Budgeting and Money in Jamaica

I just sat down and calculated costs for my most recent trip so this rather unexciting topic will be the first one in the upcoming series.

We were 3 people, two being my adult children who I paid for (other than their airfare which they bought, my own airfare was a birthday gift from them and other family members).  We were in Jamaica for 10 days/9 nights and traveled around quite a bit. We spent $3780 total, and it went like this:

  1. Airfare. Round trip for 3 from Ohio to Montego Bay, flexible schedule but good flight times in and out (early arrival, late departure, one plane change but on the way) – $1230.
  2. Lodging. In Treasure Beach we spent 4 nights in a really lovely hotel, in Negril 3 nights in a condo booked via Airbnb, and in Lethe 2 nights in an apartment within an estate. Total, $910 – basically $100 a night average. We were right on the beach with a pool, AC, large comfy rooms, cable, wifi etc for the first two, then in an entire guest wing of an estate on a beautiful river for the last two, with a cook.
  3. Transportation. I often a rent a car when I plan to move around but this trip there were literally none available from Island Car and I was good with having someone drive us this time because my kids were with me. So to have an old friend and driver, Chicken, take us from the airport to Treasure Beach, then to Negril, then to Lethe, then back to the airport, we paid just under $400 including tips.
  4. Tours. One stop in Belmont was “on the way” with Chicken so we didn’t pay anything extra for that. A boat trip to Black River and Pelican Bar with Captain Dennis for 3 of us was $150, a rafting trip on the Great River for 2 of us was $65. We rented a scooter for a day (2 of us), that was $40.
  5. Food, Drinks, Spending Money. Beyond that we spent $1050, $410 on a credit card and $640 in cash. This covered all food, drinks, taxis, souvenirs, fast food/coffee in the airport, ATM fees, groceries, everything else. So basically $100 a day.

When I was looking at options for this vacation I could have spent more – any all-inclusive, even most of the “budget” ones, would have been more (with tours), and would have forced us to stay in one place only.  We could have spent about half of the lodging budget that we did, but then would have given up amenities like being on the water or having a pool and AC.  I do that when I go solo but for this trip with the kids, I wanted to splurge a little.

We ate pretty much where and what we wanted. We had lobster, seafood, chicken, breakfast out. Rarely bothered with lunch beyond patties or coco bread. In TB we ate out all the time (no kitchen), in Negril most of the time (cooked one breakfast), and in Lethe, we had a cook who prepared all of our meals.

We didn’t buy large bottles of liquor or cases of beer, we were moving too much and this wasn’t a big drinking vacation anyway, but we could have saved more if we did. We went to a couple of high end places for dirty bananas and such a couple of times, not every day and mostly when there was a happy hour deal going on.

General notes on spending

I used my credit card whenever I could. It’s easy, the exchange rate is great (when I had it run as Jamaican currency I always did better than having it run as US currency, because my card has a great rate and no international fees).  I was able to use it sometimes, not too often because the places we liked to hang out often didn’t take a card, nor did my driver. When using the card to eat or drink I always tip in cash so I know the tip is going to my server/bartender.

I brought US cash with me and my driver took most of that, the rest I changed to Jamaican (at $122J to $1US at the HiLo cambio in MoBay). In general  I spent Jamaican $ everywhere and very often did much better with it than I would have with US$.  For example the restaurant at our hotel in Negril offered the bill in both currencies but their exchange was $100-1. So a bill of $1,000 Jamaican would have been US$10 if I paid in US, but was actually $8US when I paid in Jamaican.

Cutest ATM ever at Jack Sprat in Treasure Beach. Also very secure.

When I went through the cash I’d brought, I used ATMs in Treasure Beach (at Jack Sprat, it’s new!)  and Negril (Time Square, close to where we were staying).  Those both had a limit per withdrawal of $15,000J and a fee of $546J. I could get more at once by using two different accounts. but still had that fee. I include the fee in my exchange rate though, and still did well as the bank exchange rate is much better than the cash one. My own bank only charges $1.50 for ATMs outside its network, including abroad, so that helped too.  Both ATM locations are very secure, no one loitering around the machines, which is not always the case in Jamaica.

Security-wise, I carried a credit card and whatever cash I needed for the outing on me and left the rest in the room (hidden, no safes at any places I stayed). I had 2 debit cards and kept them separate so if one was lost I’d have the other.  If I had pockets, I kept a few small bills in it so as not to pull out a large wad of cash.  Basic  precautions and street-smart person would do, IMO.

What do you budget for Jamaica trips? How do you save and on what do you splurge?

Continue reading this series:

Thoughts? Questions? I'd love to hear them!