Situated in the Caribbean Sea 90 miles south of Cuba, Jamaica is full of tourist destinations, all with a unique flavor. The island nation of Jamaica is a geographically diverse country that’s well worth exploring. Whether you are up for an adventure or are just looking to relax in paradise, Jamaica is an ideal place to visit.
Jamaica boasts amazing natural beauty which offers visitors a chance to delight in the grandeur of the island’s spectacular sights – the rivers, beaches, mountains and rainforests – while embarking on memorable adventures. Fans of the outdoors can go rafting on the Martha Brae River, while adventure lovers will enjoy hiking in the Blue Mountains.
A big island with hundreds of miles of coastline, Jamaica is blessed with a number of beautiful beaches, quiet coves with wave-carved caves and white-sand strands. Some of the best beaches are situated in Montego Bay and Negril, although you can also find great sand, surf and seaside bars in Port Antonio. Be sure to check out Doctor’s Cave beach in Montego Bay and Boston Bay beach in Port Antonio.
While most people come to Jamaica just to relax on the beach, many also make time to explore popular art and culture attractions. From painting to sculpture and pottery, Jamaica boasts some of the most talented artists in the Caribbean, and over 400 years of history to explore. The best place to witness Jamaica’s rich art and cultural heritage is at the Institute of Jamaica museums.
Jerk food is just one of the most famous exports of Jamaica, which is celebrated during various annual festivals on the island. In Jamaica you will commonly find Jerk Chicken, a spicy local favorite, cooking in steel drums over open fires, as well as on the menus of restaurants.
The home of reggae also celebrates its music heritage year round with fun festivals and events. And of course, this being the birthplace of reggae music, you will pretty much hear it every day, everywhere on the fun-loving island of Jamaica.
A rich historic and cultural legacy awaits visitors to Jamaica, from ancient forts that guard old pirate towns, to the unique story of Rastafarianism and the mysterious culture of the Maroons. There are so many attractions in Jamaica, so many interesting spots to visit, and things to do that you could never do it all in one short vacation. But you will sure have fun trying.
Yam is such a terrific tuber in Jamaica that it has its very own festival – the Trelawny Yam Festival. Trelawny Parish is situated in the Cockpit Country region on the northern coast of Jamaica, and hosts the annual event which draws in over 10,000 attendees every year.
The attendees come to feast on yam dishes, honor the yam king and queen, marvel at giant yams and play yam-related games. And naturally, there is a concert at the end of the Yam Festival Day, which features the very best in Jamaican music.
But there’s more to Trelawny than delicious yam. Falmouth is the capital of Trelawny Parish, and famous for its well-preserved Georgian architecture. For over two centuries, Falmouth prospered as the center for the Jamaican sugar industry, leaving behind a heritage of fine public buildings in the downtown area.
Built in 1895, the Albert George Shopping and Historic Center is the place to visit for local produce and crafts. You can also go on Great House tours and visit the Outameni cultural center or the Artisan’s Village.
Also located in Falmouth is the Luminous Lagoon, which is the site of one of the world’s most spectacular natural phenomena – the bioluminescent bay or bio bay. Luminous Lagoon is home to billions of microscopic organisms known as dinoflagellates that glow an iridescent green-blue color when the water is disturbed.
This marvel of bioluminescence is found in only 7 places in the world, with Luminous Lagoon being the brightest of all. This is due to the fact that Luminous Lagoon has the greatest concentration in the world of dinoflagellates and offers a more consistent climate for the organisms, which glow at their brightest in the shallow warm waters characteristic of the lagoon.
Fresh water from the Martha Brae River meets the salt-water of the Caribbean Sea to form an ideal habitat for the organisms. The waters of Luminous Lagoon are also full of phosphorous which enables it to illuminate with such brilliance.
Watch the water light up around you as you dip the oars of the canoe inside, leaving a bright green glow in your wake. Even fish swim around with bright flashes of blue light around them. This attraction is best visited during the nighttime. Avoid visiting during a full moon as this will dampen the glowing experience. Bioluminescence appears brighter under a dark sky.
During your tour of Luminous Lagoon, your guide will provide some history of the Falmouth area, as well as a scientific explanation of the phenomenon of bioluminescence.
Rafting on the Martha Brae River is another unique Jamaican experience that you can enjoy while in Trelawny. Situated about 3 miles inland from Falmouth town, the Martha Brae river cruise is led by a licensed and experienced raft captain who will navigate your 30-foot long bamboo raft. Sail along a 3 miles stretch of beautiful river on a cruise that lasts about an hour.
During the cruise, your captain will narrate the legend of Martha Brae, and even stop for you to enjoy an exhilarating swim. There are picnic grounds, a souvenir shop, bar, lounge area and restrooms at the disembarkation area, which comprises 6 acres of beautifully manicured lawns situated on a natural horseshoe island.
The tour also includes a visit to Miss Martha’s Herb Garden at which you will be presented with Jamaican herbs famous for their healing and medicinal properties.
2. Ochos Rio
Situated in the northeastern coastal parish of St. Anne, Ochos Rios is a former fishing village that is home to one of the most famous tourists destinations in Jamaica. Jamaica is blessed with water, including several cascading waterfalls which visitors can actually climb. The most famous of these are the Dunn’s River Falls.
Dunn’s River Falls & Park measures 600 feet, and part of the fun here is climbing to the top of the spectacular formation that resembles a giant wedding cake.
Also situated in the Ochos Rios region are the Green Grotto Caves. This is a complex of limestone caves and tunnels situated near Discovery Bay, which have a rich history in that both runaway slaves and pirates used them as a hiding spot.
Today, visitors are able to stroll through the shadowy caves, admire the stalactites and stalagmites, as well as artwork left by the Taino Indians, the first inhabitants of Jamaica. You will also enjoy the ghostly Grotto Lake which is situated underground and accessible only by boat.
Other fun activities to engage in while in Ochos Rio include bobsledding through the rainforest, rafting on the white river, relaxing on the beach and in the surf.
Kingston is the capital city of Jamaica, which was founded in 1692 following an earthquake that devastated the close by infamous pirate haven of Port Royal. One of the biggest cities in the Caribbean, Kingston boasts a waterfront location and a host of cultural attractions for visitors to explore.
If you visit Kingston in early February, you will be in time for Bob Marley Week. The legendary reggae singer and activist had his birthday on February 6 and during this time, Jamaicans welcome his fans to celebrate his life and work.
Events vary every year, but have in the past included the Smile Jamaica concert, lectures, karaoke competitions and more. This is also a good time to visit the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston, or pay your respects at his mausoleum in Ochos Rios.
Join the heritage walking tour of downtown Kingston, which will take you to the Bob Marley Museum. The museum features 19th century architecture and is situated on the site of the Marley home which he bought in 1975. It was his home until his death in 1981. Six years later, his wife Rita Marley converted the house into a museum which displays Bob Marley’s personal keepsakes.
Situated on Hope Road in Kingston, the museum also has a well-equipped 80-seat theater, photographic gallery and a gift shop that sells T-shirts, CDs and other Marley memorabilia, in addition to other items made in Jamaica. The museum enables you to explore every aspect of Bob Marley’s life, while enjoying his sights and sounds.
The guided tour lasts approximately one hour and fifteen minutes, and afterwards, you can indulge your palate with a sumptuous Jamaican meal at the Legend Café on the museum grounds.
Another Kingston attraction is the Blue Mountains which are notable for their majestic green peaks. Part of the John Crow Mountain National Park, these mountains are truly spectacular. While visitors can explore them on foot, bicycle or by car, tours are strongly recommended. You can also tour the coffee plantations responsible for the production of the world-famous Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee.
4. Montego Bay
With more activities than any other destination on the island, Montego Bay, or Mo’ Bay in short, reigns supreme as Jamaica’s tourism capital. Travelers venturing into the town will find a crafts market and a number of historic sites around Sam Sharpe Square, named after the leader of a failed slave revolt who was hanged there in 1832.
Doctor’s Cave Beach is a popular Mo’ Bay attraction. A place full of history, Doctor’s Cave Beach is the spectacular strip of sand that helped place Montego Bay on the international tourist map. Named for a physician who donated his beach property for the formation of a swim club, Doctor’s Cave Beach was once accessible through a cave which was later destroyed by a hurricane.
The beautiful beach is situated in the heart of Mo’ Bay and maintained by the Doctor’s Cave Beach Club. This is a membership club to which you will have to pay a small admission fee to use the beach.
Old Fort Craft & Heritage Park is another spot worth visiting in Montego Bay. The craft park comprises a shopping complex with 180 vendors who offer a wide variety of handicrafts and souvenirs.
Situated on the site of Fort Montego, in the heart of Mo Bay, the craft park features wood sculptures and platters, wall hangings, musical instruments, beads, carved objects, toys and hand-woven straw items such as baskets and bags. The straw hats found here will come in handy when you’re out in the island sun, so bargain with the vendors and get yourself one. Visitors can also have their hair braided.
Fort Montego was one of the many forts built during the early 1700s, as part of Jamaica’s coastal defenses. You can still see the remains of an artillery store and couple of well preserved cannons here. The Old Fort craft market exposes visitors to the culture of Jamaican heritage while offering an exciting shopping experience.
Tropical Treasures is another souvenir store located close by which offers handmade gift items, a wide range of Jamaican rums, cigars, coffees, jerk spices, rum cakes and Jamaican music CDs.
Also visit Hip Strip on Gloucester Avenue with its nightclubs and crafts shops. It’s for good reason that they call it Hip Strip. It has bars, clubs and restaurants, is full of people, blaring music, free-flowing drinks and a rock-solid good time. If you’re up for staying and dancing into the wee hours of the morning, this could very well be your temporary Jamaican home.
The clubs are radically different in ambience and architecture, with the common thread of loud music, drinking and dancing. They serve great food and offer fantastic views. Just walking up and down this stretch of Gloucester Avenue is an adventure in itself. Go here to enjoy the ambience of one of the most fabled nightspots in Jamaica.
If you’re lucky, you’ll be in Mo’ Bay in time for the Reggae Sumfest. The be-all, end-all of musical festivals, Reggae Sumfest is the true test of stamina, a 3-night dusk-till-dawn musical extravaganza. Almost every Jamaican musician with a hit song has graced the festival stage, cheered on by thousands of fans from Kingston all the way to Japan.
The event is held outdoors in the parish of St. Elizabeth. Arrive early to stake your place in the field full of vendors hawking everything from Reggae CDs to jerk chicken. Three days later, expect to be a bit exhausted – but very exhilarated.
For one night the biggest names in Jamaican roots reggae perform for an audience that greets them with blazing bonfires, chants of “Jah Rastafari!” and the waving of green, gold and red flags. Founded in 1993, the show is billed as a celebration of all things “rootsy”, which means you won’t find alcohol or meat here, but plenty of organic stews and herbal remedies.
5. Port Antonio
Port Antonio was once a banana port that brought some of Jamaica’s first international tourists to the island in the 1890s via a banana boat from the United States. However, despite its long history with tourism, Port Antonio remains relatively unspoiled. Visitors can take a stroll through its historic downtown to see ruins and have a glimpse into the past and present of the island nation.
Situated on the far northeast coast of Jamaica, Port Antonio is a sleepy haven backed by the legendary Blue Mountains and regarded as a center for eco-tourism in Jamaica. Port Antonio is blessed with lush green terrain, and a rainforest and mountains that offer promising destinations for outdoor pursuits.
Visitors to Port Antonio can go caving, bask under secluded waterfalls, or surf on Boston Bay Beach, which is famous as the birthplace of Jamaican jerk cooking. Every July, thousands flock to Port Antonio for its annual Portland Jerk Festival to indulge their craving for spicy meats and traditional Jamaican cookery.
Jerk Lobster, Jerk Sausage, Jerk Conch, Jerk Chicken and Jerk Ponch are just some of the spicy variations of traditional Jamaican cooking that you can enjoy at this festival, served alongside traditional side dishes like rice and peas, yams and breadfruit. The festival is held at the resort area of Port Antonio and features live music, including a big concert, and dozens of stalls selling jerk food.
Jerk is seasoned meat spiced with pepper and smoked on pimento sticks. The cooking method of “jerking” meats is believed to have originated among the Maroons, descendants of enslaved Africans who were freed from their Spanish slave masters and who lived in the most remote areas of Jamaica.
Jerk meat is first marinated for hours in a spicy mix of pimento seeds, peppers, thyme and scallion, and then cooked over an outdoor pit lined with pimento wood. The Maroons did their cooking underground in order to hide the smoke from their enemies. The low heat enables the meat to slowly cook, thereby retaining the natural juices that become infused with the different spices and flavors of the wood.
In addition to offering great cuisine, Port Antonio is an aquatic and adventure oasis, boasting the Rio Grande, mangrove forests and natural lagoons. Blue Lagoon is a 180 foot deep natural lagoon which sparkles with jewel tones of turquoise, sapphire and aquamarine. Visitors can swim or glide around on paddleboats, as well as lounge in the nearby café.
Legend has it that the waters of the Blue Lagoon, which rise to a depth of close to 200 feet have an aphrodisiac effect. Whether or not that is true, visitors can enjoy swimming in the warm waters that change color during the day from deep blue to luminescent green.
The Rio Grande is popular for hosting bamboo rafting where you leisurely float down river on a 30-foot long, 2-seater raft made from bamboo trunks, propelled by a bamboo pole. Originally, the bamboo rafts were designed to transport bananas to port. Today, the rafts are manned by a captain and visited by a beer raft.
Rio Grande is Jamaica’s longest river which makes for a great rafting expedition. During the 2 hour journey, you will drift past banana plantations, and the “Tunnel of Love”, a limestone cave that offers the perfect setting for romantic couples.
Port Antonio boasts a number of breathtakingly scenic beaches with gentle surf and amazing hues. Boston Bay is a world-famous surfing beach also known for its roadside jerk stands and outdoor grills.
Frenchman’s Cove is another pristine beach surrounded by rainforest and a stream feeding into the Caribbean. Relax on the powdery white beach and swim in the protected cove. There are swings suspended from trees to allow visitors to take refreshing dips into the river.
Long Bay is a picture-perfect beach surrounded by coconut palms. It is also a good surfing destination, although the tide is too strong to swim. Also known as Rasta Beach, Winifred is a public beach in Fairy Hill village with an easily accessible coral reef that makes it a coveted site for snorkeling.
Visitors to Port Antonio can also go hiking to Scatter Waterfalls or Nanny Falls near Nanny Town, the fabled remote hideout of the Maroons. Also visit Sommerset Falls which are located on a former spice plantation, and which have natural caves and rock formations. There is a café, a jerk pit and two bars here.
Named after its black cliffs, Negril was a sleepy fishing town for most of its 500-year history, until the 60s and 70s when tourists began to come for its laid-back lifestyle, reggae music, freely available local ganja or marijuana and the splendors of its beautiful Seven Mile Beach. Today, the Seven Mile Beach remains one of the most beautiful strips in the world.
Situated on the west coast of Jamaica, Negril’s Seven Mile Beach is the longest beach in Jamaica, and one of the best on the island. First developed in the Sixties, the beach has maintained a touch of the free-love spirit synonymous with Negril, with several areas designated for nude sunbathing.
Despite having Jamaica’s only “legal” nude beach, Negril has over the years toned down its reputation for hedonism. That said, you will still have no problem having a good time in the town, both day and night. Enjoy libations at the bars and clubs, dive of the West End Cliffs at Rick’s Café or get a taste of Jamaica on a tour of the Appleton Rum Estate.
For a quieter waterfall experience than at Dunn’s River in Ochos Rios, head over to the YS Falls, situated about one hour away from Negril. The falls have ruins, which make for a memorable spot to have lunch or dinner, set beside a rushing waterfall. The ruins are a beautiful tropical paradise centered on a waterfall that cascades into the Caribbean sea.
If you’re looking to get off the beaten track, Accompong, a town in western Jamaica is the idyll spot to visit. Situated in St. Elizabeth Parish, Accompong is named after a Maroon leader and Ashanti warrior from West Africa who, along with his siblings Nanny, Cuffy, Quao and Cudgjoe, fought the British to a standstill, and won the possession of this land under a peace treaty signed in 1739.
Every 6th of January, ceremonies are held in Accompong in honor of the struggle and victory of the Maroons, as well as the establishment of their town. The Maroons were enslaved Africans who escaped into the rugged, mountainous outback of the Jamaican island to win their freedom.
All trained warriors from West Africa’s Ashanti area, the Maroons were the first group of enslaved Africans to fight for and win their freedom.
A nation within a nation, the semi-independent town of Accompong today has no police or taxes. There has also been no crime in Accompong for more than 250 years. The town is run by an elected ‘colonel’, and the Jamaican state is only able to interfere in cases of capital crime. Residents continue to live a peaceful life.
Accompong lies in the heart of Cockpit Country, whose surrounding hills offer the opportunity to hike in the open air. Up until the 1980s, the gates of the town were locked and outsiders had to seek permission to enter. But today, visitors are able to come and go freely.
While official guesthouses are few, residents will open up their homes to you for a small fee. Many will also arrange meals for you. Be sure to sample local favorites such as slow-roasted jerk pork, and stews of freshly picked vegetables like plantain, dasheen, breadfruit and cho-cho.
8. Rastafarian Indigenous Village
Situated at St. James, the Rastafarian Indigenous Village offers a unique way of experiencing the Rastafarian faith and its followers. Home to a community of Rastafarians, the village is open for guided tours.
Tours of the Rastafarian Indigenous Village begin at the Tropical Gardens on Montego River. Visitors are led from this point to the village via a shallow river. As you approach, you will hear the chanting and drumming getting louder. The guide will explain about Rastafarian life, its principles of living in harmony with nature, and the role of Haile Selassie.
The chef will then provide a tour of the village kitchen, which includes showing the vegetables, herbs and spices used in Rastafarian cooking, and explaining the culinary and nutritional importance of each ingredient.
You will also go on a tour of the village herb library where the guide will explain the medicinal properties of the numerous herbs grown there. Some of the herbs found here are today being investigated by scientists for their potential use in scientific remedies. The village also houses a meditative labyrinth that visitors can walk around and engage in private contemplation.
The tour will end on a musical note, with a traditional drum and chanting session in the middle of the village. Fresh fruit and herbal tea will be served to you as you listen. At the end of the session, visitors may be invited to join the drummers. Traditional clothing, jewelry and herbal remedies made inside the village are available for sale.
Established in 2008 by three of its residents, the Rastafarian Indigenous Village has steadily been growing as an important cultural attraction in Jamaica. Today, an amphitheater along with new residential huts is being built in anticipation of other Rastafarian followers who will join the community in future.
Rastafarianism developed in Jamaica during the 1930s, among working-class black Jamaicans. More a way of life than a religion, Rastafarianism began in part as a social stand against whites and the middle-classes who the Rastafarians regarded as their oppressors.
Among their grievances, the Rastafarians believed that being taken to the Caribbean by slave traders had robbed them of their African heritage, which they sought to regain and celebrate.
From inception, Rastafarianism was associated with communal living, with Leonard Howell, the first Rasta, setting up the first Rastafarian commune of 5,000 people in Pinnacle, St. Catherine, Jamaica. Today, the movement has spread around the world, thanks in part to the huge popularity of Bob Marley, its most famous member.
9. Rose Hall Great House
Situated on the northwest coast of Jamaica, just outside Montego Bay is Rose Hall, home to the Great House of the same name, which is reputed to be haunted by the White Witch of Rose Hall.
The legend is tragic and brutal. A massive Georgian mansion built on a hill overlooking the Caribbean by John Palmer, a sugar plantation baron of the mid- to late-1700s. Perched high on some 6,000 acres, Rose Hall was the involuntary home of thousands of slaves, and Palmer’s wife Annie, was reputedly a harsh mistress of the mansion, allegedly with cruel and supernatural powers.
Annie tortured her slaves, taking some on as lovers and killing them off one by one once bored with them. She is also said to have murdered 3 of her husbands in different rooms of the house. Ghosts supposedly roam the spacious rooms and massive halls, and fill the lower chambers in which the slaves were tortured.
The enslaved Africans finally revolted, smothering Annie to death in her room. A ritual was begun to rid the property of her soul but was not completed. As a result, her ghost is said to inhabit the mansion to this very day. Many past visitors to the mansion swear they have seen images of Annie in the photos they have taken, eerie and ghostly, which confirms the belief that her restless soul lives on.
Following the great Jamaican slave revolution of the early 1800s, Rose Hall Great House was abandoned and left to disrepair. It was restored in the 1960s and today features antique furnishings, silk wallpaper and ornate chandeliers.
Tours of Rose Hall Great House are today available led by guides in traditional Jamaican folk attire. Walk up the steps to the Great House and revel in the restoration work, including the 3 bedrooms in which the alleged murders occurred.
It’s easy to imagine what happened, standing in the open doorway of the second floor, overlooking the spacious grounds, you can almost picture Annie calling out to her slaves, ordering them abused and tortured and then casually returning to her luxurious rooms in which her heinous commands would be carried out.
The tour will also take you through various secret passageways throughout the house, as well as the basement, the site of the old dungeon in which the slaves were held. A horrid-looking bear trap is on display, which was used to keep the slaves from escaping, in addition to many other reminders of the shadowy past of the property.
Even to this day, the downstairs of the Great House remains spooky and dark. Although it has been transformed into a bar where visitors can find welcome relief in the form of a cold drink and a spot to sit, relax and look out over the incredible grounds to the beautiful ocean beyond.
The tour concludes at Annie Palmer’s grave, near a gorgeous frog pond, where your guide will sing you a folk song about the alleged White Witch of Rose Hall. You will then be allowed to leave the grounds and return to your life, wondering whether what you had just seen and heard was indeed fact or fiction.
10. Institute of Jamaica Museums
Established in 1879, the Institute of Jamaica, IOJ aims to preserve the country’s heritage by encouraging the development of art, science and literature in Jamaica.
Situated in Kingston, the IOJ has established and manages various galleries and museums for the collection, preservation and display of art treasures and artifacts, as well as increasing awareness into the rich and diverse heritage of Jamaica. These museums include favorites such as the National Museum Jamaica; the National Gallery; the Jamaica Music Museum; and Liberty Hall.
IOJ’s Jamaica Music Museum is the archive, research facility and exhibition space for Reggae and other forms of Jamaican music. The museum showcases a variety of formats from rare musical recordings and oral histories of reggae, to Jamaican music greats, their musical instruments and personal correspondence, and musical scores, films, photographs, research files and business records.
IOJ’s National Museum Jamaica is the national agent for the collection, preservation and documentation of Jamaica’s material culture, which offers insights into Jamaica’s history and contemporary life. The Museum holds more than 17,000 historic, ethnographic and archaeological artifacts relevant to the history of Jamaica from the prehistoric to the contemporary era.
The National Museum Jamaica administers 6 historical and ethnographic museums across the island. These include the Taino Museum of the First Jamaican; The Peoples’ Museum of Craft and Technology; Museum of St. James; Hanover Museum; Fort Charles Museum and the Military Museum – all of which interrogate various aspects of Jamaican history.
IOJ’s National Gallery charts the growth and development of Jamaica’s greatest artistic endeavors with permanent displays, from Taino Indian artifacts, to Spanish and English colonial art, from the early pioneers to the latest contemporary works by Jamaican artists and some international artists.
Founded in 1974, the National Gallery, is the largest and oldest public art museum in the Anglophone Caribbean. The museum offers a comprehensive collection of early, modern and contemporary art Jamaican art, as well as smaller Caribbean and international holdings.
The museum mounts at least 2 major temporary exhibitions annually based on issues in Jamaica’s history and contemporary condition. It offers a range of educational services, including guided tours, lectures and panel discussions, and also operates a gift shop and coffee shop.
The gallery also features an active exhibition program that includes retrospectives of work by the major artists of Jamaica, guest-curated exhibitions, thematic exhibitions, touring exhibitions originating outside the island, as well as Jamaica Biennial, the premier national exhibition.
IOJ’s Liberty Hall is a museum that showcases the legacy of Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr., the Jamaican political leader and proponent of the Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism movements. Garvey sought to inspire a global mass movement and economic empowerment of Africa.
He promoted the return of the African Diaspora to their ancestral lands, while advocating their involvement in African affairs, to have the European colonial powers leave the continent and redeem the nations of Africa. Garveyism eventually inspired other movements, including the Rastafari movement – some sects of which proclaim Garvey as a prophet.
IOJ’s Liberty Hall houses the Marcus Mosiah Garvey Multimedia Museum, and the Garvey Research and Reference Library and Multimedia Centre. It also offers educational outreach programs. Visitors to Liberty Hall can learn more about Garvey, his legacy and the ideals his movement stood for.