|Size||4,224 square miles (10,991 square kilometers)|
|Population||2,890,000 (92% black, 6% mixed, 2% other )|
|Status||Parliamentary democracy, part of the British Commonwealth|
|Official language(s)||Jamaican Patois, English|
|GDP per capita (2017)||$5,117|
|Currency||Jamaican dollar pegged to US dollar|
|Electricity||US standard two and three-prong|
|Driving||on the left|
Vivid natural sights, a wealth of cultural and historical sites as well as tens of heavenly beaches attract hundreds of thousands of visitors to Jamaica every year. The country has had some great ambassadors over the years: the likes of Bob Marley, Harry Belafonte, Shaggy and many others showcased the wealth Jamaican musical talent, Usain Bolt and hundreds of other track & field athletes have made Jamaica an Olympic powerhouse whereas poets and activists like Claude McKay and Marcus Garvey have showed to the world the rich and uncompromising spirit of the Jamaican people and the beauty of its lands.
First discovered in Columbus and claimed by the Spanish, Jamaica became a British colony in 1655. With its lush and fruitful terrain, it quickly became an important producer of sugar as well as coffee and rum. This was only possible with an extensive use of a slave labour force brought from Africa to such an extent that the black slave population outnumbered European whites by 20 to 1 by the early 19th century. Only after the abolition of slavery in 1834, did things start to gradually get better for the black population of the island. Nonetheless, even today, many decades after gaining independence in 1962, majority of Jamaicans still live in deep poverty and perform manual labour in farming, mining and manufacturing. Despite this, Jamaica is a country of a genuinely optimistic society very proud of its nation and heritage.
Positive attitude and wonderful hospitality of the locals is one of the many reasons why visitors to this island give it raving reviews and come back over and over again for many years. Other reasons for Jamaica’s popularity are its great all-inclusive resorts, kids friendly entertainment and a vivid nightlife. In fact, so many visitors have been coming to Jamaica that tourism now makes up a third of the country’s economy. The resort city of Montego Bay as well as Negril and Ocho Rios are especially popular with Montego Bay especially, being at the very top of all-inclusive resort towns of the Caribbean (rivalled only by Punta Cana). If you come here though, do not stay in a resort all day. There is too much to see and do to be a beach bum all day every day!
Jamaica is the best connected island with the outside of the Caribbean. Tens of cities in North America have operate direct flights to the two main airports: Norman Manley International in Kingston and Sangster International in Montego Bay. Interestingly, due to extensive tourism many more international flights arrive to Montego Bay instead of the capital city of Kingston. From Europe, there are many daily flights available to Kingston and Montego Bay from London as well as daily flights to Montego Bay from Munich in Germany. What is worth noting that whereas the number of available flights to many of the islands in the Caribbean decreases significantly in the off season (from late spring to early fall), this is not really the case for Jamaica. There is only a small drop in the number of overall flights, but most direct flights operate year long on a similar schedule.
With a reliable, extensive and inexpensive bus network throughout Jamaica, you will want to think twice before renting out a car. Buses connect all of the major resorts and towns around the country and most of them are modern vehicles with air conditioning, which is a big relief on longer journeys. With a fleet of over 20 large buses, the biggest and most quoted bus company is Knutsford Express, but there are as many as 10 other companies that operate on the major routes and can pick you up from pretty much every bus stop between any two destinations. This is the case for both, larges buses as well as mini-buses and you can recognize the type of bus by its license plate: one that has PPV on it is a licensed public transport bus used by locals and tourists alike, whereas buses with JUTA on their plates are specialized tourist transport. The fares on buses need to be paid in Jamaican dollars and range anywhere from 1,000 JMD on short destinations to 5,000 JMD on the longest ones. The fares are cheaper on inner city bus networks, of which there are two, one in Kingston and one in Montego Bay.
Driving a car in Jamaica is not easy as majority of roads are in poor condition, while signs and lights are scarce. Nonetheless, extensive rental services are available from the two airports as well as from various locations in major towns. Keep in mind, however, you have to be at leas 23 to rent a vehicle here. If you are not of this age yet or decide to pass on car rental altogether, you can also rely on local taxis. The ones that are properly licensed have red plates with white letters and the first, of which says “P”. You can catch them in towns or book ahead from your hotel. Prices are often negotiable though higher in and around Montego Bay, Negril and Ocho Rios.
Things to explore
Jamaica has so much to offer you will need much more than a week to see all the great sights. The good news is though, you can drive across the island in about 3hrs so you can explore the whole island relatively comfortably with a car or via a bus. Here is the list of key areas with a description of their main attractions:
- Kingston – with a population of as many as 800,000, Kingston is the biggest city in the Caribbean. Hence, there is much to do and see here. The historical Spanish Town showcases what the buildings of the city may have looked like during the Spanish rule back in the 17th century. This is also the home of St. James Cathedral (St. Jago De La Vega Cathedral) built in 1714, the oldest such structure in North America. On the other side of the city you will find the large Hope Royal Botanic Gardens, an expansive park and zoo that are home to a wide range of fauna and flora from the Caribbean and beyond. On the same road as the gardens is the Bob Marley Museum, which is a must do for any reggae fans. And, not too far from this museum is the Emancipation Park – a lovely square with an impressive statue of Jamaican slaves and a running track where you may run into some of the famous Jamaican athletes doing a casual jog. Speaking of which, the National Stadium of Jamaica is where many of Jamaica’s most prestigious sports and music events occur so you may want to check the stadium schedule for anything that may be of interest.
- Blue Mountains – Once you had enough of the buzz of Kingston, it takes less than an hour drive from the city to the midst of a think mountain jungle of Blue Mountains. This is one of the best spots in Jamaica for hiking and exploring nature, though getting to the right trails is not easy so make sure to plan ahead. One cool trail to check out leads to the top of Blue Mountain Peak, from which you will see many of the mountains around and below you as well as the ocean far in the distance. Blue Mountains are also famous for coffee beans that grow here and the factory that makes coffee is open to visitors throughout the year. Mavis Bank Coffee Factory is located on Gordon Town Road.
- Port Antonio – also less than an hour drive from Blue Mountains, Port Antonio on the north east coast of Jamaica, has a beautiful lighthouse and is very close to some of Jamaica’s most unique beaches. One of them is San San Beach, a stunning lagoon with very still waters perfect for swimming and snorkelling. Another similar spot is Winnifred Beach and then further east you will find Boston Beach, which is not only a great beach, but also a spot where you can eat a lot of tasty jerk pork at the Boston Jerk Centre. Finally, a popular attraction around Port Antonio is the Blue Lagoon, a 180 feet deep truly blue lagoon, of which there are many stories you can hear from local guides.
- Ocho Rios, Falmouth and Runaway Bay – the three resort towns on the north cost are connected by the A1 highway and so jumping between them is pretty easy and doesn’t take more than 30 minutes’ drive. Coming from west and starting from Falmouth, this coastal town is 20 minute drive from Good Hope Estate, a theme park type attraction with zip-lining, combined with a historical museum of colonial times and sugar cane production. Heading towards Runaway Bay you will want to check out Green Grotto Caves, a fantastic network of thousands of years old caves as well as underground lakes that you can explore all in less than an hour. Entrance is $20 and you can get in every day until 4pm. Finally, once around Ocho Rios, you will have to consider what of the many wonders of nature do you want to visit here. There are tens of impressive waterfalls here including Dunn’s River Falls, Coyaba and Mahoe Waterfalls and Shaw Park Waterfalls. Although Dunn’s River falls may be most picturesque and unique (you can splash around cold water hitting hundreds of boulders and rocks), all the places mentioned are worthy of a visit if you have the time! Another cool nature spot to visit here is the Fern Gully, a jungle trail maze around some impressive vegetation. Lastly, if you are a Bob Marley fan you will definitely want to stop by his childhood home in St. Ann’s Bay, which is now a museum opened every day until 5pm.
- Montego Bay – the biggest and most well known resort town of Jamaica lives up to its name.The city itself has great beaches like the Doctor’s Cave beach located right in the center of the action There are changing rooms, great restaurants and a marine park right by. Just around the corner are more pretty beaches: One Man Beach and Closed Harbour Beach Park, between two which you can enjoy lovely walks and dip in and out of azure shallow waters. One you have had enough of sunbathing, you can head out of town to check out local attractions like the Rocklands Bird Sanctuary, a home to tens of species from all over the Caribbean as well as several historic sugar plantations from the 17th and 18th centuries like the Rose Hall and Greenwood Great House.
- Negril – home to the longest stretch of silky smooth sand in Jamaica, Negril is small town in itself famous for its beach, Negril with most of the shops and restaurants located on just a couple of streets.Negril Beach is where you will want to spend most of your time here anyway. It is seven miles long, though it feels never-ending. The water is great for swimming and the surrounding areas have lots of highly rated places to eat and drink.Besides the beach itself, Negril is located 17 miles away from a very special place in Jamaica and all of Caribbean – the Blue Hole Mineral Spring. It must be seen and experienced for yourself in order to truly appreciate this place. In short, this is probably the most spectacular and fun place to jump into water and swim that you can ever imagine!
We mentioned many of the cool physical places you can visit in Jamaica, However, Jamaica is as much about places as it is about events. In fact, Jamaica has the most festivals and music jams in the Caribbean. These attract large crowds from around the world. For reggae there are the Rebel Salute and Sumfest, for jazz there are Jamaica Jazz & Blues as well as Ocho Rios International Jazz Festival in St. Ann’s Bay, and for general party and food there are Friday Night Jams in Kingston as well the Jamaican Epicurean Escape events. All in all, things are always on here so check out the event schedules and fill your diary before you land!
Only the Dominican Republic has a larger hotel assortment in the Caribbean than Jamaica, though the numbers comparison between the two is irrelevant as you can find a hotel in Jamaica that caters to every budget, need and desire. It is also important to mention that if you want to stay close to the coast no matter what part Jamaica you choose, you will find a hotel close by that is also close by to the water. With that said, the towns that have the most hotels close to a beach are Montego Bay, Port Antonio, Negril, Runaway Bay and Ocho Rios. Of course, there are plenty of hotels in most other coastal towns as well as inlands in and near the mountains and forests. Still, Montego Bay stands out from all other places for the scale and quality of its three, four and five star all-inclusive resorts. For those demanding very high standards, there are hotels like Half Moon or Round Hill Hotel where you can get a five bedroom villa with its own large pool and patio and 24hr concierge service for as little as a “modest” $2,000 per night. Or you can opt for the more classic and family friendly Holiday Inn Resort surrounded by a beautiful private beach and boasting its own private island 100 feet away from the mainland.
There is so many more amazing hotels in Montego Bay and along the coasts we could write hundreds of pages just about it. Instead, we will just mention a couple unique spots and then describe couple other things you should consider while selecting a place to stay. Ok, so as far as unique and cool hotels check out: Goldeneye in Oracabessa for all those who are into James Bond books and movies, Strawberry Hill in Irish Town for the top three best hotel views in the Caribbean and The Caves in Negril for a cool in-rock design and good snorkelling. Whatever type of accommodation you are leaning towards, keep in mind it’s the north coast that is much more lively and you will find lots of fantastic restaurants, bars and clubs here. However, if you rather stay away from the crowds, choose the south coast instead. It is much less developed and the beaches here are much less busy (though equally beautiful). Treasure Beach is a good town to check out here. Finally, we didn’t mention anything about hotels in Kingston. Of course, due to its large size, you will find plenty of great accommodations here. However, large majority of tourists don’t spend much time in the capital besides an occasional day trip. The two reasons for that is that the city is not very safe as crime rates including violent crime are high here and the city itself just doesn’t have as many and as good attractions as other parts of the country.
Food & restaurants
Jamaican cuisine is world famous brand that doesn’t need many introductions. Rich in spices, Jamaican cooking mixes European, Asian, African and Caribbean influences into a literal melting pot of taste and smell. Dishes like goat curries, marinated chicken and pork jerk, acknee and saltfish and Jamaican patties are trademarks that you are likely to recognize even if you have never been to Jamaica. With this mind, you won’t be surprised that both locals and tourists alike eat much more of local cuisine than any other. Hence, as you explore Jamaica, expect to run into a lot of busy barbecue and seafood restaurants. Many of these are located in and around the major resorts. In Montego Bay, we recommend you try out Pork Pit, a truly Jamaican kitchen and menu at very reasonable prices. Around Negril, you can get a similar experience at Shark’s restaurant whereas near Ocho Rios check out the Ocho Rios Jerk Centre.
One thing that you will quickly notice about how food is being sold here are the various and numerous stands and food vans that occupy road sides across most towns and even on roads in the middle of nowhere. Stopping for a meal at one of these stands will give you a true taste of Jamaican food and a great opportunity to make friends with some locals. Expect majority of the stands to serve jerk chicken and pork as well as various curries. Alcohol is also what many of them sell, Red Stripe beer being the most common option. Of course, if you drive, don’t drink more than one!
Jamaicans know how to party! You can literally have a great night out here every day of the year. Besides hundreds of bars and clubs located in the bigger towns, many of the major all-inclusive resorts run their own late night entertainment schedules with music concerts, dance shows and all night dance parties. Some of the hotel venues offer very special experiences. For example, the disco at adult only Hedonism II lets you get pretty sexy with whoever you have come with or with other guests. If experiences like this are a little too much out there for you, you can always opt in for a casual drink in a beach bar, of which there are tens of in every beach resort town. Nonetheless, the biggest parties on the island happen in Kingston. It is here that every Friday a Night Jam comes alive – an outdoor party on and along many of the city’s streets with bands, street performers and lots of food stalls coming and going throughout the evening. It is also here where you will find the best dance nightclubs like the Fiction Nightclub often attended by local and visiting celebrities. However, as mentioned previously Kingston is not the safest city, especially at night time. Going out in a larger group is recommended and once you had enough of the partying, don’t leave anyone behind!
Sports & adventure
Jamaicans love sports and adventures! Therefore, the island is an ideal place for fitness maniacs as well as thrill seekers. Like in other Caribbean destinations, water sports are big here! There are several great diving sports around Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, but it is Port Royal near Kingston that may actually be the very best dive site in Jamaica (there are at least five shipwrecks buried here). Surfing is also big in Jamaica and popular destinations include Boston Bay, Bull Bay and Long Bay. An then, there is fishing, for which Port Antonio is where it happens. In fact, this town is the unofficial capital of the Caribbean for deep sea fishing. Lots of charters, boats and fishing trips are available here for keen fishermen.
Out of the water, we may have already mentioned Jamaicans love soccer, cricket and of course, track and field. Whenever you see them on a field or track you can expect they will be more than happy for you to join them in play or training – that’s just how they are! Jamaicans do not play much golf, but for a foreign visitor there are plenty of options to play. Montego Bay has four professional courses and Negril has two. There are also two small courses located within Kingston city limits.
Outside of sports, Jamaica is a popular bid watching destination with Blue Mountains being the primary target location for expert bird watchers. It is also very popular for mountain kayaking and river rafting, which you can do on Rio Grande, Martha Brea River and Great River. Finally, Jamaica is well known also for its horseback riding tours and excursions. You can find many stables and farms around the island that offer such adventures, though the area of Ocho Rios is probably the best as it has the most stables and many great riding trails around. To close out this section, it is worth listing couple of the biggest adventure parks that both adults and kids are sure to love and that are some of the best in the Caribbean:
- Kool Runnings Adventure Park – Not too far from Negril, this is a combination of a water park with a theme park and is in the top five adventure parks in the Caribbean
- Wata Land Park – 2 miles from the center of Ocho Rios, this water park is popular among the locals, but its many water slides are sure to entertain people of all countries and ages
- Yaaman Adventure Park – also near Ocho Rios, this is a safari park with buggy, jeep and camel rides as well as many species of animals and plants to explore and engage with
- Martha Brae Rafting Village – near Falmouth, this is an amazing jungle rafting experiencedown Martha Brae river as well as a cool spot for a hike
- Jamwest Motorsports & Adventure Park – near Negril, this is a must do for any fans of motorsports and car racing. You can ride and race in many types of vehicles including F1 looking go carts
Safety and security
In Jamaica, you can feel perfectly safe and sound on one street and then as soon as you turn into another, you will feel uncomfortable and worried for your well-being. In fact, due to extreme poverty many parts of Jamaica look quite the opposite to the luxurious and exclusive hotel areas frequented by foreign visitors. In essence, the most dangerous place and time to spend your time in Jamaica is in Kingston during night time. However, you should also be mindful during the day here as there are many pickpockets and petty thieves hanging around and targeting tourists. In fact, be mindful whenever you travel around Jamaica alone and aim to stay on main streets and most populated areas of every town. Also, if you rent a car, do not leave your valuable belongings inside if parking in unguarded lots. Finally, don’t worry too much and remember to have lots of fun!
|Getting there:||(4.5 / 5)|
|Getting around:||(4.0 / 5)|
|Things to explore:||(5.0 / 5)|
|Accommodation options:||(5.0 / 5)|
|Food & restaurants:||(3.5 / 5)|
|Nightlife:||(5.0 / 5)|
|Sports & adventure:||(5.0 / 5)|
|Safety & security:||(3.0 / 5)|
|Average:||(4.4 / 5)|