Compiled by Daniel Jones
You got to love a country which produces Reggae, jerk chicken, and a Patois dialect that even confuses other Caribbean islanders. Whether the topic is ackee or dominoes, politics or carnival, the spirit of this island comes out in every interaction, with the true passion of every Jamaican, being football.
Although 95% of the population traces its bloodlines to Africa, Jamaica is a stockpot of cultures, including those of other Caribbean islands, Great Britain, the Middle East, India, China, Germany, Portugal, and South America. The third-largest island in the Caribbean (after Cuba and Hispaniola), Jamaica enjoys a considerable self-sufficiency based on tourism, agriculture, and mining.
Best known as the source of Blue Mountain coffee, these mountains rising out of the lush jungle north of Kingston are a favorite destination with adventure travelers, hikers, and birders as well as anyone looking to see what lies beyond the beach. You can find guided tours to the mountains from the Ocho Rios and Port Antonio areas as well as from Kingston. Unless you're traveling with a local, don't try to go on your own; the roads wind and dip, hand-lettered signs blow away, and you could easily get lost. It's best to hire a taxi (look for red ppv license plates to identify a licensed taxi) or to take a guided tour.
Few leisure travelers -- particularly Americans -- take the time to visit Kingston, because it's not reachable on a day trip from anywhere on the island besides Ocho Rios or the Blue Mountains. It's also a tough city to love. It's big and, all too often, bad, with gang-controlled neighborhoods that are known to erupt into violence, especially near election time.
The tourist board licenses all recreational activity operators and outfitters, which should ensure you of fair business practices as long as you deal with companies that display its decals.
Jamaica is a major bird-watching destination, thanks to its varied habitat. The island is home to more than 200 species, some seen only seasonally or in particular parts of the island. Generally the early-morning and late-afternoon hours are the best time for spotting birds. Many bird-watchers flock here for the chance to see the vervian hummingbird (the second-smallest bird in the world, larger only than Cuba's bee hummingbird) or the Jamaican today (which nests underground).
A great place to spot birds is the Rocklands Bird Sanctuary & Feeding Station (Anchovy, Jamaica. PHONE: 876/952-2009), which is south of Montego Bay. The station was the home of the late Lisa Salmon, one of Jamaica's first amateur ornithologists. Here you can sit quietly and feed birds -- including the doctor bird, recognizable by its long tail -- from your hand. A visit costs $10.
About 10 minutes from Negril, Royal Palm Reserve (Springfield Rd., Sheffield, Jamaica. PHONE: 876/957-3736) is home to 50 bird species, including the West Indian whistling duck, which comes to feed at the park's Cotton Tree Lake. The park is also home to the Jamaican woodpecker, Jamaican oriole, Jamaican parakeet, and spectacular streamertail hummingbirds, who flit among the thick vegetation. Admission to the reserve is $10.
Diving & Snorkeling
Jamaica isn't a major dive destination, but you can find a few rich underwater regions, especially off the north coast. MoBay, known for its wall dives, has Airport Reef at its southwestern edge. The site is known for its coral caves, tunnels, and canyons. The first marine park in Jamaica, the Montego Bay Marine Park, was established to protect the natural resources of the bay; a quick look at the area and it's easy to see the treasures that lie beneath the surface. The north coast is on the edge of the Cayman Trench, so it boasts a wide array of marine life.
With its murkier waters, the southern side of the island isn't as popular for diving, especially near Kingston. Port Royal, which is near the airport, is filled with sunken ships that are home to many different varieties of tropical fish.
Prices on the island range from $45 to $80 for a one-tank dive. All the large resorts have dive shops, and the all-inclusive places sometimes include scuba diving in their rates. To dive, you need to show a certification card, though it's possible to get a small taste of scuba diving and do a shallow dive -- usually from shore -- after taking a one-day resort diving course, which almost every resort with a dive shop offers. A couple of places stand out.
Jamaqua Dive Centre (Club Ambiance, Runaway Bay, Jamaica. PHONE: 876/973-4845, www.jamaqua.com) is a five-star PADI facility specializing in small dive groups. Along with dives, Jamaqua Dive Centre has a large menu of instructional courses ranging from snorkeling to rescue dive courses. You can also find underwater cameras for rent here.
Scuba Jamaica (Half Moon, N. Coast Hwy., Montego Bay, Jamaica. PHONE: 876/973-4910, www.scuba-jamaica.com) offers serious scuba facilities for dedicated divers. This operator is a PADI and NAUI operation and also offers Nitrox diving and instruction as well as instruction in underwater photography, night diving, and open-water diving. There's a pickup service for the Montego Bay, Runaway Bay, Discovery Bay, and Ocho Rios areas.
Dolphin Swim Programs
Dolphin lovers find two well-run options in both Montego Bay and Ocho Rios.
Dolphin Cove (N. Coast Hwy., adjacent to Dunn's River Falls, Ocho Rios, Jamaica. PHONE: 876/974-5335, www.dolphincovejamaica.com) offers dolphin swims as well as lower-priced dolphin encounters for ages eight and up; dolphin touch programs for ages six and over; or simple admission to the grounds, which also includes a short nature walk. Programs cost between $39 and $155, depending on your depth of involvement with the dolphins. Advance reservations are required.
Half Moon (N. Coast Hwy., Montego Bay, Jamaica. PHONE: 876/953-2211, www.halfmoon-resort.com) is the Caribbean's only resort with a private dolphin experience. The Dolphin Lagoon is home to dolphins available for swims and encounters with resort guests only.
Port Antonio makes deep-sea-fishing headlines with its annual Blue Marlin Tournament, and MoBay and Ocho Rios have devotees who exchange tales (tall and otherwise) about sailfish, yellowfin tuna, wahoo, dolphinfish, and bonito. Licenses aren't required, and you can arrange to charter a boat at your hotel. A chartered boat (with captain, crew, and equipment) costs about $500 to $900 for a half day or $900 to $1,500 for a full-day's excursion, depending on the size of the boat.
The Glistening Waters Marina (N. Coast Hwy., Falmouth, Jamaica. PHONE: 876/954-3229, www.glisteningwaters.com) offers charter trips from the Falmouth area. Thirty boats moored at the Glistening Waters Marina offer deep-sea fishing charters; the marina also has nighttime pontoon boat trips for a look at the lagoon, whose iridescence is caused by microscopic dinoflagellates that become luminescent when they move.
For less serious anglers, Jamaica has several fishing parks. These offer lake fishing as well as nature walks, picnics, birding, and a family-friendly atmosphere. The easiest to reach is Royal Palm Reserve (Springfield Rd., Sheffield, Jamaica. PHONE: 876/957-3736), about 10 minutes from Negril. Visitors can rent gear and try their luck at catching African perch or tarpon in Cotton Tree Lake. There's an admission price of $10 to visit the park and a $5 charge for fishing; you can also purchase any fish you catch to take back to your villa or resort for the night's dinner if you like.
Golfers appreciate both the beauty and the challenges offered by Jamaica's courses. Caddies are almost always mandatory throughout the island, and rates are $15 to $45. Cart rentals are available at all courses except Constant Spring and Manchester Country Club; costs are $20 to $35. Some of the best courses in the country are found near MoBay.
The Runaway Bay golf course is found at Breezes Runaway Bay (N. Coast Hwy., Runaway Bay, Jamaica. PHONE: 876/973-7319). This 18-hole course has hosted many championship events (greens fees are $80 for nonguests; guests play for free).
Near Kingston, Caymanas (Mandela Hwy., halfway between Kingston and Spanish Town, Kingston, Jamaica. PHONE: 876/922-3386), actually 6 mi (9½ km) west of the city center, was Jamaica's first major championship 18-hole course (greens fees are $37 on weekdays, $45 on weekends).
The golf course at Sandals Golf & Country Club (Ocho Rios, Jamaica. PHONE: 876/975-0119) is 700 feet above sea level (greens fees for 18 holes are $100, or $70 for 9 holes for nonguests).
East of Falmouth, try Grand Lido Braco Golf Club (Trelawny, Jamaica. PHONE: 876/954-0010), between Duncans and Rio Bueno, a 9-hole course with lush vegetation (nonguests should call for fee information). Caddies are not mandatory on this course.
Half Moon (Montego Bay, Jamaica. PHONE: 876/953-2560), a Robert Trent Jones-designed 18-hole course 7 mi (11 km) east of town, is the home of the Red Stripe Pro Am (greens fees are $105 for guests, $150 for nonguests). In 2004 the course received an upgrade and once again draws international attention.
Ironshore SuperClubs Golf Club (Montego Bay, Jamaica. PHONE: 876/953-3681), 3 mi (5 km) east of the airport, is an 18-hole links-style course (greens fees are $50).
The newest course in Jamaica, which opened in January 2001, is the White Witch course at the Ritz-Carlton Golf & Spa Resort, Rose Hall (1 Ritz Carlton Dr., Rose Hall, St. James, Jamaica. PHONE: 876/518-0174). The greens fees at this 18-hole championship course are $159 for resort guests, $179 for nonguests, and $99 for a twilight round.
Tryall Golf, Tennis & Beach Club (N. Coast Hwy., Sandy Bay, Jamaica. PHONE: 876/956-5681), 15 mi (24 km) west of Montego Bay, has an 18-hole championship course on the site of a 19th-century sugar plantation (greens fees are $85 for guests, $125 for non-guests).
The Rose Hall Resort & Country Club (N. Coast Hwy., Montego Bay, Jamaica. PHONE: 876/953-2650), 4 mi (6½ km) east of the airport, hosts several invitational tournaments (greens fees run $115 for guests, $150 for nonguests).
Great golf, rolling hills, and a "liquor mobile" go hand in hand at the 18-hole Negril Hills Golf Club (Sheffield Rd., Negril, Jamaica. PHONE: 876/957-4638), the only golf course in Negril, which is east of town; the greens fees are $28.75 for 9 holes or $57.50 for 18 holes.
In the hills, the 9-hole Manchester Club (Caledonia Rd., Mandeville, Jamaica. PHONE: 876/962-2403) is the Caribbean's oldest golf course and charges greens fees of about $17.
Riders with an interest in history can combine both loves on a horseback tour at Annandale Plantation (Ocho Rios, Jamaica. PHONE: 876/974-2323). The 600-acre plantation is high above Ocho Rios and today serves as a working farm, although in its glory days it hosted dignitaries such as the Queen Mother.
Ocho Rios has excellent horseback riding, but the best of the operations is Chukka Cove Adventure Tours (Llandovery, St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica. PHONE: 876/972-2506, www.chukkacaribbean.com), which is adjacent to the polo field, just west of town. The trainers here originally exercised the polo ponies by taking them for therapeutic rides in the sea; soon there were requests from visitors to ride the horses in the water. The company now offers a three-hour beach ride that ends with a bareback swim on the horses in the sea from a private beach. It's a highlight of many trips to Jamaica.
Hooves (Windsor Rd., St. Ann, Jamaica. PHONE: 876/972-0905, www.hoovesjamaica.com) has several guided tours along beach, mountain, and river trails. One of the most interesting offerings is the Bush Doctor Mountain Ride, which takes visitors back into rural Jamaica for a two-hour look at the countryside, whose residents still often depend on the services of bush doctors who utilize local plants for treatments.
Rather than be part of a guided group ride, you can opt to rent a horse by the hour at Prospect Plantation (Ocho Rios, Jamaica. PHONE: 876/994-1058), which offers horseback riding for $48 per hour; advance reservations are required.
In the Braco area near Trelawny (between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios), Braco Stables (Duncans, Jamaica. PHONE: 876/954-0185, www.bracostables.com) offers guided rides including a bareback romp in the sea. Two rides are offered a day, and riders are matched to horses based on riding ability. The trip also includes complimentary refreshments served poolside at the Braco Great House.
Jamaica's hilly terrain makes the island a fun challenge for mountain bikers although beginners can also find easier rides, especially near the beaches and on the western end of the island. Heavy, unpredictable traffic on the North Coast Highway makes it off limits for bikers, but country roads and hilly trails weave a network through the countryside.
Blue Mountain Bicycle Tours (121 Main St., Ocho Rios, Jamaica. PHONE: 876/974-7075, www.bmtoursja.com) takes travelers on guided rides in the spectacular Blue Mountains. The excursion, an all-day outing, starts high and glides downhill, so all levels of riders can enjoy the tour. The trip ends with a dip in a waterfall; the package price includes transportation from Ocho Rios, brunch, lunch, and all equipment.
From its location outside of Montego Bay, Chukka Blue Adventure Tours (Sandy Bay, Hanover, Jamaica. PHONE: 876/953-5619, www.chukkablue.com) offers both biking and ATV tours. There's a minimum age of 16 on the ATV tours. The noisy ATVs jostle and splash their way along trails on a 10-mi ride through the hills before returning so visitors can take a dip in the sea.
Chukka Cove Adventure Tours (Llandovery, St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica. PHONE: 876/972-2506, www.chukkacaribbean.com) offers a 3½-hour bike tour through St. Ann and the village of Mount Zion with several stops and even snorkeling at the end. There is also an ATV tour. There's a minimum age of 6 for bikes, 16 for ATVs.
Jamaica's many rivers mean a multitude of freshwater experiences, from mild to wild. Relaxing rafting trips aboard bamboo rafts poled by local boatmen are almost a symbol of Jamaica and the island's first tourist activity outside the beaches. Recently soft-adventure enthusiasts have also been able to opt for white-water action as well with guided tours through several operators.
Bamboo rafting in Jamaica originated on the Rio Grande, a river in the Port Antonio area. Jamaicans had long used the bamboo rafts to transport bananas downriver; decades ago actor and Port Antonio resident Errol Flynn saw the rafts and thought they'd make a good tourist attraction. Today the slow rides are a favorite with romantic travelers and anyone looking to get off the beach for a few hours. The popularity of the Rio Grande's trips spawned similar trips down the Martha Brae River, about 25 mi (40 km) from MoBay. Another possibility from MoBay is the River Lethe, about 12 mi (19 km) southwest; the trip takes about 50 minutes. Near Ocho Rios, the White River has lazy river rafting in the daytime, followed by romantic river floats at night with the passage lit by torches. On the south coast, the Black River is the destination for gentle river rafting.
Jamaica Tours Limited (Providence Dr., Montego Bay, Jamaica. PHONE: 876/953-3700) conducts trips down the River Lethe, approximately 12 mi (19 km; a 50-minute trip) southwest of MoBay; the four-hour excursion costs about $54 per person, includes lunch, and takes you through unspoiled hill country. Bookings can also be made through hotel tour desks.
Martha Brae River Rafting (Claude Clarke Ave., Montego Bay, Jamaica. PHONE: 876/952-0889, www.jamaicarafting.com) leads trips down the Martha Brae River, about 25 mi (40 km) from most hotels in MoBay. The cost is $45 per person for the 1½-hour river run.
Rio Grande Tours (St. Margaret's Bay, Jamaica. PHONE: 876/993-5778, www.jamaicatoursltd.com) guides raft trips down the Rio Grande; the cost is $52 per raft.
South Coast Safaris Ltd. (1 Crane St., Black River, Jamaica. PHONE: 876/965-2513) takes visitors on slow cruises up the river to see the birds and other animals, including crocodiles, which, unlike their cousins on the Nile, are not aggressive.
For white-water buffs, several operators offer guided tours of varying levels ranging from tubing to kayaking. Chukka Cove and its sister company, Chukka Blue, offer white-water tubing on the White River, a soft adventure that doesn't require any previous rafting experience. Rafters travel in a convoy along the river and through some gentle rapids. Ocho Rios, Jamaica. PHONE: 876/972-2506. www.chukkacove.com. Montego Bay, PHONE: 876/953-5619; www.chukkablue.com.
Professional football in Jamaica provides plenty of entertainment for locals and tourists alike. The Cash Plus Premier League is a twelve team top-flight, sponsored by Wray and Nephew.The competition is divided in three stages in which every team plays another once; after the third stage (after 33 games) the top six teams will be placed in one group and the bottom six in another. The top six teams will play against each other in the fourth round, with the top team being crowned champions. The bottom six teams will also only play against each other with no chance of winning the title.
The top two teams from the league qualify for the CFU Club Championship, and the bottom two are relegated at the end of the season. To date, the NPL has produced three Caribbean championships by Portmore United F.C. (2005) and Harbour View F.C. (2004 & 2007).