fit your needs. From the capital beach town of Kingston to the calm and rural area of Mandeville, Jamaica has the lifestyle to make your gap year the best yet.
Kingston. As the largest city, gappers not only embrace meaningful travel during their gap year program in Jamaica, but they indulge in sight-seeing too. From visiting the Bob Marley Museum and National Gallery of Jamaica, to hiking the Blue Mountains or walking through Emancipation Park, gappers have a variety of pastimes to enjoy. This includes the freshest food found at Coronation Market, the colorful farmer’s market in Kingston.
Montego Bay. Nicknamed “MoBay” by the locals, and known for its duty-free shopping, Montego Bay is the second-largest city in Jamaica. A tourist hotspot, MoBay is home to over 110,000 people who share Doctor’s Cave Beach and Walter Fletcher Beach with those who visit. During their gap year in Jamaica, gappers experience a cultural blend of history and entertainment in Montego Bay. For music and shopping, head to the “Hip Strip” full of reggae bars and boutiques. To know about Jamaica’s colonial history, the downtown area honors the African-Jamaican figure Samuel Sharpe, who helped lead Jamaican slaves to freedom.
Ocho Rios. Translated to “Eight Rivers” in English, Ocho Rios is a former fishing village on the northern coast of Jamaica. The tropical climate turns gappers into mermaids with the number of water activities available, such as snorkeling, diving, and swimming with dolphins. Gap years in Jamaica aren’t complete without a visit to Ocho Rios’ beautiful Dunn’s River Falls, the calming Irie Blue Hole, or dune buggy rides at Yaaman Adventure Park. Gappers can even reach new heights, zip-lining through the rainforest at Mystic Mountain!
Mandeville, Negril, and Rural Areas. To have a gap year experience outside the big cities, check out the smaller areas of Jamaica. Mandeville, a suburban and residential area, is away from the coast and offers gappers an easygoing year of travel. Mrs. Stephenson’s Garden showcases a bit of nature, and The Jamaican Standard Products Company is the place to indulge in the famous Jamaican coffee. Even though Montego Bay has a relaxed beach vibe, Negril is known for their “Seven Mile Beach” of white sand and turquoise waters. Negril is more of a resort town, and an idyllic getaway for gappers who want tranquility during their gap year in Jamaica.
Most gappers initially choose Jamaica to live an island life, and to relax on one of its beautiful beaches in between their gap year responsibilities. However, they stay for the opportunity to make an impact on themselves and others. Gap year programs in Jamaica have a variety of options to fulfill your island dreams and embark on an meaningful adventure!
Volunteering. In general, Jamaica gap years center on volunteering. There are opportunities working with wildlife, community development, sports development, teaching, childcare, empowerment and human rights, or humanitarian action. Medical assistance, such as nursing, are also popular for overall health education for the community, children, and adolescents. Volunteers can work with doctors and nurses to provide patients with the care they deserve. Those with a passion for helping others should consider volunteering in Jamaica!
Animals. For those with an affinity for animals, a gap year in Jamaica may be just for you. Like many countries, Jamaica has a need to rehabilitate animals that were neglected or abused by past owners. Animal welfare in Jamaica includes hands-on learning and community outreach. Gappers interested in combining their love of animal activism, want to participate in rescue missions, and hope to educate the community on animal health, find their place with gap year programs in Jamaica.
Costs. If you’re not careful, costs can add up for Jamaica gap years. Since tourism is one of their biggest sources of income, you can pay way more than necessary in the touristy areas of the country (especially in USD)! Kingston is the most of expensive city, and gappers are better off traveling via taxis than buses during their year. The price of a gap year in Jamaica can be offset with help from websites such as Fund My Travel or GoAbroad’s directory of financial resources!
Accommodations. Most gap year programs in Jamaica will help you find the right housing option for you. Some programs recommend staying in apartments or dormitories, possibly with other expats. The majority of housing options are homestays or guesthouses, which is the best choice for cross-cultural exchange between you and the Jamaicans in your new community.
Visas. As for any trip outside your home country, visit your respective consulate, such as the Jamaican embassy, for more visa information. Residents and citizens of some countries do not need a Jamaican visa, regardless of their length of stay. Others do if they stay longer than 30 or 90 days, depending on the country of origin. Consulates do require paperwork, so make sure you plan ahead for your gap year in Jamaica.
Safety. Over the years, Jamaica has gotten a bad reputation for criminal activity. Many tourists have avoided these incidents. Remember to always be cautious of walking by yourself after dark, or going into places without a major tourist presence. Yet, this shouldn’t deter you from mingling with locals! Jamaicans love to share all aspects of their culture with visitors.
Jamaica gap years offer a different type of language immersion. Due to their British colonization, English is the official language, with Jamaica being the largest English-speaking island in the Caribbean. However, the majority of Jamaicans speak and learn Jamaican Creole first. As a future gapper in Jamaica, you’ll be immersed in Jamaican Creole because it is spoken more than written, and deeply-embedded in Jamaica’s reggae music, folklore, and family traditions. Learning Jamaican Creole is an area of intercultural communication that most people forget. After your gap year in Jamaica, you’ll have that perfect edge.
Now, for the transportation logistics. To get around Jamaica, Route Taxis are the way to go! Drivers will pick people up on the route, so it may be full by your stop. To know if a taxi is registered with the Transport Authority, look for a red license plate. The cost is about $1 (100JMD) per 5 miles, but if you want a private taxi they are called Charter Taxis. Charter Taxis are more expensive and can cost up to $100 an hour. If you are more lax about transportation, Jamaica gap years can also include a Minibus or Coaster experience. These have no scheduled times, are packed with others, and the price depends on the number of people per trip. Though a bit riskier, Minibuses/Coasters are another option for your adventure.
Though called the “Land of Wood and Water,” there is more to Jamaica than that! From the food to the dancing and music, the rhythmic sounds of Jamaican culture can be felt in a club, on the beach, or in the streets. Head to the Caribbean where there are gap year programs in Jamaica waiting for you to take the leap.
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