Jamaica, a Caribbean island nation, has a lush topography of mountains, rainforests and reef-lined beaches. Many of its all-inclusive resorts are clustered in Montego Bay, with its British-colonial architecture, and Negril, known for its diving and snorkelling sites. Jamaica is famed as the birthplace of reggae music, and its capital Kingston is home to the Bob Marley Museum, dedicated to the famous singer.
Bob Marley and the Blue Mountains, reggae and Rastafarian, soft sands and strong sun – this is what the paradise island called Jamaica is all about. But the real charm of Jamaica lies in its people: warm and friendly. Vibrant and vivacious with ready smiles, the Jamaicans will welcome you with the warm hospitality that is characteristic of the Caribbean islands.
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JAMAICA QUICK FACTS
- Capital: Kingston
- Currency: Jamaican Dollar (JMD)
- Area: 10,991km²
- Population: 2,935 million (2018)
- Language: English (official), Jamaican Creole
- Religion: 92.3% Protestant, 12.1% Roman Catholic, 8.6% Hindu, 4.2% Jewish, 2.7% Muslim, 0.8% Athiest
- Electricity: 110V, 50Hz (USA Plug)
Dreadlocked Rastafarians are as synonymous with Jamaica as reggae. Developed in the 1930s, Rastafarianism evolved as an expression of poor, black Jamaicans seeking fulfilment, boosted by Marcus Garvey’s ‘back to Africa’ zeal. Central to its creed is the concept that Africans are one of the displaced Twelve Tribes of Israel. Jamaica is Babylon, and their lot is in exile in a land that cannot be reformed. The crowning of Ras Tafari (Haile Selassie) as emperor of Abyssinia in 1930 fulfilled the prophecy of an African king and redeemer who would lead them from exile to the promised land of Zion, the black race’s spiritual home.
Smoking of Marijuana (ganja) is a sacrament for many (if not all) Rastafarians, which allows them to gain wisdom and inner divinity through the ability to ‘reason’ more clearly. The growing of dreadlocks is an symbol for the mane of the Lion of Judah. Despite its seemingly militant consciousness, the religion preaches love and nonviolence, and adherents live by strict biblical codes advocating a way of life in harmony with Old Testament traditions. Some Rastas are indeed teetotallers who shun tobacco and keep to a diet of vegetarian ital food, prepared without salt; others, such as the 12 Tribes Rastafari, does eat meat and drink beer.
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JAMAICA PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- 23 May, Labor Day*
- 1 August, Emancipation Day**
- 6 August, Independence Day**
- 3rd Monday in October, National Heroes’ Day
- 26 December, Boxing Day
* Observed on the following Monday if it falls on a Saturday or Sunday.
** Observed on the following Monday if it falls on a Sunday
Also, Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Easter, and Easter Monday.
FESTIVALS IN JAMAICA
BEST TIME TO VISIT JAMAICA
In Jamaica, peak temperatures occur during the summer months of June to September while the coolest temperatures occur during winter between December through March. The Northern portions of the island tend to be exposed to colder temperatures from occasional surges of cool air from continental North America during fall and winter months. There exists a dry season between December through March and a rainy season between April through November - which are divided into early rainfall and late rainfall seasons. Most of Jamaica’s rainfall occurs during the wet season (May and October) and experiences its driest conditions in February and March.
- High Season (Dec–Apr) - People fleeing the northern hemisphere winter arrive in droves and prices peak. This is the Caribbeans driest time and can be cool the northern islands.
- Shoulder (May–Jun & Nov) - The weather is good, rains are moderate throughout. Reduced visitor numbers and the best mix of affordable rates and good weather. makes this an ideal time to visit the Carribean.
- Low Season (Jul–Oct) - Hurricane season; the odds of being caught are small, but tropical storms are like abound. During this time room prices can be half or less than in high season and you will find eastern Caribbean’s beaches good for surfing.
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
HIKING & CYCLING IN JAMAICA
Outdoor activities in Jamaica are best enjoyed during the drier months from December to April, with February and March having the best weather. It is best to avoid the wettest months of May to June and September to October.
BEACH OPTIONS IN JAMAICA
Although you can visit the stunning beaches of Jamaica at any time of the year, the dry season from December to April is by far better. June to November can be rather wet, with heavy storms and hurricanes.
SURFING IN JAMAICA
Jamaica has some great and consistent surf all year round. The best surf is usually from December to March and then again from July to September.
KITESURF IN JAMAICA
The windy kitesurfing season in Jamaica is from November to May. Although you can get favourable conditions during July and August, this is hurricane season and can be rather dangerous.
HEALTH RISKS IN JAMAICA
Be aware of possible health risks in
Zika Virus - Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects. There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.
Dengue - Dengue is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. About one in four people infected with dengue will get sick. For people who get sick with dengue, symptoms can be mild or severe.
JAMAICA TRAVEL COSTS
The Caribbean is not cheap, but there are ways to get the most bang for your buck with a little forward planning and some savvy choices
Budget less than US$150 Room away from the beach: under US$100, Meal at a locally popular restaurant: US$10, Ride local buses: US$3
Midrange US$150–300 Double room in the action: US$200, Visit parks and beaches that are free, rent bikes or snorkel for US$10 per day Rental car for exploring: US$40 to US$60 a day.
Top end over US$300 - Beautiful rooms at the best resorts in high season: US$400 and over, Activities in beautiful places: US$100 and up, World-renowned meals: US$100 per person and more.
Here are some of the best ways to save money:
Travel in groups Bring your friends and other couples along with you and rent a villa.
Book far in advance For high season deals.
Book at the last minute For incredible deals as hotels dump empty rooms.
Follow the divers They demand great value near beautiful waters.
Ride buses and ferries You meet folks and may have an adventure.
Live like a local Save money while having a more authentic visit.
Travel in low season Prices can drop 40% or more.
JAMAICA TRAVEL TIPS
Treasure Beach and the south (St Elizabeth parish), plus Port Antonio and the northeast, are fantastic for getting a taste of the ‘real’ Jamaica outside of the resorts. Public transportation is good albeit adventurous.
Public transport options are myriad. The simplest are route taxis, cheap communal taxis reaching every part of the country, picking people up en route. Look for white taxis with red plates. ‘Coasters’ (private minibuses) between towns go when full, and serve virtually every corner of the island. Drivers usually have an unhealthy disregard for speed limits and other road rules. The most reliable (and expensive) way to get between major towns and cities are the air-conditioned buses of Knutsford Express.
Buses, coasters and route taxis run between Kingston and every point on the island. They arrive and depart from the bus station (Beckford St). Comfortable Knutsford Express buses run from its own bus terminal in New Kingston to Ocho Rios and Montego Bay).
Dozens of coasters and route taxis run between Negril and Montego Bay. The two-hour journey costs about J$400, including changing vehicles in Lucea. However, be prepared for a hair-raising ride. Minibuses and route taxis also leave for Negril from Donald Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay (the price is always negotiable, but expect to pay about US$10). A licensed taxi service between Montego Bay and Negril will cost at least US$65, but expect drivers to quote inflated rates and prepare for a lot of arguing.
Negril stretches along more than 16km of shoreline, and it can be a wilting walk. Route taxis cruise Norman Manley Blvd and West End Rd; the fare between any two points should never be more than about J$150. (Don’t walk between Long Bay and the West End at night and try to avoid unlit stretches of beach after dark.)
There is no direct public transport to Treasure Beach from Montego Bay, Negril or Kingston but most hotels arrange transfers.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF JAMAICA
- Hike up the Blue Mountain Peak through the rainforest above Kingston for epic views to Cuba.
- Visit the National Gallery of Jamaica for an inspiring art collection in the heart of downtown Kingston.
- Take the heritage walking tour of the historic town of Falmouth.
- Time your visit with the Reggae Sumfest in Montego in July for the island’s greatest music festival.
- Make your way to Dunn’s River Falls and enjoy the cascading pools of Jamaica’s most beautiful waterfall.
Montego Bay - The gateway to Jamaica for about 80% of international travellers. Visit Doctor’s Cave Beach for water sports or head downtown to take in the architecture and the hustle of a real Jamaican city.
Rose Hall and Greenwood - For an insight into how Jamaica came to be, a trip to these colonial great houses will take you back to the days of sugar plantations and slavery.
Falmouth -Take a foodie walking tour around this historic town that’s an open-air museum of colonial architecture and wait until dark to swim in the luminescent Glistening Waters.
Ocho Rios - Stay overnight in this modern tourist hub, with its great bars and restaurants and don't miss out on the beautiful Dunn’s River Falls, deservedly Jamaica’s most popular waterfalls.
Nine Mile - Reggae fans can take the bumpy ride to this tiny village where Bob Marley was born (and is now buried), to visit his childhood home and mausoleum.
Firefly - Follow the dramatic coast east to take in the views at Firefly, the beautiful house once home to Noel Coward, for a glimpse on when Jamaica was a hub for the jet set in the golden age of Hollywood.
Dive in to the excitement of Jamaica’s lively capital of Kingston where you will find some of the best restaurants on the island, a reggae heritage that lives on in the live-music scene as well as the Bob Marley Museum and Trench Town Culture Yard, plus the extraordinary collection of the National Gallery of Jamaica.
Get out of the city and into the cool air of the thickly forested Blue Mountains that overlook Kingston. Sample some locally grown coffee, then get up early to hike to the peak.
Visit the old banana centre of Port Antonio, set amid the rugged greenery of Portland Parish. Make sure to eat some jerk in its spiritual home in nearby Boston Bay, and explore the wilds of gorgeous Reach Falls.
Treasure Beach is where those in the know go to escape the crowds, a laid-back hideaway tucked into a sweet southern corner of the island.
Jamaica tourism first made it big in Negril, and you’ll understand why when you sit with drink in hand on a seven-mile beach and take in the most famous sunset into the sea in the whole Caribbean. When you’re done, finish up in Montego Bay.
(more location details are available in the above map)
Whether you approach by air or by land, KINGSTON will impresses you with its setting and overwhelms you with its sheer size, noise and traffic. Kingston is the island’s cultural and economic heart, where political deals are made, musicians come to follow in the footsteps of the greats, and you can be exposed to squalor and luxury within footsteps of each other.
Cupping an unruffled bay and backing into the sleepy Rio Grande valley, PORT ANTONIO is the perfect capital for Portland. The parish’s only sizable town is largely untarnished by the duty-free, tourist-overfriendliness of Ocho Rios or Montego Bay and makes for a great base to explore the Rio Grande Valley.
Although cruise ships constantly disgorge hordes of passengers here, the area around OCHO RIOS, third-largest town in Jamaica, features some of the most beautiful natural attractions on the island. Along the north coast you will find pleasant white-sand beaches, clear waters, spectacular waterfalls and lush mountainous terrain.
MONTEGO BAY has made an interesting progression from local port to tourist-packaged commodity to an intriguing, if not terribly attractive, blend of both. There’s a good chance Montego will be your introduction to Jamaica – some 80% of travellers to Jamaica choose the country’s second-largest city as their port of entry. Many of the most interesting buildings in town are clustered along Church St - although don't expect a quiet historic district – this thoroughfare is as alive and chaotic as anywhere else downtown. Doctor’s Cave and Cornwall Beach are the best known and most popular seaside spots for snorkelling, clear water for swimming and stunning white sand.
If the popular tourist image of Jamaica is sun, beach life, rum, sun, sea, sun, diving and sunsets, chances are the popular tourist is thinking of NEGRIL – or thinking in particular of Jamaica’s longest swath of sugary white-sand beach at Long Bay (also known as Seven Mile Beach). The gorgeous, 11km-long swath of sand that is Long Bay is still kissed by serene waters into which the sun melts evening after evening in a riot of colour and easily accessible coral reefs offer some of the best diving in the Caribbean. Yet these undeniable attractions have done just that: attract. In the last three decades Negril has exploded as a tourist venue - and hustle.. However, no matter how cynical you are, you will have to admit: this is one beautiful beach!
You will be hard-pressed to find a more authentically charming and relaxing place in Jamaica than TREASURE BEACH. The sense of remoteness, the easy pace and the graciousness of the local farmers and fisherfolk attract travellers seeking an away-from-it-all, cares-to-the-wind lifestyle. A bicycle is a good means of getting around quiet Treasure Beach as there is one main road connecting all of the beaches, plus many smaller cow paths and dirt trails.
WHAT TO PACK FOR JAMAICA
The Caribbean islands are casual, so bring light, comfy clothes: a bathing suit, T-shirt and shorts will be your wardrobe. Add long pants or a dress for nights out.
Sun hat Buying at home ensures a better fit.
Quick-dry towel A small one, for when the whim to swim hits.
Flashlight For night-time reading, blackouts.
Resealable bags / Drybags Essential for keeping things (cameras, air tickets, passports) dry on boat trips.
Snorkelling mask with corrective lenses Suddenly, reefs are in focus!
WHAT TO EAT IN JAMAICA
Take time to meet the locals by doing what they do – you’ll enjoy a more affordable and authentic experience.
Eat at lunch wagons or stalls. The local fare is cheap and often incredibly good.
Drop by a local bar – often the de facto community center. Besides a drink, you’ll get all sorts of useful – or wonderfully frivolous – advice.
Look for community fish fries or barbecues in the Eastern Caribbean.
Look out for:
Jerk - Jamaica’s most well-known dish, jerk is actually a cooking method: smother food in a tongue-searing marinade, then smoke over a wood fire!
Seafood - Snapper and parrotfish are popular. A favourite dish is "escoveitched fish" - pickled in vinegar then fried and simmered with peppers and onions.
Breadkinds - A catchall term for all starchy sides, from plantains and yam to pancake-shaped cassava bread and johnnycakes (fried dumplings).
Saltfish & Ackee - Jamaica’s national dish, and a completely delicious breakfast. Ackee is a fleshy, somewhat bland fruit; saltfish is, well, salted fish. When mixed together they’re delicious, somewhat resembling scrambled eggs.
Brown Stew - Not a soup, brown stew is another popular method of cooking that involves simmering meat, fish or vegetables in a savoury-sweet sauce.
Patties - Baked pastry shells filled with spicy beef, chicken, vegetables or fish.
Rum - Clear and light white rums, flavoured rums, deep dark rums, and the rare amber nectar of the finest premium rums. Don't forget the brain-bashing overproof rums . These are called 151 proof and contain more than 75.5% alcohol by volume. This is much higher than typical rum at 35%–40%.
LGBTQ IN JAMAICA
There’s a gay scene in Jamaica, but it’s an underground affair as the country is still a largely homophobic society. Sexual acts between men are punishable by up to 10 years in prison, and many lyrics by big-name dancehall stars could easily be classified as anti-gay hate speech. Nonetheless, in the more heavily tourist areas, you can find more tolerant attitudes, and hotels that welcome gay travellers, including some all-inclusives. Publicly, discretion is important and open displays of affection should be avoided. For more information check out Gay Jamaica Watch and J-FLAG.