Jamaica: what to see and do. White sands, a chilled-out vibe, warm people, music everywhere, and rum

Why go

The miles of idyllic white sands that fringe the sparkling turquoise shores are reason enough to visit Jamaica, but the real draw of this Caribbean island is its locals. People here are so laidback they’re practically horizontal and it’s that chilled-out vibe and warm Jamaican heart that makes you feel at home in the land where everything is ‘no problem, mon’.

Dunn's River Falls, Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Photo Alamy
Climb the Dunn’s River Falls near Ocho Rios. Photo by Alamy

What to do

Jamaica is an island that begs to be explored. Raft down the rivers, wander through the sugar cane fields, climb a coconut tree or take a horseback ride through the forest. Scuba diving and snorkelling are out of this world and the clear waters are awash with sea life.

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Where to stay

Jamaica Trident Castle Hotel
Trident Castle in Port Antonio is an unforgettable place to stay

Avoid the busy capital of Kingston and instead fly into lively Montego Bay, where the beautiful Round Hill hotel and villas provide dreamy accommodation. One of the island’s best-kept secrets is Port Antonio, a rainforest on the eastern end of the island. Stay at Trident Castle for an unforgettable experience. Negril is a bit busier but still a great place to stay, as is Ocho Rios.

Where to eat

Steer away from tourist eateries and embrace Jamaican cuisine the way the locals do. Suck on a stick of sugar cane, grab some jerk chicken at a roadside pit stop and buy a patty on the beach to experience those famous Caribbean flavours.

The houseboat restaurant in Montego Bay is amazing and if you look over the edge of the boat you’ll see luminous gangly jellyfish the size of your arm. Sky Beach serves the best fried fish in the west – try it with escovietch sauce on the side. Wash it all down with a large Appleton Estate rum.

Jamaica.-Ocho-Rios
Ocho Rios: the clear waters make Jamaica ideal for snorkelling and scuba diving

Getting around

The best thing to do is rent a car or hire a driver from Island Car Rentals as public transport isn’t always safe. Drivers are inexpensive and double up as a personal tour guide – they’ll recommend excursions, nightlife and restaurants and then stop for no apparent reason to hop up a tree and fetch a coconut for you. You couldn’t make it up!

When to go

Book for winter sun and you won’t be disappointed. The high season runs from December through to March and you can expect glorious warm weather with little rainfall. April and May are still good months to go as, though it’s not quite as hot, resort prices drop and there are far fewer tourists around.

Three things we like

  1. As the birthplace of reggae (and Bob Marley) you can expect the hedonistic beat to provide the backing track to your holiday. From the beach to a roadside, you’ll hear authentic local music pretty much anywhere.
  2. The high-pitched trill of the tree frogs calling to each other in the dark is something you won’t forget.
  3. Ackee and saltfish is Jamaica’s delicious answer to the English fry-up. The traditional breakfast of mild-tasting fruit and salted cod is often accompanied with dumplings, breadfruit, plantain or fried yams.

Something we don’t like

The roads are terrible. Watch out for enormous potholes and plan your route in advance as there are no road signs.

Jamaica. Round Hill
If you want to stay in lively Montego Bay choose the hotel and villas at Round Hill

Don’t miss

Floating down the Rio Grande on wooden rafts, stopping to swim, look at the wildlife or leap from rope swings is a fun day out for groups. Call ahead and ask for lunch to be prepared for you half way down.

Jamaica is a golfer’s paradise thanks to the goldmine of impeccable courses here. Check out Half Moon or White Witch for the best views.

High in the Blue Mountains is where the coffee is grown, before being hand-picked and ground. Stay for a night or two but remember the climate is different here – at 7,500 feet, the mountains provide a cool and misty retreat from the beach heat.

Jamaica. Half Moon Golf Course
Golf with a side order of sunshine, palm trees and sea views at Half Moon Golf Course

High50 insider tips

  • Temperatures can drop in the evening so bring something to throw on if you’re eating alfresco, and load up on mosquito spray
  • If you’re a wine drinker stick to bottles from New Zealand or Australia. Everything is imported and these seem to fare the best.
  • Have a private masseuse or yoga teacher come to your villa. If you find someone local the prices are ridiculously cheap for beauty treatments.
Treasure Beach, St Elizabeth: sandy beaches and turquoise sea are Jamaica's biggest attraction
Treasure Beach, St Elizabeth: sandy beaches and turquoise sea are Jamaica’s biggest attraction

Travelling with family

Nearly all resorts are family friendly and most activities are suitable for children, even Dunns River Falls, where you can scale the waterfall. Beaches Negril is good fun for older children or teenagers thanks to its popular water park.

Need to know

  • Average flight time from the UK is ten hours.
  • Jamaica is five hours ahead of the UK (GMT +5).
  • Jamaican dollars are the local currency. However, almost everywhere will accept US dollars.
  • Wages are very low in Jamaica and tips are appreciated, but check your hotel’s policy. Some all-inclusive resorts strictly prohibit personal tips and will fire staff for accepting them. Always tip your caddy on the golf course and add what you would at home to restaurant bills.
  • Bring a two-pin plug socket adaptor but bear in mind that voltage is lower.
  • Agree a price with taxi drivers before getting in as they don’t have metres.
  • No vaccines are required to visit Jamaica.