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Jamaica

There is no mistaking the way that English is spoken by a Scot, an Indian, a South African, Australian, Frenchman or American and in Jamaica the Jamaican accent takes on a special musical rhythm and sound all its own too.

Jamaica is the home of Reggae, the Rastafari  religion and dreadlocks, where Robert Nesta 'Bob' Marley (1945-1981) was born and grew up to become one of the world's most influential artists.

Bob Marley's music swept the world in the 1960's creating Reggae into a worldwide music sensation, and while Bob Marley died at age just 36, his music lives on and is as popular today as it ever was.

Jamaica was also the home of the famous English playwright, Noel Coward (1899-1973) and also Ian Fleming (1946-1964) who wrote all 14 of the James Bond classic spy novels most that have been turned into films – the films, 'Live and let die', 'Dr No' and 'The man with the Golden Gun' all filmed here in Jamaica.

The original inhabitants of Jamaica were the Arawak/Taino people and then in 1494 Christopher Columbus stepped ashore and claimed the 'Xaymaca' island and the whole of the Caribbean in the name of Spain. The first Spanish settlers followed in the early 1500's and in 1509 began to establish settlements, grow tobacco, cocoa, indigo and sugarcane and build their plantations using Taino workers and then African slaves that were transported here. The Spanish would continue to rule over Jamaica until 1655, when British forces led by Admiral William Penn captured the island taking it from the Spanish. Many of the Spanish settlers fled to Cuba, at the same time releasing their African slaves to run free. Many of these headed to the hills joining Taino villages – forming what became known as Maroon settlements. Here in the mountain areas they could avoid capture by the English, who also took over what Spanish settlements and plantations that existed, including Spanish Town and then the English brought in more African slaves to work and later when slavery was abolished they brought indentured Indian and Chinese workers.

Port Royal on the southern coast also became a safe harbour for pirates including the notorious privateer/pirate, Henry Morgan (1635-1688) who gained a knighthood based on his success in raiding Spanish treasure ships, and becoming the Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica in 1673. Port Royal at this time was considered 'the most wicked and sinful city in the world'.

Port Royal (about 35 kilometres - 15 miles from Kingston) was a pretty wild city in its day, with pirates, prostitutes, merchants, slave trading, bars and other activities happening, but in 1692 most of the City was destroyed by an earthquake and the tsunami that followed with some 2000 people dying in the earthquake and over 3000 others dying in the aftermath. Most of the city fell into the sea creating an underwater city of ruins. More devastation followed in 1703 when a lot of the warehouses burnt down, though the port remained a British Naval Station until 1905. One of the five original forts still can be seen here, Fort Charles, the others having been destroyed in the earthquake. Many of the relics from the time of the earthquake can be seen in the Institute of Jamaica – 10-16 East Street in Kingston. See www.instituteofjamaica.org.jm while the underwater city is still there too.

During the 1700's the English plantation owners continued to use African slaves and it wasn't until the Abolition Bill was passed in the British Parliament, that slavery would eventually be abolished with Jamaican slaves granted their freedom in 1838. There were a number of revolts by slaves during the British years, the most significant being the Christmas Rebellion in 1831 when a number of plantations were burned down. British retaliation followed swiftly and around 1000 slaves were shot and over 300 hanged, including one of the leaders of the rebellion, Sam Sharpe, who has since become a National hero.

At this time the Capital was still Spanish Town, but in 1872 it was moved to Kingston which remains the capital today. Jamaica remained as a British settlement and colony until 1962, when it became an independent nation, but has also remained within the British Commonwealth with Queen Elizabeth II the sovereign head of state and Queen of Jamaica.

The island of Jamaica is roughly 150 miles long by 50 miles wide (240km x 80km) with beaches all along its coastline and mountains in the interior, the highest mountain being Blue Mountain Peak which is 7402 feet high (2256 metres). It is roughly a 2 hour flight from Miami in Florida to get here.

While Kingston in the southern side of the island is the nation's Capital, most tourists will head to the northern side of the island to Montego Bay or Ocho Rios landing at Sir Donald Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay or Ian Fleming International Airport in Ocho Rios or arrive in Montego Bay or Ocho Rios on board a cruise ship. The Norman Manley International Airport is in Kingston.

Montego Bay has a population of about 100,000 people and the city and surrounding beaches are all geared towards tourism, with the tropical beaches, sailing, river rafting, palm trees, hotels, beachside bars, tourist souvenir shops and water and land activities all here to enjoy. The centre of Mobay (Montego Bay) is what is called the "hip strip" which is lined with shops, bars and restaurants. There are lots of tour operators, shopping opportunities and night life as well as golf courses and a large Exhibition Hall for conventions that come to town. Just out of town you will also be able to visit Plantations on a tour, head to the hills, or rivers.

One of the places that you might put on your list of places to see is the Rose Hill Great House on a plantation. This was the 'haunted' home of the slave owner, Annie Palmer who they nicknamed, "the white witch" due to her cruelty to slaves. The house is furnished and opened for tours, as is another Great House, Greenwood Great House built between 1780 and 1800 for plantation owner Henry Barrett and Edward Barrett who ran the Sugar Estate that covered 84,000 acres of grounds. Some 2000 African slaves worked here in its heyday. Edward Barrett's daughter, Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) is the well-known English poet. Greenwood Great House is located at 435 Belgade Avenue, St James about 15 miles east of Mobay.

Jamaica is renowned for its birdlife too, and to get up close to see the variety and colours of the birds, head to Rocklands Bird Sanctuary, just mile or so inland towards the hills from Montego Bay.

Head either east or west out of Montego Bay and there are beaches and resort hotels all along the coast with the main road following the coastline.

In Montego Bay and in Jamaica there is poverty and crime too, so be aware of your surroundings, take advice from your hotel re any safety considerations and don't make yourself a target of thieves or con artists offering to take you on a great tour or sell you something like drugs or other illicit substances. Break-ins are also not uncommon too, and hurricanes and rain can happen too while you are here. Also be aware that there can be power blackouts and times when the internet won't work. Most of the bigger hotels will have power generators to handle this situation, but not smaller establishments. Jamaica can be hot and humid, so be mindful to not get sun burned or dehydrated.

While you may well smell marijuana in the air (Ganja) at different locations in Jamaica, and as a tourist you can officially smoke Ganja if you have a medical certificate for 'medical marijuana' but will pay fine if you had just 2 ounces (56grams) only. There are however heavy penalties for trafficking and having larger quantities of Ganja or other hard drugs.

Negril is located in the western tip of the island about an hour and a half distance away by car. It is only about 50 miles away (80 kilometres), but traffic and road repairs can slow you down. Negril is right on the coast and has great beaches and also limestone cliff sides with a number of hotels spread along the cliff tops with swimming pools and views out to sea. The beaches, bars and many of the hotels have a laid back Jamaican style, so with the sounds of Reggae, the sun, water and great drinks and food, you could well think you are in paradise. The bars stay open and dance parties, the people and music all come together so you are bound to have a good time. There is a long boardwalk here and you will no doubt be asked to buy handicrafts and other tourist souvenirs.

Just inland there is also a large wetland area with wooden deck walkways to take you through some of the wetland areas and see birds and nature in the Great Morass and Royal Palm Reserve. From Negril there are day tours that can take you to see crocodiles, visit plantations, small villages and the countryside, go horse riding, go scuba diving, see waterfalls and swim at Mayfield Falls or in the Blue Hole Garden natural spring water pool.  Of course there are also the beaches where you can swim or just lie on a towel or deck chair and just wait for a cocktail to arrive. As with all holidays, it is often the people you meet that make the difference between a good holiday and a great one.

Some people like to party all night, others want to shop and stay with crowds and others want to avoid crowds of people altogether and it is possible to do all of this in Jamaica. Everyone is different and Jamaica is not a huge island, so that you could with time and the inclination do a complete drive all around the coastline, stopping at the places that you see that are of interest. The smaller the town or village, the more authentic the Jamaican experience will be. It is easy to find a great place to stay. Just check out many of the hotels and resorts on this website – and search for a town name to make a selection. There are also self-contained apartments and villas that you can rent too.

Cockpit County and Santa Cruz Mountains area - In the days of slavery, runaway slaves would head into the mountains and rainforest where they could easily hide and avoid capture. They call this area Cockpit County and it is a large area with still only very small villages and rivers that flow from it. The biggest river is Black River, the second biggest in Jamaica that flows from the mountains through the Great Morass to the south east coast – and a large part of the lower river is navigable. Here there are boat trips that take you up river from the coast to see Jamaican crocodiles in the wild or offshore to see Dolphins. Just outside of the small town of St Elizabeth that are also the YS Waterfalls that fall over a series of cascades into pools of mountain water where you can swim. This is quite a popular location with some zipline tree top canopy set ups too. In the picturesque Nassau Valley in St Elizabeth you will also find the Appleton Estate Rum Distillery (Est.1655), which have tours of their plant – see www.appletonestate.com  while right on the coast is Treasure Beach where there is a series of small secluded beaches, coves and Bays. Here you can take boat trips to see dolphins and sea cows (Mantatees) lying on some of the rocky outcrops, see traditional fishermen working and if you are into hiking there are some small caves and tracks near the beaches and in the Malvern area there is a place where there are spectacular, almost 500 metre high cliffs, the point, what is called "Lover's Leap" where the Santa Cruz mountains drop into the ocean below.



Ocho Bay – on the Northern side of the island vies with Montego Bay as the most popular beachside tourist destination in Jamaica. There is the Ian Fleming International Airport located here and Cruise ships also come here arriving at the Cruise Terminal. Ocho Bay is also where the James Bond creator, Ian Fleming once lived when writing his books. His Villa is now part of the Goldeneye Resort complex on Oracabessa Bay – and you can stay here or eat in the restaurant. It is in a stunning location with a private beach and water next to you with a backdrop of the rainforest. There are lots of places to stay along the coastline here in Ocho Bay– hotels, guest houses and villas and things to see and do include the beach activities – paddle boarding, sailing, sun bathing, swimming, cruising, horse riding, golf, have a Spa treatment and shopping. There is also the Reggae Xplosion in the Ocean Village Shopping Centre on Main Street in Ocho Rios, where you can learn more about Reggae, Ska, Mento, Rocksteady, Dub and Dancehall music, and also here in this see souvenir shops, products made from Hemp, buy an ice cream and just wander.

Looking for fun? Head to Mystic Mountain where they have swimming pools, bob-sled rides, zip lines and other fun activities – see www.rainforestadventures.com 

If you are a Bob Marley fan – inland from Ocho Rios in the St Ann's Hills at Nine Mile there is the Bob Marley Museum and Mausoleum.

There are lots of tours to take you to different places of interest out of Ocho Bay to see waterfall cascades at Dunn's River, a luminescent lake, Green Grotto Caves, to see different tropical gardens – the Shaw Park Botanical Gardens, Coraba River Gardens and Cranbrook Flower Forest being three of the best gardens in Jamaica. In the Dolphin Cove Theme Park which covers around 5 acres of beach areas, pools and rainforest you can swim with Dolphins or see a Dolphin or shark show, snorkel with stingrays, paddle a glass bottom kayak and enjoy other activities as well as eat in their restaurants and shop for souvenirs.

Diving – the island of Jamaica is surrounded by reefs and on the outer edge of the reef on the north side of the island it drops over the edge into the Cayman Trench, creating a wall between the shallow water and the deep water beyond. This is great place for diving with fish, corals, the wall with sponges and different corals and fish, eels and other creatures. There are dive schools and instructors to take both experienced divers and people wanting to learn about diving. Also some places where you can head underwater with a SeaDoo that pulls you through the water. The warm waters of the Caribbean await you. Most of the bigger hotels in Ocho Dios or Runaway Bay (half way between Ocho Dios and Montego Bay) have diving connections.

Firefly – the home of Noel Coward. Remember the song "Mad dogs and Englishmen" and the words "Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun"? That was written in 1931 by Noel Coward and first performed in the Music Box Theater in New York City that year. Since then it has been performed countless times by different artists and in 1970 "Mad dogs and Englishmen" was used as the title of an album by Joe Cocker. Noel Coward's house retreat where he wrote many of his musicals and entertained various celebrities is open to see too. Oracabessa and Firefly are both just a few miles apart.

Port Antonio – in the north east of the island, just over 60 miles (100km) east of Ocho Rios, so depending on how many stops along the way you make, it will take between one and two hours to get there. Port Antonio was the original banana capital in the world in the 1800's, so it has a number of old heritage buildings dating back to that time in and around the main street, West Street off Market Square. The Folly Place red and white striped lighthouse built in 1888 is here too on the Titchfield Peninsula, which has a 'double' harbour – the deeper west harbour and the east harbour on each side of the peninsula. This location is where the British first landed in Jamaica. Fort George, built in 1785 is also located here too at the entrance to the East Harbour and there are the partial ruins of Folly Mansion, built around 1901 by an American millionaire for his wife. Apparently they used sea water when they prepared the cement and the salt ultimately destroyed the cement.

During the 1940's Port Antonio and the area became popular as a holiday destination for famous Hollywood stars including Errol Flynn. Today Port Antonio has a marina on West Harbour and from here you might be able to catch a boat to go out to Navy Island, originally used by the British Navy for recalking and repairing their ships. The island was also owned at one stage by Errol Flynn.

The beaches around Port Antonio and further east are not as touristic as the areas around Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, so there are less people and activities and the beaches and rainforest areas have a more unspoiled casualness about them. There are however lots of hotels to choose from. There are also waves on some of the beaches along the coast here too and just inland there are the Reach Falls which have clear mountain water cascading down the falls into a swimming hole.

KINGSTON

Kingston is the Capital City of Jamaica and also the biggest commercial city in Jamaica. The city is located on a Harbour on the southern coastline of the island – divided into what they call Old Town and New Town, and like all of Jamaica, the language spoken is English.

Places to see here include the Bob Marley Museum in his original home on Hope Road, complete with music, memorabilia, and recordings. Nearby is the Royal Botanical Gardens – Hope Gardens that cover around 2000 acres of grounds with some of the trees dating back to around 1880. There is the Museum of Coconuts here and also Palm Avenue, a sunken garden, Lily Pond, Maze, Orchid House and also the Hope Zoo is next to the gardens too. Devon House Museum – the original mansion home of a wealthy Jamaican, George Stiebel, built in 1881. In the downtown area, if you can take a walking tour that will show and discuss some of the old buildings that are located here, such as the National Gallery (on Ocean Boulevard), the Money Museum, National Library and the Synagogue and churches.

One of the best things to do in Kingston is to get the latest information from your hotel as to what is the best place to hear music at night, bearing in mind your safety at night too. There are also lots of restaurants too and again, it is best to ask your hotel desk as to where best to eat.

Kingston is not far from beaches along the coast, and also the Blue Mountains and its coffee estates, as well as Spanish Town and Port Royal. All of these places are worth visiting to gain a true picture of the diversity of Jamaica society and its mix of Taino, African, Spanish, British, Jewish, European, Pirate, Indian and Chinese heritage and influences. The easiest way to see these places outside of Kingston is to take a tour, or hire a car.

Blue Mountain coffee is considered the best coffee in the world, while Spanish Town and its Spanish architecture provide a glimpse into Jamaica during the years of Spanish rule and Port Royal tells the story from the days of pirates. Into the mix there is also cricket, the quintessentially British game that was brought to Jamaica and the West Indies by the British in the 1800's with players such as Courtney Walsh and Chris Gayle being just two of the players. Jamaica also is the home country of the world's fastest runner, Usain Bolt.

If you can see a cricket match being played here in Kingston, check to see if there is a game on at Sabina Park. This is where Test Matches are played, the grounds dating back to 1895 and first used for Test Cricket in 1930.

I hope you enjoy some great seafood in Jamaica and also the national dish, Jerk Chicken, as well as hear some great music too while you are here.

Happy travelling!

Geoff Stuart

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