Jamaica: A Destination Guide to a Big Caribbean Island
By Nadia Ali
Jamaica is billed as the sunshine island and the home of reggae legend, Bob Marley and to the younger generation, it is the homeland of Sean Paul. You only have to see the to-die-for adverts that show you blue skies, blue water and sandy stretches of beaches that lure you to this Caribbean paradise.
Here you can stay at the popular all-inclusive resorts such as the couples-only Sandals Resort to the eco-friendly hotels and of course the remote getaways for that romantic seclusion. Its beautiful natural coastline offers varying beaches from the rugged hiking pathways to the long stretches of silver sands.
When to go
The best time to go is from November to April when it is the dry season, which fortunately coincides with Spring break. Otherwise, if you are thinking of trying to fit it into the kid’s summer holidays May to October is part of the rainy season. However, that doesn’t mean it rains all the time, it just means it’s more likely to have rain.
How to get there
Air Canada, Caribbean Airlines, Jet Blue, Delta, Spirit Airlines, Southwest, British Airways, Cayman Airways United Airlines all fly to Jamaica.
Trying to get around Jamaica on a bus is an inexpensive mode of transport, however, it is also somewhat chaotic, as they tend to run on their own time and not according to the scheduled timetable.
An alternative to public transportation is to travel via Knutsford Express. The luxury coach service provides a comfortable and effortless way to travel between Kingston, Ocho Rios, Montego Bay, Negril, and Port Antonio.
You can rent a car but please note that this will really be a test of your driving skills as the tendency in the Caribbean is to drive “how yuh feel.” You’ll notice that honking your car horn marks different things – from the obvious get out the way to the less obvious – saying hello to a friend on the road.
You can take to the high seas on a rented yacht or boat charter to see the coastline of Jamaica. Although be warned the sun does seem that bit hotter out at sea. A few of the companies that offer Catamaran Cruises are Chukka Caribbean (Montego Bay and Ocho Rios), Rays Watersports (Negril), Dreamer Catamaran (Montego Bay), and Cool Runnings Catamaran (Ocho Rios).
Reggae Sumfest is the biggest party on the island that takes place near picturesque Montego Bay. Of course, most of the musical activity occurs outdoors where partygoers are treated to heart-thumping bass as well as some other forms of music indigenous to Jamaica.
Most unusual attraction
The Bob Marley Museum is actually his former house that has now been opened to the public and declared a museum. This is a shrine to all that is Bob Marley, including his bullet-riddled, star-shaped guitar by the bedside.
Dunn’s River Falls, Ocho Rios is by far the best-known attraction in Jamaica. Here you are treated to 600 feet of terraced waterfalls that cascade into crystal clear pools down below. There are set times to visit from 9 am to 5 pm and there is a minimal fee of US $20 for adults / US $12 for kids – though you can check for current prices with your tour guide or hotel before setting out. There is also YS Falls, which has similar waterfalls and places to enjoy a swim.
Best Areas to visit
Kingston is primarily the business hub of Jamaica, but it also holds some gems for the art and culture lovers amongst you. Kingston is where you will find the National Gallery of Art, the Little Theatre, Bob Marley Museum, Hope Zoo, the Rockfort Mineral Bath, and the Kingston Crafts Market.
There are also a host of attractions featuring flora and fauna such as the Hope Botanical Gardens.
This is the most popular destination for tourists known as the complete resort with luxurious hotels, a 10-mile marine park, Tryall Golf course and an abundance of restaurants and shops. The attractions are natural consisting of mostly beaches and water sports.
This is billed as Jamaica ’s garden and the second-best tourist area. It has numerous attractions featuring the natural fauna and flora of the country. Tours range from riding bikes through the Blue Mountains to the splendor of the tropical plants on display at the Shaw Park Gardens.
Some of the attractions to be found in Ocho Rios are Konoko Falls and Gardens, Harmony Hall Art Gallery, and the James Bond Beach Club. There are many horseback-riding trails to choose from that take you through the unforgettable tropical countryside.
Negril offers endless, white sandy beaches and is known as Jamaica ’s water sports capital beckoning the surfers, divers and beach lovers. For the kids, you will find Anancy Fun Park where there are go-carts and kiddies rides.
Jake’s Hotel, Villas and Spa on Treasure Beach, South Coast offers waterfront bungalows and four-bedroom villas right on the ocean. They use a lot of local veggies and fish and the owner Jason is very involved with helping local youth by building sports fields and recreation areas. They have 30 rooms and have been there for more than 20 years. 876-965-3000, about three hours from Kingston and two hours from Montego Bay.
Every month Jakes offers a farm-to-table dinner in the middle of the farm fields, a very long table with about 35 guests for $95 per person including wine. website
Super Club Hedonism II, Negril Area, Jamaica Tel: + 876 (www.hedonism.com/) Stay in this 23 acres of fun all-inclusive hotel for couples only. Choose from the 210 suites on offer with 5 bars, all meals cocktails and water sports. Located on the longest stretch of beach in Negril there is non-stop fun from early morning into the wee hours of the night.
Beaches Royal Plantation, Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Tel: 1 888 48 ROYAL (royalplantation.com) Located in Ohio Rio on a reef away from city life where you can truly escape in your own luxury villa with a private splash pool where you and the family can unwind. Or check out the luxury of the spa or the fairways of the golf course.
Sandals, Montego Bay, Jamaica Tel: +876 (sandals.com/main/montego/mo-home.cfm) This is one of the premier all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean. Located on its own private beach offering everything to make your holiday with your loved one a special treat.
From the airport transfer to the gourmet dining choices. water-sports to the anytime snack, everything is inclusive, so it’s up to you to make the most of all this resort has to offer even the wedding chapel.
Altamount Court Hotel, Kingston, Jamaica. Tel: +876 929 5931 website
Located in the capital city of Kingston this downtown hotel is within walking distance of business places, shopping malls, and embassies. Breakfasts is complimentary and for dinner why not try the in-house at the Mango Tree Restaurant in an alfresco setting by the pool.
Sugar Mill Restaurant: Montego Bay
Located just across the street from the Half Moon Resort’s golf course, this restaurant offers a delightful blend of Jamaican ingredients with an international flair.
Rojo Restaurant: Kingston
Located in the Spanish Court Hotel, this modern restaurant offers a wide variety of food and dessert in a beautiful setting.
Phone: 876.926.000Toscanini Restaurant: Tower Isle
Located 10 minutes from Ocho Rios, Toscanini offers an Italian-Jamaican fusion menu and delicious dessert and wine to finish the night with.
Ocho Rios Village Jerk Centre
Here you can get a real local taste of jerk meat prepared under the canopy of this open-air restaurant. The prices are good and the food better.
Telephone: 876 974 2549. Another place for very authentic jerk is Scotch’s Jerk on the north highway out of Montego Bay.
One of the best things to buy in Jamaica is the exquisite woodcarving, done on rich mahogany wood. They tend to reflect traditional African heritage and can be found in all sizes to suit your pocket and suitcase.
Duty-free shops are found in most places and highlight the local art and craft market with homemade baskets, straw hats as well as the usual souvenir items. Make sure you treat yourself to a bottle of the local Blue Mountain coffee or Tia Maria – a Jamaican coffee liqueur to take home.
Money and communication
The currency used is the Jamaican dollar which is roughly US $1.00 to JA $116.20 (as of June 17, 2015).
Banking hours are generally open from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., Monday through Thursday and 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Fridays.
Foreign Exchange Bureaus also operate at all International Airports and Resort Hotels.
The prefix to call from outside of Jamaica is + 876 + number
Other important things about Jamaica
*English with a West Indian accent is the official language.
*The currency used is the Jamaican dollar.
*Jamaica is 10,991 sq km (4244 sq miles)
*The main religion is protestant
*The time zone is GMT -6
*Dry season runs from – Jan-May and Wet season runs from June –Dec
*Average temperature 80-86F
*The Blue Mountain Peak in the east reaches a height of 2256m (7402ft)
*Departure tax is JA$100.00 Payable in cash.
*Two international airports Norman Manley, Kingston & Donald Sangster, Montego Bay.
*Jamaica ‘s motto is “Out of Many, One People”
For more information:
64 Knutsford Boulevard
Jamaica, West Indies
Tel: (876) 929-9200 – 19
Fax: (876) 929-9375
1320 South Dixie Highway
Coral Gables, FL 33146
Tel: (305) 665 0557
Fax: (305) 666 7239
US Toll Free – 1-800-233-4JTB
Nadia Ali is a freelance writer living in Dubai, UAE.