By Oliver Hill
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- Flexible, strategic itineraries with ideas for backpackers, beach-lovers, adventure travelers, honeymooners, wellness-seekers, and more
- Top activities and unique experiences: Watch hummingbirds flit about tropical flowers, take a dip in a crystal-clear spring on a hot day, or relax on soft white sands. See beloved local bands perform at a Negril nightclub and move to the beat of Kingston’s legendary music scene. Savor sweet Jamaican rum and coffee, chow down on authentic jerk chicken, or have a romantic beachfront dinner
- Outdoor adventures: Cliff-jumping into azure waters, surf the waves, climb the Blue Mountains, or hike through lush jungle
- Find the best beaches for surfing, sunsets, seclusion, and more
- Insight from Kingston local Oliver Hill on how to experience Jamaica like an insider, support local and sustainable businesses, avoid over-tourism, and respectfully engage with the culture
- Full-color photos and detailed maps throughout
- Background information on Jamaica’s landscape, history, and cultural customs
- Handy tools including a glossary of Jamaican Patois terms, packing suggestions, and tips for women traveling alone, families with kids, seniors, and LGBTQ travelers
Planning Your Trip
The Best of Jamaica
Roots and Culture
ADRENALINE JUNKIE FIX
Hidden Beaches and Hillside Hikes
JAMAICA’S TOP BEACHES
It's hard to argue when Jamaicans assert that their island is blessed. Simple luxuries abound, like picking a mango from a tree for breakfast, watching hummingbirds flit about tropical flowers, or bathing in a crystal-clear waterfall on a hot day. It's no wonder that for more than a century visitors have come to Jamaica to escape cold northern winters and bask in the island's tropical climate and calm Caribbean waters.
Jamaica’s resorts have supplemented these simple pleasures with luxury: hot stone massages, candlelit gourmet dinners, soft reggae music, and lapping waves are just the beginning. Many resorts have perfected the art of indulgence to such a degree that it's entirely possible to miss the depth and color of the country's culture beyond their walls.
Outside the hotel gates you’ll find the tenacious evolution of a nation barely 50 years old, where preachers—religious, musical, and political—lend vibrancy to everyday life. Jamaica’s vibrant culture and resilient spirit can be felt throughout the country, from small villages to bustling urban centers like Kingston.
Ironically, it wasn't the tropical climate or endless natural beauty that brought worldwide attention to Jamaica in the 20th century. It was a young man growing up with the odds stacked against him in the ghetto of Trench Town, who managed to make his truthful message heard above the din of political violence and clashing Cold War ideologies of the 1970s. Robert Nesta Marley, along with band members Peter McIntosh and Bunny Livingston, became a beacon of hope, not just for disenfranchised Jamaicans, but for the oppressed the world over. Today, countless singers keep Marley's legacy alive and fuel Jamaica's music industry, the most prolific on the planet.
Whether you're seeking to explore the country's rich history, soak in the sunshine and the clear, warm waters of the Caribbean, or just go with the flow, you'll come to understand what makes this island and its inhabitants so exceptional.
Planning Your Trip
Where to Go
Negril and the West Coast
Jamaica’s westernmost parish has the country’s most popular beach resort town, Negril. Once a quiet fishing village, Negril is known as the capital of casual, where recreational activities like water sports and cliff jumping complement the inactivity of relaxing in the sun. A wetlands area inland from the beach is backed by gentle hills suitable for hiking and bird-watching.
Montego Bay and the Northwest Coast
Known the island over as Mobay, Jamaica’s leading resort town offers beaches, great house tours, and top-notch music festivals. Rivers along the eastern and western borders of St. James offer rafting, and Mobay has an active yacht club with a lively social calendar. Neighboring Trelawny encompasses a rugged inland terrain known as Cockpit Country, riddled with caves and underground rivers.
Ocho Rios and the North Central Coast
Throngs of travelers disembark cruise ships each week in Ocho Rios, many headed for Jamaica’s most popular attraction, Dunn’s River Falls. Less trafficked river gardens abound and world-class hotels and villas dot the coast to the east and west. Contrasting bustling Ochi, St. Mary is laid-back, with quiet hills, hidden waterfalls, and sleepy fishing villages.
Port Antonio and the East Coast
Portland’s parish capital and the biggest town in the east, Port Antonio has an Old World charm lingering in luxurious villas and hilltop resorts. Despite its claim as the first Caribbean tourist destination, it has, for better or worse, been spared from large-scale development, and the area’s natural beauty remains its principal draw with singular beaches, lush forests, and waterfalls.
Kingston and the Blue Mountains
The boisterous capital city has remarkable restaurants, pulsating nightlife, and historical treasures. There’s no sugarcoating the juxtaposition of poverty and wealth, but their coexistence inspires a prolific music industry and vibrant arts scene. Beaches, waterfalls, and cool air are just a short drive away, and in the Blue Mountains visitors enjoy the world’s finest coffee, hiking, and bird-watching.
The South Coast
The South Coast defines off-the-beaten-track, where waterfalls, crocodile-infested wetlands, and seafood are the main draws. Treasure Beach, a string of bays and fishing villages, is a favored destination for those wary of crowds looking to get away from it all, while Mandeville’s cool highland air, historic golf course, and fine restaurants represent a chance to experience the island’s quiet interior.
When to Go
Jamaica has typically been marketed as a destination for escaping the winter blues, but it can be just as good, or better, in the summer, when temperatures are comparable or even cooler than in places as far north as New York.
Jamaica’s hurricane season, with regular low pressure systems accompanied by rain, runs June through October. In the absence of a large front, however, rainfall usually lasts only a few minutes and shouldn’t be cause for concern in planning a trip.
The high season and low season should be of more concern in planning a trip, as many establishments set rates according to demand. High season runs December 15 to April 15, when accommodations can be twice as expensive as during the low season. Some establishments set their own specific dates, and others vary pricing throughout the year, raising them for Easter, Thanksgiving, or the week between Christmas and New Year’s. If escaping the winter blues is not your first priority, visiting during the low season can be much more cost-effective. Check with each establishment when planning a trip to see how prices vary seasonally.
The Jamaican calendar is filled with annual events, many of which are worth considering in planning a trip. A music festival like Rebel Salute or Sumfest is one of the best ways to jump out of the tourism box and appreciate Jamaica’s culture alongside Jamaicans from all walks of life. If music isn’t your thing, there are several other annual events, like the Calabash Literary Festival, food festivals, and fishing tournaments.
Before You Go
Passports and Visas
Jamaica now requires passports for all visitors, including those from the United States and the United Kingdom. A tourist visa is required for many nationalities. A complete listing of visa requirements can be found on the website of the Consulate General in New York (www.congenjamaica-ny.org/visas). Visitors must also be able to demonstrate sufficient funds to cover their stay and be in possession of an onward or return ticket or itinerary. It helps to know where you will be staying on arrival, as immigration officials tend to detain visitors on entry until they can provide an address.
The Jamaican government recently began requiring documentation demonstrating visitors from certain countries have been vaccinated against Yellow Fever. Ensure you can provide documentation for required vaccinations upon entry. Check with the Jamaica Tourist Board (tel. 876/929-9200, www.visitjamaica.com) or Passport Immigration and Citizenship Agency (PICA) (25C Constant Spring Rd., tel. 876/754-7422, www.pica.gov.jm) for current requirements.
Note that the CDC has issued an alert for pregnant women or women who plan to conceive, advising that they postpone travel to many parts of the Caribbean, including Jamaica, due to the spread of the Zika virus.
All other travelers should practice enhanced precautions to avoid mosquito bites. Always be sure to use insect repellent, wear protective clothing when venturing into the outdoors, and keep mosquitoes outside.
What to Pack
Most Jamaican ATMs will dispense cash with foreign debit cards. The best exchange rates are found at foreign exchange traders like Scotia Investments and FX Trader. Banks accept traveler’s checks, but typically have long lines and offer less competitive rates.
Where clothing is concerned, what to take depends entirely on the nature of your trip. Most all-inclusive hotels have semiformal dress codes (a collared shirt, dress shoes) for their fine-dining restaurants; if church or a business meeting is in order, formal attire is a must.
If nobody needs to be impressed, however, Jamaica can be the most casual place on earth, where certain esteemed members of society refuse to wear shoes for greater proximity to Mother Earth, and nude beaches abound at hotels like Couples and Hedonism. However, outside the beach resort towns like Negril, entering a place of business without a shirt will be frowned upon.
Cool, light-colored cotton clothes are best for the heat and humidity, and bring your favorite bathing suit. For cool evenings, pack a long-sleeved shirt and long pants.
Many travelers to Jamaica are surprised to find that Jamaicans rarely wear shorts on a normal day, while jeans and full suits are common everyday attire. It is not necessary to buy an entire wardrobe of Hawaiian shirts before your trip, and in a pinch plenty are sold in gift shops across the island with the requisite “Jamaica, no problem” printed across the front.
You’ll definitely want to bring your most flashy getup if you’re planning a night on the town. In nightclubs such as Fiction and Privilege in Kingston, women are remarkably dressed up; men will come dressed in their shiniest shoes and most “criss” jacket to “flex” in the corner till the dance floor heats up.
For hiking and overnights in the higher elevations of the Blue Mountains, you’ll want a sweatshirt, parka, boots, and warm socks.
The Best of Jamaica
Ten days is a good length for a trip to Jamaica and provides enough time to relax on the beach while also venturing beyond the sun and sand for a mix of adventure and culture. Highlights include the cliff-jumping and scrumptious food of Negril’s West End, the culture and nightlife of Kingston, the coffee plantations in the Blue Mountains, and the beaches in Portland.
Arrive at the airport in Montego Bay and check in for two nights at Wharf House. Splurge for a dinner at The Sugar Mill or HouseBoat Grill, or keep it casual and affordable at Scotchies for some authentic roadside jerk. Hit up Mobay Proper for an evening drink to gauge the scene along the Hip Strip.
Tour Rose Hall Great House in the morning, then spend the afternoon lazing at Doctors Cave Beach or try your hand at kiteboarding by Sea Castles in the afternoon, wind permitting. Dine at Day-O Plantation followed by a play at Fairfield Theatre or a night out at Margaritaville.
Head west to Negril for cliff jumping on the West End or a splash at Brighton’s Blue Hole Mineral Spring by late morning. Head to Chill Awhile for lunch and soak up some rays before taking a sunset stroll down Seven-Mile Beach. Try Hungry Lion or Pushcart Restaurant and Rum Bar for dinner before checking out some live reggae music on the beach at night.
In the morning, drive to Savanna-la-Mar and then turn inland to Mayfield Falls or Blue Hole Gardens. Spend the morning exploring the falls and gardens, then head over to nearby Paradise Park for horseback riding or a swim in the river followed by a picnic. Alternatively, grab a bite at Sweet Spice in Sav, then stop at Eldin Washington Ranch for Reggae Horseback Riding in the afternoon on the way back to Negril.
Drive east to YS Falls in Middle Quarters for a splash in the river and an adrenaline-fixing zipline. Grab some jerk chicken at YS before heading to nearby Appleton Estate to sample Jamaica’s best rum. Continue on to Treasure Beach in the late afternoon to check in for the night and sample the conch soup and fried fish at Jack Sprat.
Wake up with a dip at the beach in Great Bay before a mid-morning stroll to Back Sea Side. In the afternoon catch a canoe boat to Black River to spot alligators and birds or head straight to Pelican Bar, a one-of-a-kind watering hole and ramshackle fried fish joint built on stilts 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) offshore, for some snorkeling and Red Stripe. Cruise back to Treasure Beach for a second night.
Leave early for Kingston to get there by late morning, sightsee downtown with a visit to the National Gallery followed by a stroll along Ocean Boulevard and around Coronation Market. Stop by Liberty Hall or Culture Yard before heading uptown for lunch at Opa! or Chilitos. After lunch, take a tour at nearby Bob Marley Museum. Pick up some souvenirs and grab an ice cream at Devon House and prepare for a night out at a club or street dance.
Head up to the Blue Mountains before the late morning clouds roll in for a tour of Old Tavern Coffee Estate. Continue over to Portland to reach Port Antonio in time for an afternoon dip at Winnifred Beach or Frenchman’s Cove before dinner at Mockingbird Hill and a night out at Cristal Night Club or Natural Mystic Bar.
Depart for Ocho Rios, stopping at Firefly on the way to check out Noël Coward’s island digs. Lunch at Dor’s Fish Pot in Race Course or at Chris Café in Oracabessa and then head up to Mystic Mountain for a bobsled run and zipline tour through the canopy, or swim with dolphins and pet the sharks at Dolphin Cove. Take a late-afternoon dip and tube ride down the White River before dinner at Passage to India or Toscanini’s.
Get up and on the road early to beat the crowds for a climb up Dunn’s River Falls before heading west toward Montego Bay for an afternoon departure. Stop by Green Grotto Caves or Greenwood Great House on your way, time permitting.
Roots and Culture
Delve into the pulsating cultural milieu that shapes and defines Jamaican society. The roots of Jamaican popular music will become vivid with this tour, designed to immerse visitors in the island’s singular musical gold mine. Keep tabs on the weekly events calendars in Kingston and Negril to plan your time in these areas.
Arrive in Montego Bay for one night at the Spanish Court. If you arrive in the morning, visit Rose Hall Great House or Bellefield Great House for a step back in time with a stop at Scotchies for jerk either before or after the tour. Visit the Gallery of West Indian Art for some inspiration before dinner at Pier 1 or the HouseBoat Grill. Hit up Margaritaville to mingle and “wine” with visitors and locals if you still have the energy before bed.
Head to Doctors Cave Beach in the morning and then to Negril in the afternoon stopping at Niah’s Patties for a bite before catching sunset and dinner on the cliffs at Tensing Pen or Pushcart Restaurant and Rum Bar. Check out the night’s live reggae band on the beach or hit the club at The Jungle.
Make a loop from Negril to Blue Hole Gardens or Mayfield Falls before swinging back around to Half Moon Beach along the Hanover coast. Head back to Negril for dinner at Hungry Lion or Zest Restaurant at The Cliff.
Leave for Kingston in the morning, stopping in Belmont to pay respects to a reggae legend at Peter Tosh Memorial Garden. Make a pit stop in Middle Quarters for “swimps,” or pepper shrimp, and then take a break at Scott’s Pass, Clarendon, to meet the Rasta elders at the headquarters of the Nyabinghi House of Rastafari before continuing on to Kingston for the night.
Hit Kingston’s cultural sights, or any combination of the Bob Marley Museum, Tuff Gong Recording Studio, Culture Yard, and the National Gallery. Visit Cap Calcini to pick up some oldies reggae vinyl before heading out to Hellshire Beach for an early supper of fried fish, festival, and bammy at Shorty’s or dine at Gloria’s in Port Royal before a night out on the town at Fiction Fantasy or at a street dance.
Leave in the morning for Jamnesia Surf Club in Bull Bay to ride waves with Billy “Mystic” Wilmot and his family, followed by dinner and an overnight stay in one of their bungalows. Time your stay to fall on the last Saturday of the month to witness the musical talents of the host family and friends riffing at Jamnesia Sessions.
- On Sale
- Feb 25, 2020
- Page Count
- 344 pages
- Moon Travel