Jamaica beaches and things to do, Caribbean 2017-02-13T10:06:53+00:00

Jamaica Pictures Guide, Caribbean

Doctor

Doctor’s Cave Beach, Montego Bay, Jamaica

Vacations in Jamaica

Jamaica is the second cheapest island in the Caribbean

It is similar to the Dominican Republic in many ways – it was first put on the map by Christopher Columbus, albeit 2 years after he set foot in what is now the DR (or arguably The Bahamas’ San Salvador); it’s large (though much smaller than massive DR), tropically hot and fertile; long white beaches are washed by the clear blue waters of the Caribbean (all around the island in Jamaica’s case); flights are relatively cheap, as is the cost of holidays – and for the same reason – cheap labour, home-grown produce and a tendency towards good value, all inclusive resorts.

The main differences are that Jamaica is a notably lively, culture-rich African experience and English-speaking while DR leans towards multi-activity holidays in a Spanish-speaking environment.
Activities available outside holiday complexes are fewer in Jamaica as some visitors are reluctant to leave the pampered sanctuary of their beach resorts though those that do usually discover a different Caribbean reality, one that’s about people and local life, not just about beaches and how many things can you do in a week. For this reason Jamaica gets a lot of repeat tourists. The vibrant culture brings them back.

Finally, and very much in Jamaica’s favour, there’s an ebullient music scene. Reggae, ska and variations will always get a tourist jiggling, inside resorts and out, whereas Dominican Republic’s merengue is less known and less easy to dance to unless you have prior Hispanic experience.

Things to Do

Other than hotel-oriented watersports some of the things a tourists can do are

hiking the Blue Mountains.
• climbing Dunn’s River Falls (photo below).
• day-tripping on big-name beaches such as Doctor’s Cave in Montego Bay (photo above) and Negril.
• Go for a pricey drink at Rick’s café or similar, watch the sunset and/or cliff diving in Negril West End.
• sport fishing or scuba expeditions.
• catamaran tours (mainly about cruising, snorkelling, music, dancing and drinking).
• dolphin encounters.
• horseback riding on nature trails.
• muddy mountaineering on an ATV or dune buggy.
• mountain-bike tours.
• golf.
• canopy/zipline forest tours.
• Kool Runnings Water Park just north of Negril.
• visiting town attractions such as haunted Rose Hall or the ever-popular and authentic Bob Marley Museum/shrine in Kingston, where he lived, recorded and smoked 12 inch doobies every hour of his life. It’s a riot of colour and reggae and strange odours, guarded by Rasta brothers with red eyes.
• the best drive in the Caribbean is Kingston to Port Antonio via the Blue Mountains.

Dunn

A group of tourist making the famous Dunn’s River Falls climb, near Ocho Rios.
Photo by WanderingtheWorld

Main Jamaican tourist zones

Ocho Rios, Montego Bay, Negril, Treasure Beach, Port Antonio and the Blue Mountains

Ocho Rios (northeast), akaOchi

Once a simple fishing village in a gorgeous crescent bay is now a cluster of global brand shops, hustlers and wannabe guides in a gorgeous crescent bay, waiting for their ship to come in, literally, as cruise ships now dock here and unload thousands of squealing innocents into the maws of Jamaican commercial endeavour.

However, for all that, Ocho Rios is family-friendly and home to a large, curving white beach called UDC – aka Turtle Bay – that shelters behind a reef and offers watersports, cafés, bars. Pay a small fee to enter. It’s crowded at weekends with locals or whenever a cruise ship is in port.
Ocho region has plenty of some fun stuff such as Rainforest Adventures Mystic Mountain (a small amusement park 2 kms from Ochi, ziplines, scenic cable car ride, but don’t go there when cruise ships are docked!

Ten miles (16 kms) west of Ocho Rios, Runaway Bay is home to lovely beaches that see many less visitors and hawkers than Ochi. The difference is especially noticeable when cruise ships dock in Ocho. Runaway has some good all-inclusive resorts adjacent but not a lot of attractions. There are a couple of historical museums nearby and of course Bob Marley’s childhood home and mausoleum in Nine Mile, not far away.

A little east of Ochi near the town of Prospect is Reggae Beach, an attractive and secluded place with limited facilities but lots of character. It’s also pay-to-enter.

Best Activities in Ocho Rios

• The superb Dunns River Falls walk is 5 kms up the road, with private beach.

• Calypso Rafting – tubes or rafts on the White River.

• Island Village, a cute collection of walkways, flowering shrubs, lagoons, shops and casino designed to relieve the cruise punter of his life savings at ramming speed. The town itself has excellent night life opportunities, a good reggae museum, some cute tropical gardens and plenty of modest guesthouses or sublime beach resorts to hand, so it’s not a bad place to visit or spend a few days if you manage to avoid cruise-wally-overload; the most likely time not to be overwhelmed by cruisers is after dark and at weekends.

Ocho Rios – Montego Bay 1. 5 hours drive.
Ocho Rios – Negril 3 hours drive.
Ocho Rios – Port Antonio 2. 5 hours drive. Ocho Rios – Kingston 1. 5 hours drive.

Montego Bay (northwest), akaMoBay

The second largest city in Jamaica, Montego Bay is loaded with all manner of all inclusive resorts and the biggest tourist destination in the country, with its own international airport and cruise ship dock. It claims one of Jamaica’s most famous beaches, Doctor’s Cave Beach Club (photo at top), with dazzling white sand, translucent water, bars and varied food courts as well as Cornwall beach and Walter Fletcher.
All beaches are pay-to-enter (3$-5$). Rocklands Bird Sanctuary, just to the south, is a hoot.

Montego Bay – Kingston 3. 5 hours drive.
Montego Bay – Negril 1. 5 hours drive.
Montego Bay – Port Antonio 3 hours drive.

negril, rick

Rick’s Café, Negril’s West End.
Photo by WanderingtheWorld

Negril, (far west, 50m/80kms from Montego Bay)

A tourist hotspot with rather too many hustlers and general development but it’s still possible to relax on the 11kms of glorious beach or head for the tired and abused coral reef just offshore. Long Bay is the more developed section and West End the cool part with cliff diving and superb bars.

Nearby there are varied attractions, including dolphin encounters, mountain bike tours, golf at Negril Hills Golf Club, Grange Hills horse-breeding area, Country Western Horseback Riding in Westmoreland, Kool Runnings Water Park just to the north, Mayfields Falls and good beaches (see below), while sport-fishing off Negril provides plenty of action and scuba divers have plenty of choice of dive shops.

From WanderingtheWorld’s Travel Blog

Negril, Jamaica is one of the more laid back, interesting places I’ve ever visited. With one of Jamaica’s best beaches, the area is a well known place among foreigners but has managed to keep its character throughout the years.

Jamaicans have a beautiful attitude about life. They are laid back and enjoy the smaller things in life. Non- confrontational, the people here have an interesting understanding of ‘respect’ that keeps society moving in an orderly fashion. Jamaicans are proud of their island. On a side note, this is the first time I’ve been in a predominantly African Caribbean society.

Negril beaches

Going topless is not a problem in Negril and sunbathing totally buff is permissable in some areas.

Note that Negril is on the west coast so beaches and bars there get the magic sunsets.

Bloody Bay in Negril is a picture postcard stretch of fine white sand bordered by inviting blue waters and scattered with useful little shacks selling things to eat such as superb fresh lobsters, drinks and play with. Not as busy as 7 Mile beach.

Half Moon Beach is a little off-the-beaten track private beach and all the better for it, with friendly locals, hammocks, beach chairs and superb food. It’s a short taxi ride from 7 mile beach. Good snorkelling, catamaran rides. The beach is free if you eat or perhaps drink there.

7 mile beach, negril, jamaica

7 mile beach, Negril. Which is actually 4 miles long.
Photo by WanderingtheWorld

Negril’s famous 7 Mile Beach is well organised with things to do and places to hang out comfortably, tho’ actually it’s only 4 miles long – which is quite long enough when you’ve had a liquid lunch and the sun is melting your forehead. From one end of town to the other is, in fact, 7 miles. 7 mile beach sand is soft, water’s clear and shallow with rafts, beach chairs and exquisite sunsets. No shortage of hawkers of course, selling everything from freshly cooked lobsters to freshly harvested weed. Just another day at the office.

Negril – Montego Bay 1. 5 hours drive.
Negril – Port Antonio 4. 5 hours drive.
Negril – Treasure Beach 2 hours drive.

Treasure Beach, (Jamaica’s south coast, near Black River)

A remote and discreetly developed (so far! ) area of small four sandy coves and fishing villages (Billy’s Bay, Frenchman’s Bay, Calabash Bay, Great Pedro Bay) with a terrific community spirit and a laid-back attitude that’s far from Montego Bay’s commercial whizz or even Negril’s more relaxed rhythm. Not a lot to do but it’s an awesome place to not do a lot! Snorkeling, biking, boat rides up the Black River and chilling to the beat of local musicians. Note that the sand is pinky-grey and beach is unmanicured, like the area. Great food and fine villas/hotels. Beautiful Y. S Falls and Black River are nearby. Treasure Beach website.

Treasure Beach – Negril 2 hours drive.
Treasure Beach – MoBay 3 hours drive.

Port Antonio, (far northeast)

Escape from the madding tourist crowds to this dilapidated old colonial port town, from where you can launch bamboo rafting trips on the Rio Grande river, visit Reach Falls in virgin rain forest, Winifred Beach, Annotto Bay, Blue Lagoon, Long Bay Beach, John Crow Mountains and the best beach of them all, Frenchman’s Cove, a tiny but perfectly formed stretch of soft white sand and calm waters flanked by a turquoise lagoon and forested headlands. It’s privately owned by a resort but you can pay a modest fee to enter.

Port Antonio – Negril 4. 5 hours drive.
Port Antonio – Kingston 1. 5 hours drive.
Port Antonio – Ocho Rios 2. 5 hours drive.
Port Antonio – MoBay 3 hours drive.

Blue Mountains (east, centre)

Hiking up to Blue Mountain Peak (2250m) through the tropical forest is one way of working off too much rum and jerk chicken. Generally, the best time to try the trek is during the mountains’ dry season from December to April. It’s possible to start from either Port Antonio side or Kingston, but the latter is most common.
Length varies according to guide and visitor choice but can be between 2 and 8 hours; the longer route involves starting the climb before dawn but this can be tricky due to slippery rocks and fallen trees. Hikers can spend the night beforehand at either cosy and rustic Whitfield Hall or Wildflower Lodge, or camp out at Portland Gap.

The best things about the hike are the rainforest sounds, occasional exotic bird sightings and the stunning view from the top. Hope that the mist isn’t too thick! Peak Trail Information

A Short History of Jamaica

Columbus landed here in 1494, two years after landing in Dominican Republic.
The Taino and Arawak people, refugees from South America, had been living in Jamaica for several thousand years, but many fled to the mountainous interior once Spanish oppression spread, forced religious conversion and slavery being two pretty good reasons to head for the hills.

British forces arrived in 1655 and evicted the Spanish, whose African slaves also fled into the interior to join anti-colonial communities that became known as Maroons and fought against British expansion in the 18thC.

After Britain abolished slavery in 1807 the sugar plantations began to import Indian and Chinese workers whose descendants still live and work in Jamaica.

During the 20thC Jamaica gradually took steps towards independence, fully achieving it in 1962.
However, Jamaica is still a member of the Commonwealth countries with Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State.

The local language is English, but between each other Jamaicans frequently use a slang patois, a kind of Jamaican Creole. 60 % of the population are Christian Protestants.

Electricity Jamaica uses a 110v system with US style plugs.

Weather

The best time to visit is December-April, when the weather is calm and reasonably dry, with possible occasional showers, low humidity and less mosquitoes. This is the high season so prices are also high. Try November, May-July for substantial hotel discounts but still good weather conditions; it may rain then but hopefully only for short spells.

The worst time is late August-October when humidity and mosquito-count is high, severe storms or even hurricanes are possible; heavy rain is probable September-October, seas will be rough, water visibility poor and beaches strewn with debris.

The east coast of Jamaica is much wetter than the west coast (e. g. Negril), but the south coast is the driest location.

Temperatures year round don’t vary much along the coastal areas, ranging from 79F (26C) – 86F (30C), but up in the Blue Mountains it’s considerably cooler and wetter.

Food

Jamaica’s speciality food is fiery jerk pork or jerk chicken, rubbed or marinated in hot jerk spice, though these days just about any meat, fish or tofu is treated the same way. One of the primary ingredients in jerk is the Scotch bonnet pepper, a searingly hot chile pepper, while the cooking process frequently involves some degree of smoking.
Jerk stands around the country mainly offer jerk chicken or pork along with bread or dumplings. Scotchie’s is a high quality jerk chain to look out for.

Another excellent snack is a pattie, a flaky pastry stuffed with minced beef or chicken/ prawns /vegetables.

Vegetarians don’t do badly here, with rice and peas a local favourite, along with sauteed cabbage, dumplings, potatoes, yams, seafood, fish soups, cheese, coco bread, local peanuts and cashews and plenty of fruit options.

Jamaicans like their drinks STRONG so beware very high alcohol content, especially if you’re hanging out in the sun at lunchtime. Jamaican Rum is clear (known as whites) and often served in a shot glass with a water chaser. It has been known to reach 150 overproof.
Tap water in main towns is drinkable.

Currency

Local currency is the Jamaican Dollar, marked as $, J$ or JA$ but the US$ is also accepted, though change will be given in Jamaican currency and the rate may be terrible.
ATMs are widely available (but known as ABMs) and one way of reducing the chance of losing out on hefty credit card commissions or petty thievery is to withdraw small amounts from your account via debit card with ABMs, straight into Jamaican Dollars.

If you bring foreign cash with you it’s easy to change into local cash from US$, Canadian$, UK£ or European Euros in a forex shop or bank, but carefully check how much you should receive before going up to the desk, and double count before accepting the money.

Jamaica Tourist Map

Jamaica beaches and tourist places

Jamaica is practically at the centre of the Caribbean Sea, south of Cuba, west of Hispaniola (Haiti/Dominican Republic) and east of the Cayman Islands.

Direct Flights

Jamaica has three international airports, Sangster is the main tourist airport, servicing Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Negril, with a domestic terminal attached; Norman Manley is convenient for Kingston, Port Antonio and the Blue Mountains; Ian Fleming deals with smaller aircraft wanting to land on the north coast near Ocho Rios with a maximum of 2 tons of cocaine on board (kidding! ).

Flight times from USA’s south and east coasts run to about 3 hours, west coast 6 hours, from Canada about 4 hours, from London (England) 10 hours, other European cities 13-15 hours. Avoid jet lag and DVT

Visa

Citizens of USA, Canada, UK, do not require a tourist visa for up to 180 days stay, just passport with at least 90 days to run. Citizens of Mexico, France, Germany are OK for 30 day’s stay. Other country?

Safety

Security is an issue. . . though not usually in the well-protected beach resorts. Walking around towns without a guide is not recommended unless you’re a well-traveled backpacker and feel comfortable in dodgy locations, nor are island tours without guides a good idea.

If you get into casual conversation with a local on the beach or elsewhere, do not admit that it’s your first time in Jamaica (marking you as an innocent lamb for the slaughter) and definitely do not tell him/her where you are staying (unless you want a midnight visit).

However, most of the violent crime here happens in the ghettoes and you won’t be anywhere near those, but still you’d do well observe anti-theft procedures such as carrying minimum cash/cards, not wearing bling outside your hotel, don’t wander off randomly around town and lock car and hotel windows at night.

Marijuana, also known as ganja, is cheap, potent and illegal here. Foreigners are especially vulnerable to arrest due to the lucrative pay-off potential for both snitches and police.

We should also point out that this country has a brutal attitude to gays/lesbians and in spite of Bob Marley’s well-known chorus line ‘”Stand up for your rights! “, we don’t recommend you preach the homosexual gospel here, or even display a mild tendency in that direction. Better to go to a more welcoming island.

But do note that Jamaicans are chatty and friendly to heteros so try to relax!

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