EXPLORE the Island of Jamaica
Jamaica is an island nation of the Greater Antilles, 150 miles (240 kilometers) in length and as much as 50 miles (85 kilometers) in width situated in the Caribbean Sea. It is 391 miles (635 kilometers) east of the Central American mainland, 93 miles (150 kilometers) south of Cuba, and 112 miles (180 kilometers) west of the island of Hispaniola, on which Haiti and the Dominican Republic are situated. Its indigenous Arawakan-speaking Taíno inhabitants named the island Xaymaca, meaning either the "Land of Springs," or the "Land of Wood and Water." Formerly a Spanish possession known as Santiago, it later became the British West Indies Crown colony of Jamaica. It is the third most populous anglophone country in the Americas, after Canada and the United States.
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Affectionately called "MoBay," the community of Montego Bay is one of the most popular resort destinations in Jamaica, especially for American travelers. Here you'll find upscale resorts and all-inclusives with all the bells and whistles. It has plenty of commercialization and isn't the best spot for authentic Jamaican culture, but it is easily accessible from its own airport, the Donald Sangster International Airport.
If you want to leave your inhibitions behind, Negril is the place to go. Here, beautiful beaches, some of them clothing-optional, host crowds interested in partying and ganja (marijuana). The East End features upscale hotels, while the West End is a throwback to the popularity Jamaica enjoyed in the 1960s - a more free-spirited and bohemian style of vacation, featuring local restaurants and modest cottages. A word of warning: Walking alone at night, especially outside a resort's secured area, has been greatly discouraged by many, but many of Jamaica's repeat visitors don't agree with this viewpoint..
Ocho Rios is most Americans' second choice for destinations in Jamaica. It is a popular cruise port and truly thrives on tourism. It is just two hours from Montego Bay and offers a more laid back hotel stay than either Montego Bay or Negril. Beaches here are beautiful, and some people travel here for the history - Ian Fleming wrote his James Bond novels here, and it was a popular spot for Errol Flynn and other legends as well.
Runaway Bay is much smaller than Ocho Rios and less popular. It has fewer people day-to-day because it lacks the cruise ship popularity that Ocho Rios holds. However, it does have a few historical distinctions and is the spot where the Spanish fled the island after their defeat by the British. Travelers looking to avoid "tourist traps" may find this their ideal vacation spot in Jamaica.
A unique destination lacking in posh resorts and crowded streets, celebrities and travelers alike enjoy the peace of Port Antonio. This seaport northeast of Kingston is also north of the Blue Mountains. Known as one of the more lushly beautiful sections of the island, it is also popular among explorers. Visitors here are more often European than American, and the atmosphere is extremely relaxed, especially when it comes to nightlife, upscale dining and shopping. Don't visit this part of Jamaica, however, if you're looking for all-inclusives and mega resorts.
Kingston is the city most vacationers avoid, whether because they've been warned away by its bad reputation or because it simply doesn't offer the resort amenities vacationers are looking for. Business travelers are generally the only travelers visiting Kingston. However, Kingston is a major urban center and the cultural center of the island with a large number of artists and artisans among its inhabitants. Nightlife can be great, but travelers are warned to take extra caution - as in any major metropolitan area - and avoid certain neighborhoods, especially at night. Just outside the city are the Blue Mountains, where Jamaica's trademark coffee is grown. It's also easily accessible through its own airport, though it is often recommended that tourists stick to Montego Bay's airport unless visiting Kingston or surrounding areas.
Visitors should not miss the rewarding drive into the Blue Mountains, home of Jamaica's famous coffee. The route via Hope Road and Papine will take you to Newcastle, a historic fort which, in the past, has housed many famous British regiments and today is a training centre of the Jamaica Defense Force. A mile further on is Hardwar Gap in the Blue Mountain/ John Crow National Park. At Hollywell, a little further on in the park you will find trails and magnificent views which will make you glad you made the effort.
Most of the old city of Port Royal, once the pirate capital of the New World, sank beneath the waves in a violent earthquake in 1692. Over the years much excavation work has been done to recover artifacts from this rich, but wicked town. Fort Charles, where Lord Nelson once strode the quarterdeck, still stands and the silent cannon still keep watch from its battlements. The Maritime Museum is located in Fort Charles itself while the Port Royal Archaeological and Historical Museum, which houses artifacts salvaged from the sunken city, is situated in the old Naval Hospital. To get there you can drive beyond Norman Manley International Airport or catch the ferry across the harbour.