Jamaica
 
The third largest island in the Caribbean at 4,411sq miles, beautiful and mountainous Jamaica was once known as Xamayca, the Land of Wood and Water. Its varied terrain encompasses the heights of the Blue Mountains in the east, rugged Cockpit County in the west, rushing rivers, lush forests and popular coastal resorts such as Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Runaway Bay in the north, set by a sparkling blue sea fringed with white sand. The rich cultural heritage with its distinctive music and passion for sport completes the picture.
Whether it’s laid-back beaches, a hike to the summit of the Blue Mountains or visiting an old plantation, Jamaica is an island of contrasts. Head to the capital, Kingston, the least tourist-orientated town on the island, to visit the Bob Marley Museum, one-time home of the Jamaican reggae icon, or take a trip into the mountains, famed for their beauty and their coffee. Here you will find towering peaks soaring majestically skywards, shrouded in a smoky blue haze. The island is a haven for a multitude of wildlife, from beautiful orchids to surreal cacti, mongoose and crocodile.
Away from the vibrant beach resorts are traditional villages where life is tough for poor Jamaicans. Their ancestors struggled to be free from slavery, right from the time the first Spanish settlers arrived in the 16th century transforming the island into one of the world’s largest and richest sugar plantations. You can visit one of the plantations at the Appleton Rum Estate, where you will learn all about rum production, finishing off with a sample of the local nectar. 
Jamaica is all about colour and light, fun and music, and as long as you are sensibly cautious the island will captivate. The bustling markets are a great place to spend a morning soaking up the local life and admiring the wonderful array of tropical fruits. So let you hair down, join a beach party, sail the crystal clear waters, laze on the white sands and don’t forget to look into all the delights of this Caribbean paradise.
The currency in use is the Jamaican Dollar and Jamaican law requires that local currency is used when paying for all goods and services. Having said that, it is followed very loosely and the US Dollar is accepted almost universally.
Plastic is invaluable when travelling in Jamaica. American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa are all widely accepted as are other cards bearing the Cirrus or Plus logo. Most Jamaican ATMs accept international bank cards and many banks give credit card cash advances.
 
 
Montego Bay
 
Introduction
Affectionately known as ‘Mo’Bay’, this popular resort has been luring people to its white-sand beaches, grand hotels, villas and apartments since the early 1900s.  It’s all here:  restaurants, clubs and colourful markets, plus some great sporting venues, including championship golf courses and first-class snorkelling and scuba diving.
Stroll down Gloucester Avenue, known as the Hip Strip, for art galleries and shopping opportunities and plenty of dining choices. It’s gaudy, in-your-face but fascinating. Downtown is a hive of activity, with St James Street the main thoroughfare. To shop with the locals check out the vibrant Fustic Market on Barnett Street.
The most popular beach is Doctor’s Cave Beach, a Jamaican institution. Here there is good swimming and excellent facilities, which continue to the next beach, Cornwall Beach, with its bar built around a huge almond tree. The Montego Marine Park encircling both beaches covers some 10sq miles protecting coral reefs, mangroves, sea grass beds and exotic fish.
In the town are several interesting18th-century buildings, and just beyond the bay old plantation houses and spectacular wildlife can be found.
 
See & Do
Fabulous white-sand beaches and crystal waters for snorkelling and scuba diving are the main draw for most visitors to Montego Bay, although there are many more attractions nearby, including:
  • Sailing
  • Cycling
  • Montego Marine Park
  • Golf
  • Bob Marley Experience
  • St James Parish Church
  • Town Hall
  • Markets
  • Local art
Shopping
The range of goods on offer is fantastic and souvenirs to bring home include: pottery, leather, mahogany sculpture, sarongs, T-shirts, jewellery, straw items, reggae CDs and tapes, spices, rum and coffee. Try the following for these and other local produce:
  • Harbour Street Craft Market
  • Straw Market
  • Fustic Market
  • Fort Montego Market
  • MoBay Shopping Centre
  • Clapper’s Music
  • City Centre Building
The local currency is the Jamaican dollar, known as the ‘jay’. US dollars are widely accepted but check if an item is priced in US or Jamaican dollars. Most hotels, restaurants and large shops accept major credit cards and traveller’s cheques. ATMs available in the resort may carry high withdrawal fees.
Food & Drink
Montego Bay boasts a huge range of eating opportunities, from fine dining and international cuisine to local snacks and seductive fruits. Many visitors are on full board rates at their hotels but it is worth making a couple of explorations to a good local restaurant. Choose from delicate seafood or spicy jerk dishes. The water is safe to drink but bottled water is readily available, or try the local beer Red Stripe, rum or delicious fruit drinks.
Here are some of the popular restaurants around the town:
  • Day O Plantation Restaurant
  • Dolly’s
  • Greenhouse Restaurant
  • Houseboat Grill (moored in the Montego Bay Marine Park)
  • Ma Lou’s Gourmet Shack
  • Marguerite’s
  • The Native
  • Pelican Grill
  • Richmond Hill
  • Toby’s Good Eats
  • Town House
  • The Vineyard at the Coyaba Hotel

Entertainment
The sky’s the limit when it comes to nightlife in Montego Bay. Whatever your fancy you should find the perfect venue here from relatively quiet bars in more secluded neighbourhoods to party time on the beach. So take a stroll to see what grabs you. Choose from cool nightspots where you can sip cocktails, or try relaxing over a cold beer or grooving the night away at the hippest club. But don’t forget there is a plethora of music to be enjoyed and not just reggae, and some theatre, too.
Popular venues for a night out include:
  • The Brewery
  • Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville
  • Rum Jungle
  • Witches Nightclub
  • Bob Marley Entertainment Centre
  • Fairfield Theatre
  • Dome House
  • Tropical Night Club

Excursions
If you can drag yourself away from the beaches and fun of Montego Bay you could check out the following:
  • Rafting downriver
  • Bird sanctuary at Rockland
  • Rose Hall Great House
  • Dunn’s River Falls
  • Croydon coffee and pineapple plantation
  • Crocodile farm

Health & Safety
Montego Bay is considered a safe place but take note of the following precautions:
  • Be wary of hustlers or dealers and just keep walking if approached. Be polite but firm. There are security patrols in some areas.
  • Beware of pickpockets.
  • Always stay on the main thoroughfares, especially at night.
  • Avoid Downtown at night and Flankers at all times. 
  • Watch for traffic, driving is erratic.
  • Take care in the sun and drink plenty of water
  • Take care to avoid jelly fish and sea urchins in the water
  • Mosquito bites can be a problem, so take precautions

 
Runaway Bay
Introduction
The resort of Runaway Bay, to the west of Ocho Rios on the north coast of the island is far more low-key than Montego Bay. It is so called because the last Spaniards allegedly left Jamaica from here after their final defeat by the British and it is now a peaceful beachfront village. This is the ideal destination for those seeking a more relaxed holiday without intense crowds, and for those with a love of sea sports.
The scuba diving at Runaway is legendary and there are also great opportunities for snorkelling and sea fishing. With reefs close to shore even the less adventurous can see some fantastic sea life. Dive sites include an underwater canyon and the chance to see the most dazzlingly beautiful tropical fish.
Runaway Bay was the first sighting of Jamaica for Christopher Columbus. Visit the nearby Columbus Park Museum to learn more of the island’s early history, and check out the Green Grotto caves near here, too. It’s possible to do a day trip into the capital, Kingston, to get a change of ambience.
Without doubt, Runaway Bay wins most of the prizes for sport. If you tire of the sea take a horse-riding trip or play a round of golf or a game of tennis. This is also the place to get married underwater or, if you prefer, naked (sun lotion advised) at the Hedonist III nudist resort.
See & Do
Runaway Bay itself is not full of sightseeing opportunities but it is perfect for that get-away-from-it-all holiday, with:
  • Superb beaches
  • Wonderful diving and snorkelling opportunities
  • Golf
  • Swimming at the Cardiff Hall Public Beach
  • Fishing

Shopping
You will find souvenir shopping at many of the large resort complexes at Runaway but there are opportunities to buy local crafts in the main street. The local grocery store L&M, at the Salem end, sells spices and rum to take home and is cheaper than buying from the gift shops. Take small denominations of currency for your transactions. You will need to go beyond Runaway Bay if serious shopping is your thing.

Food & Drink
The majority of people on holiday at Runaway Bay stay in the large hotel resort complexes and eat in their hotels. There are some restaurants to try and the following serve Caribbean food:
  • Blue Pearl
  • Cardiff Hall Restaurant
  • Seafood Giant
  • Tek It Easy

Entertainment

Entertainment, eating and drinking are part of the package at the big resort hotels: you can buy a night pass to many of them. People hang out at the Runaways Sports Bar & Grill in Main Street with its pool tables, swimming pool, bar and giant sports screens. The Veranda Restaurant, with its good views and bar, hosts live entertainment. And for a more energetic dance scene try Safari Disco or the Club Caribbean.

Excursions
There are plenty of excursions on offer from Runaway Bay. Check for details with your hotel and you can choose some of the following:
  • Green Grotto Caves
  • Runaway Bay Caves
  • Martha Brae River rafting
  • Blue Mountains
  • Circle B Farm (the island’s first sugar mill)
  • Dunn’s River Falls
  • Sunset cruises
  • Coyaba River Garden Museum at the Shaw Park Estate
  • Prospect Plantation
  • Seville Great House
  • Kingston

Health & Safety
Runaway is a low-key resort consisting of many all-inclusive hotels where residents can leave any valuables. The village is safe but take the usual precautions when out and about and be firm and polite with any hustlers and don’t leave belongings lying around. Watch out for jelly fish outside the coral reef.




Kingston
Introduction
The capital of Jamaica, Kingston is the largest English-speaking city south of Miami, lying on a wide plain with the world's seventh-largest natural harbour to the south, and the Blue Mountains behind.
Despite Jamaica’s reputation of being laid back and relaxed, Kingston is bustling, noisy and frenetic. Tourists tend not to stay in Kingston as such, but generally head for the northern and western beaches and resorts instead. But that doesn’t mean the city doesn’t have anything to offer.
It is home to a wide array of historical and cultural attractions such as The Royal Botanical Gardens, Devon House and the Bob Marley Museum. And when the sun goes down its sophisticated and sizzling nightlife comes to life.
Kingston was founded in 1692 after the demise of nearby Port Royal, the former capital, which was devastated in an earthquake. Sadly crime is rife within the city and there are some inner city neighbourhoods that should be avoided.
See & Do
There are a number of attractions in Kingston. These include:
  • The sunken remains of Port Royal
  • Fort Charles Museum
  • National Gallery
  • Hope Road
  • Bob Marley Museum
  • Devon House
  • Hope Botanic Gardens
  • Spanish Town
  • White Marl Arawak Museum
  • Sabina Park (international cricket)
  • Caymanas Gold Course
  • Buccaneer Club and Windward Edge (scuba-diving)
If you want to get away from the city then head for the Blue Mountains or one of the nearby beaches – Hellshire Beach, Gunboat Beach or Fort Clarence.
Shopping
Shopping is varied in Kingston, not only in the products that you can buy, but also the pleasurability of the experience.
Downtown shopping can be an unpleasant experience. Although this area is home to traditional markets such as the Solas Market and Crafts Market, it is also home to the ‘higglers’ or street vendors. It is not a shopper’s paradise.
Uptown and New Kingston offers an altogether more pleasurable experience. It is home to large shopping malls that offer tourists and locals a plethora of wares – crafts, jewellery, clothing etc. The New Kingston Shopping Centre, Island Life Mall, Chelsea Galleries and the Sovereign Shopping Centre all offer a wealth of shops to please the most ardent shopper.
Food & Drink
Jamaican food is full of fire, taking advantage of pungent spices and peppers. Traditional dishes include:
·         Rice and peas
·         Salt fish (dried cod) and ackee (the cooked fruit of the ackee tree)
·         Curried goat and rice (spicy and strong)
·         Jamaican pepperpot soup (salt pork, salt beef, okra and Indian kale known as callaloo)
·         Chicken fricassé Jamaican-style (a rich chicken stew with carrots, scallions, yams, onions, tomatoes and peppers prepared in unrefined coconut oil)
·         Patties - the staple snack of Jamaica (pastries filled with ground beef and bread crumbs)

As for drinks, you can’t go to Jamaica without sampling its world-famous rum, especially Gold Label and Appleton. Other tipples include Rumona, a delicious rum cordial,  Red Stripe and Tia Maria (a Blue Mountain coffee and chocolate liqueur).
Fresh fruit juice is also recommended, as is Blue Mountain coffee. There are no licensing hours and alcohol can be bought all day.
Kingston offers international cuisine as well as traditional Jamaican. Here are a few restaurants you might like to try:
  • Orchid Room
  • Blue Mountain Inn
  • Grog Shoppe
  • Hot Pot
  • La Fresca Bar & Grill
  • Pepper
Entertainment
The nightlife in Kingston is buzzing with a wealth of clubs and bars. Here are a few of the cities hot spots:
  • Amnesia Night Club
  • Asylum
  • Capricorn Inn
  • Eclipse Night Club
  • Bar Zen
  • Quad Night Club
  • Pool Bar
Excursions
There are many excursions available. Here are a few, but check with your hotel for details of others:
  • Blue Mountains
  • Jablum Coffee Company
  • Hellshire Beach
  • Gunboat Beach
  • Fort Clarence
  • Rockford Mineral Baths
  • Lime Cay
Health & Safety
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.
There are high levels of crime and violence, especially around Kingston, and tourists should be alert. Avoid walking alone in isolated areas or on beaches, even in daylight hours.
If you want to explore downtown areas, it is best to go with a local guide as poverty is widespread and poor people constantly approach visitors to sell objects. You should also avoid the downtown areas of Tivoli, Rema, Grant’s Pen or Trenchtown as they are high risk areas.
Ocho Rios
Introduction
Ocho Rios nestles in a harbour on Jamaica's north coast in the Saint Ann Parish amid a region of tropical gardens and water falls.  Once a sleepy fishing village it is now the island’s premier port (after Montego Bay). It occupies the same stretch of coast as Runaway Bay and Port Antonio.
It is dominated by an ore terminal, hotels and sandy beaches. The port itself isn’t as historic as Montego Bay and its beaches aren’t quite up to MoBay’s standards either, but it does offer a lazy beach holiday.
It was the first town in Jamaica to be specifically developed into a resort. Today it displays neon signs over duty-free stores, fast food outlets, bars, clubs and tourist restaurants.
Authentic Jamaican culture takes a back seat and its hotel lined beaches are not quite up to the standards of those of Negril or Montego Bay. But there are several close by natural attractions to tempt tourists with.
See & Do
There are many sights to see and things to do in and around Ocho Rios. Below is just a selection of the possible activities:
  • Dunn’s River Falls
  • Eden Falls
  • Fern Gully
  • Chukka Cove
  • Safari Tours
  • Diving
  • Snorkelling
  • Horse riding
  • Mountain biking
  • Reggae Beach
  • Shaw Park Botanical Gardens
  • Coyaba Gardens & Museum
  • Mahoe Falls
  • Green Grotto Caves
  • Harmony Hall
  • Prospect Plantation
  • River rafting
  • Dolphin Cove
  • Enchanted Gardens
  • Island Village Beach
  • Kayaking
  • Wind surfing
  • Island Village Entertainment Park
  • Mahogany Beach
  • Reggae Explosion Museum
  • Turtle Beach
  • Turtle River Park
Shopping
Being a stop off point for the cruise ships, Ocho Rios has numerous tourist shops and stalls. However the competition amongst vendors is so strong at times it can appear like a bun fight with them all trying to get your custom.
Around these stalls, haggling is compulsory as prices will always be high. The best shopping is probably in Montego Bay but Ocho Rios also has a fair number of shopping malls, such as:
  • New Ocho Rios Plaza
  • Taj Mahal Mall
  • Island Plaza
  • Mutual Security Plaza
  • Ocean Village Shopping Centre
  • Coconut Grove Shopping Plaza
  • Pineapple Place Shopping Centre
If that isn’t enough to keep you going you can always visit the Ocho Rios Craft Park for local handmade craft items.
Food & Drink
Establishments range from fast food to fine dining and cover numerous cuisines. You should be able to find something to suit most tastes. Below are just a few of the many restaurants you can try during your stay.
  • Alkebulan
  • Almond Tree Restaurant
  • Bibibips Bar & Grill
  • Blue Runnings
  • Café Mango
  • Coconuts
  • Evita’s
  • Island Grill
  • Lion’s Den
  • Michelle’s Pizzeria
  • Ocho Rios Jerk Centre
  • Ruins at the Falls
  • Scotchie’s
  • Toscanini
  • World of Fish
Entertainment
There is nightlife in Ocho Rios, although not as much as you would expect considering it is a cruise ship stop off point. There are a number of rum bars and local’s clubs along Jamaica Avenue, but the main tourist places are:
  • Amnesia
  • Ocean’s 11
  • Silks Disco
  • Strawberry’s
  • Club Memories
  • Glenn’s Jazz Club
  • Roofe Club
  • Treehouse
  • Margaritaville
Other than that, the main entertainment in the resort comes from eating out, people watching or having a flutter at the Treasure Chest Casino.
Excursions
We have already seen there are a number of things to see in and around Ocho Rios. Your hotel will be able to provide you with details of available excursions however below are a few suggestions to get you started.
  • Brimmer Hall Estate
  • Montego Bay
  • Firefly (former home of Sir Noel Coward)
  • Oracabessa (location of Ian Flemings home, Goldeneye)
  • Port Maria
  • Seville Great House & Heritage Park
  • Cranbrook Flower Forest
  • Runaway Bay
  • Discovery Bay
  • Puerto Seco Beach
Health & Safety
Although the tap water is considered safe, you are advised to stick to bottled water. Ocho Rios is a safe place however there are a number of street hustlers trying to sell things and numerous would-be tourist guides. You should take the usual precautions with your valuables especially in crowded areas. And you are strongly advised to take out travel insurance prior to travel.
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