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Jamaica

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Travel Guide Caribbean Jamaica

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Introduction

Christmas Present

Christmas Present

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The birthplace of reggae and Bob Marley, Jamaica is as vibrant as it was in the days of the great Marley. A thriving music scene centred in Kingston is an exterior revelation of the artistic heartbeat underpinning all of Jamaican society. Even for those less musically inclined, Jamaica is a top contender for the all-time favourite Caribbean destination. Numerous coastal cities make up the bulk of the tourist attraction: travellers' endless fascination with the sparkling Caribbean waters does not seem to have diminished. But for those in search of a little more than the standard Caribbean fare, a trip inland should satisfy the senses: the island boasts the beautiful Blue Mountains (like the coffee), where hiking trails take the traveller along hundreds of rivers and gorgeous waterfalls.

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Brief History

Tainos from South America had settled in Jamaica at around 1,000 BC and called the land Xamayca, meaning "a land of wood and water". After Christopher Columbus' arrival in 1494, Spain claimed the island and began occupation in 1509, naming the island Santiago. The Arawaks were exterminated by the Spanish. Some also committed suicide, presumably to escape. Spain brought the first slaves to Jamaica in 1517.

The settlers later moved to Villa de la Vega, now called Spanish Town. This settlement became the capital of Jamaica. By the 1640s many people were attracted to Jamaica, which had a reputation for stunning beauty, not only when referring to the island but also to the natives. In fact, pirates were known to desert their raiding parties and stay on the island. For 100 years between 1555 and 1655 Spanish Jamaica was subject to many pirate attacks, the final attack left the island in the hands of the English. The English were also subject to pirate raids after they began their occupation of the island. Spanish resistance continued for some years thereafter, in some cases with the help of the maroons, but Spain never succeeded in retaking the island. Under early British rule Jamaica became a haven of privateers, buccaneers, and occasionally outright pirates. In 1872 the capital was moved to Kingston, as the port city had far outstripped the inland Spanish Town in size and sophistication.

Jamaica gained a degree of local political control in the mid-1940s. Jamaica joined nine other UK territories in the Federation of the West Indies in 1958 but withdrew after Jamaican voters rejected membership in 1961. Jamaica gained independence on August 6, 1962, remaining a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The first prime minister was Alexander Bustamante of the Jamaica Labour Party.

Historically, Jamaican emigration has been heavy. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many Jamaicans migrated to Central America, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic to work in the banana and canefields. In the 1950s the primary destination was to the United Kingdom, but since the United Kingdom restricted emigration in 1962, major flow has been to the United States and Canada. The heaviest flow of emigration particularly to New York, and Miami occurred during the 1990s and continues to the present day due to high levels of violence, drugs, and gang warfare which is hampering Jamaica. Remittances from the expatriate communities in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada make increasingly significant contributions to Jamaica's economy.

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Geography

Jamaica is the third largest island in the Caribbean Sea, 234 kilometres in length and as much as 80 kilometres in width. A narrow coastal plain surrounds the Blue Mountains inland. It is roughly 620 kilometres northeast of the Central American mainland, 145 kilometres south of Cuba, and 190 kilometres west of the island of Hispaniola, on which Haiti and the Dominican Republic are situated. It lies between latitudes 17° and 19°N, and longitudes 76° and 79°W. Mountains, including the Blue Mountains, dominate the inland. They are surrounded by a narrow coastal plain. Jamaica has the seventh largest natural harbour in the world, Kingston Harbour.
The highest area is that of the Blue Mountains. These eastern mountains are formed by a central ridge of metamorphic rock running northwest to southeast from which many long spurs jut to the north and south. For a distance of over 3 kilometres, the crest of the ridge exceeds 1,800 metres. The highest point is Blue Mountain Peak at 2,256 metres.

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Regions

Jamaica is divided into 14 parishes, which are grouped into 3 historic counties.

  • Surrey is located in the east and contains the parishes of Kingston (Kingston), Portland (Port Antonio), Saint Thomas (Morant Bay), Saint Andrew (Half Way Tree).
  • Middlesex is in the centre of the island and contains the parishes of Clarendon (May Pen), Manchester (Mandeville), Saint Ann (Saint Ann's Bay), Saint Catherine (Spanish Town), Saint Mary (Port Maria).
  • Cornwall, in Jamaica's west, contains the parishes of Hanover (Lucea), Saint Elizabeth (Black River), Trelawny (Falmouth), Saint James (Montego Bay), Westmoreland (Savanna-la-Mar).

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Sights and Activities

Old Estates

Rose Hall Great House

Rose Hall Great House

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Visit some of the amazing old estates left over from colonial times like Greenwood Great House built by Elizabeth Barrett Browning outside of Montego Bay, which used to be a sugar plantation, or the Rose Hall Great House. Many of these "Great Houses" are now open to the public and some have even been converted to museums. These mansions give a glimpse into the luxurious and negative aspects of a previous time that will most likely never happen again. Some people claim that many of the great houses are haunted, so be on the outlook for ghosts.

Dunn River Falls

Dunn River Falls is an amazing cascading falls that spans more then 183 metres. It is often featured in tourist ads that promote Jamaica making it one of the most popular travel destinations on the island. Another amazing thing is that the Dunn River is one of the few rivers in the world that falls directly into the sea. A popular activity is to climb up the falls and then hang out in one of the several lagoons along the way. Dunn River Falls was featured in the James Bond Movie Dr. No, which included the famous scene of Ursula Andress walking onto the beach. The waterfalls are near the town of Ocho Rios.

Blue Mountains

The Blue Mountains are a hiker's and camper's paradise, with its highest peak at 2,256 metres high. From its summit both the north and south coasts of the island can be seen, and if you're really lucky, on a clear day you might be able to see the coast of Cuba. The mountain is also famous for its coffee, which is cultivated on the lower slopes of the mountains. This coffee is considered some of the best coffee in the world. Part of the mountains are now a national park providing for some natural protection.

Other Sights and Activities

  • Beaches are possible to visit in towns like Negril. These long sandy beaches are some of the most beautiful in the world and famous for bright sunsets. Most tourists come to Jamaica in order to enjoy the beach.
  • Maroon Indian Village can be visited in villages like Accompong. These natives fought for their independence from the British and won it in the 17th century.
  • Music like live reggae can be heard where it all started: on the streets of Kingston.

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Events and Festivals

  • Pineapple Cup is a yacht race in February that starts in Miami and finishes in Montego Bay.
  • Carnival is a week long festival after Easter in March/April.
  • Kingston Test Match is the big cricket match of the year. April sees the West Indies cricket team take on an international challenger.
  • Ocho Rios Jazz Festival is held in June.
  • Reggae Sunsplash is held in August.
  • Reggae Sumfest is held in July in Montego Bay.
  • Jonkanoo is a traditional Christmas celebration.

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Weather

Jamaica's climate is tropical, with hot and humid weather in summer months. Winter days are usually warm with mild nights. Higher inland regions have a more temperate climate. Some regions on the south coast, such as the Liguanea Plain and the Pedro Plains are relatively dry rain-shadow areas, while it can rain for days on end in the eastern parish of Portland. The rainy season is from May to November, peaking in May and June and in October and November. Rainfall is usually for short periods in the late afternoon and it is still quite possible to enjoy the sun on a visit during these months. Fairly consistent temperatures are experienced throughout the year. In the lowlands, it averages around 25 °C to 30 °C. However, temperature will drop below 20 °C at higher elevations.

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Getting There

By Plane

There are two international airports in Jamaica, the Norman Manley International Airport (KIN) in Kingston and the Sangster International Airport (MBJ) in Montego Bay.

Air Jamaica is based in Kingston and serves many destinations in the Caribbean and North America, among which Grenada, Havana and Miami.

MBJ is the busier of the two with many more connections from cities further away. Destinations include Amsterdam, Toronto, Frankfurt, London and Vienna. Many air charters fly in here for holidays on the northern coast of Jamaica.

By Boat

Currently there are no regular public ferry services for travellers. Only yachts and cruise ships are available, or cargo ships for the more adventurous.

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Getting Around

By Plane

Air Jamaica flies between Kingston, Montego Bay and Ocho Rios on a daily basis.
International Air Link operates chartered flights between Montego Bay and Negril, while Tim Air flies from Montego Bay to Kingston, Negril, Ocho Rios and Port Antonio.

By Train

The only train you will see are cargo trains on a few lines. Maybe you'll be lucky and can get an adventurous ride!

By Car

Renting a car is a good way to cover a lot of Jamaica, and although not all roads are in a good condition, the main ones are. Still, another hazard are the Jamaicans who you'll share the road with. Just stay calm no matter what happens. There are numerous rental agencies at the airports, bigger cities and resort areas, both of the international and local type. Go for the better - albeit more expensive - international ones that have better insurances. You might need it.

Note that you have to be 25 years of age to rent a car and driving is on the left side of the road. An (inter)national driver's license will suffice.

By Bus

The bus system in Jamaica is rather chaotic, but it's a cheap way to get around and meet the locals. Buses go to almost all cities, towns and even small villages throughout the island. You can flag them down or get of when you want and timetables don't exist, or if they do are not really cared about.

Kingston to Montego Bay is probably the best, most comfortable and reliable link. Taxis are available as well and, although metered, it is best to agree a price before leaving.

By Boat

There are a few notable services. One option is to board a ferry from the capital Kingston to Port Royal. There is also a ferry between Port Antonio and Navy Island, only just over 5 minutes away from the mainland.

Other than that, you will probably be on a tour when out on the sea.

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Red Tape

Except for Canada, citizens of Commonwealth countries require a passport valid for at least 6 months, a return ticket, and sufficient funds. Canadian citizens require a passport or a birth certificate and ID card. No visa is required except for citizens of Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Sierra Leone.

Citizens of the USA, including those visiting by cruise ship, require a passport, but no visa is required for a stay of up to six months. Passports can have expired, as long as they expired less than a year ago.

German citizens can stay for 90 days without a visa. Similar terms probably apply to other countries in the Schengen area. Japanese citizens can stay for 30 days without a visa. Since 27 May 2014, Chinese citizens can also stay for 30 days without a visa. However, it's for tourist purposes only; to travel to Jamaica for any other reason, they still need a visa.

Most other nationalities need visas.

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Money

See also Money Matters

The currency of Jamaica is the Jamaican Dollars (JMD) and the currency sign is $. Banknotes come in the denominations of $50, $100, $500 and $1000 while coins come in 1 cent, 10 cents, 25 cents, $1, $5, $10 and $20.

As of 12 April 2008, the exchange rates of JMD against major world currencies are approximately USD1 = JMD70, EUR1 = JMD112, GBP1 = JMD139, CAD1 = JMD39.

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Work

Unemployment in Jamaica is at a high. The government does not invest in venture to turn over capital but instead sells government paper to banks and overseas financial entities at very high interest rate. In an effort, as they say, to balance the budget [which the People National Party (P.N.P) has been trying to do some 16 years now] a prominent member of the party describe this as been the most massive transfer of resources from the poor to the rich that has ever occurred in this country since the abolishment of slavery. A whole lot of people who should be gainfully employed in the work force are not as a result of government policies. The garment industry for example has seen a sharp decline over the years due to soaring interest rates. so now banks make money, not by lending money to potential investors, but by buying government paper so the unemployment in the country is as a direct result of government policies. Agriculture, manufacturing, and various other sectors are in a shambles causing many workers to find alternatives.

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Language

English is the official language of Jamaica. Informally Jamaican Creole, or patois, is commonly spoken by a majority of the population. Its pronunciation and vocabulary are significantly different from English, despite it being based on English. Although all Jamaicans can speak English, which is also the official language, they often have a very thick accent and foreigners may have trouble understanding them because of this.

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Eat

Jamaican food is a mixture of Caribbean dishes with local dishes. Some of the Caribbean dishes that you'll see in other countries around the region are rice and peas (which is cooked with coconut milk) and patties (which are called empanadas in Spanish speaking countries). The national dish is Ackee and saltfish, and MUST be tried by anyone visiting the island. It is made with the local fruit called Ackee, which looks like scrambled eggs, but has a unique taste of its own and dried codfish mixed with onions and tomatoes.

Another local food is called bammy, which was actually invented by the Arawak (Taino) Indians. It is a flat floury cassava pancake normally eaten during breakfast hours that kind of tastes like corn bread. There is also hard-dough bread (locally called hard dough bread), which comes in both sliced and unsliced varieties. Try toasting it, for when it is toasted, it tastes better than most bread you'll ever eat. If you are looking for dishes with more meat in them, you can try the jerk flavoured foods. The most popular is jerk chicken, although jerk pork and jerk conch are also common. The jerk seasoning is a spice that is spread on the meat on the grill like barbecue sauce. Keep in mind that most Jamaicans eat their food well done, so expect the food to be a bit drier than you are accustomed to. There are also curries such as curried chicken and curried goat which are very popular in Jamaica. The best curried goat is made with male goats and if you see a menu with curried fish, try it.

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Sleep

Jamaica is known for its large luxurious resorts along parts of the coastline, like Negril. Still, in other parts more inland or in lesser known areas, villages and towns, you can find a large variety of cheaper, charming and local accommodation options, including B&B's, pensions, guesthouses, small scale hotels and hostels.

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Drink

There are many drinks in Jamaica. Standards such as Pepsi and Coca-Cola can be found, but if you want to drink local soda, you can try Bigga Cola, Champagne cola or grapefruit soda called "Ting" and also Ginger beer. Also, try any soda by Desnoes & Geddes, typically labelled as "D&G." "Cola champagne" and "pineapple" are popular flavours that you won't find anywhere else. Since the turn of the century, the majority of soft drinks are bottled in plastic instead of glass.

You can try the local lager called Red Stripe (which is exported to many countries in the west, so there is a good chance you have already tasted it) and Dragon Stout. Most beers can be found in Jamaican pubs and hotels. A local hard drink is Jamaican Rum, which is made from sugar cane. It normally tends to drunk with cola or fruit juice. It's not for someone who is drinking it for the first time. It is not unheard of to have 75% proof Jamaican Rum.

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Health

See also Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Jamaica. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Jamaica) where that disease is widely prevalent.

It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Jamaica. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and vaccination against hepatitis B, rabies and typhoid are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.

Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccination, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible. Malaria have been reported a few times in and around Kingston, but chances to get it elsewhere on the island are reduced to zero, just use anit-mosquito repellent.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.

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Safety

See also Travel Safety

Jamaica has the 5th highest murder rate in the world, but the problems are mostly gang related and tend to be restricted to some more dangerous neighbourhoods of Kingston and a few other cities.

Marijuana, (locally known as ganja) although cheap, plentiful and powerful, is illegal on the island. Foreigners can be arrested and jailed for drug use. Jamaican prisons are very basic and places you would want to avoid at all costs.

Drugs and alcohol are prevalent. Armed men may pose a threat to women in some areas. Inner-city parts of the island such as Spanish Town and some neighbourhoods in Kingston (Trench Town, etc.) should be avoided even during the day. However, those who are interested in visiting the Culture Yard in Trench Town should be safe if they go during daylight hours and with a hired local guide, which should not be terribly expensive. Be sure to ask for advice from locals before going, and avoid going there around elections, when violence flares up.

September, October, and November have a lower number of tourists due to being hurricane season. As a result, the police are encouraged to take their vacation during this time. This reduction in the police force can cause areas like Montego Bay's hip strip to be less safe than they normally are.

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Keep Connected

Internet

Some resort areas and cities have internet cafés, but wifi is on the rise. It's not alway free though and many luxury places charge for wifi as well. On te other end of the scale, guesthouses and cheaper hotels usually offer free wifi.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

Jamaica's international phone code is 1876.

A prepaid Passport Jamaica SIM card with an international cell phone is the most convenient and economical solution for staying in touch while you travel through Jamaica. It meas much lower charges for calling and especially internet compared to using your home SIM card.

You can also buy simple phones or even rent one. Never use phones at your hotel or resort, as prices go through the roof.

Post

Jamaica Post offers service in the country. It has fairly reliable and affordable services. Postcards and letters take at least a week to 10 day before they arrive in North America, longer for European or other destinations. Most post offices have opening times from 8:00am to 5:00pm Mondays to Fridays. Hotels and resorts usually are able to collect post for you as well. If you want to send a package overseas, use reliable and fast companies like DHL, UPS, TNT or FedEx.

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Quick Facts

Jamaica flag

Map of Jamaica

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Capital
Kingston
Government
Constitutional Parliamentary Democracy
Nationality
Jamaican
Population
2,696,000
Languages
English, Jamaican Patois
Religions
Christianity (Protestant, Catholic), Rastafari, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Obeah
Currency
Jamaican Dollar (JMD)
Calling Code
+1876
Time Zone
UTC-5

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