Jamaica at a glance
JAMAICA, a large, busy, beautiful, lively island, an intense experience for travellers. Extensive air access. A full range of beaches, some classic strands, others in pretty coves. A long-standing and now highly developed tourism ‘product’ with many excellent hotels, inns and guests houses, many are all inclusives, some chains, but also some wonderful cool independent hotels, from old colonial classics to funky modern hideaways. Also a very good range of villas. Good golf, superb music, strong local life and vibrant culture.
Read about Jamaica history, population and politics in Island Essentials.
The Definitive Jamaica Guide gives you independent reviews, listings, and information from top travel journalists and Caribbean specialists.
- Best for:
- Culture, music, nature, funky island life, jerk, coffee and rum
- What for:
- Birdwatching, Flowers & Gardens, Corporate & Incentives, Cricket, Cruise, Culture & Heritage, Family, Eco/Nature, Golf, Hiking & Walking, Food & Cooking, Music, Solo Travel
- Not for:
- How to get there:
- Regular flights from the UK, mainland Europe and North America, plus services from Caribbean islands including Barbados, St Maarten, Antigua and Trinidad.
- Top tip:
- An island with great depth so worth exploring; bring back Appleton rum and Blue Mountain coffee
Jamaica in depth
Jamaica always repays adventurous travellers. Of course, you can opt for complete calm and inactivity – in one of the Caribbean’s coolest hotels if you choose well - but the island is such a lively place that it is definitely worth exploring. To begin with it is fantastically beautiful, more than almost any other island. Then there are endless things to do, not just on the beaches, but inland in the mountains and rivers as well, and Jamaica has a lively cultural life, with excellent music. The Jamaicans themselves are funny, charming and eccentric, exasperating at times, but always engaging. They have a million words for an easy life - ‘criss’, ‘legit’, irie, cool runnings, level vibes - and when you’re sitting in a beach bar beneath the palms, with the sunset and an easy pulse of reggae in the background, and a rum or Red Stripe in hand, the island at its best in other words, you’ll be inclined to agree with them.
Located in the Greater Antilles, Jamaica is the third largest island in the Caribbean after Cuba, which lies 90 miles to its north, and Hispaniola (home of Haiti and the Dominican Republic), which is about 100 miles to the east. The island measures 146 miles from west to east by 51 miles across at its widest point north-south, and has an area of 4,244 square miles. It is extremely rough and mountainous and it is also immensely fertile. Jamaica comes in a million fantastically beautiful shades of green.
The different terrains have developed specialised eco-systems. On the flanks of the Blue Mountain Peak, which rises to 7,402ft, you will find pine forest, cloud forest and rainforest, with orchids and enormous ferns,. And yet within 100 miles there is drier, savannah-like grassland and the extraordinary ‘Cockpit Country’, an area of subterranean rivers and 300ft karst limestone peaks like a shaggy green egg box. All over the island there are tight valleys that explode with greenery and run with stunningly beautiful rivers (some of which you can raft, others with waterfalls you can climb). And down on the coast you will find mangroves, meandering shorelines, cliffs with nesting seabirds and of course an incredible variety of beaches, from tiny enclosed coves to Negril’s seemingly endless stretch of pure white sand at the island’s western tip. Jamaica also has thousands of flowering plants, almost a third of which are endemic, and, for the Caribbean, it has a very varied wildlife. There are over 250 species of birds, reptiles such as iguanas and tree frogs, and curiosities such as manatees and the hutia, a guinea-pig like creature.
Jamaica is the largest English-speaking island in the Caribbean. Originally populated by Arawak Indians, it was Spanish for a while, until it was captured by the English, almost by mistake, in 1655. Independent from Britain in 1962, Jamaica now has a population of around 2,710,000, making it the fourth most populous island in the Caribbean. Kingston, the capital, has a population of over 600,000. But even this is only half of the story. There are probably as many Jamaicans living abroad (mainly in Britain, the US and Canada) as live on the island itself.
Jamaica is a lively, energetic place, which you will discover the moment you get out and begin to explore. It is also relatively large, which makes it an excellent place to travel around on your own itinerary, driving and staying a few nights in each place. But even if you do nothing more than take a tour from your hotel, there are so many tourist attractions in Jamaica. That there is bound to something to suit you.
There are the sports to begin with - you can hike in the mountains, scuba dive on the offshore reefs and walls or deep-sea fish, you can mountain bike, surf, windsurf and run marathons. You can go bamboo river rafting and tubing, climb and swim in waterfalls, ride horses, go on a canopy tour in the tropical forest or play golf on the island’s many excellent golf courses. But Jamaica also has more depth than most other Caribbean islands in other areas. There is the old architectural beauty, faded Georgian grandeur in the towns and heart-rendingly beautiful plantation buildings set in fantastic countryside. There are sugar, tropical fruit and Blue Mountain coffee plantations to visit, a rum distillery tour and excellent bird-watching. There are botanical gardens, art galleries and museums. You can even watch polo. And of course, this is not to forget that Jamaica is the home of reggae, and so you can follow that too, in the bars and clubs around the island. If you are lucky you might see a world famous artist playing in front of a small home crowd.
Over recent years the public image of Jamaica has not always been that favourable. There are occasional problems, but not much more than in other Caribbean islands, or in other countries around the world. Almost invariably if you are street-wise and don’t take unnecessary risks then you should be fine. It is true that in certain areas you can expect to be hustled. Just be polite and firm and eventually they will go away.
Generally, though, Jamaica seems in better form now than it has been for a while. The roads are improving and it is looking in better condition. The island has so much to offer, and it is all easily available.
This Definitive Jamaica Guide is put together and maintained by top travel writers and our own in-house team of Caribbean specialists. The guide contains independent reviews and in-depth facts about Jamaica, its accommodation, things to do, places to see, getting around, how to get there and links for travel to Jamaica.
Contributors include Jane Anderson, Deana Bellamy, Peter Ellegard, Sara Macefield and Stephen Thorpe. Picture editor, Holly Cocker. Senior Picture Editor, Alexander Gray.
Or read our other island guides
Anguilla | Antigua | Aruba | Bahamas | Barbados | Bermuda | Bonaire | British Virgin Islands | Cayman Islands | Cuba | Curacao | Dominica | Dominican Republic | Grenada and Carriacou | Guadeloupe | Haiti | Jamaica | Martinique | Montserrat | Nevis | Puerto Rico | Saba | St Barthélemy | St Eustatius | St Kitts | St Lucia | St Martin/St Maarten | St Vincent and the Grenadines | Tobago | Trinidad | Turks & Caicos Islands | US Virgin Islands
Looking for inspiration?
- Sample some fiery jerk chicken or pork at one of the many stands in Boston - the home of jerk
- Take a tour of Appleton Estate, Jamaica's oldest rum producer
- Spend the day exploring Dunn's River Falls & Park
- Enjoy a round of golf at one of Montego Bay's five, 18-hole courses
- Immerse yourself in local culture and pay a visit to the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston