When it comes to a relaxing holiday, it doesn’t get more chilled than Jamaica, the third-largest island in the Caribbean and home of Red Stripe, reggae and Rastas. But there’s much more to it – including excellent resorts and all inclusive hotels, which have made it a well-established destination for long haul holidaymakers.
Throw in river rafting, climbing waterfalls, hiking in the lushly attractive Blue Mountains, pottering around old colonial homes or following the Bob Marley trail, and you have all the makings of a fantastic break.
Tourism is concentrated on the north-coast resorts of Negril, Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Port Antonio, with many a family-friendly, all-inclusive hotel (a concept largely developed on the island) or boutique bolthole beloved by celebrities.
Getting there/getting around Jamaica
You will arrive at either Norman Manley International in Kingston or Sangster International Airport for Montego Bay, the main tourist hub of the island.
Car hire is widely available, reasonably priced and useful on such a big island. However, the roads can be a mess in many parts of the island and drivers are crazy. Driving is on the left.
There are local minibus services, but driving and ‘schedules’ are erratic. More reliable are JUTA (the Jamaica Union of Travellers Association) buses – a transport service aimed squarely at visitors in well-maintained, air-conditioned vehicles.
Beaches in Jamaica
Jamaica has 635 miles of coastline, from reef-protected white-sand beaches along the north coast to black-sand beaches of the south.
Negril has a seven-mile sweep lined with hotels but the beach is public, so feel free to stroll along it.
In Montego Bay, the north-west coast offers several white-sand beaches, including Walter Fletcher Beach and Cornwall Beach, while for a few dollars you can languish at the Doctor’s Cave Bathing Club.
Around Port Antonio, check out Boston Bay and Frenchman’s Cove Beach; while at Ocho Rios, Mallards Beach and Turtle Beach are two popular beaches.
Sightseeing in Jamaica
There are many old colonial estates, from the massive Rose Hall near Montego Bay to Green Castle Estate, an eco-focused estate between Ocho Rios and Port Antonio.
Take the Appleton Estate Rum Tour to get an inside view of Jamaica’s most famous brew.
Spend some time at Firefly, home of Noel Coward, the British wit and playwright. When you glimpse the spectacular view it’s easy to see why he loved it here.
The coffee estate of Jablum at the Mavis Bank Coffee Factory offers tours and a cup of the fine stuff afterwards.
Head to the island’s famous Blue Lagoon, a picturesque spot made famous in the 1980s film starring Brooke Shields.
Family attractions in Jamaica
Try the Aquasol Theme Park at the Walter Fletcher Beach Complex, with water sports, go-kart racing and tennis.
They can experience the deep without learning to dive on the Chukka Sea Trek on Doctor’s Cave Beach – don a space-age helmet with a continuous flow of air and head down to the seabed.
On a Chukka Canopy Tour, zip and zoom between a series of rainforest platforms and over the Great River near Montego Bay, or Laughlands River gorge and Cranbrook Flower Forest near Ocho Rios.
At Dolphin Cove in Ocho Rios, kids can meet dolphins, learn about their unique characteristics and even go for a ‘dolphin swim’ out in deep water.
Day trips in Jamaica
Try Chukka Caribbean’s Ride ‘n’ Swim, a horse-riding experience from the fishing village of Sandy Bay, or a ‘safari’ on an ATV (all-terrain vehicle) through 3,000 acres of the Montpelier plantation.
Go river tubing – a leisurely ride with you wedged in a rubber tube with other ‘tubers’, navigating the Great River.
Bob Marley fans should head to the hills of Saint Ann and the village of Nine Mile, where he was born and is buried. Hope Road in Kingston is home to the Bob Marley Museum, in his original studio.
Dunn’s River Falls is perhaps the most famous attraction in Jamaica – these massive waterfalls near Ocho Rios have to be seen to be believed.
Restaurants in Jamaica
From elegant Italian restaurants to rustic beach BBQs, there’s a lot of choice at the hotels here and out and about.
The national dish, ackee (Jamaican fruit with spongy white or yellow flesh) and saltfish (dried, salted cod), is recommended, as is ‘stamp an’ go’ – spicy codfish fritters. Jerk chicken is most often seen on the menu, but just about any meat can be ‘jerked’ in this spicy marinade.
Red Stripe beer is synonymous with Jamaica, as is Appleton Rum or Sangster’s, so try one of the endless rum cocktails.
Nightlife in Jamaica
All-inclusive resort hotels are likely to put on night-time entertainment, beach barbecues and reggae bands.
In Montego Bay the action focuses on the famed ‘Hip Strip’ of bars, clubs and a casino, but Ocho Rios has a much denser count of tourist-friendly night spots.
Negril is the other hot spot for nightlife, with many a beachside bar or darkened club playing anything from dance hall to house.
Shopping in Jamaica
Whatever you do, buy some Appleton Estate rum, something with the yellow, green, red and black Rasta colours of Jamaica, jerk sauce, a Bob Marley CD and Blue Mountain coffee.
It’s worth checking out the wood carvings – some haggling is expected with beach sellers or roadside stalls and at places such as the big Montego Bay Craft Market.
Half Moon Shopping Village, a 20-minute drive from Montego Bay, is a pretty little collection of duty-free shops, with excellent-quality souvenir shopping in between.
Island Village is designed as a shopping- and culture-fest for cruise passengers and tourists at Ocho Rios – it’s fun and tastefully done.
It’s easy to go shopping for ‘weed’, but while the use of marijuana is widespread, Jamaican law strictly forbids it.