Each year approximately one million tourists visit Jamaica, the largest English speaking island in the Caribbean, with the most popular resort centres being Kingston, Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, Negril, Port Antonio and the South Coast.
As the third largest island in the Caribbean, Jamaica is divided into three counties, Cornwall, Middlesex and Surrey, which are further subdivided into parishes with Kingston, the country’s capital being the smallest of the 14 parishes.
Jamaica relies heavily on tourism. In fact, this is its biggest industry and helps empower local communities by creating jobs and fueling the economy, enabling local businesses to thrive.
Life in Jamaica is laid back with music, and in particular Reggae music, an important part of the island’s culture and tradition, with rum, coffee and cricket following close seconds.
The destination enjoys a wide range of attractions and facilities to suit all types of visitors – from stunning beaches, world-class golf and watersports through to colourful street bazaars, buzzing bars and clubs, a variety of cultural attractions and quaint fishing villages.
How To Get There
Jamaica is home to two international airports - Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay and Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston. The main ports of Montego Bay and Ocho Rios are also ports of call for several cruise lines.
Where to stay
Hotels are government ranked into four categories – from A to D and there are approximately 150 hotels and guest houses on the island. All-inclusive resorts are favoured and cater for couples, singles and families.
For those interested in a self-catering holiday there are more than 800 cottages and apartments for rent, which range from a small condo on the beach through to large private villas with pools. Many operators will arrange packages that can also include add-ons such as tours, transfers and car hire.
This is ideal for those who like the idea of being closer to nature, but this isn’t to say that amenities and facilities are not spared on dedicated camping and caravan sites. There are a variety of unique locations to choose from including national parks, former coffee plantations and beach locations.
With the Locals
For those that are looking for an insight into Jamaican life, a homestay on a bed and breakfast basis in a local island home is a great alternative. Jamaicans are very friedly and welcoming and will be keen to have you practising the local lingo - patois and enjoying a home-cooked traditional dish while playing games, singing or debating – three great pastimes Jamaicans enjoy.
Flora and Fauna
As a small tropical island Jamaica has a huge diversity of species, including the highest number of endemic birds and plants of any Caribbean island. Some of the animal species of Jamaica include: the endangered Swallowtail Butterfly, Seaturtles (Leatherback, Loggerhead, Green Turtle and Hawksbill), Manatees, Jamaican Iguana, crocodiles, Jamaican Huita or Coney and the mongoose. There are no dangerous animals and the destination is safe for hiking and walking opportunities. This includes the Blue Mountains which are home to more than 500 flowering plant species of which almost half are unique to Jamaica
Top things to see and do
Jamaica offers plenty of activities and attractions – from relaxing on a beach to visiting a national park.
Here are some recommendations for getting the most out of your visit:
Dunn’s River Falls
This spectacular waterfall is one of Jamaica’s most famous attractions and is located near Ocho Rios. Taking a hike down the falls is a popular activity.
Swim with the dolphins
While you’re near Ocho Rios head to Dolphin Cove to take a swim with the bottle-nosed dolphins and enjoy the tropical rainforest surroundings; it’s one of the island’s most popular attractions.
Bob Marley Museum
Jamaica is the birthplace of Bob Marley and he is celebrated everywhere, but none more so than at his tribute museum. If you’re looking to follow Marley’s roots start at Nine Mile – where he was born.
This truly is a blue lagoon – the striking colour of the lagoon being a result of its depth - approximately 200 feet. If you’re after a relaxing day alternative to the beach take a picnic and enjoy leisurely dips in the lagoon.
The coral reefs remain great tourist attractions and there are some great dive areas close to all the major resort towns. Great spots include nurse sharks, eagle rays and jellyfish.
Relax on the beach
Most resorts have their own private beach, others charge a small admission fee. There’s a whole mix of beaches – from quiet secluded coves through to those buzzing with entertainment and music.
Take a Cultural and Historical Tour
Explore Jamaica's ecological treasures - from limestone cave labyrinths on the north coast and gushing waterfalls to mineral springs with curative powers. An historical stroll around Jamaica’s former capital, Spanish Town will reveal stately homes and grand monuments
Go for a Hike
Follow one of many hiking and climbing trails up the Blue Mountains to heights above 7,000ft. The mountains are home to more than 200 bird species and 800 species of plants. There are hundreds of paths connecting villages around the mountains. As an alternative to walking try cycling.
The main resorts in Jamaica include Montego Bay (a well known tourist resort), Ocho Rios (famed for its stunning coastline and beaches), Negril (offering world class diving and a slow-paced way of life), Mandeville (great place to meet the locals), Kingston (the capital and cultural heart of the island), Port Antonio (which offers a mix of old and new) and St. Elizabeth (typically more quiet and diverse)
As famed as it is for its Reggae music, Jamaica is well known for its love of partying and that doesn’t stop when the sun goes down. All the larger towns on the island – including Negril, Montego Bay and Kingston offer a plethora of nightime entertainment including restaurants, bars and clubs. Most evenings start off with a drink just before sunset, followed by something to eat and then non-stop partying until the wee hours. Different clubs offer different types of music to suit all tastes. If it’s an adrenaline rush you’re after try Jackpot Jungle Casino in Montego Bay for a variety of gaming experiences – from blackjack and roulette to the slot machines and interactive gaming.
For more family-oriented entertainment, try a trip to the Centerstage Theatre in Kingston which showcases musical comedies in native tongues – a unique way of experiencing the culture of the island performed live.
Shopping in Jamaica is an experience in itself and the key to a good shopping experience is being prepared to bargain. Some areas impose fixed prices such as City Centre, Half Moon Shopping Village and Holiday Village Shopping Centre, all in Montego Bay, but if you enjoy the thrill of finding a good bargain then the island’s markets are the place to head. Native goods to buy include local crafts and paintings, Jamaican rum, hand-made fabrics, wood carvings, coffee and woven crafts.
As there are so many activities to experience on the island visitors are advised to review their options before travelling to ensure they don’t miss out on what the island offers.
One of the most popular activities is exploring some of the island’s 200 mile stunning coastline and beaches, several of which offer activities such as watersports and entertainment. As examples Puerto Seco Beach in Discovery Bay and Cornwall Beach at Montego Bay offer a variety of beach activities and watersports such as parasailing, windsurfing, water skiing, surfing and jet skiing, while James Bond Beach near Ocho Rios, features live music.
As much as Jamaicans love their music they love their festivals. One not to be missed is the island’s annual carnival, held in Ocho Rios and Montego Bay in April and in Negril in May. The streets are filled with music and dancing and the atmosphere is electric. Between July and August there is a four-day Reggae Sunsplash event which features local and well known musical talent.
Another great way of seeing the island in style is to take a boat tour. Boats can be rented (with or without a captain) or organised as part of a package. Rafting and boating offers a great way of seeing quieter parts of the island which offer some diverse scenery and wildlife.
If being at one with nature is more your thing try diving or snorkelling. There are a number of licensed operators on the island offering certification courses otherwise if you’re diving or snorkelling for fun, the miles of coastline and clear waters offer an opportunity to see the marine life, coral reefs and wrecks.
If you fancy getting fit and seeing the island on foot a guided hiking tour is a great experience. Jamaica’s Blue Mountains, Rio Grande Valley and John Crow National Park offer walks for all ages and abilities and the chance to see some beautiful views. Likewise, horse riding is another popular activity and a great ways of seeing what the island has to offer. Rides vary from an hour on the beach through to mountain trekking for days at a time.
Jamaica’s past is as colourful as the personalities of its people and there will always be someone willing to engage in historical conversation. Jamaicans are passionate people and like a good debate – even if it’s talking about subjects which most would find inappropriate. People from all ethnic backgrounds live and work on Jamaica, and the islanders are comfortable with their outward racial differences as it’s part of what makes their culture unique.
Although the official language of Jamaica is English many locals speak with each other in their own linguistic style, which will vary depending on location. It is not uncommon for Spanish, African, English, including Irish, British and American idioms, and even Rastafarian to make an appearance in conversation.
Jamaican culture is also richly flavoured by its cuisine with one of the most popular dishes being jerk, a spicy marinade sauce. Other popular menu choices include seafood, stews and soups.
How to get around
There are a number of options for getting around the island. One of the most scenic is by water and water taxis, yachts and cruises are offered by a number of operators, otherwise there’s always the option of hiring a boat or yacht to sail into the sunset. Rail is not a popular means of travel but hiring a car is an alternative option with plenty of advantages including left side hand driving. A general consumption tax of 15% is applied to all car hire transactions and drivers must be over 25. For bus fans there are reliable connections between Kingston and Montego Bay. Alternatively a relatively cheap way to travel is by taxi, where drivers charge per car rather than the number of passengers, but be sure to agree the total cost prior to taking one. The most popular type of transport in the main towns and cities is private minibus.
Jamaican life is relaxed and compared to English standards very slow-paced. Most customary greetings are done by handshake but Jamaicans are very hospitable and are keen to welcome people into their home. Dress-wise beach wear is not acceptable anywhere other than the poolside or the beach.
Location: 18 degrees north of the equator - 90 miles south of Cuba and 600 miles south of Miami
Time: GMT -5 Hours
Language: English, although Patois is commonly used.
Climate: Tropical with year-round high temperatures and humid conditions. The average temperature ranges from 19 – 32 degrees Celsius (66 – 99 degrees Fahrenheit). Between May - June and September - November are the rainy seasons and occasionally hurricanes occur between June and September.
Area: 10,991 sq km (4,244 sq miles).
Population: 2.8 million (CIA estimate 2007).
Religion: Protestant majority (Anglican, Baptist, Church of God and Methodist) with Roman Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Bahai communities. Rastafarianism is also widely practiced and the country has a number of small spiritualist cults.
Electricity: 110 and 220 volts
Country telephone code: 1 876
Currency: Jamaican Dollar
Passport/visa requirements: Brits require a passport valid for at least six months and there are no visa requirements for stays of up to 90 days
National airline: Air Jamaica (www.airjamaica.com)
Airports: Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay and Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston.
Flight time: Approximately 10 hours
Public holidays: 10 per year: January 1, May 23, August 1, August 6, December 25-26, Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Easter Monday and Heroes Day (third Monday in October)
UK Tourist Office details: Jamaica Tourist Board, 1-2 Prince Consort Road, London SW7 2BZ Tel: (020) 7225 9090.Website: www.visitjamaica.com