The popular image of Jamaica is emerald rain forests, waterfalls that tumble into cool, clear streams and glorious beaches that rival any in the Caribbean. The legendary "cool" of Jamaican culture is heard in its reggae music and by the dry wit of the young Jamaican men who pilot visitors down the Great River on bamboo rafts. You won't easily forget the throngs of competing taxi drivers who swarm outside the Crafts Market in Montego Bay.
Jamaica is one of the most beautiful and culturally rich islands in the Caribbean, with an economy that depends largely on tourism. Explore the countryside and mingle with the locals, as they are friendly and truly delighted to meet and greet tourists who visit their island. The physical beauty and vibrant culture of Jamaica are still its greatest assets, and the good cheer among its people makes for a memorable vacation.
Jamaica is the third-largest of the Caribbean islands—146 mi/234 km long and 51 mi/82 km wide—and the largest island in the English-speaking Caribbean. It lies some 90 mi/145 km south of Cuba. More than 100 rivers wind through the forested mountains of the island, and nearly half the island is more than 984 ft/300 m above sea level, so you can always see a hill or mountain, wherever you are. The largest city, Kingston, on the southeast side of the island, lies in the lee of the Blue Mountains. The northeast side of Jamaica receives trade winds and is extremely wet. By contrast, the southeast and south central coasts are arid, and cacti abound. The tourism industry is concentrated along the north coast, especially in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, and in Negril, on the western tip of Jamaica.
Jamaica's foremost attractions include sunning on white-sand beaches, snorkeling, diving, listening to reggae music performed by local bands, partying, getting pampered at world-class resorts, horseback riding, river rafting, hiking, and visiting caves and historical sites.
Travelers who appreciate warm tropical waters, magnificent scenery, food, earthy music and dance will enjoy Jamaica.
Do's and Dont's
Do try to get a taste of Jamaican music, especially reggae, which developed in the late 1960s. Bob Marley is the all-time great of reggae. Other big names include Marley's son Ziggy, Third World, Jimmy Cliff, and Toots and the Maytals. Ska, a dance music that was a precursor to reggae, is best heard performed by the Skatalites. Dub and dance hall are more modern reggae styles typified by such performers as Beenie Man & Bounty Killer, Sean Paul, Mutabaruka (a dub poet) and Buju Banton.
Do try jerk chicken or pork, but have a cold Red Stripe or Real Rock beer ready to wash it down—it's very spicy.
Don't wear camouflage clothing in Jamaica—it's illegal unless you're a member of the military, and you could face a hefty fine.
Do remember that nothing happens terribly fast in Jamaica, so relax, adopt the island mantra—"no problem, mon"—and remember that you're on vacation.
Do try to attend a performance of the National Dance Theatre Company or any of the local dance troupes in season in Kingston—they are excellent.
Do sign up for a bike tour of the Blue Mountains before sunrise.
Do sample freshly caught seafood at Bluefields Beach.
Do listen to new reggae tunes and old favorites inside Tuff Gong Recording Studios in Kingston.
Don't touch or stand on coral as it is extremely sensitive and can be destroyed by a simple touch.
Do have ready the name and address of the place you are staying your first night. Immigration officials will ask for that information when you arrive.
Passport/Visa Requirements: All U.S. citizens must have a passport when traveling by air to or from Bermuda, Canada, the Caribbean, Central and South America and Mexico. Citizens of Canada, Mexico and the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda also must have a passport or other designated secure document to enter the U.S.
Passports are required for land crossings at the Canadian and Mexican borders with the U.S. and for cruise passengers returning to the U.S. from Mexico, the Caribbean, Canada or Bermuda. Reconfirm travel-document requirements with your carrier prior to departure.
Languages: English, Jamaican patois.
Predominant Religions: Christian (Protestant, Roman Catholic), Rastafarian.
Time Zone: 5 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (-5 GMT). Daylight Saving Time is not observed.
Voltage Requirements: 110 volts. 220-volt systems exist in some larger properties.
Telephone Codes: 876, area code;
Our favorite time (and everyone else's) is November-April—Jamaica can be very crowded then. The temperature is fairly stable year-round, so it's possible to visit in other months as well.
Winter coastal-area day temperatures are in the 70s-80s F/23-32 C. June-September is usually in the 80s-90s F/30-35 C. Nights tend to be 5-10 F/3-5 C degrees cooler everywhere.
Temperatures in the hills and mountains are usually cooler than on the coasts—take a sweater for nights. Kingston, on the leeward (southern) side of the island, is drier, hotter and generally more uncomfortable than the windward (northern) shore. Always be prepared for rain showers in the Blue Mountains. The hottest time is July-October, when the humidity, heat and hurricane possibilities are the highest. Most rain falls May-October, but even then, it generally comes in brief showers and seldom ruins anyone's vacation. Hurricane season is June-November.
Jamaica has two international airports, both of which have been upgraded to include a wide variety of shopping and restaurant options as well as increased security. Montego Bay's Sir Donald Sangster International Airport (MBJ) is located 2 mi/3 km north of downtown. Phone 876-952-3124. http://www.mbjairport.com.
Kingston's Norman Manley International Airport (KIN) is located 11 mi/18 km south of the city. Phone 876-924-8452. http://www.nmia.aero.
International Airlink offers daily flights between major Jamaican towns. Taxis and rental cars are available at both international airports.
The domestic airport in Kingston is Tinson Pen Airport (KTP), located west of the city. It has scheduled local service to Montego Bay and Ocho Rios.