Known as the “birthplace of reggae”, Jamaica boasts a treasure trove of natural jewels and a colorful Caribbean vibe. Golden beaches, emerald mountains, turquoise seas, cascades, coral reefs, rainforests, rivers, and mineral springs are just some of the island’s enviable assets. Not surprisingly nature lovers will find plenty of things to see and do, from hiking and birding in the jungle to horseback riding along the beach and diving colorful coral reefs. Jamaica is also renowned for its many historic plantations where visitors can sample tropical fruits and tour the grand great houses.
Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, Negril, and Port Antonio are the main tourist hubs. Visitors will find a variety of lodgings here ranging from large resorts, luxury villas, and boutique hotels to rustic guesthouses. Lively Montego Bay is one of the most popular resort towns with golf courses, restaurants, shops, galleries, and of course, hotels and resorts lining the beaches. Ocho Rios is one of the island’s major port of call for cruise ships, while Negril is famous for its long and lazy beach lined with clear waters and coconut palms. Ecotourists love peaceful Port Antonio thanks to its proximity to the spectacular Blue Mountains. In Kingston, Jamaica’s edgy capital, visitors can tour reggae legend Bob Marley’s former home and explore the city’s museums and historic sites. Jam-packed with diverse attractions, no wonder Jamaica enjoys a reputation as a Caribbean hotspot.
1. Negril Beach
Also known as Seven Mile Beach, Negril Beach is one of Jamaica’s most beautiful stretches of white sand and aqua sea. The beach extends from Bloody Bay to Long Bay and the Negril Cliffs south of town. Tucked within groves of coconut palms, many resorts and restaurants fringe the shore here. Water sports abound, and snorkelers will find schools of fish swimming in the clear waters. Be prepared for persistent hawkers prowling the beach.
2. Doctor’s Cave Beach, Montego Bay
One of the best beaches in Montego Bay, Doctor’s Cave Beach is an alluring strip of white sand fringed by clear waters that helped shape the fate of Montego Bay. In the early 1920s a famous British osteopath declared that the water had curative powers after swimming here, a claim which began to lure visitors from around the world. Hotels sprouted and the area became a popular tourist destination. The cave for which the beach is named was destroyed by a hurricane in 1932, but the beach is as popular as ever and is often crowded with cruise ship passengers.
3. Rose Hall Great House, Montego Bay
Built in 1770, Rose Hall is a restored plantation house with beautiful ocean views. Legendary Annie Palmer (the White Witch) ruled here with cruelty and met a violent death. Today her home is adorned with period furniture and visitors can choose between a day tour or a spooky candlelit evening tour topped off with tales of ghost sightings.
Surrounded by sugar estates and cattle land, Falmouth is one of the Caribbean’s best-preserved Georgian towns. Once a leading port, the town offers excellent examples of 19th-century Georgian architecture including a faithful restoration of the courthouse. Greenwood Great House is a major tourist attraction in the area. Built in 1790 by Richard Barrett, a relative of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the Great House is now a museum with period furniture and a rare collection of musical instruments and Wedgwood china.
Good Hope Estate, built in 1755, was an old-established coconut and sugar plantation. The well-preserved Great House contains period furniture, the first 18th century Caribbean hot water bath, old slave quarters, and the sugar mill with its waterwheel. Half Moon Beach is a peaceful crescent of sand with coral reefs just offshore. East of Falmouth is the Luminous Lagoon, named for its eerie marine phosphorescence.
5. Martha Brae River
Rafting the Martha Brae is one of Jamaica’s most popular tourist attractions. At Martha Brae Rafter’s Village guests can glide down a picturesque stretch of the river on bamboo rafts poled by local guides. This relaxing trip is a great way to soak up some of the tropical scenery and many guides will share information about the flora and fauna.
Location: Falmouth, Trelawny Parish
At the foot of the Blue Mountains, Jamaica’s busy capital city offers a cosmopolitan contrast to the island’s relaxed pace. Kingston can be intimidating, but visitors can view some of the town’s attractions on organized tours. The Bob Marley Museum, at the reggae superstar’s former home, is Kingston’s most-visited attraction and the site of the Tuff Gong recording studio. Highlights are Marley’s bedroom with his star-shaped guitar by the bed. Look for the bullet holes in the rear wall, evidence of an assassination attempt.
Tours will also take travelers to explore mansions like historic Devon House, as well as museums such as the National Gallery, and the Natural History Museum, Jamaica’s oldest museum, with preserved specimens of the island’s plants and animals. Also in town, the Institute of Jamaica’s museums cover a wide range of the country’s history from prehistoric to modern times, Hope Gardens is the largest botanical park in the West Indies, and National Heroes Park features statues of leading players of Jamaican history and independence. At the tip of the peninsula surrounding Kingston Harbor lies the community of Port Royal, the focus of British fortification in the late 17th century.
7. Blue Mountains and John Crow Mountains National Park
Blue Mountains and John Crow Mountains National Park is an unspoiled preserve offering breathtaking mountain vistas, waterfalls, lush rainforests, and exotic plants and animals. Encompassing 200,000 acres of tropical rainforest, the park is divided into three sections: Portland Gap, which includes Stony Hill and the Hills of St. Andrew; Hollywell and Annotto Bay; and Portland and Millbank which include the John Crow Mountains.
This spectacular park is the natural habitat for more than 800 species of endemic plants, more than 200 species of birds, as well as the world’s second largest butterfly. At 2,256 meters, Blue Mountain Peak is accessible by mule or on foot and is Jamaica’s highest peak. The two-day trip offers thrilling views and on a clear day hikers can see all the way to Cuba.
8. Port Antonio
Set between mountains and a double harbor, Port Antonio exudes the relaxed charm of a sleepy fishing village. Once a center for banana export, the area is distinctly less commercial than the other resort towns. Visitors can explore the many art galleries, hike jungle trails, and snorkel and scuba dive the coral reefs. A popular swimming spot is the beautiful 60-meter-deep Blue Lagoon, fed by freshwater springs, and site of the namesake movie starring Brooke Shields.Navy Island, set between Port Antonio’s two harbors and reached by ferry, was once owned by movie swashbuckler Errol Flynn and was renowned for wild parties. Today the island is a favorite for picnics and day trips.
Jamaica’s spicy “jerk-style” of cooking originated in the region and some of the best can be found at Boston Beach east of Port Antonio. Other highlights of the area include the 18th-century British stronghold Fort George and beautiful Frenchman’s Cove, where a fish-filled river flows into the sea. The beaches here are a wonderful mix of white sand, shallow waters, and lush outcroppings of land. Nearby, Daniel’s River plunges through a gorge of natural rock in a series of cascades and pools known as Somerset Falls.
9. Rio Grande River
Expert guides pole bamboo rafts through an impressive stretch of tropical rainforest along the Rio Grande River during a two-and-a-half-hour tour. Rafting here dates back to around 1911, when banana farmers in the Rio Grande Valley used to transport their bananas along the river. The Rio Grande tends to be less crowded than the Martha Brae River and offers beautiful scenery and gentle rapids.
10. Black River Safari Boat Tour and YS Falls
Crocodiles and more than 100 species of birds, including herons and snowy egrets, are among the critters that make their home along the mangrove-fringed Black River – the longest in Jamaica. Visitors tour the river on guided boats and enjoy a running commentary on the area’s ecology and history. At YS Falls, Jamaica’s largest and least commercial cascades, visitors can play Tarzan on the rope swing and plunge into the wading pool below fed by natural springs. Canopy rides and river tubing are also available.
11. Rainforest Bobsled Jamaica at Mystic Mountain, Ocho Rios
Rainforest Bobsled Jamaica at Mystic Mountain is a popular rainforest adventure. Ocho Rios visitors can enjoy panoramic views of the town and sea on the Rainforest SkyExplorer, a chairlift ascending the mountain. The more adventurous can zoom down the mountain on Bobsled Jamaica, a single person roller coaster ride through the forest, or glide through the treetops on Tranopy, a ziplining adventure. Other attractions here include guided nature walks, butterfly and hummingbird gardens, and an infinity pool and waterslide.
12. Dunn’s River Falls
Encompassing 180 meters of gently terraced waterfalls, Dunn’s River Falls is one of Jamaica’s most famous natural attractions. The falls tumble over rocks and limestone ledges into the sea. Visitors can climb the natural tiers to the top of the falls with the aid of a guide, while the less agile can cool off in the refreshing pools at the base. Bring a camera and wear appropriate clothing and water shoes; visitors can expect to get wet. Those seeking a more peaceful experience might want to plan their visit around the cruise ship crowds.