Considering a holiday to the paradise islands of the Caribbean? Everyone’s had that tingle of excitement when they think of leaving glum weather and the workday world behind, jetting off somewhere with an endless white beach, rolling blue waters and cloudless blue sky. Jamaica has all of that and more – yes, we’re talking about those rum cocktails – so we’ve put together an essential Jamaica travel guide to make trip planning that little bit easier.
Jamaica Travel Guide
Jamaica is an island with a heartbeat of its very own. From the rush of its waterfalls to the dancing in its city streets, the whole country moves to a centuries-old tune. Every little corner of Jamaica is full of life, but none of the amazing things that go on here are ever rushed. The locals have certainly got Island Time down to a tee. You’ll be captivated by the beautiful beaches and crystal-clear waters where you can easily spend hours snorkelling and diving among gardens of coral and tropical fish. But there is just as much going on in the lush forests at the heart of the island, where fruit trees thrive in the red soil and epic waterfalls decorate the imposing mountainsides.
Get the most out of Jamaica by really embracing its rich local culture, which is all about living in unity with the natural rhythm of the earth. Wherever you roam, you’ll come across loads of friendly, music-loving locals and impressive sound systems playing everything from reggae to dancehall to church hymns. Feast your stomach on incredible cuisine and feast your eyes on the gorgeous artwork. Jamaica is so much more than just all-inclusive resorts, and we’re here to prove it.
When to Visit
Jamaica, like all Caribbean islands, is subject to some pretty serious weather. Therefore, you’d do best to avoid a visit between August and November when things are at their hottest and stormiest. December to April offers the best weather, but it’s also peak tourist season and the island gets very busy during this time. Shoulder season between April and July makes for a very good option if you want to avoid the crowds (and even bring down the price of your trip a little).
Best Beaches in Jamaica
– Treasure Beach in St. Elizabeth is a six-mile golden stretch of sand on the island’s south coast. It has got a relaxed vibe and is rarely overcrowded. Although there are some good hangout spots along the beach, there’s not much going on in terms of activities or even water sports. Instead, make your way here when you just want to lie back and relax with a drink in your hand.
– Seven Mile Beach in Negril is a well-loved and seemingly endless sandy haven. Its white sands and crystalline waters make for a breath-taking panorama, so you’ll definitely want to bring a camera on your visit. You’ll find loads of fun activities and attractions at Seven Mile, and there’s also a great choice of bars and restaurants right on the sand.
– Doctor’s Cave Beach in Montego Bay is a classic and a must-do for any first-time visitors to Jamaica. Located right in Montego Bay’s liveliest area, it has everything you want and need for a fun day out, including incredible swimming. It’s also located just a short walk from the quieter Cornwall Beach, in case you feel like taking a break from the big crowds.
– Frenchman’s Cove in Portland is a small and secluded little gem that’s just about as close to paradise as you could imagine it. The beach is located just where a river meets the ocean, which is a spectacular sight to see, and you can choose to swim in either salt or fresh water. There is also good Jamaican food served right on the beach, so no need to leave anytime soon.
– Boston Bay Beach in Port Antonio is one of the most unique beaches on the island where you’ll encounter the greatest Jamaican vibes. Its trademark is the Jerk pits filling the air with delicious foodie scents, but it’s also a hotspot for surfers (with lessons for anyone to try it out). You also shouldn’t be surprised if your visit is soundtracked by a local musician or two.
– James Bond Beach in Ochos Rios is indeed the famous filming location of the 007 classic, Dr No. It’s also located just a stone’s throw away from Golden Eye Villa where Ian Fleming wrote the original Bond novels. But beyond that, this is a beautiful little cove with a seriously relaxed vibe, and the home of some really great music gigs throughout the year.
Things to See & Do
– River Rafting on the Martha Brae River is not the action-filled white-water excursion you might have experienced elsewhere. In Jamaica, rafting is a gentle adventure and the perfect way of exploring the Land of Wood and Water off the beaten track. Spend an hour or two lounging on a 30-some foot bamboo raft – beer in hand – while a local raftsman steers you through the island’s verdant heartland, past thick bamboo and liana clad guango trees.
– Hike to Blue Mountain Peak and cross of an item from the top of many travellers Jamaican bucket-list. From the starting point at Whitfield Hall, the well marked, 10-kilometre trail will take you anything between five to eight hours to complete on a round trip (depending on your pace and how often you stop to marvel at the view). If you set out early enough, you could even reach the epic summit before sunrise!
– Visit the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston, which has been constructed within the home where Marley lived from 1975 until he died in 1981. It is no surprise that this is the city’s most visited tourist attraction, even though there are no photographs allowed inside. Enjoy an hour-long tour through the house, which is full of insights into the Reggae-star’s life and career, including a peek at his bedroom which remains untouched since his own days there.
– Tour the Luminous Lagoon in total darkness, when the enchanted waters sparkle and glisten at the touch. This exceptional phenomenon occurs thanks to microorganisms called dinoflagellates that turn phosphorescent in shallow warm waters. On a boat tour of the Luminous Lagoon, you’ll not only see fish reflected by their glow but even get a chance to swim in it yourself. Jumping off the boat, you’ll watch as your own body stirs up luminous sparkles in the dark.
– Cliff Diving at Rick’s Café is one for the daredevils. Rick’s is rated one of the top bars in the world and just so happens to be home to Jamaica’s top entertainment. Professional, local cliff divers jump into the sea below the bar from as high as 85 feet above the surface (they make their living from this, so make sure to leave them a tip.) If you’re brave enough to give it a go yourself, there are three 8-, 27- and 40-feet spots where tourists can do their own jumps.
– Swim in the Blue Lagoon, yes, the Blue Lagoon from the famous Brooke Shields movie, which is one of the most beautiful spots in Jamaica off-screen as well. Known locally as the Blue Hole, this 55-metre-deep lagoon is fed by freshwater springs, but also has a narrow opening to the sea. The blending of waters makes the colour of the lagoon change throughout the day between various shades of spectacular blue.
– Go on a White River Tubing Safari with the adventure experts from Chukka Tours. Although the age limit for kids is six years, this tubing excursion makes for a great family activity. You’ll spend two hours floating atop a doughnut-shaped tube float down three miles of the iconic White River, passing through varied landscapes such as bamboo forests to coconut plantations. All the while, you’ll have a certified guide leading the way!
– Visit Dolphin Cove where you can swim with dolphins in their natural habitat of the Caribbean Sea. Playtime is often accompanied by lots of other friendly sea life, including stingrays, and you can even swim with sharks if you want to! There are three parks located across the island and they all offer a variation of activities, none quite like the other. But one thing you’re sure to find at either location is a white sandy beach for end-of-day relaxing.
– Black River Safari trips will take you on an exploration of the longest river in Jamaica (53 km), named after the mysterious darkness of its waters. Making your way through the jungle landscape you’ll come across loads of hidden natural gems. There are over 100 species of birds to be spotted, as well as everyone’s favourite reptile – crocodiles! Along the banks, you can also wave to the local fishermen catching crabs in their wooden canoes.
– Konoko Falls & Park was once the original settlement of Jamaica’s native population, the Taino Indians. Today it’s a lovely little tourist destination where the main attraction is a kid-friendly waterfall climb with two stops at natural swimming pools along the way. It won’t take long to complete the trip and when you’ve done so, Konoko also has a mini-zoo with lots of exotic birds as well as a beautiful botanical garden to explore.
– Kool Runnings Adventure Park is the biggest and by far most popular waterpark in Jamaica. It’s always a hit with the kids, with no less than 10 water slides, the highest of which is 40 feet high, as well as an adventure zone where you can try your hand a kayaking, go-karting, paintball and lots more. The adventure park also has great family friendly restaurants, and special events are put on regularly. All in all, it’s a great day out!
Food & Drink
– The Jamaican culinary experience is a journey well worth taking. It doesn’t begin and end with the marinade and spice rub known all over the world as Jerk, although that is certainly one of our favourite stops along the way. This island also offers everything from its national dish of salt cod with ackee fruit to delectable coffee, and everything in between is well worth a trip out to the Caribbean Sea.
– The Appleton Estate Rum Experience is an interactive, guided tour through the history and rum-making process of Jamaica’s finest rum-producers, experts in their field for over 265 years. Rum-making has a rich history on the island, and this is the place to learn all about it – at the heart of where it happens. The tour finishes with a guided tasting led by local experts, and you’re welcome to purchase a bottle or two to take home.
– The Blue Mountain Culinary Trail is a wonderful foodie experience curated by the Jamaican Ministry of Tourism to offer visitors a real taste of Jamaica, in and around the famous Blue Mountains. Along the trail you’ll find some seriously unique eateries (not to mention the best coffee you’ve ever tasted) and getting to taste their signature dishes is a real treat. To read more about the stops on the trail, download the official brochure here.
– Usain Bolt’s Tracks & Records is where you’ll find the three things Jamaicans do best – music, sports and food – combined in an authentic and colourful fashion. Co-founded by 8-gold medal Olympian, Usain Bolt, Tracks and Records combine traditional Jamaican flavours with the best music to complement it and, of course, the biggest sporting events of the moment. Their motto, ‘taste the vibes’, rings true for every meal
– Coronation Market in downtown Kingston just so happens to be the biggest market in the Caribbean archipelago. Much more than food is on offer here, but we’ve come to love it for its incredible local produce and street meals in particular. The market gets incredibly busy on weekends so plan your visit for early in the morning. Head straight for the covered section, where things are much less chaotic but the food is just as good.
– Miss T’s Kitchen was founded back in the day by Miss Anna-Kay Tomlinson, a self-taught cook who turned her passion into one of the best restaurants on the island. The restaurant’s rustic country cooking is a real celebration of Jamaican flavour and is especially famous for its oxtail soup and great wine selection. At Miss T’s, there are no walls, and as indoor meets outdoors the best thing to do is just sit back and enjoy the atmosphere.
Good to Know
- A direct flight from London to Jamaica take just over 10 hours, so strap in with some good in-flight entertainment and all your favourite snacks.
- The local currency is Jamaican Dollar (J$) but accommodation rates are usually priced in USD and plenty of tourist-friendly businesses will accept either.
- It might take you some time to get used to the Jamaican accent, known as Patois (but pronounced patwa), which is a very relaxed form of English mixed with other languages like French.