Jamaica Holiday Planning Guide
The third most populous English-speaking country in the Americas, Jamaica remains a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, with the British monarch its official head of state. Jamaica tourism thrives thanks to the island nation's reputation for natural beauty, outstanding cuisine, and lively music scene. The country's landscape is as diverse as its population, its tropical climate supporting varied ecosystems that include everything from savannahs to rugged mountain slopes. For most visitors, a holiday in Jamaica is a largely outdoor affair, with hiking, fishing, golfing, camping, snorkeling, horseback riding, and kite surfing among the most popular things to do.
Places to Visit in Jamaica
Regions of JamaicaSaint Ann Parish
: A great Jamaica vacation spot, the "Garden Parish of Jamaica" boasts lush vegetation and is the hometown of numerous reggae singers.Westmoreland Parish
: Westmoreland Parish covers the south of Jamaica, and draws many tourists to the buzzing city of Negril.Saint Elizabeth Parish
: Saint Elizabeth Parish offers lots of places to explore untouched nature, such as rivers, beaches, and lowlands.Hanover Parish
: Birthplace of national hero Alexander Bustamante, historic Hanover Parish also offers leisure activities along the coast.Saint James Parish
: With access to ample natural attractions, golfing, and outdoor activities, Saint James Parish offers plenty of classic Jamaica vacation ideas.
Cities in JamaicaOcho Rios
: The spot where Christopher Columbus first landed in Jamaica, Ocho Rios offers it all--colonial buildings, a port for cruise ships, as well as swimming with dolphins and other marine attractions.Montego Bay
: With paradisal beaches and duty-free shopping, the city of Montego Bay serves as a perfect Jamaica holiday spot.Negril
: A popular tourist hub, Negril offers plenty for outdoor enthusiasts, such as nature and wildlife tours and water activities, as well as pristine beaches, waterfalls, and cliffs.Falmouth
: Family-friendly Falmouth boasts lots of kid-appropriate attractions, such as different beaches, a golf and tennis club, and swimming with dolphins.Kingston
: A Jamaica trip would not be complete without a visit to its capital, Kingston--a cultural and industrial center with many historical landmarks and museums.
Popular Jamaica Tourist AttractionsDunn's River Falls and Park
: One of the most popular Jamaica tourist attractions, Dunn's River Falls and Park offers an opportunity to climb the cascade on your own, swim in the pools, and take stunning nature shots.Seven Mile Beach
: For a lazy day in the sun, Seven Mile Beach represents the perfect option, with its aquamarine waters, soft sand, and many water sport activities, such as snorkeling or parasailing.Blue Hole
: Serene and mesmerizing, the Blue Hole remains off the tourist radar--enjoy a dip in the waterfall's pools without all the crowds.Rainforest Bobsled Jamaica at Mystic Mountain
: Take a chairlift ride through the air above the rainforest, and then visit the mountaintop restaurant and bobsled museum.Rose Hall Great House
: The Victorian architecture of this house became famous for the legend of Annie Palmer, the so-called White Witch, who killed her three husbands and supposedly haunts the site.Negril Cliffs
: A safe, popular cliff-diving spot, the rock face here rises above clear turquoise waters.YS Falls
: Swing from a rope into the pool below YS Falls, where on-duty lifeguards ensure everyone's safety.Doctor's Cave Beach
: Visitors flock here for the reputedly therapeutic waters, in a relaxing atmosphere complemented by shady trees and beach bars.Martha Brae River
: Drawing adventure seekers with its rafting opportunities, the river also features a picnic area, bar, and pool at its embarkation point.Rick's Cafe
: This club brings together the calm and the adventure: enjoy drinks with a perfect ocean view, take a dip in the pool, or jump off a cliff for a jolt of adrenaline.
Planning a Jamaica Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Jamaica with Kids
Jamaica may not be the first place that springs to mind for a family trip, but you'll find that lots of Jamaica vacation ideas suit kids perfectly. Montego Bay
has many family resorts that offer activities for children, as well as places for water sport activities. Both Ocho Rios
have many beaches where you can let kids play freely, thanks to shallow waters and lifeguards keeping watch. Ocho Rios offers an additional array of activities, such as horseback riding, swimming with dolphins, and many parks, while in Negril you can hike up to waterfalls.
Things to Do in Jamaica with Kids
The warm weather and sandy beaches provide all the ingredients for a perfect family vacation in Jamaica. Give your kids the island adventure of a lifetime with a family tubing trip down White River
, which runs through lush jungle and villages. If you prefer the sea over the river, head out to Dolphin Cove
, where you can swim with dolphins and even come face to face with friendly sharks and stingrays. Spend a day splashing around and building sandcastles on the wide sandy beach at Bloody Bay
, considered one of the most beautiful places in Negril. People of all ages will enjoy wandering through the tropical paradise of Barney's Flower & Hummingbird Garden Jamaica
, where you can learn about Jamaica's natural ecosystems and try to catch a glimpse of hummingbirds. Sweeten your family's trip to Jamaica with a stop at Chocolate Dreams Ltd.
, offering superb treats for everyone.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Jamaica
Since Jamaica isn't a popular spot for family travels, many of its resorts have different policies about children, do some research before making your reservations. One of the best Jamaica vacation options for families is a multi-resort area, where you can take advantage of not only the resort's restaurants, beaches, and activities, but also everything their sister resorts have to offer as well. If you avoid the peak of the season, you could get a pretty good deal for the whole family, and the same goes if you plan a trip for a larger group of people.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Jamaica
Cuisine of Jamaica
If you're looking for a genuine taste of local cuisine, make a beeline for the local restaurants during your Jamaica trip. The island's cuisine draws from its diverse cultural heritage, and unifies them in a tasty pot of flavors. Fish with a sauce of vinegar, hot peppers, and onion ranks among the favorites, as does jerk pork or chicken, a national specialty that contains spicy Scotch bonnet peppers. In spite of the warm climate, Jamaicans enjoy pepperpot stew and creamy pumpkin soup, as well as brown chicken and conch stew. For a fast food option, try grilled jerk chicken with plantain chips, green banana fries, or cornmeal fritters.
Shopping in Jamaica
You can do a fair share of shopping on your Jamaica holiday, with unique, locally made crafts and souvenirs, as well as shopping centers with luxury items. Stroll among leafy palms and pick up handmade items at Ocho Rios' Island Village
, an open-air shopping and entertainment center complete with a beachfront, cafes, and a theater. Look for distinctive Jamaican crafts, such as various wood carvings, small statues, beaded necklaces, and fridge magnets made from the Jamaican national tree (lignum vitae). For a classic mall experience, head to Shoppes at Rose Hall
in Montego Bay, or peruse an enormous array of duty-free jewelry at Diamonds International
. If you're looking for classic gifts to bring home, rum, cigars, and coffee are widely available in shopping malls or grocery stores near hotels, ranging in quality and price.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Jamaica
Interesting Facts About Jamaica
Since the import of the mongoose in the 19th century, snakes in Jamaica have been scarce--the mongoose ate almost the entire population.
African slaves brought Obeah, a system of beliefs similar to Haitian Voodoo, to the island. Though outlawed during colonialism, in certain areas some people continue to practice it.
Rum, known for its association with pirates--especially because of the film series "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Captain Jack Sparrow"--is in fact Jamaica's national beverage.
Jamaica got its independence first among the Caribbean nations, but remains a member of the British Commonwealth.
You can find over 200 species of orchids on Jamaica, with 73 of them unique to the island.
Things You Should NOT Do in Jamaica
Though Jamaica is notorious for its crime rate and drugs, this activity generally takes place outside of tourist areas. Still, you should take certain precautions to ensure a safe and easy Jamaica vacation. You will almost inevitably encounter pushy people trying to sell you things: rather than responding rudely, simply politely say that you are not interested and walk away. If you decide to drive around the island during your Jamaica trip, never take your eyes off the road, since the surfaces can surprise you with holes, or goats and people crossing. Finally, marijuana is everywhere, but it is illegal, so be careful about what you take from vendors.
Holidays & Festivals in Jamaica
One of the most important Jamaica tourist attractions are its festivals. Some of them take place on national holidays marking historic events, while others come from outside the island. Jamaicans celebrate independence on August 6 with costumes in the national stadium. During the Christmas period, Jamaica's Junkanoo tradition involves men dressing in spooky attire and dancing in the streets. The relatively new tradition of Carnival comes from the Eastern Caribbean; its Bacchanal includes parades, dances, and vibrant costumes, and stretches over the course of several weeks, culminating on the weekend before Easter.
Useful Jamaica Travel Tips
Common Greetings in Jamaica
During your Jamaica vacation, you will certainly meet a lot of people, and the usual greeting is a handshake with eye contact and a smile. Female friends mostly hug and kiss on each cheek, starting from the right one, while men pat each other's shoulders. To address someone, it's best to use the title Mr., Mrs. or Miss with their surname, until you become friends with them, or they ask you to call them by their first name.
Climate of Jamaica
The warm tropical climate makes Jamaica a great tourist spot year-round. The temperatures vary from 22 C (72 F) to 31 C (88 F), and winter mornings and evenings can get chilly. The peak of the season lasts from December to April, while October and May see the most rainfall (though it can rain at any time throughout the year). Hurricanes can occur from June to November--if visiting during this time, stay updated on the latest forecasts and heed all warnings. No matter when you plan your Jamaica vacation, lightweight clothes will serve you perfectly; don't forget hats and sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun.
Transportation in Jamaica
You have lots of options for getting around during your Jamaica holiday. Local taxis are the most expensive option, but you can split the cost with other passengers. If you rent a scooter or a motorcycle, always wear helmet as a precaution on the dicey road conditions. Boat tours make a great way to do some classic Jamaica sightseeing, while on land you can use Jamaica's large public transportation network. The latter makes for an interesting and affordable way to explore the island, though you'll need to have a lot of patience given the general lack of set timetables and air-conditioning.
Tipping in Jamaica
Make sure to know the general etiquette of tipping for your Jamaica holiday. At restaurants, a customary tip ranges from 10-15 percent. Some bills include service, some don't--either way, that charge goes to the restaurant, not the servers, so consider adding extra gratuity for good service. At hotels, bellhops usually expect 1-2 US dollars, and the same goes for housekeeping staff. Taxis are in most cases unmetered, so arrange the price in advance and leave a 10- to 15-percent tip. For shuttle bus drivers, it depends if they are employees of the resort or not; in general, their tip ranges from 1-5 US dollars, depending on the length of the transfer. All tips can be given in either Jamaican or US dollars.