The history of Jamaica over the past 500 years has been marked by the courage of the Jamaican people in their triumphant struggle for freedom and justice and by their unrelenting resistance and determination in the face of adversity and discrimination. Jamaica Discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1494, he claimed the island for Spain and over the next 40 years a few Spanish settlements were built. When the English captured Jamaica the Spanish colonists fled after freeing their slaves. Those slaves fled into the mountains and lived with the Tainos. Those runaway slaves became known as the Jamaican Maroons.By 1660, the population of Jamaica was about 4,500 whites and some 1,500 blacks, and in a few short years blacks formed a majority of the population. Although Britain verbally abolished the slave trade in 1807, they continued to import Chinese and Indian workers into their colonies as indentured servants to supplement the now depleted work force. Descendants of those workers continue to reside in Jamaica today.
Modern Jamaica is built on a historical legacy of genocide perpetrated against the island’s indigenous peoples, on the experience of over three hundred years of slavery and oppression suffered by the Jamaicans of African origin and on the interplay between Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East in the building of a proud, free and progressive nation in the heart of the Caribbean.The first Jamaicans were the Taino Indians who settled in Jamaica around 600 AD. They were stone–age peoples who had migrated to Jamaica from the northern coast of South America. After living continuously in Jamaica for almost 900 years, the Tainos were wiped out within 50 years of the Spanish conquest in 1494, due to exploitation by the Spanish settlers, starvation and a lack of resistance to European diseases. Many Tainos fiercely resisted the Spanish occupation of their land and some even committed suicide rather than serve as slaves.
The Arawak language spoken by the Tainos survives in many words such as ‘hammock’, ‘hurricane’, ‘tobacco’, ‘barbeque’ and ‘canoe’. The word Jamaica actually derives from the Arawak word Xaymaca, meaning “Land of wood and water”. Through it all Jamaica remains an important force (actually, a major force) in the tourism economy and politics of the Caribbean. Today Jamaica is known for many things – but certainly on top of any list are its numerous idyllic beach resorts, white-sand beaches, local pirate history, Reggae music, culture and food, and of course, delicious Blue Mountain Coffee.
Jamaicans define enthusiasm. Whether the topic is dominoes or politics, the spirit of this island comes out in every interaction. Although the country is well known for its tropical beauty, reggae music, and cuisine, you may find that your interactions with local residents are what you truly remember.
Things to see and do in Jamaica
Follow one of many hiking and climbing trails up the Blue Mountains to heights above 2,100m (7,000ft). Shrouded by mists that give the peaks their bluish tinge, the Blue Mountains are home to more than 200 bird species and 800 species of plants.
Bob Marley Museum, Kingston
As the heart of ‘true’ Jamaica, Kingston beats the island’s rhythm. That rhythm is reggae, and as such, a visit to 56 Hope Road is a must for most, and a pilgrimage for many. This is the city’s most visited address. Formerly the home and studio of the legendary Bob Marley, the modest wooden house now serves as both museum and shrine.
Be sure to take to the streets to witness Jamaica’s riotous fun-filled carnival. Parading musicians, skimpily dressed dancers and floats typify this world famous street party. Expect outlandish behaviour to the sound of soca, steel bands and beating drums.
Pop into the 24-hour open-air museum and see relics of Jamaican history at Columbus Park, a commemorative park to mark the 1494 landing of Christopher Columbus in Discovery Bay.
Surrounded by tropical rainforest, Dolphin Cove in Ocho Rios is the largest dolphin natural lagoon home to numerous bottle nose dolphins. The chance to interact and swim with these magical creatures is sure to make for an unforgettable experience.
Explore the mountains
Ride a bicycle downhill through an elfin forest of stunted soapwood and redwood trees, home to hundreds of species of bird and blossoming plants. Speed through the world-famous Blue Mountain coffee plantations or meander at a leisurely pace along hedgerow-flanked lanes.
Explore the Rio Grande
Hop aboard a bamboo raft to explore the Rio Grande for a thrilling trip through banana and sugar cane plantations. Set sail from the peaks of the Blue Mountains at Berrydale before winding down to Margaret’s Bay along one of Jamaica’s largest rivers.
Kingston’s reputation may include crime crowds and shanty-towns, but for a real insight into Jamaica’s island life nowhere else will do. Stay smart and you’ll enjoy a fascinating and authentic experience encompassing grand historical sights, a beautiful harbour-front, frenetic markets and pulsating street-life.
Check out a huge labyrinth of limestone caves on Jamaica’s north coast, a stunning natural phenomena. Characterised by stalactites, stalagmites, overhead crags, tunnels light holes, and in its depths a subterranean lake, the Green Grotto was once used as shelter by the Arawak Indians (Tainos).
Head out to Lover’s Leap, a sheer 518m (1,700ft) cliff overhanging the sea east of Treasure Beach. It was here that two slave lovers leaped to their deaths rather than to be separated. Those with vertigo should stand well away from the edge – the view is terrifying.
Milk River Spa
Take a rejuvenating dip in the curative waters of the aged Milk River with a visit to the unique government owned spa located here, and enjoy a naturally radioactive mineral bath. Discovered in 1794, these spring-fed therapeutic waters reach temperatures of 33°C (86°F).
Chill-out or party hard Jamaican-style in Montego Bay, the island’s most buzzing city. Whether lounging all day on laid-back Doctor’s Cave Beach or cruising through the gaudy delights of Gloucester, this is the spot where Jamaica lays its ‘big sell’ on the world’s tourists. Many never make it any further.
Don’t miss a chance to visit the Port Royal in Kingston, a fine museum on top of the peninsula bordering Kingston Harbour. It honours Jamaica’s ancient capital city, submerged under the sea after an earthquake in 1692.
Shaw Park Botanical Gardens
For truly vibrant blooms check out the exhibits at Shaw Park Botanical Gardens, a 10-hectare (25-acre) collection of exotic Caribbean flora in Ocho Rios. Situated high on a hilltop overlooking the Caribbean Sea, the gardens has a waterfall as a centrepiece.
Stroll around the ancient streets of Spanish Town, Jamaica’s former capital, on a historical walking tour. It was once a magnificent and impressive metropolis and some fine stately red-brick homes and grand monuments remain, including a resplendent plaza.
Comprising three golden sandy bays on the south of the island, where palm fronds sway, azure waters lap, and local fisherman cruise their colourful boats to fish amongst the cays on the horizon. This is the Jamaican paradise you saw in the brochure before you came.
Dive in some of the best underwater gardens Montego Bay Marine Park, located along the west and north coasts where sunken wrecks, black coral and rope sponge host a multitude of multicoloured tropical fish. Montego Bay’s waters are protected, and here you’re likely spot nurse sharks, eagle rays, upside down jellyfish, tobacco fish and snapper in shallow spurs and grove reefs amidst an assortment of caverns.
Explore the hundreds of paths connecting villages and settlements around the mountains, including several non-tourist utilitarian paths around Newcastle on the Kingston to Buff Bay Road where trails lead to Catherine’s Peak and Mount Horeb.
Airports in Jamaica
Kingston Norman Manley | Montego Bay Sangster
Beaches in Jamaica
Montego Bay beaches | Negril beaches | Ocho Rios beaches
Falmouth | Montego Bay | Ocho Rios | Port Antonio