It's easy to wax lyrical about Jamaica. From the glorious glowof its sunsets, to the unique and engaging ways of its people, itsalluring white sandy beaches, lush green mountains and sparklingwaterfalls. The beauty of this island paradise has drawn visitorsfor centuries.
Historically, only the wealthy could enjoy the unspoiledtropical delights of the island. Today, the northern and westerncoastlines of the island are stacked with tourist resorts and'all-inclusive' hotels. Natural attractions have beencommercialised to cope with the crowds, but somehow this has notspoiled Jamaica. It still presents a magnificent kaleidoscope ofcolour and beauty that makes holidaymakers sad to leave, and vow toreturn.
The name Jamaica originates from the pre-colonial nativeinhabitants of the area, the Arawak Indians, to whom meant 'land of wood and water'. There is littleleft of the Indian culture after years of Spanish and British rule.Independence came in 1962 to the Jamaican people, who are now awarm blend of different cultures and nationalities.
The Jamaican people are heavily reliant on tourism for theirliving. Fortunately, they have plenty to offer. This tiny islandwas home to the one and only Bob Marley. It was here that IanFleming wrote his James Bond novels. The clear waters and colourfulreefs are perfect for scuba diving or snorkeling. There arefascinating historical sites such as plantations and old Georgianarchitecture. Everyone will be able to savour the spirit ofJamaica, which is as rich as the lilt of the local patois and therhythms 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 seventhlargest natural harbour. Visitors can take in the sights of SpanishTown or visit the former home of Bob Marley. Across the bay liesPort Royal, a notorious pirate haven from the 17th century, oncerenowned as the 'richest and wickedest city in the world'. Boattrips to the coral reefs at Lime Cay leave from the port.Adventurous souls can also take a predawn hike up Blue Mountain foran unmissable sunrise.
Montego Bay is home to the clear turquoise waters ofDoctor's Cove Beach. Visitors here can experience a true taste oflocal culture in the busy, noisy bustle of downtown life. Furthereast lies Ocho Rios, where Ian Fleming wrote his James Bond novels.This popular destination for cruise ships also lies close toDolphin Cove, the incredible Dunn's River Falls, and the GreenGrotto Caves.
Tucked away on the east of the island is PortAntonio, the secluded retreat of the rich and famous. Navy Islandboasts gold sands and its very own rainforest, while fans of themovie Blue Lagoon will find the actual site near Port Antonio.
To the west lies the beautiful town of Negril, withits famous Seven Mile Beach stretching up the coast. Perched up onthe cliffs is Ricks Cafe, one of the top bars in the world, servinggreat food, rum cocktails and a truly homegrown reggae vibe.
Jamaica's most famous son, singer and songwriter Bob Marley, wasresponsible for making reggae music a global phenomenon. Thepopular Rastafarian became a cult figure even before his death in1981, caused by cancer when he was only 36 years old.
This museum devoted to his memory is one of the mostpopular attractions in Kingston. It is the simple clapboard housewhere Marley lived and recorded his music until he died, and is nowpacked with Marley memorabilia. There are also screenings of amovie about the singer's life. Memorabilia on show includesMarley's guitar, his old blue jeep, and a number of his awards.
Even for those who aren't big Marley fans, his musicwas deeply influenced by the social issues of Jamaica during hislifetime and it gives insight into the culture of the country. Itis hard to visit Kingston without wanting to pay tribute to theiconic musician.
Kingston's National Gallery displays the works of Jamaica'stalented artists, particularly that of Edna Manley (19th-centurysculptor and the wife of a former prime minister of Jamaica) andother artists who have been inspired by her work.
Manley's acclaimed stands in the main lobby, along with a bronzestatue by Christopher Gonzalez of reggae singer Bob Marley. Otherhighlights include the religious works of Mallica Reynolds, who hasbeen hailed by art critics as a modern genius. The collection givesthe viewer some interesting insights into Jamaican history andculture.
The downstairs area is used for temporary exhibitionsand the permanent collection is upstairs. There is a small giftshop which sells some prints and other good gifts, and a coffeeshop 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 ofdowntown Kingston is the largest botanical garden in the WestIndies. Inside, paths meander past manicured lawns and tranquilgardens, including a cactus garden, orchid house, a forest gardenand an ornamental pond. The gardens also contain a zoo, wherechildren will enjoy interacting with the animals.
It is ideal to combine a quick exploration of the zoowith a picnic in the lovely gardens. The gardens are often includedin birding tours of Jamaica because they offer an interestingoverlap of urban and natural habitats. Although parts of thegardens can get crowded at times - and there are frequentlyweddings and other events at the venue - it is always possible tofind a peaceful nook.
The neighbourhood known as Spanish Town is on the westernoutskirts of Kingston, and was capital of the island under Spanishrule between 1662 and 1872. Today the architecture is aninteresting mix of Spanish and British Georgian, and there are somehistoric attractions to explore.
St James Cathedral is the oldest Anglican churchoutside England, having been built in 1523. Another landmark is theOld Iron Bridge, a cast-iron bridge spanning the Rio Colbre erectedin 1801. The Jamaican People's Museum of Crafts and Technologyshowcases some vintage farm implements, musical instruments andpottery, giving an insight into the traditional lifestyle of theJamaican 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 theTown Square. It's an interesting and historic area to wanderthrough and is best tackled on foot.
Port Royal was once a 17th-century haven for hedonistic piratesand malcontents dedicated to looting Spanish vessels throughout theCaribbean, until it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1692. Today,the former haunt of notorious pirates like Henry Morgan, Blackbeardand Calico Jack is just a fishing village, situated at the tip of anarrow peninsula stretching across the entrance to Kingston'sharbour.
Relics of the town's wicked past can be seen at theMuseum of Historical Archaeology, the Maritime Museum and GiddyHouse (a building that tilts at an angle). Fort Charles is the lastremaining of six forts originally built to protect the port. Ahighlight of the fort is entering the old prison cells where thepirate prisoners must once have languished.
There is a restaurant, known for its great seafood,that overlooks the harbour. The village can be reached by ferryfrom West Beach Dock, Kingston, in about 20 minutes.
Towering across eastern Jamaica, the 28-mile (45km) longmountain range seems constantly shrouded in a mist that gives themountains their bluish colour. The John Crow National Park, at thebase of the mountains, was established to preserve the diverserange of species that call the Blue Mountains home. Among them aremore than 800 endemic plant species, 200 bird species and 500flowering plant varieties as well as the world's second-largestvariety of butterflies.
The coffee that is grown on the slopes isworld-renowned and visitors can organise tours of some of thelarger coffee estates. Visitors to the Blue Mountains can climb thehighest 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 theBlue Mountains can also be arranged, and are a great way to explorethe foothills.
In the Blue Mountain hamlet of Mavis Bank, on the trail to BlueMountain Peak, lies the Jablum Coffee Company.
The coffee factory was built in 1923 and has remaineda family-run business for generations. The production of BlueMountain coffee dates back to the early 18th century when, in 1728,coffee seedlings were first brought to Jamaica by the BritishGovernor. The plant thrived in the Blue Mountain region and thetrade was enthusiastically cultivated by freed slaves who startednew lives in the mountains. Today, Blue Mountain coffee is highlyacclaimed and sought-after by coffee aficionados the worldover.
Visitors can tour the working factory to watch theproduction process along with sampling the brew. Tours must bearranged in advance. The Jablum Coffee Company sells a variety ofcoffee 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, whena group of doctors decided to found a bathing club on a beachproperty donated for the purpose by Dr Alexander James McCatty.Access to the small beach at the time was through a cave - hencethe name Doctor's Cave. The cave was destroyed in 1932 in a fiercehurricane, but the bathing club has lived on and the beach hasbecome legendary.
The water is warm and crystal clear, and Sir HerbertBarker, well-known British osteopath, claimed back in the 1920sthat the waters of the beach have curative powers, which made thebathing spot even more alluring for foreign visitors.
Today, access to the beach, which is located in themiddle of Montego Bay's 'Hip Strip' is controlled through a smartentrance 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 wasmurdered at the Rose Hall Great House in 1831, but not before shehad rid herself of three husbands (allegedly by using voodoomagic). Annie herself was killed during a slave uprising on theestate, brought about by her battle with a slave girl for the loveof the estate supervisor. Annie is now known as the 'White Witch ofRose Hall'.
The house, originally built in 1780, was abandonedfor many years, but has now been restored. A gift shop and pub arein operation in the dungeon, where the white witch is said to haveimprisoned and tortured slave victims. Investigation into the ghoststory suggests that Annie Palmer is fictional, as there never was amistress of Rose Hall by that name. However, the story endurespowerfully in the local imagination and makes exploring thiswonderful house quite spooky, especially on a night time candlelittour.
The Montego Bay Marine Park is proclaimed to protect some ofJamaica's best coral reefs and marine resources. The park isdivided into zones where different activities (for example variouswatersports and fishing) are allowed or restricted. The park'sresource centre is found at Pier One Marina on the waterfront indowntown Montego Bay, and provides information about the park, andecological presentations. Private operators also run underseasubmersible tours of the reefs.
The marine park offers wonderful scuba diving andsnorkelling. Venomous Lionfish have become common in the park andalthough they are beautiful visitors are warned not to touch themas contact with the poisonous spines is painful and in rare casescan cause convulsions or paralysis. A really fun way to explore isto swim/snorkel out from Doctor's Cave Beach or Sunset Beach. Thisshould only be attempted by experienced swimmers, who should haveeither a diver's flag or a bright life vest.
The old Georgian port town of Falmouth makes for an interestingvisit. The centre of the town is Water Square, which features amarket full of little craft stalls that dates from 1895. Also ofinterest is the former residence of John Tharp, a notoriousslave-owner, and the town house of rich plantation owner EdwardBarrett. St Peter's Anglican Church, and the William Knibb MemorialChurch (a chapel built in memory of Jamaica's enthusiastic Baptistabolitionist) are also worth a look. The best way to explore thishistoric town is on a walking tour with one of the well-informedlocal guides.
Besides the cultural attractions there are lovelybeaches to roam and laze on. For the adventurous, there are riverrapids and canopy jungle tours to be enjoyed just outside of thetown. The famous Jamaican attractions of Dunn's River Falls andDolphin Cove are also good excursions to combine with a trip toFalmouth.
Jamaica's national hero, Samuel Sharpe - the slave who led thebloody 'Christmas Rebellion' of 1831 and helped to expedite theemancipation of Jamaica - was born on this still-working plantationin the interior, 24 miles (39km) from Montego Bay.
Guided tours of the Croydon coffee and pineappleplantation run from Montego Bay, and have become a must-see forevery visitor to the island. Visitors gain some interestinginsights into the history and processes of coffee and pineappleproduction, as well as the chance to savour some of Jamaica'sexotic fruits. One of the highlights is just the location, which isbeautiful. A delicious meal is served at the end of the tour andthe owner of the plantation often makes an appearance.
Transport to and from the main Montego Bay hotels andthe Grand Palladium Resort in Hanover is provided by theplantation.
Near the centre of Ocho Rios lies the popular beach andwaterfall attraction of Dunn's River. The waterfall cascades down600ft (183m), forming cool pools among slippery rocks. A favouritetourist 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 backand climb down at any stage.
Alongside the Dunn's River Falls in Ocho Rios isDolphin Cove, where visitors can swim with a family of bottlenosedolphins. The natural cove is surrounded by four acres of lushtropical rain forest, and is also home to species such as rays,eels, sharks, and tropical birds like the macaw. Swimming with thedolphins is a profound experience that makes it onto many people'sbucket lists.
One of Jamaica's most prominent natural attractions, the huge,labyrinthine limestone cave is 5,000 feet (1,524m) long andcharacterised by stalactites, stalagmites, overhead ceilingpockets, numerous chambers, light holes, and a subterranean lake inits depths.
The caves have played an important role in Jamaicanhistory: the island's original inhabitants, the Arawak Indians,used them for shelter; they were used as a hideout for Spaniardsduring the British take-over; they were a natural haven for runawayslaves; the Jamaican government used them to store barrels of rumduring World War II; and they were even used as a den for smugglersrunning arms to Cuba. They were also used as a setting for scenesfrom the 1973 James Bond film,
Located just a short distance from Runaway Bay, thehistory and natural features makes this a fascinating excursion foradults and children alike.
Firefly cottage, on the cliff above Port Maria, was the holidayretreat of famed British playwright and composer Sir NoelCoward.
Coward died in 1973 and the house is now a nationalmonument which has been preserved almost exactly as Coward left it,complete with two grand pianos on which he composed some famoustunes. Seeing all his belongings and the place he lived and wroteis a big thrill for his fans, but the place is delightful even forthose who don't know him because of the spectacular coastal views.Coward is buried in the garden under a simple marble gravestone andthere is a statue of him in the grounds.
The cottage is off the beaten track, and the lack ofcrowds adds to the its charm. There is a small bar at Firefly, soyou can enjoy a drink while admiring the view.
The reason for Negril's recent boom as a tourist destination iscentred 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 despitethe proliferation of guesthouses and hotels along the strip thenatural beauty of the beach has not been compromised.
There are lots of restaurants, resorts and shopsalong the beachfront but thankfully the length of the beach usuallyprevents it from becoming too crowded. There are myriad activitiesand watersports available at the beach and the snorkelling iswonderful. Although obviously not suited to those who like remoteand secluded beaches, Seven Mile beach is a fun, vibrant andexceptionally pretty place to spend the day. Walking the length ofthe shore is a good way to enjoy everything it has to offer.
The beautiful estate of Rhodes Hall Plantation lies a shortdistance east of Negril. Here guided horseback excursions give aglimpse of the magic and mystery of the Jamaican countryside.Guides give some basic horsemanship tips and then take tourists offthrough the foothills, pointing out botanical wonders and regalingriders with stories and legends about local landmarks.
Visitors are taken through forests of banana andcoconut palms, and along a beach to the Crocodile River, wherehopefully 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 areinclusive in the round-trip transportation from any hotel in theNegril area.
There is a restaurant and a gift shop on theplantation. Children are welcome and will love this excursion, butonly children over six can ride.
The 22 mini-cascades and numerous swimming holes that make upthe Mayfield Falls in the low-lying Dolphin Head Mountains make amemorable day trip from Negril. Tours offer guided walks throughbamboo-shaded cool water holes and splashing falls. Swimwear andmosquito repellent are highly recommended, as are waterproofshoes.
Some parts of the walk through the area involvenatural whirlpools; in others, blasts of water hit you from therocks. There is an underwater cave to swim through, smoothrockslide 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 theentry point, where tourists can order meals before setting off.There are also a number of stalls selling souvenirs and crafts atthe end of the trail.
Nestling in the sugar cane fields of St Elizabeth parish, theAppleton Rum Estate near the village of Magotty offers visitors thechance to find out all there is to know about the production ofrum. There is a small museum with equipment and artifacts from daysgone by, and a resident donkey to demonstrate how sugar cane usedto 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 finallyblended and bottled. Thirsty tourists can end off their visit atthe tavern to sample the estate's rums and liqueurs. Tours alsousually include a complimentary bottle of rum. The guides arefriendly and extremely proud of their product.
Note that the roads to the estate are ratherhair-raising, although they wind through some lovely scenery.Photos are not allowed at certain stages of the tour becauseAppletons wants to preserve some of its secrets!
Black River town, once an influential producer of black textiledye, is now a stop off point for tourists looking to take a boatsafari on the Black River itself. At 44 miles (71km), this isJamaica's longest river, and gets its name from the peat moss onthe river floor which makes the crystal clear waters appearblack.
90-minute boat tours take in the 125-square-mile (324sq km) area of wetland known as the Great Morass, which is home tocrocodiles and diverse birdlife. The excursion allows visitors toexplore the wetlands and mangrove swamps along the river banks.
The crocodiles are the main attraction for mostvisitors. Many tours include a visit to the crocodilerehabilitation centre. However, the clear waters mean visitors arelikely to get a good view of the crocs in their naturalhabitat.
Devon House in Kingston is a prime example of Jamaican Georgianarchitecture. The house was built by Jamaica's first blackmillionaire, George Stiebel, at the end of the 19th Century. It'sfurnished with a number of antiques and evokes the feel of a'Jamaican Great House'.
Devon House is a national monument, but also aheritage centre aiming to promote local arts and crafts and keepJamaican traditions alive. The ice-cream sold here is famous andthe dozens of flavours on offer frequently pop up in touristreviews. There are also baked goods, liqueurs and wines, coffee,cigars, spices, arts and crafts, clothes and much more on sale. TheNorma's on the Terrace restaurant comes very highly recommended forsampling Jamaican cuisine.
Devon House also prides itself on maintaining apeaceful and lovely green area in the centre of the city and thegardens are open to the public free of charge.
Blue Lagoon was renamed in honour of the movie which made itfamous, and is one of the most scenic spots in Jamaica. It is fedby underground mineral springs, and is believed by many to bebottomless, although divers have discovered that it is about 185feet (56m) deep. Surrounded by steep, green hillsides, the BlueLagoon is a wonderful place to swim if one chooses to ignore thetales of sea monsters deep below the surface that are circulated bylocals.
The colour of the water, which is the lagoon's mostalluring feature, changes throughout the day depending on light andweather and makes for some stunning photographs. It is alsointeresting to feel the mixture of the warm water from theCaribbean and the icy cold water from the underground springs.
The lagoon is only a 20-minute drive from PortAntonio, and some choose to hike the distance. Once there, visitorscan hire a local boatman to take them to the best swimmingspots.
Reach Falls, on the Driver's River, is a strong contender forthe title of 'most beautiful place in Jamaica'. A series ofcascades tumble into pool after pool of clear, green water, and themain falls thunder into a pool deep enough to dive into. Thevegetation on the banks is lush and beautiful and the area remainspristine despite its popularity.
Tour guides are a must, but most guides allowvisitors plenty of privacy and time to enjoy the various pools andsights. For adventurous souls, there are some amazing caves toclamber through at the top of the series of falls. For the lessadventurous, just walking around and enjoying the astonishingnatural scenery will be a fantastic experience. Weekdays are thebest time to visit for tourists who want to explore without thecrowds.
The Rio Grande has been used since 1911 as a means oftransporting goods by bamboo rafts from the Rio Grande Valley to StMargeret's Bay. Today, bamboo rafting trips are a major touristattraction, offering an experience that showcases the naturalbeauty that the Portland area has to offer.
Trips last between two and three hours, and the30-foot (9m) rafts can carry two passengers and are steered byskilled raftsmen who also act as guides. Rafts can be boarded atBerrydale or Grant's Level and end at the mouth of the Rio Grandeat St Margaret's Bay.
The guides are extremely knowledgeable and encouragequestions and conversation - they may even give lessons in managingthe raft. Swimwear is a must for some great swimming opportunities.A very popular addition to this rafting experience is a meal cookedon the riverbank over open fires at Belinda's Restaurant.
Port Antonio has some of Jamaica's most beautiful beaches. Oneof the region's prettiest beaches is Frenchman's Cove, with itsclear waters and white sand. San San Beach is a private strip ofsand that has warm and shallow waters, and some offshore reefs thatare ideal for snorkelling. In winter the waves make this theperfect spot to windsurf.
The secluded cove at Boston Bay is perhaps morefamous for its jerk stands than its public beach, with food stallslining the road that serve jerk in all its forms. The waves,however, have raised its status as one of the best beaches inJamaica for windsurfing.
Winnifred Beach is beautiful and still relatively offthe beaten track by Jamaican standards. There is excellentsnorkelling at Winnifred but it is best to wear some water shoes toavoid the spiky urchins.
The popular Rain Forest Adventures centre (or Mystic MountainAmusement Park) offers a number of different adventures. Visitorscan zip-line through the treetops; take the Sky Explorer chairliftfor spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and beaches;enjoy an infinity pool and water slide; and wander through theButterfly Garden and Hummingbird Garden for a rest from thrills.For a bobsled ride with a difference, Bobsled Jamaica offersvisitors a plunge through the rainforests with wonderful twists andturns.
The park is safe and well-maintained with wonderfullyfriendly and competent staff. All the activities come highlyrecommended by previous visitors. The centre also has some shopsand stalls, a restaurant, and locker facilities for storing bagsand valuables. The park offers a great variety of things to do, andvisitors to Jamaica should definitely reserve a full day for thisfun-filled attraction.
Trips to YS Falls are usually included in organised Black Rivertours, but the falls are an attraction in their own right and manyhappy hours can be spent enjoying the pools and lovely scenery.Located on a privately-owned farm, the waterfall is beautiful, withthe water flowing over seven tiers to create a spectacular cascadesurrounded by jungle and meadow scenery.
Visitors to the falls can go on a relaxing 20-minutetube ride down the river, or float in a lovely natural spring pool.For the more adventurous, there is a thrilling rope swing whichpropels visitors over one of the deep turquoise pools, and anexciting zip-line tour.
There are plenty of scenic picnic areas and it'sideal to bring some food and spend some time relaxing at the falls.Try to get there early, as the falls are more pleasant when theyaren't crowded.
The 'Hip Strip' is undoubtedly Montego Bay's liveliest area, jampacked with sun-seeking visitors from dawn till dusk, and full ofwonderful local eateries and relaxed bars where reggae music is theonly thing stored in the jukebox. Tourists looking to let loose andhave a real rum-fuelled party should check out the surprisinglywild nightclubs of the area.
Craft-sellers, vendors, uncommonly aggressive ladiesof the night, and hopeful ganja-dealers abound, so visitors shouldbe mindful of their possessions. However, strolling along the stripand experiencing the vibe, warts and all, is essential on a trip toMontego Bay. This is the perfect place to trawl for souvenirs,enjoy a few cocktails, and meet the locals, many of whom arefriendly and willing to dispense advice about what you should seeand do in Jamaica.
The Greenwood Great House was built between 1780 and 1800 and isgenerally regarded as 'the greatest' of Jamaica's Great Houses. Itwas the residence of Richard Barrett (cousin of renowned poetElizabeth Barrett Browning) - who is said to have presided over33,600 hectares and 3,000 slaves. The Greenwood Great House standsas testament to both the grandeur and cruelty that the Britishbrought to the Caribbean.
Greenwood has not undergone extensive renovations,and appears to modern-day visitors largely as it was inhabited. Atour of the House will take in the Barrett's original library (hometo some astonishingly rare books), some sombre oil paintings of thefamily, some fine antique furniture and a collection of unusualmusical instruments.
Described as 'the finest antique museum in theCaribbean', an excursion to the Greenwood Great House is highlyrecommended for visitors to Montego Bay interested in the colonialhistory of the island. Guided tours are the only way to explore thehouse and they last about 30 minutes.
Rocklands Bird Sanctuary offers visitors the chance to get upclose and personal with the island of Jamaica's wide variety ofcolourful birdlife. Founded in 1954 by Lisa Salmon (affectionatelyknown as 'the bird lady'), today the sanctuary is managed by theknowledgeable and charming Fritz, a man who is blessed with analmost St Francis-like gift for beckoning birds down from thesurrounding boughs.
The highlight of the trip is the opportunity tohand-feed hummingbirds - including the Doctor Bird, Jamaica'snational bird - while relaxing in the shade on the Sanctuary'spatio. The sanctuary is lush and full of plants and flowers soapart from the bird sighting opportunities it is a lovely place towander off for a nature walk.
The sanctuary is nearby Montego Bay, but the roadsare bad, so many prefer to travel with a tour and an experienceddriver.
The Coyaba River Garden and Museum offers and interesting way tospend a couple of hours while on holiday in Ocho Rios. The museum -named after the Arawak word for 'paradise' - has exhibitionsdetailing Jamaica's history, from its original inhabitants, to thecolonialists, and eventually independence in 1962.
There is also a reward for those visitors who makethe effort to learn about the country's history. The incredibletropical 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, theCoyaba 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 buylocal products such as carved figurines, coffee and rum.
Renowned for its perfect beaches and accessible coralreefs, the resort of Runaway Bay is an idyllic, laid-back corner ofthe Caribbean. Situated just to the west of Ocho Rios, the baygains its name either from Spanish troops fleeing the British, orfrom runaway African slaves; no one is really sure which.
What is certainly true is that no one is running awayfrom the spot today. The quiet beaches such as Cardiff Hall Beachand Fisherman's Beach have calm, crystal clear water, perfect forsnorkeling. With shallow waters and reefs close to shore, they arealso perfect for scuba diving, with 'Shallow Reef' a particularlygood spot for beginners. Rustic, open-fronted beach bars serve uprum 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 ofNine Mile, the former home of Bob Marley.
Jamaica's climate is tropical with constant warm to hottemperatures all year round, though cooler in the higher, centralareas. On the coast temperatures range from 72°F (22°C) and 88°F(31°C). Mornings and evenings are slightly chillier in the wintermonths but Jamaica is hot year-round. There are variations inclimate according to region; for instance, the east coast receivessubstantially more rain than the rest of the country, and the southcoast far less.
The wettest months are between May and November, when shortsharp showers can be expected. The heaviest rains occur inSeptember and October and the hurricane season runs from June toNovember. Even though the powerful Hurricane Ivan made landfall inSeptember 2004, relatively few hurricanes touch Jamaica. Thecountry is also in the earthquake zone.
Due to its tropical climate Jamaica is a popular destination allyear, but the best time to visit is between mid-December andmid-April, which is the peak tourist season. If you are travellingon a budget or want to avoid the crowds consider visiting in therainy season, which has its own charms.
The Jamaican Dollar (JMD) is divided into 100 cents. The islandis well supplied with ATMs, banks and bureaux de change. Bankinghours are usually Monday to Thursday from 9am to 2pm, and Fridayfrom 9am to 4pm. Cambio exchange offices are found throughout thecountry, open later than banks and often offering better exchangerates. Retain receipts as proof of legal currency exchange.Exchange bureaux at the airports and hotels also offer better ratesthan banks. Major credit cards are widely accepted. Cash is besttaken in US Dollars.
The official language of Jamaica is English but a localpatois is also spoken, a mixture of English, Spanish, and variousAfrican languages.
Electrical current is 110 volts, 50Hz. Flat two- andthree-pin plugs are in use.
US citizens must have a passport to enter Jamaica that has to bevalid upon their return to the USA. A visa is required for stayslonger than 6 months.
British citizens must have a passport that is valid for theperiod of intended stay in Jamaica. No visa is required for Britishpassport holders, except for holders of passports endorsed 'BritishOverseas Territory Citizen' issued to residents of the CaymanIslands and the British Virgin Islands, who may obtain a touristvisa on arrival for a fee.
Canadian citizens require a passport valid for period ofintended stay. No visa is required.
Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for theperiod of intended stay in Jamaica. No visa is required.
South African citizens must have a passport that is valid forthe period of intended stay in Jamaica. No visa is required.
Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid for the periodof intended stay in Jamaica. No visa is required for stays of up to90 days.
US citizens must have a passport to enter Jamaica that has to bevalid upon their return to the USA. A visa is required for stayslonger than 6 months.
New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid for theperiod of intended stay in Jamaica. No visa is required.
All foreign visitors to Jamaica must hold proof of sufficientfunds to cover their expenses while in the country, return/onwardtickets to their country of permanent residence, and the necessarytravel documentation for this next destination. Note that a yellowfever vaccination certificate is required to enter Jamaica, ifarriving within six days of leaving or transiting through aninfected area. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passporthas at least six months validity remaining after your intended dateof departure from your travel destination. Immigration officialsoften apply different rules to those stated by travel agents andofficial sources.
Dengue fever is a risk in Jamaica so visitors should takemeasures to protect against insect bites. No vaccinationcertificates are needed for entry into Jamaica, but yellow fevercertificates are required for travellers coming from an infectedarea. Vaccinations for hepatitis A and hepatitis B are recommendedfor travel to Jamaica.
Although generally safe, the tap water can cause stomach upsetsand visitors are advised to drink bottled water if on short trips.Private medical facilities are of a reasonable standard but canvary throughout the island, and facilities are limited outsideKingston and Montego Bay. Medical treatment can be expensive soinsurance is advised. If you require prescription medication it isbest to take it with you, with a signed and dated letter from yourdoctor naming the medication and explaining why you need it.
Outside the all-inclusive resorts in Jamaica, where tips arepart of the package, visitors should tip 10 to 15 percent fortaxis, personal services, room service and restaurants where aservice charge is not already included in the bill. Parkingattendants, bellboys and porters also expect a small tip.
Over 200,000 British tourists visited Jamaica last year, withthe majority of visits being trouble free. However, there have beensome 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 theirbelongings. It is best to avoid using buses at night. It is alsobest to avoid any public demonstrations that may occur.
Jamaica is classified as having a risk of Zika virustransmission. It may be wise to seek the advice of healthprofessionals before travel.
Hurricane season runs from June to November. While itis rare for tropical storms to make landfall in Jamaica, visitorstravelling at this time should monitor local and internationalweather updates for peace of mind.
Contrary to popular belief, smoking ganja (marijuana) is illegalin Jamaica. Homosexuality is also prohibited by law, and thecountry is notorious for its intolerance towards it.
Business in Jamaica is surprisingly formal, with proper titlesused and suits and ties the norm despite the tropical climate.Introductions are usually made with a handshake and an exchange ofbusiness cards. Punctuality is key, and socialising is an importantaspect of the business meeting. Business hours are usually from8:30am to 4:30pm or 5pm on weekdays.
The international access code for Jamaica is +1, in common withthe US, Canada and most of the Caribbean, followed by 876.
Direct international telephone services are available, andoperators can also facilitate calls. Wifi is available in the maintowns and resorts, and internet access is also available from mosthotels and parish libraries.
Travellers to Jamaica over 18 years do not have to pay duty on200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 230g of other tobacco products; 1Lalcoholic beverages and wine; and perfume up to 170ml. Prohibiteditems include products made from goatskin (e.g. drums, handbags andrugs).
Jamaican Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 4520660.
Jamaica High Commission, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 78239911.
Jamaican High Commission, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 233 9311.
Jamaican High Commission, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 3626667
Jamaican Embassy, Sydney +61 04 0220 5266.
Jamaican Embassy, Brussels, Belgium (also responsible forIreland): +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.
South African High Commission, Kingston: + 1 876 620 4840.
Australian High Commission, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago(also responsible for Jamaica): +1 868 822 5450.
Irish Embassy, Ottawa, Canada (also responsible for Jamaica): +1613 233 6281.
New Zealand High Commission, Ottawa, Canada (also responsiblefor Jamaica): +1 613 238 5991.
Reggae music fans the world over make the pilgrimage to thefamed singer/songwriter's grave site at the village of Nine Mile,where Marley was born. The two-room shack in which he lived is opento view as a sort of museum and memorial, filled with memorabilia,and alongside it is the mausoleum in which Marley and hishalf-brother are buried.
Visitors can sit on Marley's meditation spot, restingtheir heads on the rock 'pillow' he mentions in his song lyrics.The site also has a vegetarian restaurant and small shop. Reggaeconcerts are held at Nine Mile each year on 6 February, Marley'sbirthday.
Many tourists in Jamaica miss out on the beauty ofthe rural, inland regions because they tend to stick to the coast,so this excursion is also a great way to explore the lovely sceneryaround 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 pristinestretch of white sand, surrounded by lush mountains and crystallinewaters, is located just 20 minutes from Ochos Rios and is a greatplace to escape the crowds. A great way to visit is via boat fromone of the resorts nearby. Glass-bottomed boat tours from the beachare also a fun way to explore the coastline, with opportunities tosee turtles and other marine life.
Those looking for a bit of excitement should catch a'waverunner' tour past the famous Golden Eye villa, where IanFleming wrote the James Bond novels. Visitors can then head toMoonraker Jamaican Bar & Grill for a bite to eat with stunningviews and good local food.
Just seven miles (11km) from Ocho Rios, lies the scenic andwonderfully relaxing White River Valley, a green, lush area, withthe susurrus sound of the river mixing with birdsong in theair.
Most popular among the activities on offer is a tuberide down the river. There are a few exciting rapids but mostly itis just a relaxing float down the river through stunning scenery.It's a very safe excursion and suitable for all ages making it agreat family activity. Adventurous tourists can also enjoyzip-lining, forest walks, bird-watching and more in the valley. OnTuesday and Sunday nights, visitors can sign up for an 'ExoticNight on the White River', where flaming torches create the perfectambience for a romantic dinner by the riverside.
The White River Valley is also home to a Reggae Park,predictably popular among local music enthusiasts.