Have you been to Jamaica yet? It is less than an hour’s flight away, has everything from nightlife to beaches and mountains, and the music and culture will keep you entertained long after you leave its shores. The birthplace of Bob Marley, Usain Bolt and Norma Shirley is a vibrant, colorful island with much to offer visitors.
Despite living in the Cayman Islands since 1975, I didn’t visit Jamaica for the first time until about 2003, and even then it was on a business trip. I saw enough to know that I wanted to return in the future, and since that trip I have been there a few times. Every time I learn more about the country, and every time I swear I’m going to get back there more often.
The capital city of Kingston is a bustling epicenter of sound and color. Once you’ve dumped the bags in your hotel room, you can head out to explore. Maybe go to Port Royal first to see the historic Fort Charles, learn about the devastating earthquake of June 7, 1692, and try standing up straight in the Giddy House, so named for its significantly lopsided demeanor. Originally a Royal Artillery House, it sank on one side when Port Royal was struck by another earthquake in 1907.
The Bob Marley Museum is a must-see for any fans of the legendary performer. Located on Hope Road, the museum was once a residence of Marley’s, and features a number of statues and lots of memorabilia. The guided tour is worth the money, particularly if you’re interested in learning more about this reggae icon.
I would also recommend visiting the National Heroes Park, but be aware of the fact that there is very little shade available over the 20-hectare area. For this reason, either bring an umbrella to keep the rays of the sun at bay, or try going at a cooler time of the day. It is well worth a look, particularly to see the magnificent structures that have been created in memory of Jamaica’s national heroes.
If you’re craving the mountains and you’re keen on some exercise, try hiking to the top of Blue Mountain, or take the easy route and drive up to Strawberry Hill, the magnificent Island Outpost property set 3,100 feet above sea level overlooking the city of Kingston.
Before you leave Kingston, make sure to get some ice cream at Devon House, voted one of the top ten places in the world for ice cream by National Geographic magazine.
Places to stay: The Spanish Court Hotel is an excellent choice with nicely appointed rooms, a great restaurant and on-site spa. Alternatively, stay a couple of nights at Strawberry Hill if you really wish to treat yourself.
Montego Bay and Ocho Rios
Montego Bay and Ocho Rios tend to be prime tourist areas, so most of the big resorts will be found along the northern coast of Jamaica. Sandals, Rose Hall, Half Moon…all the big names are here. Of course one of the biggest attractions near Ocho Rios is Dunn’s River Falls, a stunning example of nature at its best. If you decide to visit the falls, make sure you wear appropriate shoes because you’re gonna get wet.
Another place you have to put on your list is Scotchie’s in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. TripAdvisor members rave about the authentic food, including the amazing jerk dishes. When I went to the one in Montego Bay, I couldn’t decide which dish was my favorite – the chicken, the pork, the fish, the festival… Save your appetite to go because seriously, you’ll weep if you don’t have space for much.
A visit to Montego Bay isn’t complete without a stop at Rose Hall. Said to be haunted by the ghost of Annie Palmer, the Rose Hall Great House is a beautiful piece of architecture and open to the public. Dare you take the night tour?
I didn’t venture out to the beach or sea much, mainly because we have both in abundance here, so I wanted to explore different sights, but if you want to hit the sand there’s plenty of it around for you to do so. Speaking of sand and its trappings, there are a number of prime golf courses in Jamaica, so you and your clubs can get a good workout, and with the great Caribbean weather on your side, you can tee off all year round.
Places to stay: Half Moon, a RockResort in Montego Bay, is just luxury at its finest. I was lucky enough to stay in a Royal Villa by the sea with a personal cook, butler and housekeeper, and if you can go this route, I can’t recommend it enough. You also have two golf carts at your disposal and unparalleled views from multiple floors. Even if you don’t stay at a villa, a room in the main hotel will not disappoint.
Appleton Estate and the inner parishes
When I visited Jamaica in 2012, some other members of the international press and I were transported via bus from Kingston to the Appleton Estate in the parish of St. Elizabeth. We then went on to Montego Bay, and at the end of my trip I was driven back through the center of the island to Kingston.
The beauty of Jamaica’s interior cannot be overstated. The lush vegetation, rolling hills and rivers are breathtaking; so are the roads. You have to be a pretty confident driver to tackle the winding roads and lanes, not to mention the other drivers who fly by at speed. An important piece of advice: Don’t read or try to text on your phone when you’re in a car on those roads, or you’ll likely end up car sick.
I was absolutely spellbound by the sights before me and loved stopping at the fruit stands by the side of the road to get fresh pineapple or lychee. Don’t just stick to the coast; take a journey through the interior at least once.
Appleton Estate: Learn about how the rum is created, the history of the estate, and then enjoy some samples of different flavored rums at the end of your tour. The estate is a great spot for photographs, and it really is interesting to see how the process goes from sugar cane to the finished product.
When you go
Try to give yourself a good week in Jamaica, but if you don’t have the time available, a weekend will be a nice introduction to the island. With Cayman Airways flying there every day, it won’t be difficult to get a flight.
I have always heard great things about Port Antonio, but I haven’t managed to get there yet. It is a favorite spot for Jamaicans, and not as touristy as some places.
Eat the local food; buy some local crafts; and get the local experience. If you end up spending all your time at your resort, you won’t get to truly enjoy the fantastic wonder of beautiful Jamaica.