Jamaica is a Caribbean Island steeped in history and culture. Jamaicans are proud to share their country, traditions, and beauty with its near 4.3 million visitors each year. With the national motto of “Out of Many, One People” and unofficial motto of “One Love” you can expect to be welcomed warmly.
Journey through the country’s six unique areas with me and discover which one might be the best fit for your next vacation.
The history of Jamaica begins with Arawaks, or Tainos, that migrated to the area about 2,500 years ago. They named the island Xamaca which is the land of wood and water and settled near the coasts for easy fishing. Xamaca was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1494 on his second voyage to the Indies. Unfortunately, Columbus’ discovery and claim of the land by the Spaniards led to the eventual extinction of the Arawak population.
After years of struggle and internal strife among the Spaniards, the English overtook the island in 1655. Upon their surrender, the Spaniards released their slaves who became known as Maroons. Over the following years, the English depended heavily on African slaves that were shipped to the area for sale. As you would expect, the slaves tried again and again with various rebellions to become free. There are stories about Queen Nanny, a brave lady that worked to lead Maroons to safety in the northern mountains of the island until a treaty was signed in 1739 granting them about 2500 acres of land. Slavery was eventually abolished in 1808 followed by emancipation in 1834 and full freedom in 1838.
The Jamaica we know today became its own independent nation in 1962. It is a member of the British Commonwealth but is not dependent on Britain. It is a strong, thriving nation of 2.9 million people across 4,244 square miles.
Jamaica is divided into six (6) unique areas with its own feel. From the most romantic spot for honeymooners to the perfect wellness retreat for the yogi inside you to the crazy fun at Carnival, visitors are bound to find something that suits their travel styles when they visit Jamaica.
Kingston, the capital city, is known for its mix of night life, gastronomy, art, and music. But Kingston is most famous for its birth of reggae music which is celebrated every February and the city has the most recording studios per square capita in the world. It further received recognition in 2015 when Kingston was named a UNESCO Creative City of Music. Before you enjoy the fetes, or parties, each night, be sure to check out the Bob Marley Museum. For those that like to enjoy the culture through cuisine, plan a visit around the Blue Mountain Culinary Trail. This trail is a combination of about 15 eateries, coffee farms and mountain views. After a perfect lunch, consider stopping into the National Gallery to enjoy Jamaican art. This museum is the largest public art museum in the English-speaking Caribbean.
Port Antonio is defined by nature and is locally referred to affectionately as “Portie.” Through its rains and lush greenery, it was established for its coconut and banana exports along its rivers. This is also where much of Jamaica’s history with the Maroons began, the descendants of escaped slaves who established free communities in the mountains. You can learn more about their history at the Charles Town Museum and Asafu Yard. The ideal place to ponder all that history is on a boat tour to the Blue Lagoon. This magnificent lagoon is breathtaking with its perfect blue color caused by its near 200-foot depth. Another beautiful Instagram-worthy spot is Reach Falls on Driver’s River. The adventurous surfer staying in the quaint town can enjoy the waves off Long Bay Beach.
Ocho Rios is where most of the adventure options are located between the Caribbean Sea and the Blue Mountains. Bob Marley fans can participate in a tour of Nine Mile, the small village where he was both born and buried. The active traveler can zipline or bobsled down Mystic Mountain. The curious can go underground to see the Green Grotto Caves full of hidden waterfalls, stalagmites, and stalactites. This cave was even once used as hideouts by Spaniards and then by smugglers running arms to Cuba. The must-do activity in Ocho Rios is to climb the famous Dunn’s River Falls. Form a human chain to help each other up the falls before you relax for the afternoon.
Montego Bay is the resort city set by the sea. Some call it Mo Bay for short. This is the area most known to visitors looking for a great all-inclusive resort with the white sandy beach or a great golf course. You can enjoy great history when you visit the Rose Hall Great House where infamous Annie Palmer lived to torture her husbands and slaves, Johnny Cash fans can visit his home at Cinnamon Hill Great House, and swing by Sam Sharpe Square to see the statue of the man that helped lead the Christmas Rebellion of 1831 to fight for slaves’ freedom. For those that are looking for a simple, relaxing way to connect with nature, a ride down the Martha Brae River on a guided bamboo raft may be the perfect activity.
Negril, on the western tip of the island is where people go for romance and relaxation. This area became a popular place for backpackers and hippies to visit beginning in the 1960s and their lifestyle stuck around the area for decades to follow. Negril is home to the famous Seven Mile Beach which offers the quintessential white sandy beach and clear water. Lovers can enjoy the perfect island sunset on the west end cliffs after you sometimes find cliff jumpers there performing jumps from eight to forty feet. And the more adventurous visitors can cliff jump too. This is also the best place in the island to plan your scuba, snorkel, and deep-sea fishing excursions.
South Coast is the most low-key section of the island and is considered to be “off the beaten path.” Consider this part of the island if you want to disconnect from the hustle of everyday life. South Coast is mostly defined by its mountains and quaint villages. And these villages work hard to protect their wildlife with the Galleon Fish Sanctuary and Fonthill Beach Park and Wildlife Sanctuary. Connect with wildlife on a safari tour on the Black River or enjoy seven different cascading waterfalls in the YS Falls.
Jamaica is an island easily accessible by air or cruise ship and has so much to offer that this island will not disappoint. You could have a great 10-night vacation that covers each of the six distinct areas. Prefer a long weekend getaway that focuses on just one? We would love to help you determine which area best fits your travel style.