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03 Jun

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6 Slices of Heaven: Jamaica for the First Time Traveller

June 3, 2014 | By |

Jamaica’s vibrant culture, magnificent beaches, thriving reefs and jungles, and bustling cities make this island the perfect destination for anyone who needs to get away, relax, and live it up for a while. This Caribbean island is well known for being a stopping place for many cruises and honeymooners, so resorts, water sports, and other services catering to tourists are in abundance. Why does Jamaica have so much appeal to Canadians? Perhaps it’s the mouthwatering Caribbean cuisine. It could be the natural beauty of the island. Or that Jamaican culture varies so widely from the cultures of other countries Canadians might have visited, such as Cuba, the Dominican Republic, or Mexico. If this is your first time travelling to Jamaica, choose the part of the island which best suits your needs and consider your options for what you definitely don’t want to miss and the many possibilities you haven’t thought about yet as you determine what to do in Jamaica.

Montego Bay: The Essence of the Country

The second largest city in Jamaica, Montego Bay is commonly referred to as the “Tourist Capital of Jamaica.” It doesn’t take much to see why it’s such a popular destination for vacationers. With a booming cultural industry, adventure tours galore, dozens of unique dining options, a hopping nightlife scene, and everything from secluded boutique hotels to luxurious resorts on the beach, Montego Bay has something to offer any traveller looking for a good time.

Doctors Cave Beach, famous in Montego Bay

Doctors Cave Beach, famous in Montego Bay

If you’d like to experience the colourful chaos of “real” Jamaica, take a walk downtown. Rub shoulders with the locals, check out some of Jamaica’s beautiful architecture, and stroll down Gloucester Avenue, also known as the “Hip Strip.” This incredible mix of tourism and local culture has spawned some of the most unique and inventive restaurants in Jamaica. If this is your first time to Jamaica, you must order some Jamaican jerk pork at the Pork Pit, for a true Jamaican meal. This fantastic restaurant tends to be most visitors’ first experience with Jamaica’s famous jerk spice. Looking for something a bit more refined? Why not walk a few minutes to The Pelican Grill? This place serves their Caribbean dishes with a touch of class, while managing to keep that relaxed, local vibe.

Find Your Perfect Adventure

After experiencing some of Montego Bay’s local culture, head over to Doctor’s Cave Beach, the most famous beach in the city. It’s well known for its clear blue waters and postcard perfect white sands. With a grill bar, food court, internet cafe, and plenty of water sports to offer, this is the perfect seaside stop for families! While you’re there, why not take a few hours to visit the world famous Dunn's River Falls? Enjoy an adventure on horseback through the hills of St. Ann, perfect for equestrians of all ages and levels of experience. Or, for a truly Jamaican afternoon, take the family-friendly John Hall’s Adventure Tour. Want to get out of the city and learn about the local way of life? This is the way to do it.

The Secrets St. James Montego Bay Hotel is the best lodging option in Montego Bay for adults and couples. With a beautiful pool, multiple fantastic restaurants, available water sports and activities for both adults and honeymooners, this resort caters to vacationers from all over the world and has an excellent track record. Set in a relaxing seaside environment, it’s a wonderful place to detox and enjoy the beauty of Jamaica.

Ocho Rios: Over and Under the Water

This popular coastal town is loud, exciting, and best for those who like to let their hair down and live life to the fullest. It caters primarily to young vacationers who look forward to late nights at bars and long days of adventure sports. There’s no shortage of things to do if you’re highly energetic and ready to make some memories!

Scuba diving in Ocho Rios

Scuba diving in Ocho Rios

If you’re wondering what to do in Jamaica, the obvious answer is to play in the sea, and there are numerous water sports available in Ocho Rios. Diving, snorkelling, and windsurfing are just some of the options open to you here. Or, for a unique twist on the typical water sports offered, take a leisurely bamboo raft ride down the Martha Brae, or take a few hours to experience a new adventure with the Ocho Rios White River Valley Tubing Safari. Dolphin Cove is also worth checking out. Here you can swim with dolphins, feed and interact with sharks, meet some local stingrays, go on a jungle walk, or relax on the private beach.

These are just a few of the many activities available at this party town; the Mystic Mountain adventure theme park, ATV Safari, or Zipline Canopy Tour being a few other fantastic options. If you’re a Bob Marley and reggae fan, but aren’t going to be in Kingston, don’t worry! It’s easy to arrange an excursion into this fascinating and fun corner of Jamaican culture from Ocho Rios too!

What to Eat and Where to Stay

Foodies, don’t miss Scotchie’s! This hole-in-the-wall grill and barbeque shack is well known for being home to Jamaica’s most authentic jerk chicken! What’s so special about this jerk chicken? It never actually touches a grill. Jamaican jerk chicken is cooked over a layer of sweetwood and pimento wood logs. These trees grow all over Jamaica, which means that you’re getting a flavour that is truly local and all-natural; if this is your first time in Jamaica, you shouldn’t go home without tasting this!

Ocho Rios’ lodging options are excellent. For an all-inclusive taste of true luxury, make reservations at the splendid Beaches Ocho Rios Resort and Golf Club, which boasts one of Jamaica’s 12 golf courses. It’s not to be missed! With incredible dining options, multiple pools, water slides, fitness centres, spas, and kids clubs, this resort truly has it all for those in search of the ultimate luxury include vacation.

Negril and the 7-Mile Beach

A lush tropical paradise, Negril is similar to Ocho Rios in that it’s recommended for young travellers or families with teens. However, Negril is also very popular for honeymooners with its romantic and breathtaking sunsets. Beach lover? The 7-Mile Beach will sure make a big impression. It is one of the best beaches in the world!

Many of the same activities are offered here, including sailing, diving, and other water sports. If you’d like to experience a new kind of water sport not offered in Ocho Rios and other coastal Jamaican towns, Stanley’s Deep Sea Fishing could appeal to you. Fishing is a key part of Jamaican culture, and is also a fun and exciting way to connect with the natural beauty of the Caribbean. Teens who are wondering what to do in Jamaica might also greatly enjoy Rusty’s X-Cellent Adventures, a bike tour that takes you through the countryside. Be prepared to get a bit grimy!

Negril is also well known for having some of the best cuisine on the island. Most of Negril’s best restaurants sell the most delicious local dishes, but it’s possible to find international food as well. Canoe Bar is a seemingly local food shack with a great atmosphere. Here you can find the best Jamaican flavours fused with international dishes. For a completely local vibe, sit down at Norma’s On The Beach, a seaside restaurant that serves all Jamaican food; or rub elbows with the locals at Sweet Spice Restaurant. Don’t miss out on these fantastic local dishes: Jamaican jerk chicken, curry goat, fried dumplings, or fried plantain. Ackee and saltfish is Jamaica’s national dish, and worth sampling for a truly local experience. Definitely don’t miss Rick’s Cafe. This famous Jamaican hotspot is known primarily for the cliffs it’s set on. Crowds gather before sunset to leap from the 35ft cliffs into the crystal clear ocean beneath. While Rick’s is a bit pricey, it costs nothing to go swimming, and sunsets are always free!

The Beaches Negril Resort and Spa is a fun, relaxing resort destination if it is your family’s first time travelling to Jamaica with kids of all ages, or for honeymooners looking for a romantic getaway. The resort organizes daily activities for its younger visitors, while adults enjoy soothing massages at the spa, scuba diving and other water sports, or breakfast delivered with flowers in bed. If you’re looking for a relaxed and upscale getaway, the Sandals, Royal Plantation Beach Villa and Golf Resort is a unique all-butler boutique resort option. Imagine having tropical drinks delivered by your beach butler who has been trained to the exacting standards of the Guild of Professional English Butlers, after a relaxing morning playing 18 holes on one of the best greens in Jamaica.

Kingston: Explore the Culture of the Island

Kingston is Jamaica’s largest city, and is known for its vibrant culture and wild nightlife. However, Kingston’s true claim to fame lies in Trench Town, the birthplace of ska, rocksteady, and reggae music. While you’re in town, take the time to stop by the Trench Town Culture Yard and Museum, check out the famed Bob Marley Museum, and delve into the history and culture of reggae music, or wander through Emancipation Park. If it’s your first time in Jamaica and you’re looking for a well-rounded journey into the history of Kingston’s music scene, reserve a spot on the Beat’n’Track Cultural Tour.

Also worth taking time to see is Parade, a square that’s known as “the bustling heart of Downtown Kingston.” There’s always something happening here for the explorers at heart.

View of Kingston

View of Kingston

For a taste of foodie paradise, be sure to stop in at Andy’s, a restaurant known for being the best “jerk-spot” city-wide, and perhaps even island-wide. A definite must for anyone ready to treat their taste buds to some mouthwatering spices. To get away from the crowds and enjoy a refreshing retreat to nature, make reservations at Boone Hall Oasis. This classy yet comfortable restaurant is set in an idyllic garden, just alongside the Wag Water River.

Strawberry Hill, a hotel in tropical paradise perched at the top of one of the peaks in the Blue Mountains, is the perfect place to kick back, relax, and enjoy some of Jamaica’s lush plant life. Just an hour away from Kingston, it’s far enough to be out of the hustle and bustle of the city, yet close enough to make a day trip to any one of Jamaica’s beaches, towns, or attractions more than manageable.

Port Antonio: Close to Nature

This laid-back get-away is a great place to go if it’s not your first time to Jamaica and you want to try something different. There’s not much happening in this sweet little town, but if you’re looking to finally get away to a tranquil paradise, Port Antonio is the place for you. Set between lushly forested mountains and an aquamarine ocean, Port Antonio is perfect for anyone who loves to take long walks along nature trails or dive along colourful coral reefs. Both marine and animal life are flourishing here, bringing nature lovers to this secluded coastline gem.

Waterfall in Port Antonio

Waterfall in Port Antonio

After spending the day hiking, relaxing on the beach, or getting up close and personal with Jamaica’s colourful reef fish, why not head to Dickie’s Best Kept Secret? This seaside restaurant is arguably the best in town. You won’t find much international food in Port Antonio, but you can be sure to expect some excellent local seafood dishes.

The lodging options in Port Antonio are far more limited than they are elsewhere in Jamaica, which is one of the reasons it’s such a tranquil place to relax. The Bay View Eco Resort & Spa is out of town, making it a beautiful destination. This resort strives to treat its guests to an all-natural environment, and the gardens are truly spectacular. Spend your days relaxing by the pool, enjoying the resort spa, or heading out to explore the island. Getting off the beaten path is a fantastic way to discover Jamaica’s true culture, create new memories, and decompress in a natural environment.

Jamaica’s South Coast: Personality and Charisma

If you’re wondering what to do in Jamaica that will help you discover local culture, try heading to Jamaica’s South Coast for a new look at life on this beautiful island. Fishing villages, breathtaking stretches of coastline, centuries-old architecture, as well as natural waterfalls and rain forests. This is a great option for adventurers who love to explore untamed natural beauty!

Looking for the perfect place to stay on Jamaica’s South Coast? Look no further than Jake’s; located in a quaint fishing village on Treasure Beach, this boutique resort, complete with secluded cottages, is perfect as a romantic hideaway or as a base for a laid back family adventure. Swim, snorkel and sunbathe on a private beach.

Each of these beautiful areas of Jamaica are sure to have something to offer, no matter if this is your first time in Jamaica, or you’re a returning traveller. However, there may be one that’s better suited to your individual lifestyle than the others. Montego Bay is perfect for vacationers who would like to experience luxury while staying central to the airport and cruise port, while Ocho Rios is best suited for the younger travellers who’re just looking for a good time or some family fun. Negril is an excellent town for families with older children or teens who are interested in outdoor adventure sports. Couples might be interested in taking a romantic getaway to one of Negril’s beautiful resorts by the sea, and it’s also popular as a location for destination weddings. Kingston is perfect for music lovers, adventurers, and “foodies” looking to try some flavourful Jamaican dishes, while Port Antonio is the best place to move away from the crowds and get in touch with nature. No matter what you’re looking to do in Jamaica, there’s something new here for everyone!

Things To Know

  • As always when travelling you can avoid problems by being cautious. Don’t openly carry your electronics or wallet.
  • Address officials as sir, ma’am, or officer. Be respectful to the locals at all times, and you are far more likely to get the help you need.
  • It is very common to have locals ask you for money, or to try to sell you things on the streets. A polite, “No, thank you,” will usually suffice to turn them away. If they persist, be patient and courteous, and continue to reply, “No, thanks.” Remember that they’re just doing what they can to make a living, and don’t get impatient or rude if it occurs more than a few times.
  • 1 CDN equals approximately 102 Jamaican Dollars.
  • Don’t expect everything to be on a strict schedule. You’re on “island time” now, which means everything happens in it’s own time, relax, and enjoy life as it comes.