Jamaica holiday guide
Lying to the south of Cuba, Jamaica is the third-largest island in the Caribbean. Rainforest covered hills around Port Antonio contrast with swampy morass at the Royal Palm Reserve and the white-sand beaches of the north coast resorts. Music is an integral part of the country’s culture: on a Jamaica holiday, you will hear reggae playing in almost every bar, restaurant, and shop, and gospel harmonies ring out from white-washed churches. Life in Jamaica’s beach resorts—Negril, Montego Bay, and Ocho Rios—is laid-back and easy-going—except when you visit the markets, where stallholders insist upon good-natured haggling.
The loud, busy, traffic-clogged streets of the capital, Kingston, are worth negotiating to see the main attractions. Former pirate lair Port Royal, the Bob Marley Museum, National Gallery, and Hope Botanical Gardens showcase Jamaica’s rich flora, culture, and heritage. The cruise-ship port of Ocho Rios may not be attractive, but in its environs are the beautiful Dunn’s River Falls and Fern Gully, a winding road edged by giant ferns. With its yacht club, smart shopping malls, such as the Shoppes at Rose Hall, and jazz club, Montego Bay has a metropolitan feel.
Eating and drinking in Jamaica
Simple but spicy is how Jamaicans like their food. Curry goat, a rich stew of meat on the bone, and jerked pork or chicken, coated in a fiery marinade then barbecued over pimento wood, are popular island-wide. They are served with an array of hearty side orders including sweet potato, boiled yam, and festival, a slightly sweet, cigar-shaped dumpling. Ecovitched fish—snapper fried or steamed then topped with a ribbon-vegetable vinaigrette—is another typical dish. All are best washed down with a rum punch or cold Red Stripe beer.
Duty-free shops in Negril and at the cruise ports of Falmouth, Montego Bay, and Ocho Rios sell luxury jewellery, watches, and electronic goods. The towns also have craft markets selling wood carvings, hand-made musical instruments, T-shirts, and tie-dye items. Supermarkets are a good place to pick up spices, sauces, and chutneys used in Jamaican cuisine. In Ocho Rios, several art galleries in and around town sell paintings, ceramics, and sculptures by Jamaican artists, including Laura Facey.
Active pursuits in Jamaica
The Amerindian meaning of the word Jamaica is ‘land of wood and water’, and the interior’s rainforest terrain, which backs the north coast, can be explored on quad bikes, horseback, mountain bike, or on zip-wire canopy tours that fly over limestone ravines. Navigate the rivers: on bamboo raft trips that move slowly along the Rio Grande, or aboard an inflatable ring on the swifter currents of the White River. There are also hiking trails through Holywell Recreational Park in the Blue Mountains, with maps available at the park entrance.
The swathes of white-sand beach and smaller coves that line the island’s north coast ensure Jamaica lives up to its tropical paradise status. Dotted with palm and sea grape trees, they are met by turquoise waters calmed by offshore reefs that act as breakers. Negril’s Long Bay runs for almost seven miles and is backed by eclectic bars and restaurants, and Montego Bay’s Doctor’s Cave and Seawinds Beach Club are stylish and lively.
Most guests come to the Caribbean to unwind, and Jamaica has a strong tradition of spa pampering. Nearly all the large hotels have extensive facilities, and spa menus feature island-inspired treatments such as coffee scrubs. The island also excels at golf, and there are four world-class courses near Montego Bay including Tryall, which has hosted the Johnnie Walker World Championship. Ocho Rios, Negril, and Runaway Bay also have well-maintained 18-hole courses.
Jamaica was a British colony, and plantation owners made their fortunes in sugar cane and banana production between the 17th and 19th centuries. Some Great Houses and plantations from the period have been restored and are open to visitors, including Rose Hall in Montego Bay where the interior is furnished with period antiques. The streets of Falmouth—where poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s family once lived—have the greatest concentration of restored Georgian buildings on the island. Guided tours of Prospect Plantation, in Ocho Rios show how the crops were grown.
Jamaica’s highest point is the 2,256 metre Blue Mountain Peak, which rises above Kingston and forms part of the Blue and John Crow Mountain ranges. These are covered in tropical rainforest and dotted with coffee plantations. At the centre of the island, Cockpit Country offers dramatic hiking. Hire a guide at Albert Town to lead you through the pocked limestone plateaus. On the quieter south coast, pontoon rides takes you inland along the swampy Black River, a habitat that is perfect for wading birds and crocodiles.