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It's easy to wax lyrical about Jamaica. From the glorious glow of its sunsets, to the unique and engaging ways of its people, its alluring white sandy beaches, lush green mountains and sparkling waterfalls. The beauty of this island paradise has drawn visitors for centuries.
Historically, only the wealthy could enjoy the unspoiled tropical delights of the island. Today, the northern and western coastlines of the island are stacked with tourist resorts and 'all-inclusive' hotels. Natural attractions have been commercialised to cope with the crowds, but somehow this has not spoiled Jamaica. It still presents a magnificent kaleidoscope of colour and beauty that makes holidaymakers sad to leave, and vow to return.
The name Jamaica originates from the pre-colonial native inhabitants of the area, the Arawak Indians, to whom meant 'land of wood and water'. There is little left of the Indian culture after years of Spanish and British rule. Independence came in 1962 to the Jamaican people, who are now a warm blend of different cultures and nationalities.
The Jamaican people are heavily reliant on tourism for their living. Fortunately, they have plenty to offer. This tiny island was home to the one and only Bob Marley. It was here that Ian Fleming wrote his James Bond novels. The clear waters and colourful reefs are perfect for scuba diving or snorkeling. There are fascinating historical sites such as plantations and old Georgian architecture. Everyone will be able to savour the spirit of Jamaica, which is as rich as the lilt of the local patois and the rhythms of the reggae music for which the island is famous.
Jamaica has a fascinating and diverse range of attractions. Kingston, the chaotic capital city, fronts the world's seventh largest natural harbour. Visitors can take in the sights of Spanish Town or visit the former home of Bob Marley. Across the bay lies Port Royal, a notorious pirate haven from the 17th century, once renowned as the 'richest and wickedest city in the world'. Boat trips to the coral reefs at Lime Cay leave from the port. Adventurous souls can also take a predawn hike up Blue Mountain for an unmissable sunrise.
Montego Bay is home to the clear turquoise waters of Doctor's Cove Beach. Visitors here can experience a true taste of local culture in the busy, noisy bustle of downtown life. Further east lies Ocho Rios, where Ian Fleming wrote his James Bond novels. This popular destination for cruise ships also lies close to Dolphin Cove, the incredible Dunn's River Falls, and the Green Grotto Caves.
Tucked away on the east of the island is Port Antonio, the secluded retreat of the rich and famous. Navy Island boasts gold sands and its very own rainforest, while fans of the movie Blue Lagoon will find the actual site near Port Antonio.
To the west lies the beautiful town of Negril, with its famous Seven Mile Beach stretching up the coast. Perched up on the cliffs is Ricks Cafe, one of the top bars in the world, serving great food, rum cocktails and a truly homegrown reggae vibe.
Jamaica's most famous son, singer and songwriter Bob Marley, was responsible for making reggae music a global phenomenon. The popular Rastafarian became a cult figure even before his death in 1981, caused by cancer when he was only 36 years old.
This museum devoted to his memory is one of the most popular attractions in Kingston. It is the simple clapboard house where Marley lived and recorded his music until he died, and is now packed with Marley memorabilia. There are also screenings of a movie about the singer's life. Memorabilia on show includes Marley's guitar, his old blue jeep, and a number of his awards.
Even for those who aren't big Marley fans, his music was deeply influenced by the social issues of Jamaica during his lifetime and it gives insight into the culture of the country. It is hard to visit Kingston without wanting to pay tribute to the iconic musician.
Kingston's National Gallery displays the works of Jamaica's talented artists, particularly that of Edna Manley (19th-century sculptor and the wife of a former prime minister of Jamaica) and other artists who have been inspired by her work.
Manley's acclaimed stands in the main lobby, along with a bronze statue by Christopher Gonzalez of reggae singer Bob Marley. Other highlights include the religious works of Mallica Reynolds, who has been hailed by art critics as a modern genius. The collection gives the viewer some interesting insights into Jamaican history and culture.
The downstairs area is used for temporary exhibitions and the permanent collection is upstairs. There is a small gift shop which sells some prints and other good gifts, and a coffee shop for refreshments. Photography is not allowed in the gallery. Entrance is free for all but donations are encouraged.
This 20-hectare (50-acre) oasis of beauty in the middle of downtown Kingston is the largest botanical garden in the West Indies. Inside, paths meander past manicured lawns and tranquil gardens, including a cactus garden, orchid house, a forest garden and an ornamental pond. The gardens also contain a zoo, where children will enjoy interacting with the animals.
It is ideal to combine a quick exploration of the zoo with a picnic in the lovely gardens. The gardens are often included in birding tours of Jamaica because they offer an interesting overlap of urban and natural habitats. Although parts of the gardens can get crowded at times - and there are frequently weddings and other events at the venue - it is always possible to find a peaceful nook.
The neighbourhood known as Spanish Town is on the western outskirts of Kingston, and was capital of the island under Spanish rule between 1662 and 1872. Today the architecture is an interesting mix of Spanish and British Georgian, and there are some historic attractions to explore.
St James Cathedral is the oldest Anglican church outside England, having been built in 1523. Another landmark is the Old Iron Bridge, a cast-iron bridge spanning the Rio Colbre erected in 1801. The Jamaican People's Museum of Crafts and Technology showcases some vintage farm implements, musical instruments and pottery, giving an insight into the traditional lifestyle of the Jamaican people. Town Square is overlooked by the Old King's House, the former residence of Jamaica's British governors.
Spanish Town also has a colourful local market in the Town Square. It's an interesting and historic area to wander through and is best tackled on foot.
Port Royal was once a 17th-century haven for hedonistic pirates and malcontents dedicated to looting Spanish vessels throughout the Caribbean, until it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1692. Today, the former haunt of notorious pirates like Henry Morgan, Blackbeard and Calico Jack is just a fishing village, situated at the tip of a narrow peninsula stretching across the entrance to Kingston's harbour.
Relics of the town's wicked past can be seen at the Museum of Historical Archaeology, the Maritime Museum and Giddy House (a building that tilts at an angle). Fort Charles is the last remaining of six forts originally built to protect the port. A highlight of the fort is entering the old prison cells where the pirate prisoners must once have languished.
There is a restaurant, known for its great seafood, that overlooks the harbour. The village can be reached by ferry from West Beach Dock, Kingston, in about 20 minutes.
Towering across eastern Jamaica, the 28-mile (45km) long mountain range seems constantly shrouded in a mist that gives the mountains their bluish colour. The John Crow National Park, at the base of the mountains, was established to preserve the diverse range of species that call the Blue Mountains home. Among them are more than 800 endemic plant species, 200 bird species and 500 flowering plant varieties as well as the world's second-largest variety of butterflies.
The coffee that is grown on the slopes is world-renowned and visitors can organise tours of some of the larger coffee estates. Visitors to the Blue Mountains can climb the highest peak by way of the Peak Trail, which starts at Abbey Green. Most hikers spend a night in one of the cabins on the mountain. Local advice or guides are highly recommended. Bicycle tours of the Blue Mountains can also be arranged, and are a great way to explore the foothills.
In the Blue Mountain hamlet of Mavis Bank, on the trail to Blue Mountain Peak, lies the Jablum Coffee Company.
The coffee factory was built in 1923 and has remained a family-run business for generations. The production of Blue Mountain coffee dates back to the early 18th century when, in 1728, coffee seedlings were first brought to Jamaica by the British Governor. The plant thrived in the Blue Mountain region and the trade was enthusiastically cultivated by freed slaves who started new lives in the mountains. Today, Blue Mountain coffee is highly acclaimed and sought-after by coffee aficionados the world over.
Visitors can tour the working factory to watch the production process along with sampling the brew. Tours must be arranged in advance. The Jablum Coffee Company sells a variety of coffee merchandise (including antique coffee grinders and mills) and a visit is a treat for coffee lovers.
The story of Montego Bay's most famous beach began in 1906, when a group of doctors decided to found a bathing club on a beach property donated for the purpose by Dr Alexander James McCatty. Access to the small beach at the time was through a cave - hence the name Doctor's Cave. The cave was destroyed in 1932 in a fierce hurricane, but the bathing club has lived on and the beach has become legendary.
The water is warm and crystal clear, and Sir Herbert Barker, well-known British osteopath, claimed back in the 1920s that the waters of the beach have curative powers, which made the bathing spot even more alluring for foreign visitors.
Today, access to the beach, which is located in the middle of Montego Bay's 'Hip Strip' is controlled through a smart entrance way and a complex of changing rooms, showers, gift shops, and the 'Groovy Grouper' beach bar.
Legend has it that the stunningly beautiful Annie Palmer was murdered at the Rose Hall Great House in 1831, but not before she had rid herself of three husbands (allegedly by using voodoo magic). Annie herself was killed during a slave uprising on the estate, brought about by her battle with a slave girl for the love of the estate supervisor. Annie is now known as the 'White Witch of Rose Hall'.
The house, originally built in 1780, was abandoned for many years, but has now been restored. A gift shop and pub are in operation in the dungeon, where the white witch is said to have imprisoned and tortured slave victims. Investigation into the ghost story suggests that Annie Palmer is fictional, as there never was a mistress of Rose Hall by that name. However, the story endures powerfully in the local imagination and makes exploring this wonderful house quite spooky, especially on a night time candlelit tour.
The Montego Bay Marine Park is proclaimed to protect some of Jamaica's best coral reefs and marine resources. The park is divided into zones where different activities (for example various watersports and fishing) are allowed or restricted. The park's resource centre is found at Pier One Marina on the waterfront in downtown Montego Bay, and provides information about the park, and ecological presentations. Private operators also run undersea submersible tours of the reefs.
The marine park offers wonderful scuba diving and snorkelling. Venomous Lionfish have become common in the park and although they are beautiful visitors are warned not to touch them as contact with the poisonous spines is painful and in rare cases can cause convulsions or paralysis. A really fun way to explore is to swim/snorkel out from Doctor's Cave Beach or Sunset Beach. This should only be attempted by experienced swimmers, who should have either a diver's flag or a bright life vest.
The old Georgian port town of Falmouth makes for an interesting visit. The centre of the town is Water Square, which features a market full of little craft stalls that dates from 1895. Also of interest is the former residence of John Tharp, a notorious slave-owner, and the town house of rich plantation owner Edward Barrett. St Peter's Anglican Church, and the William Knibb Memorial Church (a chapel built in memory of Jamaica's enthusiastic Baptist abolitionist) are also worth a look. The best way to explore this historic town is on a walking tour with one of the well-informed local guides.
Besides the cultural attractions there are lovely beaches to roam and laze on. For the adventurous, there are river rapids and canopy jungle tours to be enjoyed just outside of the town. The famous Jamaican attractions of Dunn's River Falls and Dolphin Cove are also good excursions to combine with a trip to Falmouth.
Jamaica's national hero, Samuel Sharpe - the slave who led the bloody 'Christmas Rebellion' of 1831 and helped to expedite the emancipation of Jamaica - was born on this still-working plantation in the interior, 24 miles (39km) from Montego Bay.
Guided tours of the Croydon coffee and pineapple plantation run from Montego Bay, and have become a must-see for every visitor to the island. Visitors gain some interesting insights into the history and processes of coffee and pineapple production, as well as the chance to savour some of Jamaica's exotic fruits. One of the highlights is just the location, which is beautiful. A delicious meal is served at the end of the tour and the owner of the plantation often makes an appearance.
Transport to and from the main Montego Bay hotels and the Grand Palladium Resort in Hanover is provided by the plantation.
Near the centre of Ocho Rios lies the popular beach and waterfall attraction of Dunn's River. The waterfall cascades down 600ft (183m), forming cool pools among slippery rocks. A favourite tourist pursuit is to climb to the top of the falls with a guide, enjoying being splashed by the cold, clear mountain water en route. Water shoes are a good idea because the rocks can be very slippery, but people of all ages manage the activity and one can turn back and climb down at any stage.
Alongside the Dunn's River Falls in Ocho Rios is Dolphin Cove, where visitors can swim with a family of bottlenose dolphins. The natural cove is surrounded by four acres of lush tropical rain forest, and is also home to species such as rays, eels, sharks, and tropical birds like the macaw. Swimming with the dolphins is a profound experience that makes it onto many people's bucket lists.
One of Jamaica's most prominent natural attractions, the huge, labyrinthine limestone cave is 5,000 feet (1,524m) long and characterised by stalactites, stalagmites, overhead ceiling pockets, numerous chambers, light holes, and a subterranean lake in its depths.
The caves have played an important role in Jamaican history: the island's original inhabitants, the Arawak Indians, used them for shelter; they were used as a hideout for Spaniards during the British take-over; they were a natural haven for runaway slaves; the Jamaican government used them to store barrels of rum during World War II; and they were even used as a den for smugglers running arms to Cuba. They were also used as a setting for scenes from the 1973 James Bond film,
Located just a short distance from Runaway Bay, the history and natural features makes this a fascinating excursion for adults and children alike.
Firefly cottage, on the cliff above Port Maria, was the holiday retreat of famed British playwright and composer Sir Noel Coward.
Coward died in 1973 and the house is now a national monument which has been preserved almost exactly as Coward left it, complete with two grand pianos on which he composed some famous tunes. Seeing all his belongings and the place he lived and wrote is a big thrill for his fans, but the place is delightful even for those who don't know him because of the spectacular coastal views. Coward is buried in the garden under a simple marble gravestone and there is a statue of him in the grounds.
The cottage is off the beaten track, and the lack of crowds adds to the its charm. There is a small bar at Firefly, so you can enjoy a drink while admiring the view.
The reason for Negril's recent boom as a tourist destination is centred on this seven-mile (11km) stretch of beautiful shoreline, dotted with palm trees and carpeted with pristine white sand. Development has been restricted to palm-tree height, and despite the proliferation of guesthouses and hotels along the strip the natural beauty of the beach has not been compromised.
There are lots of restaurants, resorts and shops along the beachfront but thankfully the length of the beach usually prevents it from becoming too crowded. There are myriad activities and watersports available at the beach and the snorkelling is wonderful. Although obviously not suited to those who like remote and secluded beaches, Seven Mile beach is a fun, vibrant and exceptionally pretty place to spend the day. Walking the length of the shore is a good way to enjoy everything it has to offer.
The beautiful estate of Rhodes Hall Plantation lies a short distance east of Negril. Here guided horseback excursions give a glimpse of the magic and mystery of the Jamaican countryside. Guides give some basic horsemanship tips and then take tourists off through the foothills, pointing out botanical wonders and regaling riders with stories and legends about local landmarks.
Visitors are taken through forests of banana and coconut palms, and along a beach to the Crocodile River, where hopefully groups can 'meet' one of the resident crocodiles. Swimming gear is a must, as the horses like to head into the surf. The riding tours last from half an hour to two hours, and are inclusive in the round-trip transportation from any hotel in the Negril area.
There is a restaurant and a gift shop on the plantation. Children are welcome and will love this excursion, but only children over six can ride.
The 22 mini-cascades and numerous swimming holes that make up the Mayfield Falls in the low-lying Dolphin Head Mountains make a memorable day trip from Negril. Tours offer guided walks through bamboo-shaded cool water holes and splashing falls. Swimwear and mosquito repellent are highly recommended, as are waterproof shoes.
Some parts of the walk through the area involve natural whirlpools; in others, blasts of water hit you from the rocks. There is an underwater cave to swim through, smooth rockslide areas and mini cliffs to dive from for the adventurous. This natural water park is edged and overhung with bamboo, flowers, vines, trees and shrubbery.
Jamaican dishes are available at the eatery at the entry point, where tourists can order meals before setting off. There are also a number of stalls selling souvenirs and crafts at the end of the trail.
Nestling in the sugar cane fields of St Elizabeth parish, the Appleton Rum Estate near the village of Magotty offers visitors the chance to find out all there is to know about the production of rum. There is a small museum with equipment and artifacts from days gone by, and a resident donkey to demonstrate how sugar cane used to be crushed by turning the teeth of the mill.
Visitors are shown how the sugar cane is harvested, processed to be distilled in handmade oak barrels, and finally blended and bottled. Thirsty tourists can end off their visit at the tavern to sample the estate's rums and liqueurs. Tours also usually include a complimentary bottle of rum. The guides are friendly and extremely proud of their product.
Note that the roads to the estate are rather hair-raising, although they wind through some lovely scenery. Photos are not allowed at certain stages of the tour because Appletons wants to preserve some of its secrets!
Black River town, once an influential producer of black textile dye, is now a stop off point for tourists looking to take a boat safari on the Black River itself. At 44 miles (71km), this is Jamaica's longest river, and gets its name from the peat moss on the river floor which makes the crystal clear waters appear black.
90-minute boat tours take in the 125-square-mile (324 sq km) area of wetland known as the Great Morass, which is home to crocodiles and diverse birdlife. The excursion allows visitors to explore the wetlands and mangrove swamps along the river banks.
The crocodiles are the main attraction for most visitors. Many tours include a visit to the crocodile rehabilitation centre. However, the clear waters mean visitors are likely to get a good view of the crocs in their natural habitat.
Devon House in Kingston is a prime example of Jamaican Georgian architecture. The house was built by Jamaica's first black millionaire, George Stiebel, at the end of the 19th Century. It's furnished with a number of antiques and evokes the feel of a 'Jamaican Great House'.
Devon House is a national monument, but also a heritage centre aiming to promote local arts and crafts and keep Jamaican traditions alive. The ice-cream sold here is famous and the dozens of flavours on offer frequently pop up in tourist reviews. There are also baked goods, liqueurs and wines, coffee, cigars, spices, arts and crafts, clothes and much more on sale. The Norma's on the Terrace restaurant comes very highly recommended for sampling Jamaican cuisine.
Devon House also prides itself on maintaining a peaceful and lovely green area in the centre of the city and the gardens are open to the public free of charge.
Blue Lagoon was renamed in honour of the movie which made it famous, and is one of the most scenic spots in Jamaica. It is fed by underground mineral springs, and is believed by many to be bottomless, although divers have discovered that it is about 185 feet (56m) deep. Surrounded by steep, green hillsides, the Blue Lagoon is a wonderful place to swim if one chooses to ignore the tales of sea monsters deep below the surface that are circulated by locals.
The colour of the water, which is the lagoon's most alluring feature, changes throughout the day depending on light and weather and makes for some stunning photographs. It is also interesting to feel the mixture of the warm water from the Caribbean and the icy cold water from the underground springs.
The lagoon is only a 20-minute drive from Port Antonio, and some choose to hike the distance. Once there, visitors can hire a local boatman to take them to the best swimming spots.
Reach Falls, on the Driver's River, is a strong contender for the title of 'most beautiful place in Jamaica'. A series of cascades tumble into pool after pool of clear, green water, and the main falls thunder into a pool deep enough to dive into. The vegetation on the banks is lush and beautiful and the area remains pristine despite its popularity.
Tour guides are a must, but most guides allow visitors plenty of privacy and time to enjoy the various pools and sights. For adventurous souls, there are some amazing caves to clamber through at the top of the series of falls. For the less adventurous, just walking around and enjoying the astonishing natural scenery will be a fantastic experience. Weekdays are the best time to visit for tourists who want to explore without the crowds.
The Rio Grande has been used since 1911 as a means of transporting goods by bamboo rafts from the Rio Grande Valley to St Margeret's Bay. Today, bamboo rafting trips are a major tourist attraction, offering an experience that showcases the natural beauty that the Portland area has to offer.
Trips last between two and three hours, and the 30-foot (9m) rafts can carry two passengers and are steered by skilled raftsmen who also act as guides. Rafts can be boarded at Berrydale or Grant's Level and end at the mouth of the Rio Grande at St Margaret's Bay.
The guides are extremely knowledgeable and encourage questions and conversation - they may even give lessons in managing the raft. Swimwear is a must for some great swimming opportunities. A very popular addition to this rafting experience is a meal cooked on the riverbank over open fires at Belinda's Restaurant.
Port Antonio has some of Jamaica's most beautiful beaches. One of the region's prettiest beaches is Frenchman's Cove, with its clear waters and white sand. San San Beach is a private strip of sand that has warm and shallow waters, and some offshore reefs that are ideal for snorkelling. In winter the waves make this the perfect spot to windsurf.
The secluded cove at Boston Bay is perhaps more famous for its jerk stands than its public beach, with food stalls lining the road that serve jerk in all its forms. The waves, however, have raised its status as one of the best beaches in Jamaica for windsurfing.
Winnifred Beach is beautiful and still relatively off the beaten track by Jamaican standards. There is excellent snorkelling at Winnifred but it is best to wear some water shoes to avoid the spiky urchins.
The popular Rain Forest Adventures centre (or Mystic Mountain Amusement Park) offers a number of different adventures. Visitors can zip-line through the treetops; take the Sky Explorer chairlift for spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and beaches; enjoy an infinity pool and water slide; and wander through the Butterfly Garden and Hummingbird Garden for a rest from thrills. For a bobsled ride with a difference, Bobsled Jamaica offers visitors a plunge through the rainforests with wonderful twists and turns.
The park is safe and well-maintained with wonderfully friendly and competent staff. All the activities come highly recommended by previous visitors. The centre also has some shops and stalls, a restaurant, and locker facilities for storing bags and valuables. The park offers a great variety of things to do, and visitors to Jamaica should definitely reserve a full day for this fun-filled attraction.
Trips to YS Falls are usually included in organised Black River tours, but the falls are an attraction in their own right and many happy hours can be spent enjoying the pools and lovely scenery. Located on a privately-owned farm, the waterfall is beautiful, with the water flowing over seven tiers to create a spectacular cascade surrounded by jungle and meadow scenery.
Visitors to the falls can go on a relaxing 20-minute tube ride down the river, or float in a lovely natural spring pool. For the more adventurous, there is a thrilling rope swing which propels visitors over one of the deep turquoise pools, and an exciting zip-line tour.
There are plenty of scenic picnic areas and it's ideal to bring some food and spend some time relaxing at the falls. Try to get there early, as the falls are more pleasant when they aren't crowded.
The 'Hip Strip' is undoubtedly Montego Bay's liveliest area, jam packed with sun-seeking visitors from dawn till dusk, and full of wonderful local eateries and relaxed bars where reggae music is the only thing stored in the jukebox. Tourists looking to let loose and have a real rum-fuelled party should check out the surprisingly wild nightclubs of the area.
Craft-sellers, vendors, uncommonly aggressive ladies of the night, and hopeful ganja-dealers abound, so visitors should be mindful of their possessions. However, strolling along the strip and experiencing the vibe, warts and all, is essential on a trip to Montego Bay. This is the perfect place to trawl for souvenirs, enjoy a few cocktails, and meet the locals, many of whom are friendly and willing to dispense advice about what you should see and do in Jamaica.
The Greenwood Great House was built between 1780 and 1800 and is generally regarded as 'the greatest' of Jamaica's Great Houses. It was the residence of Richard Barrett (cousin of renowned poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning) - who is said to have presided over 33,600 hectares and 3,000 slaves. The Greenwood Great House stands as testament to both the grandeur and cruelty that the British brought to the Caribbean.
Greenwood has not undergone extensive renovations, and appears to modern-day visitors largely as it was inhabited. A tour of the House will take in the Barrett's original library (home to some astonishingly rare books), some sombre oil paintings of the family, some fine antique furniture and a collection of unusual musical instruments.
Described as 'the finest antique museum in the Caribbean', an excursion to the Greenwood Great House is highly recommended for visitors to Montego Bay interested in the colonial history of the island. Guided tours are the only way to explore the house and they last about 30 minutes.
Rocklands Bird Sanctuary offers visitors the chance to get up close and personal with the island of Jamaica's wide variety of colourful birdlife. Founded in 1954 by Lisa Salmon (affectionately known as 'the bird lady'), today the sanctuary is managed by the knowledgeable and charming Fritz, a man who is blessed with an almost St Francis-like gift for beckoning birds down from the surrounding boughs.
The highlight of the trip is the opportunity to hand-feed hummingbirds - including the Doctor Bird, Jamaica's national bird - while relaxing in the shade on the Sanctuary's patio. The sanctuary is lush and full of plants and flowers so apart from the bird sighting opportunities it is a lovely place to wander off for a nature walk.
The sanctuary is nearby Montego Bay, but the roads are bad, so many prefer to travel with a tour and an experienced driver.
The Coyaba River Garden and Museum offers and interesting way to spend a couple of hours while on holiday in Ocho Rios. The museum - named after the Arawak word for 'paradise' - has exhibitions detailing Jamaica's history, from its original inhabitants, to the colonialists, and eventually independence in 1962.
There is also a reward for those visitors who make the effort to learn about the country's history. The incredible tropical gardens at the museum are a wonderful surprise. A lush, steamy garden complex, dotted with giant banyan and cedar trees, and natural springs and pools filled with koi fish and turtles, the Coyaba Gardens make for a wonderful daytrip for the entire family. The gardens are also home to the gently-cascading Mahoe Falls, which are particularly fun for the kids to climb.
There is also a gift shop on site, where you can buy local products such as carved figurines, coffee and rum.
Renowned for its perfect beaches and accessible coral reefs, the resort of Runaway Bay is an idyllic, laid-back corner of the Caribbean. Situated just to the west of Ocho Rios, the bay gains its name either from Spanish troops fleeing the British, or from runaway African slaves; no one is really sure which.
What is certainly true is that no one is running away from the spot today. The quiet beaches such as Cardiff Hall Beach and Fisherman's Beach have calm, crystal clear water, perfect for snorkeling. With shallow waters and reefs close to shore, they are also perfect for scuba diving, with 'Shallow Reef' a particularly good spot for beginners. Rustic, open-fronted beach bars serve up rum cocktails and a chilled night out with the locals.
The captivating Green Grotto Caves are nearby, ideally situated for an excursion. Also not far is the village of Nine Mile, the former home of Bob Marley.
Jamaica's climate is tropical with constant warm to hot temperatures all year round, though cooler in the higher, central areas. On the coast temperatures range from 72°F (22°C) and 88°F (31°C). Mornings and evenings are slightly chillier in the winter months but Jamaica is hot year-round. There are variations in climate according to region; for instance, the east coast receives substantially more rain than the rest of the country, and the south coast far less.
The wettest months are between May and November, when short sharp showers can be expected. The heaviest rains occur in September and October and the hurricane season runs from June to November. Even though the powerful Hurricane Ivan made landfall in September 2004, relatively few hurricanes touch Jamaica. The country is also in the earthquake zone.
Due to its tropical climate Jamaica is a popular destination all year, but the best time to visit is between mid-December and mid-April, which is the peak tourist season. If you are travelling on a budget or want to avoid the crowds consider visiting in the rainy season, which has its own charms.
The Jamaican Dollar (JMD) is divided into 100 cents. The island is well supplied with ATMs, banks and bureaux de change. Banking hours are usually Monday to Thursday from 9am to 2pm, and Friday from 9am to 4pm. Cambio exchange offices are found throughout the country, open later than banks and often offering better exchange rates. Retain receipts as proof of legal currency exchange. Exchange bureaux at the airports and hotels also offer better rates than banks. Major credit cards are widely accepted. Cash is best taken in US Dollars.
The official language of Jamaica is English but a local patois is also spoken, a mixture of English, Spanish, and various African languages.
Electrical current is 110 volts, 50Hz. Flat two- and three-pin plugs are in use.
US nationals: US citizens must have a passport to enter Jamaica that has to be valid upon their return to the USA. A visa is required for stays longer than 6 months.
UK nationals: British citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period of intended stay in Jamaica. No visa is required for British passport holders, except for holders of passports endorsed 'British Overseas Territory Citizen' issued to residents of the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands, who may obtain a tourist visa on arrival for a fee.
CA nationals: Canadian citizens require a passport valid for period of intended stay. No visa is required.
AU nationals: Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period of intended stay in Jamaica. No visa is required.
ZA nationals: South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period of intended stay in Jamaica. No visa is required.
IR nationals: Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period of intended stay in Jamaica. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
NZ nationals: New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid for the period of intended stay in Jamaica. No visa is required.
All foreign visitors to Jamaica must hold proof of sufficient funds to cover their expenses while in the country, return/onward tickets to their country of permanent residence, and the necessary travel documentation for this next destination. Note that a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required to enter Jamaica, if arriving within six days of leaving or transiting through an infected area. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Dengue fever is a risk in Jamaica so visitors should take measures to protect against insect bites. No vaccination certificates are needed for entry into Jamaica, but yellow fever certificates are required for travellers coming from an infected area. Vaccinations for hepatitis A and hepatitis B are recommended for travel to Jamaica.
Although generally safe, the tap water can cause stomach upsets and visitors are advised to drink bottled water if on short trips. Private medical facilities are of a reasonable standard but can vary throughout the island, and facilities are limited outside Kingston and Montego Bay. Medical treatment can be expensive so insurance is advised. If you require prescription medication it is best to take it with you, with a signed and dated letter from your doctor naming the medication and explaining why you need it.
Outside the all-inclusive resorts in Jamaica, where tips are part of the package, visitors should tip 10 to 15 percent for taxis, personal services, room service and restaurants where a service charge is not already included in the bill. Parking attendants, bellboys and porters also expect a small tip.
Over 200,000 British tourists visited Jamaica last year, with the majority of visits being trouble free. However, there have been some issues recently with incidents of petty crime such as robbery, particularly in the capital city of Kingston and in Montego Bay. Tourists are advised to be cautions and take care of their belongings. It is best to avoid using buses at night. It is also best to avoid any public demonstrations that may occur.
Jamaica is classified as having a risk of Zika virus transmission. It may be wise to seek the advice of health professionals before travel.
Hurricane season runs from June to November. While it is rare for tropical storms to make landfall in Jamaica, visitors travelling at this time should monitor local and international weather updates for peace of mind.
Contrary to popular belief, smoking ganja (marijuana) is illegal in Jamaica. Homosexuality is also prohibited by law, and the country is notorious for its intolerance towards it.
Business in Jamaica is surprisingly formal, with proper titles used and suits and ties the norm despite the tropical climate. Introductions are usually made with a handshake and an exchange of business cards. Punctuality is key, and socialising is an important aspect of the business meeting. Business hours are usually from 8:30am to 4:30pm or 5pm on weekdays.
The international access code for Jamaica is +1, in common with the US, Canada and most of the Caribbean, followed by 876.
Direct international telephone services are available, and operators can also facilitate calls. Wifi is available in the main towns and resorts, and internet access is also available from most hotels and parish libraries.
Travellers to Jamaica over 18 years do not have to pay duty on 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 230g of other tobacco products; 1L alcoholic beverages and wine; and perfume up to 170ml. Prohibited items include products made from goatskin (e.g. drums, handbags and rugs).
Jamaican Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 452 0660.
Jamaica High Commission, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7823 9911.
Jamaican High Commission, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 233 9311.
Jamaican Embassy, Sydney +61 04 0220 5266.
Jamaican High Commission, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 362 6667
Jamaican Embassy, Brussels, Belgium (also responsible for Ireland): +32 2 230 1170.
United States Embassy, Kingston: +1 876 702 6000.
British High Commission, Kingston: +1 876 936 0700
Canadian High Commission, Kingston: +1 876 926 1500.
Australian High Commission, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago (also responsible for Jamaica): +1 868 822 5450.
South African High Commission, Kingston: + 1 876 620 4840.
Irish Embassy, Ottawa, Canada (also responsible for Jamaica): +1 613 233 6281.
New Zealand High Commission, Ottawa, Canada (also responsible for Jamaica): +1 613 238 5991.
Reggae music fans the world over make the pilgrimage to the famed singer/songwriter's grave site at the village of Nine Mile, where Marley was born. The two-room shack in which he lived is open to view as a sort of museum and memorial, filled with memorabilia, and alongside it is the mausoleum in which Marley and his half-brother are buried.
Visitors can sit on Marley's meditation spot, resting their heads on the rock 'pillow' he mentions in his song lyrics. The site also has a vegetarian restaurant and small shop. Reggae concerts are held at Nine Mile each year on 6 February, Marley's birthday.
Many tourists in Jamaica miss out on the beauty of the rural, inland regions because they tend to stick to the coast, so this excursion is also a great way to explore the lovely scenery around Nine Mile and Mount Zion.
Fans of 007 will not want to miss a visit to James Bond Beach, where the 1962 film launched the career of Sean Connery. The pristine stretch of white sand, surrounded by lush mountains and crystalline waters, is located just 20 minutes from Ochos Rios and is a great place to escape the crowds. A great way to visit is via boat from one of the resorts nearby. Glass-bottomed boat tours from the beach are also a fun way to explore the coastline, with opportunities to see turtles and other marine life.
Those looking for a bit of excitement should catch a 'waverunner' tour past the famous Golden Eye villa, where Ian Fleming wrote the James Bond novels. Visitors can then head to Moonraker Jamaican Bar & Grill for a bite to eat with stunning views and good local food.
Just seven miles (11km) from Ocho Rios, lies the scenic and wonderfully relaxing White River Valley, a green, lush area, with the susurrus sound of the river mixing with birdsong in the air.
Most popular among the activities on offer is a tube ride down the river. There are a few exciting rapids but mostly it is just a relaxing float down the river through stunning scenery. It's a very safe excursion and suitable for all ages making it a great family activity. Adventurous tourists can also enjoy zip-lining, forest walks, bird-watching and more in the valley. On Tuesday and Sunday nights, visitors can sign up for an 'Exotic Night on the White River', where flaming torches create the perfect ambience for a romantic dinner by the riverside.
The White River Valley is also home to a Reggae Park, predictably popular among local music enthusiasts.
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