Jamaica is at once the epitome of the idyllic Caribbean dream, and the black sheep of the Caribbean archipelago. Those expecting the postcard perfect powder white sands, cerulean seas, palm trees and ramshackle bars serving up jerk chicken and rum to the reggae beats of Bob Marley, will get exactly what they’re looking for. Delve a little deeper, however, and you’ll unearth a fascinatingly rich history and a lush inland for you to explore. A melting pot of cultures, you’ll find African, European and Middle Eastern influence in the island’s food, crafts and traditions.
Right in the centre of the Caribbean sea, Jamaica brings the colour, verve and a distinctive ‘no worries’ laid-back attitude to the Caribbean islands. The exceptional beaches only scratch the surface of what this incredible island has to offer; head away from the coast and the high-end resorts and you’ll find sprawling banana plantations, beautiful waterfalls, caves and the towering Blue Mountains, famed for their coffee. While the island is a haven for holidaymakers, it isn’t a struggle to seek out true Jamaican charm. Immerse yourself in the easy way of life, abandon the watch and mobile phone, and enjoy the natural wonders of this incredible island.
Jamaica is the perfect year-round retreat, with temperatures hovering around the 30° mark whatever month you choose to visit. Approximately 10 hours flight from the UK, Jamaica is a popular stop-off point for Caribbean cruises which depart from the port of Miami.
Jamaica’s capital and largest city, Kingston, is Jamaica at its most authentic. Away from the hotel resorts you’ll find a sprawling city which is the cultural and commercial heart of the island that sits between the east coast and the lush Blue Mountains. Home to the largest botanical gardens in the Caribbean, Hope Gardens’ 2000 acres are tranquil and beautiful, and house a host of indigenous plants as well as the Coconut Museum, Sunken Gardens, Orchid House, the Lily Pond, Maze and Palm Avenue. For the most famous ice cream on the island, Devon House is unmissable. A beautiful and sprawling mansion, Devon House is one of the best examples of Jamaican architecture and is a fascinating step back in history as the former home to Jamaica’s first black millionaire. You’ll find shops, restaurants, as well as the famed ice cream parlour, and the gardens are free to roam around.
Music fans can pay a visit to the Bob Marley museum. Filled with memorabilia and personal belongings from Jamaica’s most famous export, the museum was originally Marley’s home and recording studio.
Kingston’s Blue Mountains are a wonderful trip to get back to nature, stretch your legs, sample some coffee…and be home in time for supper! Take a tour of the coffee plantation to learn more about how the beans go from mountain to mug.
Montego Bay is Jamaica’s ‘second city’, and a favourite destination for holidaymakers wooed by the pristine sands and charming downtown area. White liners are commonplace as many cruises make a stop there and the duty-free shopping is a major draw! The nightlife is vibrant, energy high and is a more up-tempo vacation spot compared to the rest of the island. Cornwall Beach is celebrated for its warm, clear waters and swathes of sugar white sands. The good facilities nearby will keep you fed and watered, and for a small fee you can hire sun loungers and parasols for some shade from the strong Caribbean sun.
Negril’s rustic, laid back charm is a favourite among visitors. The smell of jerk chicken and the lively sounds of reggae music play on the air as you pass by brightly coloured road-side shops and restaurants; you’ll feel like you’re living the true island experience. The Negril Cliffs are a famous cliff-jumping spot for locals and tourists with enough daring to take the leap. If you want to stay on dry land the view itself is reward enough, especially as the sun is setting, and Rick’s Café is the prime spot to grab some food and a cold drink.
If you want to indulge in some serious R&R, Negril’s Seven Mile beach is the epitome of bare-foot luxury. Powder white sands bank into turquoise blue water, as clear and as warm as bath water. Bars, cafes and shops are on hand if you get the urge to take a wander but with sun loungers in plentiful supply and a view this good, you’d be forgiven for being a little lazy. With its proximity to hotels, Seven Mile Beach is a popular option but if you want to find somewhere a little more private Half Moon Beach is just what you’re looking for. The golden sands in the horseshoe bay are adorned with hammocks and lack the crowds you might encounter elsewhere. The waters around the coves are a perfect spot for snorkelling, and the quaint restaurant serves up mouth-wateringly good jerk chicken and lobster with a side of traditional Jamaican hospitality.
While in Ocho Rios take a trip to the beautiful Dunn’s River Falls. If it’s your first time, a guided tour is recommended and is bookable through most hotels. The path is well-trodden so if you’re more of the adventurous type, it’s certainly possible to do it yourself; you’ll find plenty of other people making the same pilgrimage. Take some water shoes- or pick them up en-route- and a waterproof camera as there are plenty of perfect photo opportunities as you scale the Falls. For a more authentic natural experience which is somewhat off the beaten track, The Blue Hole isn’t a commercial enterprise like the Falls but rather a natural mineral spring. If you have a head for heights, make the leap off the rocks and into the deep pools of brilliant blue water, scramble up the nearby waterfalls and discover hidden caves in their walls.
For an exciting rainforest experience, Mystic Mountain is an ideal activity-packed day trip. A eco-friendly theme park set in an incredible natural setting, Ocho Rios’ Mystic Mountain takes visitors as high as 700ft up in the rainforest canopy, giving spectacular views of the coastline and town below. Zip-line among the trees or take a leaf from ‘Cool Runnings’ and hail a bobsled to wind your way down the mountain through shrubs and trees. For a laid-back way to take in the view, hop aboard the chair lift and have your camera at the ready.
Jamaican food is a tantalizing fusion of flavours and cooking techniques influenced by the cultures of all those who have inhabited the island. As such, Spanish, British, African and Southeast Asia influence runs through Jamaican cooking. Living ‘off the land’, Jamaican cuisine is a flavoursome mix of spices, fresh seafood, tropical fruits and meats, including their famous ‘jerk’ seasoning traditionally cooked on a spit or a barbeque, and found country-wide.