Jamaica; the name conjures up thoughts and dreams like no other holiday destination. For a small island country 90 miles south of Cuba, its rich and affluent culture has penetrated every corner of the world. Ian Fleming with James Bond, Bob Marley and Reggae, white rum, Voodoo spells, Calypso music, Montego Bay, Kingston Town, palm fringed white sand beaches, cocktails at the beach bar and the warm Caribbean Sea. All evoke thoughts of adventure, parties, romance, relaxation and luxury, but does the reality match the fantasy?
With an area of just over 4,000 square miles, Jamaica is the Caribbean’s third largest island. The island’s temperature usually varies from 21 degrees celsius to 32 degrees celsius, although you will notice local climatic differences around the coast. It’s lush, dense vegetation is caused by the almost daily rain showers. Bright warm sunshine will greet you in the mornings. After an hour’s tropical rainfall in the afternoon the sky will clear, the land dry out and early evening will prepare you for the most beautiful sunsets you will find anywhere.
Where to Stay
Wherever you choose to stay on this island paradise will provide memories to last a lifetime. Montego Bay (made famous by the 1970 international hit Montego Bay) is a favoured destination, yet Negril and Ocho Rios, both around 90 miles in opposite directions from Montego Bay airport are equally popular.
Accommodation across the island is as varied as the culture. From luxurious five star spa retreats to cheap backpacker here today gone tomorrow hostels, and everything in between. Sumptuous beachfront villas, basic to high-end hotels, guesthouses and self-catering apartments to suit all tastes and pockets are available. Are you still trying to complete that first novel? Consider booking a secluded, away from it all mountain lodge retreat, where your only neighbours will be the forest wildlife, and your first draft will be completed before you leave for home.
Things To Do
Many of Jamaica’s annual 1.25 million foreign tourists arrive to enjoy its reputation as a laid back, chilled, sun and beach destination for party lovers. Although that’s a great way to relax, unwind, and let the world pass you by, many others prefer to be a little more adventurous.
Jamaica has some great golf courses to be enjoyed as well as cricket and a large range of water-sports from surf-boarding to scuba diving. There are also organised events and cultural activities, for example trips, treks, and cycle rides up into The Blue Mountains to view the coffee plantations can be arranged.
Other areas of Jamaica can be visited using a hire car, public transport, taxi or one of the four local airlines. The usual tourist safety information from hotels and tour operators should apply. Don’t carry all your holiday cash with you. Don’t wear the family jewels or expensive watches. Don’t use unlicensed taxis. Be streetwise, and listen to advice about areas to stay away from. Good advice which is relevant in any of the world’s tourist areas.
There are so many places to visit on the island so organised excursions are often the best bet, especially when time is limited. One place you really must visit is Dunn’s River Falls at Ocho Rios. With 950ft of waterfall that you can climb from bottom to top, it is a great place for some tourist photography.
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What to Eat
There’s never a better time than when you’re out and about in the towns and cities to sample some real local Jamaican cuisine. Jerk chicken cooked on the grill is available everywhere. But also sample the beef patties or, if you fancy a Jamaican breakfast, the island’s national dish, ackee (the ripened fruit of the ackee tree) and saltfish.
If you’re determined to go native then seek out the curried goat. Roti (a flat round bread) with chicken curry is another favourite, as is bammy (a type of pancake). Fried dumplings, fried fish, breadfruit and cornmeal porridge are all part of the Jamaican diet.
If you enjoy fine dining, the island has some of the most romantic settings to enjoy your evening. Haute cuisine, regional dishes with a local twist, fusion dishes, or international flavours from around the world are available. As the sun goes down, sit at your candlelit table on the hotel terrace overlooking the bay. Soak up the ambience while listening to the gentle calypso beat drifting from the speakers, and enjoy a cocktail or local Jamaican rum punch while waiting for your meal.
When To Visit
The winter season, December through April is the most popular time for visitors. Jamaica’s rainy season runs from May to October and is a great time to visit for those who enjoy the experience of real tropical rainfall. One word of caution, Jamaica sits in the Atlantic hurricane belt and so from June through November the whole island goes on hurricane watch. In most instances any hurricanes tend to pass the island by, but occasionally one might pass close enough to provide a few days of torrential rainfall and high winds. That said, the island’s hotels and emergency services are well trained and equipped to cope with any incoming weather problems should they arise.
Have you ever been to Jamaica? What would you recommend as a must-see?