From the brilliant white sand beaches to the diverse island culture, Jamaica is one of our favourite Caribbean tourist destinations. The crystal clear ocean waters and the year-round warm climate makes it the ideal travel vacation for sun-lovers. There are many diversions to keep visitors happy: fishing, scuba diving, wind surfing, horseback riding, swimming, snorkelling, golfing just to name a few. In the evening there is fine dining at Jamaica’s elite restaurants and resorts-combined with truly unique Jamaican cuisine, and the night life is certainly hopping!
One of the best things that I have found about Jamaica is the warm, friendly people and the rich, diverse Island culture blended from around the world. In fact, Jamaica’s motto is “Out of Many, One People.” Although African and European influences dominate the culture, the British, Spanish, Irish, Indian, Chinese and German are all represented as well. The official language of Jamaica is English, but sometimes you wouldn’t know it as you will most likely hear “Patois” which sounds like a foreign language but is actually a combination of rhythmic English and slang. “Irie mon” is a common phrase you may hear, which really just means “cool” or “everything is good.” The currency in Jamaica is the Jamaican Dollar, but US dollars are widely accepted.
Jamaica is the largest English-speaking Island in the Caribbean and it is the third largest island overall, spanning 4,400 square miles. The best tourist spots are on the north coast, with Montego Bay and Ocho Rios being the most popular, as well as Negril on the west coast. I have toured the whole Island, from Kingston (Jamaica’s capital) through the Blue Mountains to Port Antonio, around the north coast, on down through Mandeville, Alligator Pond and Treasure Beach and back around to Kingston, so I am well able to tell you a bit about each destination you may wish to travel to.
Ocho Rios is located, as I said, on Jamaica’s north coast and is known as Jamaica’s garden centre. Some of the most popular daytime activities include biking, diving, deep-sea fishing and golf. Ocho Rios also has one of the best polo facilities in the Caribbean.
Of course, the must-see attraction in Ocho Rios is the famous Dunn’s River Falls, where visitors, lead by a sure-footed Jamaican guide, are able to climb up a series of falls that cascade from the mountains to the sea. The falls themselves are a spectacular sight and climbing the falls is an adventure not to be missed. As a bit of trivia, in the film “Cocktail” with Tom Cruise, Duns River Falls is in a memorable scene. Close by, just off of Main Street in Ocho Rios are two craft parks, the Ocho Rios Craft Park and the Olde Market Craft Shoppes, and The Ocean Village Shopping Centre is also nearby. Here there are hundreds of vendors selling local crafts, and everything from gold watches to wood carvings and the famous Blue Mountain coffee. Also, you will be able to sample the traditional jerk pork prepared over an open grill – a spicy culinary experience for the adventurous. There is also duty-free shopping at the Taj Mahal Shopping Centre.
Just west of Ocho Rios in Aracobessa is another favourite tourist attraction, James Bond Beach and Ian Fleming’s former home called Goldeneye.
Montego Bay is where most travelers arrive in Jamaica, which is home to the North Shore airport and the island’s busiest cruise ship pier. Montego Bay is Jamaica’s second largest city and is Jamaica’s original tourist hotspot.
Montego Bay’s attractions include a number of plantation tours, as well as a new attraction featuring the legendary great, Bob Marley. For the adventure traveller, there are also bamboo river rafting tours. As well, there is great fishing by fishing charters for marlin, tuna and kingfish. One may also go cycling, golfing, horseback riding or scuba diving here, and there is another popular local shopping district. A popular tour from Montego Bay is to Wyndham Rose Hall Plantation which was once a legendary 18th century sugar plantation, and a popular spot for golfers would be on the Robert von Hagge Championship Golf Course.
Of course, the beaches in Montego Bay are not to be missed. But beware – a friend, while visiting Jamaica, sat under a coconut tree and got conked on the head by a falling coconut, in fact three coconuts! I asked her why she didn’t move away after the first one hit her (of course, the coconuts fell in a bunch of three – but I thought it was funny!) (P.S. – She wasn’t really hurt!)
Negril is located on Jamaica’s western coast with a seven-mile long fantastic white sand beach. It extends from the nineteenth-century Negril Lighthouse in the parish of Westmoreland in the south to Bloody Bay (so named for the days when whalers cleaned their catch there) in Hanover Parish in the north. Negril is famous for its “hippie” era where the hippies set up a colony there and enjoyed the laid-back lifestyle and “ganja”. From this hippie-era colony, Negril has been labelled the “Capital of Casual”. Although I wasn’t interested, Negril does offer some clothing optional beaches.
Laws control resort development and no building is allowed to be taller than the tallest palm tree. Negril doesn’t offer the extensive shopping of Ocho Rios, but it does have an assortment of unique shops, including the Negril craft market.
Negril is said to offer some of the best scuba diving in Jamaica. You can also enjoy deep-sea fishing excursions, a vast amount of water sports, and golf at a new golf course, Negril Hills. If you choose to go parasailing, the sight of the sparkling azure waters and the dazzling white sand beach is a truly memorable experience. Other activities can include tennis, squash, glass-bottom boat reef trips, sunset catamaran cruises and spectacular nightly entertainment.
Although I stayed at a number of different locations in Jamaica, a memorable one was at a family-oriented all-inclusive resort. They offered everything one could want, from unlimited alcoholic beverages for adults to baby-sitting services, and even a special snack bar geared to children with all-you-can-eat pizza, macaroni ‘n cheese, and hamburgers. I was very impressed with how the staff entertained and watched over our children. In one instance, our kids were kayaking around a little bay area. Being adventurous they ventured out towards open water. The staff member followed them in his kayak and gently herded them back. I was very impressed how he handled it. It was a very pleasant stay there.
On the whole, I love Jamaica, from the warm friendly people to the crystal clear waters and all-year round warm climate. There is not much that Jamaica doesn’t offer for an ideal vacation. The Island is unique in its culture and cuisine (have you tried boiled green banana, saltfish and ackee, jerk chicken or fried breadfruit?) The resorts are experts in what they offer guests – especially the all-inclusive ones. The only thing that I might caution you about is travelling alone/unaccompanied outside of the resorts. It can be dangerous, but if you stay within your resort or take guided tours, you shouldn’t have any problems. “No problem, mon!”