With 2.8 million people, Jamaica is the third most populous anglophone country in the Americas, after the United States and Canada. It remains a Commonwealth realm with Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State.
The Arawak and Taino indigenous people originating from South America settled on the island between 4000 and 1000 BC.
Christopher Columbus claimed Jamaica for Spain after landing there in 1494. Columbus' probable landing point was Dry Harbour, now called Discovery Bay. St. Ann's Bay was the "Saint Gloria" of Columbus who first sighted Jamaica at this point. The Spanish were forcibly evicted by the British at Ocho Rios in St. Ann and in 1655 the British took over the last Spanish fort in Jamaica. The Spanish colonists fled leaving a large number of African slaves. Rather than be re-enslaved by the English, they escaped into the hilly, mountainous regions of the island, joining those who had previously escaped from the Spanish to live with the Taínos. These runaway slaves, who became known as the Jamaican Maroons, fought the British during the 18th century. During the long years of slavery Maroons established free communities in the mountainous interior of Jamaica, maintaining their freedom and independence for generations.
During its first 200 years of British rule, Jamaica became one of the world's leading sugar-exporting, slave-dependent nations. After the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, the British imported Indian and Chinese workers as indentured servants to supplement the labour pool. Descendants of indentured servants of Asian and Chinese origin continue to reside in Jamaica today.
By the beginning of the 19th century, Jamaica's heavy reliance on slavery resulted in blacks (Africans) outnumbering whites (Europeans) by a ratio of almost 20 to 1. Even though England had outlawed the importation of slaves, some were still smuggled into the colonies.
In the 1800s, the British established a number of botanical gardens. These included the Castleton Garden, set up in 1862 to replace the Bath Garden (created in 1779) which was subject to flooding. Bath Garden was the site for planting breadfruit brought to Jamaica from the Pacific by Captain William Bligh. Other gardens were the Cinchona Plantation founded in 1868 and the Hope Garden founded in 1874. In 1872, Kingston became the island's capital.
Jamaica slowly gained increasing independence from the United Kingdom and in 1958, it became a province in the Federation of the West Indies before attaining full independence by leaving the federation in 1962.
Jamaica has a sizeable minority of East Indians, and varying numbers of Whites, Afro-Chinese, and persons of Syrian/Lebanese descent, many of which have intermixed throughout the generations. Individuals on the island seldom belong to one racial group; the genetic roots of many people can be traced to origins that are not necessarily physically apparent. Christianity is the major religion in the island.
Jamaica's resources include coffee, papaya, bauxite, gypsum, limestone and sugar cane.
The climate in Jamaica is tropical, with hot and humid weather, although higher inland regions are more temperate. Some regions on the south coast are relatively dry rain-shadow areas. Jamaica lies in the hurricane belt of the Atlantic Ocean; as a result, the island sometimes experiences significant storm damage.
Both airports receive vast numbers of international flights daily. There are smaller airports in Negril and Ocho Rios as well as another smaller one in Kingston, which can be accessed by smaller, private aircraft.
Jamaica has about 250 route miles of railroad, of which 77 are currently active to handle privately operated bauxite (aluminum ore) trains. Passenger and public freight service ceased in 1992, but increasing road congestion and poor highway conditions have caused the government to re-examine the commercial feasibility of rail operations.
Driving as a tourist in Jamaica is an adventure in and of itself. Jamaican roads are not renowned for their upkeep nor are their drivers renowned for their caution. Roads in and around major cities are generally overcongested, and rural roads are dangerous, especially in inclement weather. Alert and courteous driving is advised at all times. There are very few north-south routes as well, so travel from the north to the south can involve treks on mountain roads. These trips can induce nausea in the more weak of stomach, so it is advisable that if you suffer from motion sickness to bring dramamine or similar medication. Roads can be very narrow, and be especially alert when going around bends. Jamaican drivers do not slow down because of these twists and turns, so beware.
Jamaica, as a former British colony, drives on the left. Make note of this when driving, especially when turning, crossing the street, and yielding right of way.
There are relatively few stoplights. These only are generally found in major city centers, such as Montego Bay, Kingston, Spanish Town and Ocho Rios.
Renting a car is easily done, and it is advised to go through an established major car rental company such as Island Car Rental, Hertz or Avis. Do your research before renting and driving.
It is not advised to travel by boat unless the service is operated by a hotel or tourism company. It is not a quick way to get around unless you want to tour the coastline. Many fishermen may offer this service to willing tourists but they may overcharge.
Don't be afraid to take Jamaican local buses—they're cheap and they'll save you the headache of negotiating with tourist taxis. Be prepared to offer a tip to the luggage handlers that load your luggage into the bus. The ride is very different from what you are probably used to. Many resorts offer excursions by bus. Check with the resort's office that is in charge of planning day trips for more information. Excursions by bus from Ocho Rios to Kingston and Blue mountain, can turn into a long bus ride without many stops. A visit to Kingston might consist of a stop at a shopping center for lunch, a visit to Bob Marley's home and a 2 minute stop in the Beverly Hills of Jamaica. The guided tour at the Blue Mountain coffee factory can be interesting and informative.
Local taxis (called "route taxis") are an interesting way to get around and far cheaper than tourist taxis. For instance, it may cost 50J (less than a dollar) to travel 20 miles. It will just look like a local's car, which is precisely what it is. The licensed ones usually have the taxi signs spray painted on their front fenders, although there seems to be little enforcement of things like business licenses in Jamaica. Seldom you will find one with a taxi sign on the top, because not many do this. The color of the licencse plate will tell you. A red plate will tell you that it is for transportation, while a white plate will tell you it is a private vehicle. The yellow plate indicates a government vehicle (like a police car or ambulance) and the list continues. Although the route taxis generally run from the center of one town to the center of the next town, you can flag a taxi anywhere along the highway. Walk or stand on the side of the road and wave at passing cars and you'll be surprised how quickly you get one.
Route taxis are often packed with people, but they are friendly folk and glad to have you with them. Route taxis are the primary mode of transportation for Jamaicans and serve the purpose that a bus system would in a large metropolitan city. This is how people get to work, kids get to school, etc.
Route taxis generally run between specific places, but if you're in the central taxi hub for a town you'll be able to find taxis going in any of the directions you need to go. Route taxis don't run very far, so if you need to get half way across the island you'll need to take it in stages. If worst comes to worst, just keep repeating your final destination to all the people who ask where you're going and they'll put you in the right car and send you on your way. You may have to wait until the taxi has enough passengers to make the trip worthwhile for the driver, and many route taxis travel with far more people in them than a Westerner would ever guess was possible. If you have luggage with you, you may have to pay an extra fare for your luggage since you're taking up space that would otherwise be sold to another passenger.
If money is no object, you can fly between the minor airports on the island on a small charter plane. There are a couple of companies that provide this service and you need to make an appointment at least a day in advance. A flight across the entire island (from Negril to Port Antonio, for instance) runs about US$600.
Most Jamaicans speak Jamaican Creole, also known locally as Patois (Patwa). Jamaican pronunciation and vocabulary are significantly different from English, despite heavy usage of English words or derivatives. Jamaican Creole is used almost exclusively when Jamaicans speak between one another. In all other cases (especially around tourists), English is used.
Although all Jamaicans can speak English, Westerners may have trouble understanding them. It's English, but a heavily dialectual version. Even the billboards use the Jamaican phonetic slang, like "Eberyting is ah right" to mean "Everything is all right." Some Jamaicans speak a little bit of the other popular languages, like Spanish.
You may hear some Jamaicans say "Waah gwan?", "Waah appen?", or "what tah gwan", the Patois variation of "What's up?" or "What's going on?" More formal greetings are usually "Good morning" or "Good evening."
Visit Nine Mile where Bob Marley was born and now buried. The journey up into the mountains lets you experience the heart of the country. Spend a day at Negril 7 mile beach and finish off at Rick's Cafe for a spectacular sunset and watch even more fantastic cliff diving.
Hiking, camping, snorkeling, horse back riding, backpacking, swimming, jet skiing, sleeping, visiting the Giddy house, drinking and swimming with dolphins.
Over the past several decades, with the rapid growth of the tourism industry, "hotel marriages" have become a significant contributor to the total number of marriages occurring in the island. Hotel marriages are any marriage occurring in the island, performed by a certified marriage officer of the island.
The following is what you need to know or provide for your marriage in Jamaica:
1. Proof of citizenship - certified copy of Birth Certificate, which includes father’s name.
2. Parental consent (written) if under 18 years of age.
3. Proof of divorce (if applicable) - original Certificate of Divorce.
4. Certified copy of Death Certificate for widow or widower.
5. French Canadians need a notarized translated English copy of all documents and a photocopy of the original French documents.
6. Italian nationals celebrating their marriage in Jamaica must notify their embassy for legalization and translation.
The currency of Jamaica is the Jamaican Dollar ($, J$, JA$). It comes in notes of $50, $100, $500, $1,000 and $5,000. Coins in circulation are $20, $10, and $5 (with smaller coins being almost worthless). As of December 2009, the exchange rate hovers around JA$83 for US$1.
The US dollar is widely accepted in places most tourists visit. Indeed, all hotels, most restaurants, most shops, and almost all attractions in major cities will accept the US dollar. However, be aware that some places accept the dollar at a reduced rate (although it still may be a better rate than exchanging money beforehand). While it is possible for someone visiting only touristy places or for a few hours to not see the Jamaican currency at all, be advised that US dollars won't be accepted at a lot of "local" shops on the outskirts of cities and in rural areas.
Always stay up-to-date on the exchange rate and carry a calculator. Some places might try to make you pay ten times as much if you pay in US dollars. The cost of living in Jamaica is comparable to the United States.
US dollars, Canadian dollars, UK pounds, and euros are easily converted to Jamaican dollars at forex cambios and commercial banks island wide.
Buy products made on the island as they are cheap and you are supporting the local economy.
Prices are usually higher in tourist areas like Negril and Ocho Rios. Shops in "tourist traps" usually have higher prices than native ones, and you'll see the same items on offer in them.
Credit cards such as VISA, MasterCard and to a lesser extent American Express and Discover are accepted in many business establishments, such as supermarkets, pharmacies and restaurants in Kingston, Montego Bay, Portmore, Ocho Rios and Negril and most other major towns. A curious exception is petrol stations which mostly require cash. There are a few petrol station in uptown Kingston that will accept a credit card, but most will not
Cash advances from your MasterCard, VISA, Discover or American Express credit card will be quickly available at commercial banks, credit unions or building societies during normal banking hours. For cash advances on a non-Jamaican bank issued Mastercard or VISA cards or any American Express or Discover card, be prepared to show your foreign issued passport or overseas drivers license.
A bit of advice if you are paying for "fully inclusive" when you arrive or any other big ticket item such as tours, when you are there, take travelers checks in $'s. There is something like an 8% additional charge on a Visa or Mastercard transaction. Hotels and resorts usually charge the highest exchange rates.
ATMs are called ABMs in Jamaica and are widely available in every parish and almost all ABMs in Jamaica are linked to at least one overseas network such as Cirrus or Plus and sometimes both. Indeed, the safest way for a visitor to transact business in Jamaica is to use an ABM to withdraw your daily cash requirement directly from your overseas account in local currency, as flashing foreign currency, foreign credit cards or large quantities of cash might draw unwanted attention, and will almost certainly be disadvantageous when bargaining for the best price.
Don't be alarmed if you go to an ATM and you find an armed guard as he is there to protect you.
Jamaican food is a mixture of Caribbean dishes with local dishes. Although Jamaican food gets a reputation for being spicy, local trends lean towards more versatile food variety. 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. You probably won't get a chance to try this food anywhere else, and if you really want to say that you did something uniquely Jamaican, then this is your chance. Freshly picked and prepared ackee is 100 times better than tinned ackee, but must be harvested only when the ackee fruits have ripened and their pods opened naturally on the large evergreen tree on which they grow: unripe ackee contains a potent toxin (hypoglycin A) which causes vomiting and hypoglycemia . 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 barbeque 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.
You may even want to pick up a piece of sugar cane, slice off some pieces and suck on them.
Fruit and vegetables in Jamaica are plentiful. Many of the local varieties are unknown to visitors. Locally grown fruits and vegetables are inexpensive. Visitors may well find that imported produce tends to be more expensive than in their home country. Grapes in particular tend to be very expensive on the island.
Chinese food is available in many places from Chinese takeout stores and has a distant Jamaican taste.
It is recommended to sample the local fruit and vegetables. If unfamiliar with a particular fruit it can pay to ask a local about which parts can be eaten. Local and imported fruits are available from road-side vendors. If the fruit is to be eaten immediately the vendors can generally wash the fruit for you on request.
Finally, there is the category of "ital" food. Ital food is completely vegetarian and generally consists of a vegetable stew. Ital food is not generally on the printed menus in the upscale tourist restaurants and can only be found by going to smaller places (often just somebody's house.) Rastafarians are often vegetarians and eat (and serve) ital food.
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 flavors 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 be overproof and drunk with cola or fruit juice. DRINK WITH CAUTION! It's not designed for someone who is drinking for the first time. Since Jamaica was colonized by Britain, the drinking laws are 18 and over, but they don't generally enforce it as strictly as it would be in the Western countries (minus the ones with no drinking laws, of course)! Guinness is popular and the export 7% proof has a kick.
Flora and Fauna of Jamaica
Jamaica's climate is tropical, supporting diverse ecosystems with a wealth of plants and animals.
Jamaica's plant life has changed considerably over the centuries. When the Spanish came here in 1494- except for small agricultural clearings- the country was deeply forested, but the European settlers cut down the great timber trees for building purposes and cleared the plains, savannas, and mountain slopes for cultivation. Many new plants were introduced including sugarcane, bananas, and citrus trees.
In the areas of heavy rainfall are stands of bamboo, ferns, ebony, mahogany, and rosewood. Cactus and similar dry-area plants are found along the south and southwest coastal area. Parts of the west and southwest consist of large grasslands, with scattered stands of trees.
The Jamaican animal life, typical of the caribbean, includes a highly diversified bird life. Parrots, hummingbird, cuckoos, and green todies for example. The wild hog is one of the few native mammals in Jamaica, but there are many reptiles and lizards. Birds are abundant. The American Crocodile is present within the Black River and a few other areas.
Jamaican waters contain considerable resources of fresh-and saltwater fish. The chief varieties of saltwater fish are kingfish, jack, mackerel, whiting, bonito, and tuna. Freshwater varieties include snook, jewfish, gray and black snapper, and mullet.
Among the variety of terrestrial, aquatic and marine ecosystems are dry and wet limestone forests, rainforest, riparian woodland, wetlands, caves, rivers, seagrass beds and coral reefs.
The biodiversity is indicated by a number five (5) ranking amongst countries worldwide of the endemic plants and animals in jamaica.
The authorities had recognized the tremendous significance and potential of this aspect of their heritage and designated some of the more 'fertile' areas 'protected'. Among the island's protected areas are the Cockpit Country, Hellshire Hills, and Litchfield forest reserves. In 1992, Jamaica's first marine park, covering nearly 6 square miles (about 15 square km), was established in Montego Bay.
The following year Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park was created on roughly 300 square miles (780 square km) of wilderness that supports thousands of tree and fern species, rare animals, and insects, such as the Homerus swallowtail, the Western Hemisphere's largest butterfly.
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.
Jamaica has the 5th highest murder rate in the world. As in any other foreign country, should any emergency situation arise, especially at the domestic level, it is advised to immediately contact your government's embassy or consulate. Governments usually advise travelers staying in the country for an extended period of time to notify their embassy or consulate so they can be contacted in the case of emergency.
If you are approached by a Jamaican looking to sell you drugs or anything else that you are not interested in buying, the conversation will most likely go like this: "Is this your first time on The Island?" Respond: "No, I've been here many times before" (even if it is not true or as he will less likely think you are gullible). Next they, will ask "Where are you staying?" Respond with a vague answer: for instance, if you are approached on Seven Mile Beach, respond by saying "Down the street". If asked "Which resort?", respond with another vague answer. They will see that you are are not stupid nor ready to be taken advantage of. They will appear to be engaging in friendly conversation, but once you are marked a sucker (like "It's my first time here" "I'm staying at Negril Gardens"), you will be harassed. If you are further pushed to buy drugs or something else, calmly tell them: "I've been to this Island many times before: please don't waste your time trying to sell me something. I'm not interested." They should leave you alone, they may even say "Respect," and pound your fist.
The cultural and legal abhorrence against homosexuals (battymen) in Jamaica is far-reaching, and not only from a legal perspective, from which anal sex may be punished with up to 10 years. However, heterosexual anal sex is gaining in popularity, and while technically illegal, it has never been prosecuted by the state. It is advisable to avoid displaying affection to people of the same sex in public, especially between two men - Jamaica is a nation notorious for its persistent intolerance of homosexual behavior, gay bashings are not uncommon (particularly in popular reggae and dancehall music in Jamaica) and victims would be met with indifference by the authorities. Lesbians are more widely accepted by younger Jamaicans, and it is not unusual to see lesbians openly enjoying the 'sights' from the front row at one of Kingston's strip clubs. Simply put, Jamaica is not a suitable destination for LGBT tourism.
Marijuana, (locally known as ganja) although cheap, plentiful and powerful, is illegal on the island. Numerous foreigners are arrested and prosecuted every year for drug use and or possession. Jamaican prisons are very basic and places you would want to avoid at all costs.
If in need of police, dial 119, just don't expect them to show up on the spot.
Also, it is best to avoid certain parts of the island at night. Drugs and alcohol are prevalent, and rural areas are especially dangerous. Armed men may pose a threat to women in some areas. Inner-city parts of the island such as Spanish Town and some neighborhoods in Kingston (Trench Town, etc.) should be avoided even during the day.
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 police force can cause areas like Montego Bay's hip strip to be less safe than it normally is.
Medical facilities on the island are not always up to par with European or American health care standards. Falling ill can sometimes result in major medical fees. Therefore, it is advised to buy travel insurance, as this will ensure peace of mind in emergency situations.
The water quality is generally good and safe to drink. All piped water in Jamaica is treated to international standards, and will be of the same quality you could expect to find in North America or Europe. Water service in rural areas can sometimes go out for several hours at a time. Individuals in rural areas have their own water tanks, which catch water when it rains, so be ready to draw from a tank instead of turning a pipe. Water from these sources, should be boiled before consumed. Bottled water such as Wata (a local brand), Aquafina and Deer Park are widely available.
Be cautious of the water quality at public swimming beaches, such as "Walter Fletcher Beach" in Montego Bay, which some locals call "dump-up beach", situated near the north gully. Large amounts of solid and human waste flush down the gully during storm events. The water flowing down Dunn's River Falls has also been said to contain high amounts of coliform bacteria, indicating fecal contamination.
The country's adult HIV/AIDS prevalence is nearly at 1.6%. This is >2.5 times higher than the USA and 16 times higher than the UK. Practice safe sex and avoid risky intravenous drug use.
Malaria can be a risk, mostly near the Kingston area. The island had been malaria free for decades, until isolated incidents popped up in recent years.
Rumors have been heard of people suffering from symptoms similar to Dengue fever after visiting the cockpit country, but confirmed reports may not exist.
Many Jamaican people are very generous and warm. Returning this warmth and friendliness is a great way to show them you appreciate their country.
Chances are, you will be approached at one point or another during your travels in Jamaica for money. Do not feel pressured into giving money. A strong "I'm alright" and walking away is usually the best advice for instances such as this. This also applies in the infamous straw markets. Note that the European method of just walking away does not work well. You will generally need to engage with someone in order to get away from them.
That being said, if you befriend or encounter one of the many wonderful Jamaican people and you wish to give a friendly gift, that is perfectly acceptable and welcome. Just exercise common sense when it comes to money.
Cultural respect is far more important. You are guests on their island. Please know also that when speaking to the elderly you should say, "Yes ma'am." or "Yes, sir". Good manners should be displayed at all times. Respect the environment and the people. It is a simple rule of thumb that should always be applied when traveling abroad. Don't expect that everyone will respect you, however.