Travel Tips & Features

Driving from Montego Bay to Negril One Town at a Time Part 1 – Driving in Jamaica

Written by John Casey

Before we begin our drive to Negril, there are a few things I want to point out. The highway we are going to be traveling is, officially, “A1.” This highway actually runs between Kingston and Negril, the long way around. A few other names for this road is North Coast Highway which runs along the North Coast, and Highway 2000. It starts in Ocho Rios and ends in Negril. It is completed from Mobay to Negril but still several years from completion to Ocho Rios.

Other things you should be familiar with are Jamaican words as opposed to US words. For instance, “roundabouts.” These are rotaries to me, and you must “give way”, or yield when entering them. The speed limits and distances between towns are in kilometers. When traveling at any speed on the highway, there are always “overtakers”, “passing” in the states and usually at a great rate of speed. Most of them are taxi drivers in a hurry to make as much money as they can. One interesting highway sign, in hopes of slowing traffic down, says “Undertakers Love Overtakers.”

We begin our journey in Sam Sharpe Square, the center of Mobay. This town square was named for a Baptist leader who is one of Jamaica’s National Heroes. He was the one, according to Insights Guide – Jamaica, who started the revolt which ended slavery in Jamaica. Unfortunately, he was later hanged in the same square by British authorities in 1832. It is easy to see this square is old. While the downtown area is old everything was built around the square. The street around the roundabout is made of cobblestone. Some of the buildings have been renovated to suit the tenants with storefront signs of every color in the rainbow. There are three things that stand out aside from the fountain in the middle of the roundabout, which only sees water when it rains. The largest building is the civic center which was built in 1804. There is a smaller building called “The Cage.” It was first used to house runaway slaves and, later, any black person found on the street after 3:00 pm on Sunday. The third is a monument dedicated to Sam Sharpe that shows him preaching to his people.

St. James street is a one way which runs east to west through the square, has the heaviest traffic in town, and runs through the heart of the second largest city in Jamaica. It normally takes five to ten minutes to drive the two blocks to Howard Cooke Blvd. Once we get there we turn left and head west. This is not A1, but I feel it should be. For some reason, A1 comes into town from the west on a one way street, where it joins St. James St. and travels through the city towards the east. Howard Cooke Blvd. circumvents the downtown traffic. This highway was recently reconstructed to eliminate four roundabouts. There are now lights directing traffic where the roundabouts once stood. This is the closest to driving in the states I have seen.

There are two lanes of traffic in both directions with a landscaped median strip and sidewalks. From here, the road hugs the harbor where you can see everything from small two man fishing boats, pleasure boats, and harbor cruise boats to freighters and cruise ships across the harbor in Freeport. At the end of Howard Cooke Blvd., on the left, is the Montego Bay Constabulary, which is Mobay’s Police Headquarters and lock-up. Most of the surrounding land is flat and undeveloped. To the right of the police station is the Shell gasoline depot, one of two such gas depots in Mobay. From the police station we turn left and continue for a half a mile passing the Montego Bay Community College, the Ministry of Education and Culture, and the Herbert Morrison Technical High School on the left hand side. At the end of this road you will finally join A1 or Highway 2000. On the right, at this intersection, is the most modern shopping center on the North Coast. There is a Super Plus supermarket, a KFC, a six screen movie complex, a major hardware store, a drug store, an appliance store and a clothing store.

Across the highway is an old and very large “underground hotel”, better known as a cemetery. Traffic was at a standstill as an old fashioned funeral procession entered the cemetery. The procession was led by a horse drawn carriage carrying the “dearly departed” followed by a parade of mourners singing and dancing in the street to the beat of a marching band playing “While The Saints Go Marching In.” For a minute I thought I was in New Orleans.

As we proceed towards Negril, we pass the JPS(Jamaica Public Service) plant where all the electricity in Mobay is generated. Next to that is a large industrial park. On the other side of the street, where not too many years ago was a large sugar cane field, is now a water treatment plant. A short distance away on the left side of the road is a large “housing scheme”, called a housing development in the states, which is still under construction. When it is finished there will be more than five hundred homes. While they are small and cute two bedroom homes, they can be expanded upwards and backwards and are quite affordable. Next month, we will continue our drive and see our first town, Reading, gateway to the west and south coast.

About the author

John Casey