Jamaica Travel Guide

Jamaica Holidays - Tours & Adventures Travel Guide

PureTravel Says
“Jamaica was formerly a British colony and is today popular for Jamaica holidays. It is also the third-largest island situated in the Caribbean. Although traditionally an agricultural country, these days Jamaica main foreign exchange earners are derived from bauxite mining and tourism. Her pristine white beaches and rich biodiversity makes her a premier holiday destination for everyone, from the nature lover to the sun worshipper. This is hardly surprising as her name came from the Arawakan word “Xaymaca” which literally mean “Land of Wood and Water”. Her multiracial cultural heritage is largely a blend of both British and African pedigree. The distinctive rhythmic and vibrant reggae music also originated from here. A trip to this tropical paradise is must for those who not only wish to take pleasure in the stunning beaches but also the rich cultural and historical enchantments of the Caribbean.”

Jamaica Holiday Highlights

There are a large variety of activities and destinations on the island of Jamaica to cater for everyone. For the thirsty, there is the Blue Mountain coffee reputed to be the best coffee in the world. If you wish to opt for something stronger but uniquely Jamaican, then there is the locally produced Red Stripe lager or the renowned over-proof Jamaican rum. For the diving enthusiast, there are the magnificent coral gardens at Ocho Rios and Runaway Bay waiting to be explored. In other words, there is something for everyone for a memorable experience.

Culture and History - The Arawaks initially populated Jamaica until Christopher Columbus claimed it for Spain in 1494. The territory was later ceded to the British in 1670 when the British forcibly drove the Spanish out from their last stronghold Tower Hill at Tower Isles. The site where the Spaniard Don Arnoldo de Yassi fled from was named Runaway Bay, appropriately describing the nature of the departure. Under the British rule, Jamaica became a major exporter of sugar, owing to the labors of the imported African slaves. It was not until 1962 that Jamaica became fully independent. Today, most of the country’s population and economic activities are centered around the capital city, Kingston. The other major cities in Jamaica are Spanish Town and Montego Bay.

The country’s cultural heritage is shaped largely by its multiracial immigrant population and their descendents. Despite in being a Caribbean country, Jamaica identified itself more towards its African origin.

Kingston - The capital city and the main commercial hub for Jamaica, Kingston city is an enigma by itself. Besieged by a turbulent and unsavory reputation, which does not do it justice, the city is avoided by most travelers. For the adventurous and the streetwise traveler, Kingston City represents an unbridled insight into the way of life of this place, which date back to the time of the buccaneers. The city also posses the largest natural harbor within the Caribbean region.

The roots of the “Music to the Kings”, the carefree and rhythmic beat of Reggae, can be traced back to this city as well. A visit to this city will not be complete without a stop at Bob Marley Museum. Located at #56, Hope Rd in Kingston, the museum offers fans of reggae music an insight into the life of Jamaica’s most respected idol, Bob Marley. For the Art lovers, the internationally acclaimed National Gallery of Jamaica should be the top of the list of places to visit in Kingston. The impressive collection of arts exhibited here included artifacts of the Taino Indian to the colonial arts of the English and Spanish. Works by contemporary Jamaican artists are showcase here as well. Within the neighborhood lies Devon House, a historical architectural treasure depicting the architectural dream of George Stiebel, Jamaica’s first black millionaire.

Movie fans of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” will be pleased to know that they can visit the ruins of the 'Wickedest City on Earth, Port Royal, the pirate capital of the 17th century and submerge themselves in the history of the notorious Blackbeard. Just a short bus ride away from Kingston, travelers to Port Royal can also visit the Fort Charles Maritime Museum, the naval cemetery and St Peter’s Church. For those into dining alfresco style, take a trip down to Hellshire beach. The beach is famed for its fried fish, which has now attained the status of haute cuisine due to its popularity.

Montego Bay – Situated on the estuary of the Montego River is Montego Bay, the second largest city of Jamaica as well as the administrative hub of St James Parish. The city is also host to the island’s busiest airport as well as the cruise ship port. "Mobay" as it is known by the locals is the locus for travelers to this island due to its fine beaches and world-class resort facilities. The main hive of activity in Montego Bay is situated along Gloucester Avenue. The entire strip, which runs parallel to the beach, has some of the best selections of gastronomic delights on the island for the famished. In addition, for the avid golf player, some of the Caribbean best golf courses are located here as well. Those who are curious as to the slave trade, which had existed in Jamaica turbulent history, should visit the Museum of St James housed in the Montego Bay Civic center. The Museum also traces the rich history of St James Parish from the time of the Arawak until present day.

Spanish Town – Formerly known as Saint Jago De La Vega (Santiago), the city was the capital of Jamaica for over 300 years until the 1870s. Nested on the banks of the Cobre River, the city is now the third largest urban center of Jamaica. For those who are into architectural highlights, the city is a treasure trove of colonial buildings from era of the British rule. Places of intrigue include the House of Assembly; the King’s House, the residence of early Governor Generals; the Rodney Memorial and the oldest Anglican Church in Jamaica, the 17th century St Catherine Cathedral. A day trip to this town is highly recommended for those wishing to savor the evocative historical center of the British conquest.

Falmouth - Once a major port, the town is surrounded by sugarcane plantations and cattle grazing fields. The town also has several exceptional examples of 19th Century Georgian architecture.

Bird Watching - Although comparatively small in landmass, Jamaica is endowed with a diverse and rich flora and fauna makeup. There are 256 species of birds that can be found on the island out of which 25 species and 21 sub species are native only to Jamaica. The main highlights include the “Doctor Bird”, Jamaica’s national bird. Other species worth looking out for includes the Yellow Billed and Black Billed parrot. A trip the Rocklands Bird Feeding station near Anchovy is a prerequisite for those who wish to photograph or hand feed some of the species of birds found on this tropical paradise.

Wildlife, Flora & Fauna - The highest peak of Jamaica, Blue Mountain, is the site of this Caribbean island first National park. The peak, which stands at 7,402 feet, lies in a range, which envelops the St Andrew, Portland and St Thomas parishes. Some of the indigenous wild plants which can be found here include the Aechmea Paniculigera (Wild Pine) and Portlandia Grandiflora.

Together with the John Crow Mountain National Park, these ranges are home to over 800 types of endemic flora. The world second largest butterfly, the Papilo Homerus, is also a resident in these ranges. Another unique plant life native to Jamaica found in the National Parks is the Jamaican Bamboo, Chusquea abietifolia. This bamboo only flowers once every 33 years and the next blooming is due in 2017.

Walking & Trekking - Besides being blessed with a rich biodiversity, Blue Mountain and the Rio Grande Valley are also ideal destinations for those who love to be at one with nature. The park also offers excellent hiking opportunities for one to embrace and soak in the tranquillity of what nature has to offer. Coffee lovers will not be disappointed either as they will be able to savor the world’s best gourmet coffee cultivated only in the Blue Mountain region.

For those into archaeological attractions, the Mountain River Cave will serve as a delightful appetizer of the rich ancestry of Jamaica. Although relatively small, the Cave posses a rich history which experts estimated as dating back as far as 1300 years ago. The cave and its pictographs provide clues as to the existence of the initial inhabitants of Jamaica, the Tainos.

Last but not least is one of Ocho Rios highlight, the Dunn River Falls. The 600 feet cascade of water is a sight to be behold and is one of the most photographed natural attractions of Jamaica.

Golfing - Inspired by its former colonial heritage, Jamaica posses some of the best golf courses to be found in the Caribbean. Any golf aficionado can expect any of Jamaica’s numerous championship golf courses to provide for a rewarding and challenging game play. Designed by renowned Texas golf architect, Ralph Plummer, the Tryall Club’s golf course with its par 71 6,720 yards fairways have played host to 5 Johnny Walker Cups, the Jamaica Classic, Mazda Championships and Shell's Wonderful World of Golf. Beautifully sculptured into the landscape with an ocean view, the fast greens here is a must play for any discerning golfer.

Diving & Snorkeling - Surrounded by crystal clear blue water, Jamaica has some of the world’s most beautiful reefs and coral gardens waiting to be explored. Coupled with her rich seafaring history, there are boundless treasures for the underwater explorer to unravel. The Widowmaker’s cave in the Montego Bay Marine Park area feature an undersea cave 80 feet below the sea level and is easily accessible. Runaway Bay also offers easily accessible diving excursions to sites like the Spanish Anchor and Shipwreck Reef. However, Ocho Rios offers one of the most amazing dive sites around the island. Here divers can explore a man-made sunken ship reef, which is a habitat to some of the most exotic underwater flora, and fauna found in the Caribbean.

Beaches - Negril beach is located near the laid-back town of Negril, this popular pristine beach is 11.2km in length.

Rafting - A national sport in this country, Visitors have the opportunities to go rafting at some top locations including:

- Martha Brae
- Rio Grande
- Caliche River
- River Lethe
- Dunn's River Falls

When To Go

Jamaica has a tropical climate and as such, it has little seasonal differences. Apart from the rainy season, which begins November until May, temperature variations are negligible. This will ensure your Jamaica holidays are pleasant all year round. Most of the visitors to this tropical paradise converge on the island around early December to April. During this peak period the hotels prices are the highest.

Top Tips

  • New regulations require visitors from the USA to carry their passport.
  • Sunscreen is expensive in Jamaica and is not widely available outside the resort areas
  • Make sure you bring along a pair of all-terrain all-weather sandals for the beach and trails.
  • Choose light quick-dry clothes to suit Jamaica’s sometimes hot and humid weather.
  • Snorkeling gear can be a hassle to carry but rental equipment can be expensive and are often of inferior quality.
  • Bring a flashlight as some streets in Jamaica are not so well lit, so it’s wise to be prepared.

Classic Itineraries In Jamaica

For a well-rounded trip to Jamaica, when in Kingston visit the National Gallery, Devon House and Bob Marley Museum. Take a day trip to Port Royal to immerse yourself with the history of the Caribbean pirates. Trek up to Blue Mountain to enjoy the scenic panoramic view of the island and the opportunity to sip and savor the most fragrant coffee in the world at the Old Tavern Coffee Estate. For surfing and jerk, don’t miss Boston Bay. Hop over to Port Mary and visit the Goldeneye, the birthplace of James Bond, the famous 007 secret agent created by Ian Fleming in his novels.

Your excursion in Montego Bay should include the Doctor’s Cave Beach for the various water sports that are available here. For those into fine living antiquity, don’t forget Rose Hall and Greenwood Great House. Music lovers should also check out Harmony Hall for the chance to learn more about the history of Reggae Music.

Jamaican Travel Guide – Further Information

Jamaica is divided into 14 parishes that are grouped into 3 counties. The counties are:
(1) Cornwall County
(2) Middlesex County
(3) Surrey County
The parishes that fall under Cornwall County are: Hanover, Saint Elizabeth, Saint James, Trelawny and Westmoreland.
The parishes that fall under Middlesex County are: Clarendon, Manchester, Saint Ann, Saint Catherine and Saint Mary.
The parishes that fall under Surrey County are: Kingston parish, Portland, Saint Andrew and Saint Thomas.

Maps - You can get free copies of the JTB’s Discover Jamaica map from the JTB headquarters. It features a detailed 1:34,000 scale street map of Kingston.

British Council - Located at #28 Trafalgar Rd promotes everything that is British and hosts soirées and cultural events.


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