Understanding Jamaica

Panoramic vista in the foothills of the Blue Mountains east of Kingston. (Larry Luxner)

Getting away and going somewhere warm, especially for the first time, often includes images of swaying palm trees, blue water, and white sandy beaches.  As far as specific destinations, Jamaica often tops the list for vacation seekers, but do you really understand Jamaica?  Jamaica has the most bars and churches per capita, but not all areas are the same.  But you can expect to see lush green mountainsides, beautiful white sandy beaches, and you will definitely meet some of the nicest people on the planet.

There are many places to visit in Jamaica and a few specific regions that are where those on holiday seek to escape.  These include Montego Bay, Negril, Ocho Rios, Kingston, and the South Coast.  It would be impossible to try to go into detail about each and every location, but suffice it to say that while they are all in Jamaica, they as different as it can possibly get.  To end up with the best possible vacation ever, make sure you choose the location that is most suited to your specific vacation tastes.

  1. Montego Bay: This hot spot is the most easily accessible from the Sangster International Airport (MBJ) airport and has great beaches.  For anyone looking to enjoy the beach, shopping, bars, and sightseeing, “Mobay” as it is often called, appeals to a great variety of vacationers, especially those looking to enjoy a great Jamaican party.  Distance from Sangster International airport to most resorts in Montego Bay is about 10-15 minutes.
  2. Negril: If you decide that you simply want to lie on a white sand beach and relax, then going to Negril might be for you.  The famous 7 Mile Beach is in Negril and here you can swim, sunbathe, and go scuba diving.   If you’re looking for a real treat, consider diving off a cliff like the one at Rick’s Café.  Distance from Sangster International airport is approximately 90 minutes.
  3. Ocho Rios:  If you’re looking for something other than beaches, this is the place to be.  With most of the island’s excursions happening here, this is where people go for active excursions, shopping, and sightseeing.  Here you’ll find the 600-foot  Dunn’s River Falls, Dolphin’s Cove where you can swim with dolphins, and you can even go down a bobsled.  Distance from Sangster International airport is approximately 2 hours via the new road going directly between the two cities.
  4. Kingston: Jamaica’s capital and the largest city in the country, no trip to Kingston would be complete without a visit to Trench Town, the area where reggae artists such as Bob Marley and Peter Tosh began their careers.  The Norman Manley International airport is located less than twenty minutes from Kingston.
  5. South Coast:  This is considered the undiscovered south shore of Jamaica.  Here you will find beautiful beaches, unspoiled beauty like Canoe Valley National Treasure Preserve.  Distance from Sangster International airport to the South Coast is approximately 90 minutes via windy back roads or helicopter.  Although a beautiful area, this trip is not for those who get carsick, as it is a bumpy, windy road.
Passenger terminal at Sangster International Airport, Montego Bay. (Larry Luxner)

Once you decide which area sounds more like you, from either party central to laid back beach style to an active fun filled vacation to the capital city or the undiscovered South Coast, you can then plan your perfect vacation.  Perhaps you’re not flying in at all, but arriving by cruise ship.

Cruise ships will dock in Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, Port Antonio, or the recently built Falmouth port, which was a joint project between the Jamaican Port Authority and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.  Although your time in Jamaica will be limited because of the time constraints of the cruise, you can still enjoy a wide variety of activities including sightseeing, trying out a zipline, or maybe taking the Appleton Estate Rum Tour.

Here is a short list of activities from Our Jamaica magazine, but you can certainly find others by doing a little research online.

With a wide variety of options, Jamaica is the perfect country to visit more than once!  Hopefully, you’re planning a trip there soon by airplane or by cruise ship.  Most people that have gone once often return and say it is a captivating, magical jewel in the Caribbean.