Five reasons you should visit Jamaica
Five reasons you should visit Jamaica
Ask any expat Jamaican what they miss about their island, and the answer is inevitably the landscape itself – that great green garden that constitutes one of the most beautiful islands of the Caribbean. Jamaica begins with crystalline waters flowing over gardens of coral, lapping onto soft sandy beaches, then rising past red soil and lush banana groves into sheer mountains. This is a powerfully beautiful country, captivating to the eyes and soul. Jamaican culture can be a daunting subject for foreigners to understand but, ultimately, it’s a matter of appreciating this land and how its cyclical rhythms set the pace of so much island life.
Jamaica cries out to be explored – underwater, on hikes, river-bound with a raft, underground with a lamp strapped to your head, or on the road by car or bicycle. Getting away from the (admittedly beautiful) beaches allows you to see sides of the island that many tourists miss.
A statue of renowned reggae musician Bob Marley. Picture: Lonely Planet Images
With Bob Marley, Jamaica gifted us the first global superstar from the developing world. But he didn’t spring from nowhere – this tiny island has musical roots that reach back to the folk songs of West Africa and forward to the electronic beats of contemporary dance hall. Simply put, Jamaica is a musical powerhouse, a fact reflected not just in the bass of the omnipresent sound systems but in the lyricism of the patois language and the gospel sounds from the island’s many churches. Music is life in Jamaica, and you’ll soon find yourself swaying along with it.
Like many aspects of Jamaican culture, the food is a creole, born somewhere between the Old and New Worlds. African spice rubs have evolved into delicious jerk, while yam, rice and plantain form the basis of rich stews and the fish that abound in local waters. Throw in the astounding array of tropical fruits that seem to drip from the trees, washed down with a shot of rum, and you can see (and taste) how the Jamaican cultural story retains its original voice while adapting to the setting – and, of course, rhythms – of the Caribbean.
The spectacular Blue Mountain range. Picture: Lonely Planet Images
JAMACIA’S TOP FIVE
1. REGGAE GROOVES
Thanks to Bob Marley, reggae is the island soundtrack that went on to conquer the world, helping permanently brand the country and bestow it a global cultural influencer well out of proportion to the island’s tiny size. Rebel Salute, the biggest Roots Reggae concert in Jamaica, goes down on the second Saturday in January at Richmond Estate. Red Stripe Reggae Sumfest, Jamaica’s premier reggae festival, typically includes more than 50 world-class reggae artists. Held in Montego Bay in July, it starts with a beach party on Walter Fletcher Beach, followed by a week of non-stop partying.
The magnificent Reach Falls. Picture: Lonely Planet Images
2. BEST BEACHES
The idyllic Lime Cay, one of half a dozen or so uninhabited, white-sand-rimmed coral cays about 3km offshore from Port Royal, is ideal for sunbathing and snorkelling. White-sand beaches fringe the Hellshire Hills southwest of Kingston. Fort Clarence Beach Park is popular with Kingstonians on weekends. It has clean sand, showers, toilets and secure parking. On a cliff 13km east of Port Antonio, you’ll find the little hamlet of Fairy Hill and a rugged dirt track. Follow that road steeply downhill and you’ll reach Winnifred Beach, yet another totally gorgeous beach that puts a lot of the sand in more famous places to shame. Seven Mile Beach was initially touted on tourism posters as “seven miles of nothing but you and the sea”. Today, it’s cluttered with restaurants, bars and nightspots and every conceivable water sport on offer. The swaying palms, clear waters and nearby coral reefs mean that the beach is still beautiful to behold.
3. REACH FALLS
Even in a country that abounds in waterfalls, Reach Falls stands out as one of the most beautiful places in Jamaica. The white rushing cascades are surrounded by a bowl of virgin rainforest; the water tumbles over limestone tiers from one hollowed, jade-coloured pool into the next. Once you enter the falls, a guide will offer his services – crucial if you want to climb to the upper pools. The Mandingo Cave, the crown jewel of the falls, can be accessed at the top of the cascades but you need to bring climbing shoes and be prepared for a long climb.
Lonely Planet’s Jamaica guidebook.
4. CLIMBING BLUE MOUNTAIN PEAK
Deriving its name from the azure haze that settles lazily around its peaks, the 45km-long Blue Mountain range looms high above the eastern parishes of St Andrew, St Thomas, Portland and St Mary. The Blue Mountains were formed during the Cretaceous Period (somewhere between 144 and 65 million years ago) and are the island’s oldest feature. Highest of the highlights, Blue Mountain Peak reaches 2256m above sea level and no visit to the area should neglect a pre-dawn hike to its summit for a sunrise view.
5. KINGSTON NIGHTLIFE
Kingston is Jamaica undiluted and unadulterated, its raw energy contrasting sharply with the languor of resorts and villages elsewhere on the island. The launching pad for some of the world’s most electrifying music, spirited clubs and riotous street-system parties attest that the beat is still alive and bumping. Kingston is the best town in Jamaica for bar-hopping and clubbing, and you’ll never want for after-hours action.
*This is an edited extract from Lonely Planet Jamaica (7th Edition) by Paul Clammer & Brendan Sainsbury. © Lonely Planet 2014. Published this month, RRP: $32.99.
Hip Strip sign on Gloucester Avenue, Montego Bay. Picture: Lonely Planet Images