Probably the ideal place for a tropical vacation, Jamaica is considered by many to be the most beautiful of all the Caribbean Islands.
The major resort areas of Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Negril abound with activity. Jamaica offers something for every kind of vacationer.
The island boasts spectacular expanses of white beach, palm-fringed coves and steep mountains covered in lush greenery. Surely one of the best developed islands touristically, Jamaica offers every type of activity and nightlife you could want...from tennis and scuba to piano bars and limbo shows.
The island is not renowned for its shopping, although persistent shoppers will find excellent buys in straw goods and the locally made rum.
Montego Bay, or Mo Bay as it is usually referred to, is the center of Jamaican tourism and market town for a large part of western Jamaica. Dating back to 1492, Montego Bay is Jamaica's second-largest city and one of the most modern in the Caribbean. From Gloucester and Kent avenues there is a superb view onto the clear Caribbean waters - the main tourist attraction - and the long reef protecting the bay. Most of the hotels are found on a strip of coastline about a mile and a half long.
There are three main beaches: Doctor's Cave Beach which has beautiful white sand, and where the exceptionally clear water is believed to be fed by mineral springs; Walter Fletcher Beach, nearest the centre and a short walk from the Upper Deck Hotel; and Cornwall Beach, which is a few yards from the local Tourist Board Office. A short way inland from the Bay is Rose Hall, Jamaica's most famous Great House, fully restored on a sugar plantation.
In the centre of town itself is Sam Sharpe Square where Sam Sharpe - a Jamaican national hero - was hanged in 1831.
South of Montego Bay, in Anchovy, is Rocklands Feeding Station is home to some of the most exotic birds in the world, such as the mango hummingbird, orange quit and the national bird of Jamaica, the Doctor Bird. Visitors are allowed to feed the birds at certain times of the day. Very popular is a coach ride through thick mountain forests into the interior, passing through banana and coconut plantations and Ipswich Caves (a series of deep limestone recesses) to the sugar estate of the famous Appleton Rum Factory and Catadupa, where shirts and dresses are made to measure.
Negril is 80km (50 miles) west of Montego Bay and has a spectacular beach and four ironshore cliffs stretching for 11km (7 miles) which offers sailing, water-skiing, deep-sea fishing, scuba diving, parasailing and windsurfing.
First coming to attention as an artists' centre and, later, as a focus of 'alternative' culture in the 1960s, it is becoming increasingly popular as a holiday destination which, perhaps untypically, seems likely to preserve much of its original character - indeed, the law requires all buildings to be of modest proportions. Along the street, entrepreneurial Jamaicans sell a variety of craft goods from the many shanty-like shops in Negril.
There is also a hectic nightlife in the many clubs that have, over the years, proliferated along the beach. Rick's Café is a favourite haunt both for Jamaicans and visitors; located at West Point, which is as far west as Jamaica goes, it is famous as the place to the sun go down. If you're adventurous, take the 30 ft. plunge from the cliff!
On the North Coast is Falmouth, a delightful harbour resort, 42km (26 miles) from Montego Bay. From here one can visit Rafters Village for rafting on the Martha Brae, and a fascinating crocodile farm called Jamaica Swamp Safaris. There is also a plantation mansion, Greenwood Great House, once owned by the Barrett Brownings. The Church of St Paul offers Sunday services, where visitors can listen to the choir singing.
Ocho Rios lies roughly 108km (67 miles) east of Montego Bay. The name is said to have come from the old Spanish word for roaring river or, in modern Spanish, eight rivers. Once a sleepy fishing village, and although there are now resort facilities, international hotels and restaurants offering a variety of cuisines, the town has kept something of the sleepy atmosphere of small-town Jamaica.
One of the most stunning sights in Jamaica is Dunn's River Falls, a crystal water stairway which leads to the nearby botanical gardens. Ocho Rios is known as the garden-lover's paradise, and the Shaw Park Botanical Gardens exhibit the fascinating variety of the area's exotic flora, for which the town is celebrated.
Not surprisingly, two of the most popular tours available are to working plantations at Brimmer Hall and Prospect where sugar, bananas and spices are still grown and harvested, using many of the traditional skills handed down through generations.
Sightseeing should include a drive along Fern Gully, a road running along an old riverbed that winds through a 6.5km (4-mile) valley of ferns. Another tour is the Jamaica Night on the White River, a canoe ride up the torchlit river to the sound of drums. Dinner and open-air bar is available on the riverbank (Sunday evenings). Columbus Park, at Discovery Bay, commemorates Columbus' arrival in Jamaica with a museum and 24-hour open-air park exhibiting relics of Jamaican history. Other tours include Runaway Bay, which has fine beaches, great scuba diving and horseriding; and the Runaway Caves nearby, which offer a boat ride 35m (120ft) below ground on a lake in the limestone Green Grotto.
Port Antonio, one of the Caribbean's most beautiful bays, is surrounded by the Blue Mountains. The town dates back to the 16th century, and sights include Mitchell's Folly, a 2-storey mansion built by the American millionaire Dan Mitchell in 1905, and the ruins of a 60-room Great House.
The surrounding sea is rich in game fish, with blue marlin as the great prize (there is an annual Blue Marlin Tournament run alongside the Jamaican International Fishing Tournament in Port Antonio every autumn); there are also kingfish, yellowtail, bonito and wahoo.
The island's most palatial homes nestle in the foothills. Rafting is available on the Rio Grande, comprising 2-hour trips on 2-passenger bamboo rafts, which begin high in the Blue Mountains at Berrydale, sail past plantations of bananas and sugar cane, and end up at Margaret's Bay. The scenic Somerset Falls nearby are a popular picnic spot. Beaches in the Port Antonio area include San San and Boston (where the Jamaican 'jerk pork' is found), while the Blue Lagoon is a salt-water cove offering fishing, swimming and water-skiing and is considered one of the finest coves in the Caribbean.
Kingston is Jamaica's capital city and cultural centre. With the largest natural harbour in the Caribbean (and seventh-largest in the world), Kingston is also an industrial centre where Georgian architecture mixes with modern office blocks while, on the outskirts, spreading suburbs house the hundreds of thousands who increasingly work in the city. Although most tourists head for the beaches and resorts, Kingston has much to offer in the way of sightseeing.
The National Gallery of Art has a colourful display of modern art and is recommended. Hope Botanical Gardens contain a wide variety of trees and plants, and are particularly famous for orchids. A band plays here on Sunday afternoons. There is a Crafts Market on King Street and the Port Royal, on top of the peninsula bordering Kingston Harbour, is a museum to the time when Port Royal was known as the 'richest and wickedest city on earth' under the domination of Captain Morgan and his buccaneers.
The White Marl Arawak Museum is also worth visiting; here one can see artefacts and relics of the ancient culture of the Arawak Indians. The grounds of the University of the West Indies, built on what was once a sugar plantation, are open to the public.
Spanish Town, a short drive to the west of Kingston, was the capital of Jamaica until 1872. The Spanish Town Square is said to be one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in the Western hemisphere. The Spanish Cathedral of St. Jago de la Vega is the oldest in the West Indies.
One of our favorite areas on the island is Treasure Beach on the south coast. Black sand beaches, deserted coves, hotels with great ambience (we recommend Jake's Place and Treasure Beach Hotel) and peace and serenity.
Some interesting excursions here too. Black River is for nature lovers, the YS Falls are among the most spectacular on the island. Also on the south coast are Milk River Spa, a naturally radioactive mineral bath with waters at a temperature of 33ºC (86ºF); Lover's Leap in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a sheer 18m (60ft) cliff overhanging the sea.
30 miles north is Mandeville. Set amid beautiful gardens and fruits, Mandeville is at the heart of Jamaica's citrus industry, some 600m (2000ft) above sea level and the highest town on the island. Mandeville offers cool relief from the heat of the coast, and has a 9-hole golf course and tennis and horseriding facilities. Since the 1950's the town has been the centre of the bauxite industry, and is a good starting point for trips to the surrounding areas.