Situated just below Cuba, the Caribbean island paradise of Jamaica lures visitors with its fabulous white sand beaches, beautiful mountain ranges and peach-coloured sunsets.
Discovered by Columbus in 1494, Jamaica was originally occupied by Arawak Indians. Dying out under slavery to the Spanish, they were replaced by Africans. During the English invasion of 1655, the slaves remained on the island, setting up towns and living in freedom. They became known as the Maroons. However thousands more were taken from Africa until the trade was abolished in 1807.
Today more than 90% of Jamaica’s 2.5 million population are descendants of slaves abducted from Africa.
Jamaica achieved full independence in 1962.
While 80% of Jamaica’s inhabitants are Christian, the Rastafarianism religion was born on the island, with Reggae singer Bob Marley its most famous follower.
English is the official language of Jamaica and is used for all official purposes. Its other language, Patois (or Jamaican Creole as it is also known) is often used in conversation. It is a language that has evolved from English and African spoken between the slaves on the island and contains traces of Spanish and Portuguese.
Patois has recently started to become taught in the island’s schools and has also become increasing important in Jamaica’s music and literature.
The national currency is the Jamaican dollar. As a general guide, JMD 66 is worth approximately US $1, JMD 84 is equivalent to €1 and JMD 124 is valued at £1.
Jamaica’s idyllic climate remains tropical throughout the year with temperatures averaging between 27ºC and 32º C; although in the mountains during winter, they can fall as low as 4ºC.
Rainfall is higher in May and June and also between October and November; although it varies on different parts of the island. Rain usually only falls for short periods in Jamaica and is normally followed by sunshine.
The hurricane season in Jamaica runs between June to November, but they are incredibly rare. More information can be obtained from the Met Service of Jamaica.
With an economy largely driven by tourism, Jamaica offers many exciting activities to its guests. These include water-sports on its innumerable beaches, swimming with dolphins at Dolphin Cove, scuba diving and trips in high-tech, glass-bottomed boats around the island’s coral reefs.
The thriving port city of Montego Bay is Jamaica’s foremost tourist destination. Blessed with incredible beaches and surrounded by picturesque low mountains, its world-class golf courses cater to customers from its many beach resorts.
The city also retains many buildings from the colonial sugar-cane plantations. The most famous of these is the "White Witch's" Rose Hall, named after the house’s murderous former mistress.
The island’s capital, Kingston is diminished by the poverty on view; however it is the cultural heartbeat of Jamaica and possesses many sites worth visiting, such as the Bob Marley Museum in the singer’s former residence on Hope Road. The city’s festivals are another notable spectacle.The untouched beauty of Cockpit Country’s sculpted, limestone plateau is best appreciated from a light plane or helicopter, since no roads penetrate the region.
Other natural attractions include Dunn’s river Falls and the famous Blue Lagoon (made famous by a Hollywood film and Jacques Cousteau’s dive) which is connected to the sea through a narrow funnel.
The seven-mile long, white-sand beach of Negril is considered the prettiest of all Jamaica’s beach resorts.
Shopping in Jamaica is expensive, since many goods have to be imported; however products made on the island are very cheap.
Harbour Street, in Montego Bay hosts an open-air market where vendors sell a variety of local products. It is a good place to purchase souvenirs, such as hand-made jewellery, richly-coloured fabrics and wooden utensils produced by the island’s artisans.
A more refined shopping experience can be had on Gloucester Avenue in Montego Bay or the Taj Mahal shopping mall in Ocho Rios, where fine Jamaican coffee, rum and cigars can be bought.
Dining and Nightlife
Jamaica offers many varied dining options, including international haut-cuisine in its five-star resorts, although many ingredients for these restaurants will be imported, drastically inflating meal prices.
Jamaica’s large agricultural and fishing industry ensures that local cuisine is very reasonably priced with dishes ranging between £2.50 and £10 in restaurants. Its national dish of Ackee and saltfish, is made with the local Ackee fruit and dried codfish mixed with onions and tomatoes. Another local speciality is curried goat.
Jerk shacks offer simple food, sometimes cooked on oil drum grills, which is usually marinated in the spicy jerk seasoning and costs as little as £1 a dish.
Nightlife for holiday makers often revolves around their resorts, which offer considerable live entertainment such as fire-breathers, live music and limbo-dancers. The notorious Hedonism resorts not only encourage their guests to remove their clothes, but have a waterslide through their discos and are open to non-residents.
Rick’s in Negril offers diners and dancers glorious sunsets which can which can even flash green on cloudless nights.
The nightclubs of Kingston are the birthplace of many musical genres including reggae, ska and dancehall.
Driving is by far the best way to explore Jamaica; however the speed limit of 30pmh within towns and 50mph on open roads should be strictly observed, since its roads are not always well maintained and hazards such as animals crossing are commonplace.
As a former British colony, Jamaica’s rules governing road safety are very similar to those of the UK, with cars driving on the left and a blood alcohol limit for drivers of 0.08%.
Jamaica has two International airports, Montego Bay Sangster and Kington’s Norman Manley airport, which process 2 million and 1.6 million annual passengers respectively. They both receive flights from around the world, operated by a variety of carriers, including the island’s Air Jamaica national airline.
There are also internal services between both airports and several smaller domestic airports on the island, as well as to other areas in the Caribbean.
British nationals do not require a visa to enter Jamaica.