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To many people, Jamaica embodies the true spirit of paradise. Even Columbus even called it “the fairest land” when he stumbled upon it so many years ago. The Caribbean island only spans 4,244 square miles but has been a favorite destination for travelers looking for adventure, romance, and relaxation.
Sure, there are many resorts and restaurants here, but Jamaica is more than that. A trip here is a cultural experience that reflects the island’s many cultural influences. Jamaica has African, European, and Asian ancestors, and dramatic landscapes marked by waterfalls, mountains, valleys, rivers, and mineral springs. Its year-round tropical climate sets the stage for fun at any time and entices the imaginations of over a million visitors per year.
So if all of this sounds like an ideal way to spend your vacation days, then check out our guide to the most unbelievable places to visit in Jamaica, in no particular order.
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Located on the northeastern coast of Jamaica in an agricultural community, Port Antonio is about 50 miles from Kingston. This is a large port city that is famous for producing bananas. Before your visit, watch the movie, Cocktail, with Tom Cruise because some scenes were filmed here. Today, this is a family-friendly destination in Jamaica and a great place to stay with kids. Although it used to be a quiet fishing village, it has gained fame from the Hollywood elite since celebrities and socialites have favored Port Antonio over the years. Other sights to see here are Folly Ruins, Nonsuch and Foxes Caves, the Blue Lagoon, Frenchman’s Cove, and the Scatter, Reich, and Somerset waterfalls.
Montego Bay is one of the premier vacation destinations in Jamaica, and for good reason. It’s located along the northwestern coast of the island and has lots of all-inclusive resorts that offer amazing views. It’s also a major cruise port that has a lively nightlife scene. Mountains, beaches, shopping, nightclubs, golf courses – you can find it all in Montego Bay. But if you’re more interested in history, make sure to visit the Greenwood Guest House, which is a plantation home, and the nearby port town of Falmouth. There are a variety of accommodations here for vacationers, including cute bed and breakfasts, Sandals resorts, and chain hotels. You’ll likely fly into the Sangster International Airport to get here unless you’re planning to go to Kingston first.
Kingston is the largest city on the island and a great place to learn about authentic Jamaican culture. It’s a city of both history and modernity, as the capital of Jamaica’s government, commerce, and art scene. You can find luxury hotels, spa resorts, and quaint locally owned inns around the city center. One of the biggest reasons to visit Kingston is to learn about reggae music and culture. Bob Marley and other influential reggae artists started their musical careers here, in the inner-city neighborhood of Trench Town. There’s a Bob Marley Museum here that’s definitely worth visiting. This area offers a different scene than the beach and resort areas, and it’s also more affordable in terms of accommodations – something to keep in mind for travelers on a budget. Also near the town, you can check out Morant Bay, which was the site of a big political uprising, and Port Royal, which was the home of Blackbeard the pirate.
Negril is an area of Jamaica that’s known for its laid-back vibe and anything-goes attitude. Come to Negril if you want to get away from it all and escape your daily life for a while. You won’t find high-rise hotels and big developments here. Instead, you’ll find quaint bungalows, pubs, live reggae music, and a more intimate vibe. Satisfy your spirit of adventure with some cliff diving, or just relax while watching the epic sunsets along the beach here. The seven-mile beach is wonderful for taking a stroll, and the Kool Runnings Water Park is a fun time for everyone too.
Falmouth is a port town that dates back to the 18th century and is full of fascinating historic buildings. You can take a walking tour to learn more about this area’s history and significance to Jamaica. This area is surrounded by sugar estates and a well-preserved Georgian town. Sites to see include the Greenwood Great House, the Luminous Lagoon, Half Moon Beach, and Good Hope Estate.
Mandeville is in South Central Jamaica and retains its strong British influence. It’s a mountain town with the highest altitude in the country. Come here to learn about coffee cultivation and enjoy a charming, slow pace that characterizes life in the area.
Portland Parish is on Jamaica’s northeast coast, and Port Antonio is its capital. However, there’s much more to see and do here than just the famous town. This parish is a leading producer of coffee, bananas, coconuts, mangoes, breadfruits, and ackee. Top tourist facilities include Dragon Bay Villas, Fern Hill Club, and Goblin Hill Hotel. Don’t miss the Boston Jerk Center to try jerked foods made with traditional spices.
Another top tourist destination in Jamaica is Ocho Rios, which is a favorite stop among cruise liners on the northern coast. This is a place to come for all-inclusive resorts that take the guesswork out of vacation planning. It’s also one of the most scenic parts of the island; it’s a nature lover’s paradise! Take some time to check out Dunns River Falls, which is one of the most beautiful waterfalls you’ll ever see, and its waters fall right down to the beach. Other sites to see include Fern Gully, Shaw Park, Cranbrook Gardens, and Dover Raceway. This is also a great place to give water sports a try and rent out gear from local vendors to get active in these vibrant waters. Don’t miss the local food vendors to sample traditional Jamaican food while in Ocho Rios.
As the westernmost parish of Jamaica, this area produces mostly sugarcane and is home to the city of Negril. Other things to do here include Seaford Town, Petersfield, Roaring River Park, Mayfield Falls, Bridgewater, and Savanna-la-Mar.
The South Coast
Jamaica’s South Coast is definitely worth a visit as well when you plan your trip to the islands. This is a wonderful place to come for healing mineral springs waters. It’s impossible to get bored when you’re in this rugged area because there’s so much to do. You can hike around Treasure Beach to see the towering cliffs that overlook the sea down below, see the seven-tier waterfall of YS Falls, and go horseback riding along the coast. There are golf courses and birdwatching opportunities here too for a relaxing day out in the beauty of nature. Expect to find rustic and intimate inns here, plenty of fresh produce, and some of the world’s best rum in the Nassau Valley.
The Blue Mountains
Head north of Kingston to reach the towering peaks of the Blue Mountains. This region, which is part of the Blue Mountain-John Crow Mountain National Park, is full of vegetation and a uniquely remote area to explore. The mountain roads here are intimidating to many visitors, so you may want to hire a professional tour guide to take you this way to avoid getting lost or stuck. The Blue Mountain region is famous for coffee and rum production, and you can tour plantations and factories here to learn about the local agricultural scene.
But to get off the beaten path in Jamaica, head to Accompong in Western Jamaica. This is a safe, semi-independent town where there are no taxes and the gates used to be closed to outsiders. Today, you can visit this town and stay with local residents who open up their homes and even arrange home-cooked meals. Sites to see here are the town’s museum and the Peace Cave, which is where a treaty was signed by the community’s founder. This is an ideal place to come if you’re looking for an authentic Jamaican experience away from the crowds and high-end resorts. However, if you visit in January, you can join the yearly Maroon Festival, which honors the founder and draws in thousands of visitors. To get here, you can join a tour group from Kingston, rent a car, or hire an independent guide/resident to show you around the community.