To many, Jamaica is the literal and figurative heart of the Caribbean. The birthplace of reggae music, the Rastafari movement and all-inclusive resorts, Jamaica symbolizes many of the things most loved and, perhaps, most misunderstood about the region. Travel writers and recent visitors offer a simple remedy to clear the confusion -- come to the land of sugar cane, coffee and limestone and form your own opinion. Your new ideas are bound to be swathed in ... continue»
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The best time to visit Jamaica is October to mid December. That's when the island's already beautiful weather (ranging from mid 70s to the high 80s all year-round) is the most glorious and the hotel and flight deals are the easiest to find. Rates are also cheap during the summer, but you'll risk the wrath of hurricane season. January to March is the peak travel season to the island -- room rates can spike to more than $700-a-night (USD) at some hotels.Best Times to Visit Jamaica»
Beaches and exotic natural landscape are usually the first things that come to mind when thinking about Jamaica. Negril, Montego Bay (often referred to as "MoBay") and Ocho Rios have most of the popular resorts, many of which offer all-inclusive packages. But the island is much more diverse than other Caribbean destinations, so visitors should also check out the jungles, plains, rivers and cities of Jamaica, too.
Sitting on the southwest coast, the Jamaica's capital city, Kingston, is one of the most populated cities on the island. But you wouldn't come here for the beaches; rather, Kingston is where the core of Jamaica's culture lies. Rough Guides calls Kingston, "the true heart of Jamaica, a thrilling place, pulsating with energy and spirit." Art galleries, theaters and music venues rub elbows with lively clubs, shopping spots and restaurants. Business travelers usually stay here, but leisure visitors shouldn't miss out on this city's offerings either. Travel writers ask visitors to be weary of their surroundings and even avoid the area after dark; like many cities, Kingston can be prone to crime.
The Blue Mountains, which sit north of Kingston on the island's east coast, are "a land of soaring peaks and deep valleys with luxuriant vegetation," according to Frommer's. You'll find hikers, bird watchers and nature lovers, and you can take a guided tour. The area can be confusing, so travel guides recommend taking one of the tours or hiring a taxicab. The mountain range is also famous for its coffee. The Mavis Bank Coffee Factory at the mountain offers tours of the facilities, where 1.4 million pounds of beans are processed, according to the official website.
On Jamaica's northeast coast, Port Antonio offers a welcome change of pace from the more laidback resort towns. According to Frommer's, this town offers some of the most attractive beaches in the country -- including San San beach -- as well as access to the Rio Grande River. The town itself is often featured on the cover of guidebooks because of its picturesque Victorian/Caribbean architecture.
Sitting northwest of Kingston near the center of the island, Mandeville is the island's highest-altitude town and the center of Jamaica's coffee cultivation. Established by the British in 1816, experts say that Mandeville maintains a strong sense of colonial charm.
Dry with limited accommodations, Jamaica's south coast is also its least visited. But you might want to visit the region's Treasure Beach, where Fodor's says, "though it isn't as pretty as those to the west or north -- it has more rocks and darker sand -- the idea that you might be discovering a bit of the 'real' Jamaica more than makes up for the small negatives."
According to Concierge.com, Negril on the island's westernmost tip is "the world capital of 'liming' -- that delightful Caribbean art of lazing around beneath the palms sipping cool beer, munching jerk pork, talking the talk, maybe even having a smoke." Writers say Negril is one of the most easygoing on an already laidback island, despite the recent addition of big resorts. Attracting a slightly younger crowd, Negril beaches are clean and relaxing. Negril is also home to Hedonism II, a vacation resort that has areas specifically designated for nudism. (No children allowed).
Located northeast of Negril along the island's northern coast is Montego Bay. Beaches in "MoBay" run parallel to busy Gloucester Avenue, a street lined with flashy hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops. The Museum of St. James, which offers exhibits regarding the country's history, is also nearby.
Ocho Rios, east of Montego Bay along Jamaica's northern shore, houses the more popular Sandals resorts and is a very popular cruise port area that attracts honeymooners and couples tying the knot. Nearby Ocho Rios is Dunn's River Falls & Park, a 600-foot staggered waterfall you can easily climb with the assistance of a guide. If you have the time, experts and recent visitors recommend heading west to the tiny town of St. Ann's Bay, the birthplace of Bob Marley and now the site of the Bob Marley Centre and Mausoleum. The musician's former home, with walls scribbled with messages from fans, is open daily for tours.
Please remember that some places in Jamaica are safer than others. Many suggest caution when moving around at night, and that you stay in groups. Petty theft has been reported in the past, so make sure to keep your valuables near at all times.
The Jamaican government has declared a State of Emergency in parts of Kingston due to civil unrest. If you're making travel plans to the island, experts suggest you avoid the Kingston and St. Andrews areas until further notice.
According to the U.S. State Department, "Embassy employees as well as private Americans are advised to avoid traveling into high-threat areas including, but not limited to, Mountain View, Trench Town, Tivoli Gardens, Cassava Piece, and Arnett Gardens in Kingston, and Flankers, Canterbury, Norwood, Rose Heights, Clavers Street and Hart Street in Montego Bay."
- Try to avoid walking at night in Kingston and downtown Montego Bay, but if you do, stick close to main thoroughfares. Take taxis when possible, preferably arranged by the hotel's front desk." -- Lonely Planet
The best way to get around Jamaica is in a taxi, whether you're coming from one of the airports (Montego Bay's Donald Sangster International Airport (MBJ) is the most accessible to the tourist areas) or making your way around town. Renting a car is also an option, but driving on the left can be confusing; the road signs are unhelpful; the drivers can be aggressive; and the potholes are rampant. Minibuses are another popular and affordable means of getting to and from the key attractions.Getting Around Jamaica»