If you want to experience what local Jamaican’s do in Kingston, then you’ll want to head down to Coronation Market. Based in the Pechon St / William Grant Park Area of Kingston, Coronation Market is possible the biggest market in the English-speaking Caribbean (according to LonelyPlanet). This absolute gem is not familiar with many tourists, as it is in Kingston, and there isn’t a beach in sight…
Although open all week, Saturday is the busiest day, when you can really feel the hustle and bustle of friendly, local traders selling fruit, vegetables, household items, and cooked food to what seems like every other Jamaican person in Kingston. The sounds from the traders and the locals is unique, and I have ever never heard anything like it. I was accompanied by my Mum and my cousin (a Kingston resident), who did most of the bartering / haggling with the traders, until I got the hang of it.
Here are my five top tips for getting the best out of Coronation Market:
Choose the best way to get to the market
Whether you’re planning to buy lots of things, or are just visiting, you’ll need to work out the best way to get to the market. You can take a JUTC bus from any of the major transport hubs from around Kingston (e.g. Constant Spring Road, Half Way Tree, Hagley Park Road) heading “downtown”, and get to the market from there. Your fare will be about $100 JAD each way. You can find more about the JUTC buses here. Use Google Maps to navigate from where the bus drops you off, to get to the market.
If you want to drive, you won’t be able to park anywhere near the market, as the stalls spill out onto the surround pavements and roadsides. However, there is parking available at the Municipal Bus Terminal, which is further down on Pechon Street, and its $200 JAD to park for as long as needed.
The option is to grab a taxi – make sure that its an official taxi with a meter. The base rate is around $230-$240 JAD, and then $40 JAD after every KM.
Imperial not metric…
All of the fruit, vegetables, meat, and fish is sold by the pound (lb / lbs). On each stall, you’ll see a set of weighing scales where you get given a bag, you’ll fill it up, and the trader will then weigh it up. The measurement will either be to pound or half pound, depending on what it is.
Things like limes and oranges are sold for a set number per price, e.g. $200 JAD for 12 limes. Other items such as peas, pulses and spices are measured in quarts, and again, each stall will have a cup to measure out the correct amount of produce. In my experience, the traders always ensure that they gave value for money, as word of mouth and repeat custom is everything.
Create a shopping list and don’t buy the first thing you see
The market is a hypnotic, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be mesmerised by all the goods on offer. If you are going with lots to buy, then make a list of the things that you need. There’ll also be a number of stalls selling the same thing – don’t buy from the first stall you see, have a look at around and you may find a better price for what you want. What may be $40 JAD at one stall, could be $25 JAD at the next. Strike up a conversation with the traders and you may be able to barter / haggle a better price.
Take carrier bags…
The black bags used to weigh and put larger items are very thin, and they don’t hold much. So remember your carrier bags.
I bought a lot of stuff and did not have any bags. On most stalls you’ll find what I have affectionately called “sack bags”. These are bags made out of plastic sacking, used for rice, grains or sugar, and have been machine stitched together. The bags usually come in different sizes, which a small one for $60-$80 JAD, and a larger one for $80-$110 JAD. I bought two of these to put in 10lbs of potatoes and 3lbs of carrots.
My final tip is safety. The market is a popular place with locals and tourists are starting to go there, which can attract unsavoury characters. Best not to travel on your own, and stick to small groups.
As sexist as this sounds, having a man in the group, will help to deter unwanted male attention. Be vigilant only take the money out that you need, and try and keep money in separate pockets. Try not to let anyone see where you are keeping your money. You’ll want to take pictures to capture the sights of the market, but be careful with your phone / camera. Use a wriststrap or something to prevent your possessions from being snatched.
Coronation Market is the heart of the Jamaican way of life, where people live off the land and sell their produce to make money. It’s a great way to see Jamaica at its best. The sheer size and the busyness of the market, can be intimidating and somewhat daunting if you go on your own, especially if you don’t look like your average Jamaican. But, if you want to get away from the tourist traps, and want to experience new sights, sounds, tastes, and smells Coronation Market is the place for you when your in Jamaica.