The island nation of Jamaica, in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, is a tropical island characterized by its beaches, mountains, and jungles. From the busy all-inclusive resorts at Montego Bay to the glowing waters of Luminous Lagoon, Jamaica holds possibilities to suit every traveler’s desires, be it cliff diving, snorkeling, or horseback riding. A nation with hundreds of years of history dating back to the indigenous Arawak people, including colonialism and the sugar trade, and known more recently as the home of Blue Mountain Coffee, visitors to Jamaica will be wowed by the culture, the laidback people, the delicious jerk cooking, and of course, the abundance of reggae music. Certain attractions may be temporarily closed or require advance reservations. Some restaurants are currently offering pickup only. Hours/availability may have changed.
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The name of this small village comes from Abeokuta in Nigeria, for the slaves who were brought to Jamaica from Nigeria and also for a large rock on the grounds of this huge former plantation, which resembles one in its African namesake country. Today, the plantation, grounds, and gardens are part of Abeokuta Nature Park, located near the city of Negril. Visitors can explore the expansive grounds and gardens, see the ruins of the old plantation house, and even go for a swim. Abeokuta is home to the oldest swimming pool in Jamaica, a 300-year-old stone pool that is fed fresh water from a stone aqueduct and is still in use today.
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Located only about 35 miles from the bustling resorts of Montego Bay, Bluefields is a breath of fresh air for travelers looking for a more authentic Jamaican experience. With shimmering azure waters and gleaming white sands, Bluefields Beach is a beautiful and fantastic option for a day spent sunbathing and swimming among locals instead of other tourists. Although its history as a pirate’s cove is long behind it, Bluefields is still a great place to set out for a fishing expedition or a day on the water, and in the evenings, the Bluefields Villas will provide a peaceful and elegant place to call home away from home.
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Foodies should not miss an opportunity to explore Boston Bay, which is the birthplace of jerk food. Located in the western region of the island, Boston Bay is a small bay that is easy to miss if you’re not looking for it. Due to higher tides than on most other parts of the island, the gorgeous beach at Boston Bay is well known for some of the best surfing in Jamaica. Once a year, Boston Bay is home to the Portland Jerk Festival, which features music, markets, events and, of course, countless food stalls serving their take on the spicy and delicious Jamaican jerk food.
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Discovery Bay is thought to be the first landing point of Christopher Columbus in Jamaica. In 1494, the famous explorer landed here and named it Puerto Seco (Dry Harbor), because he couldn’t find any potable water nearby. Although the town has been renamed, Puerto Seco Beach still bears tribute to this history. In Discovery Bay, visitors can explore Columbus Park, an open-air museum where they will find artifacts like a water wheel, cannons, a tally used for counting bananas (just like in the song…), and a canoe used by the Arawak people, who were indigenous to South America and the Caribbean. Movie fans will also enjoy the Kaiser Bauxite Plant, where scenes from the movie Cool Runnings were filmed.
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One of the best preserved historical towns in the Caribbean, Falmouth is a colonial town on the north coast of Jamaica, near Montego Bay. In the 18th century, when Jamaica was established as the world’s leading producer of sugar, Falmouth was a thriving town, with taverns, shops, plantations, and a bustling port that handled a significant amount of the island’s sugar exports. Today, visitors can take a tour of historical Falmouth to see and learn about the markets, court house, beaches, and the Rose Hall Great House. Visitors can also tour some of the old plantations in the area, visit with crocodiles on the Swamp Safari, and raft down the waters of the Matiberon River.
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One of the most unique sights in Jamaica is Holland Bamboo Street, or Bamboo Avenue. This 2-mile stretch of road is covered by a shady green archway of bamboo, a peaceful tunnel that is both picturesque and a lovely respite from the hot tropical sun. The bamboo surrounding this road, which is both walkable and drivable, was planted in the 17th century, and stands tall today as a unique part of the island. A restaurant at one end of Bamboo Avenue, called Middle Quarters, makes for a lovely lunch or dinner before or after this drive.
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About 2 miles inland from the north coast of Jamaica is Irie Beach, a beautiful part of the White River near Ocho Rios. This tropical paradise of a swimming hole is one of the best-kept secrets in Jamaica, with blue-green waters edged by smooth rocks and grassy banks and surrounded by a green forest of trees and other tropical plants. The river flows gently enough to make it a great swimming spot or place for a float, and the sandy bottom is soft and safe for bare feet. On land, visitors to the Irie Beach can enjoy some of the beautiful nature that is in abundance around it.
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The Jamaican capital of Kingston is located on the southeast coast of the island. Although it is the largest city in Jamaica, Kingston still maintains the laidback island feel that the country is famous for. Visitors to this city can take in its sights and appreciate the colonial architecture of its buildings and houses or stop for a visit at the Bob Marley Museum, which celebrates the famous Jamaican musician, his works, and his life. Kingston is also a great gateway to other parts of Jamaica, including historic Port Royal, the beautiful Blue Mountains, where the world-famous coffee is grown, and a number of beautiful coastal beaches.
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Lucea is a historical port town that was once even busier and better known than Montego Bay as an exporter of bananas and sugar. It is the capital of Hanover Parish, with an abundance of historical buildings in town, like the courthouse, the Hanover Parish Church, and Fort Charlotte, which is one of the best-preserved colonial forts in Jamaica. The Hanover Museum, located just west of the town in an old police barracks and jail, displays artifacts from the 18th century including art, pottery, and stocks as well as Arawak artifacts.
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Located east of Montego Bay, Luminous Lagoon is a sight best seen at night. Billions of tiny organisms live in the water here, and when the water is disturbed they emit an eerily beautiful blue-green glow. Guests can enjoy a meal at Glistening Waters Restaurant, which overlooks the lagoon and the nightly lightshow, which will illuminate when fish swim through the water or when boats glide by on its surface. Boat tours are also available, and visitors can see from the water itself the effects of these tiny iridescent organisms and even take a swim in the glowing waters of the lagoon.
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While Jamaica is well known for its beaches and coastal island vibes, towns like Mandeville, which is located inland, are also a great choice for a vacation spot, especially for nature enthusiasts. With beautiful colonial architecture in a town that features many beautiful and colorful Georgian houses and structures, Mandeville is full of history and is known to be quiet and laidback, even by Jamaican standards. Mandeville is situated much higher up than the coast, at about 2,000 feet above sea level, and offers plenty of opportunities for hiking, horseback riding, bird watching, and camping in the hills and forests of the surrounding areas.
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12. Montego Bay
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Montego Bay is a very popular destination for tourists, with countless resorts and hotels, a bustling harbor for cruise ships, and countless options for things to do. On Montego Bay’s sandy, sunny beaches, travelers can sunbathe, fish, go sailing, scuba diving, parasailing, horseback riding, or take a ride in a glass-bottom boat to see ocean life under the clear blue waters. On land, visitors can zip line above Montego Bay or visit some of the historic plantations and Great Houses that were built hundreds of years ago. This tropical paradise has plenty of shopping and lots of great food and drinks to keep every visitor entertained for their entire stay.
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The beach at Negril, which stretches for 7 miles along a beautiful blue coast, has been called one of the best beaches in the world. With a wide variety of resorts, hotels, and places to stay, Negril is a great destination for families, couples, friends, and solo travelers looking for any kind of Jamaican experience. The waters at Negril are good for snorkeling and scuba diving, and the cliffs at West End Road are perfect for those looking for the adrenaline rush of diving from a 40-foot cliff into the water. From restaurants to shopping to night life, Negril is home to a vibrant community that makes for a perfect vacation destination.
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Nine Mile is the birthplace of famous musician Bob Marley and also the location of his final resting place. Fans of his music can visit the small village of Nine Mile to tour the cottage where Marley was born. Here, they will have an opportunity to see how he lived and learn about some of his belongings, including the “rock pillow” on which he would lie for inspiration, and then pay their respects at the Bob Marley Mausoleum, where he was buried with his mother and half brother. Nine Mile is very rural and is reachable from Discovery Bay or Runaway Bay.
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Ocho Rios was a fishing village for years, but now it is one of the busiest ports in Jamaica, with cruise ships that regularly dock there for day trips, and it has some of the nicest resorts in the Caribbean. Visitors to Ocho Rios can ride horses on the beach and through the shallow blue waters of the sea, or swim with dolphins and sharks at Dolphin Cove. From Ocho Rios, travelers can also take a day trip to Dunn’s River Falls and Park, where they will find a uniquely beautiful jungle waterfall that cascades over terraced limestone domes. With everything from shopping to relaxation to adventure, Ocho Rios is the place to be in Jamaica.
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In Oracabessa, vacationers can spend their days sunbathing at James Bond Beach, named for the movie Dr. No, which was once filmed there. At night, this little beach becomes a venue for some of Oracabessa’s greatest parties, hosted by DJs and often lasting well into the wee hours of the next morning. Oracabessa is also a great place to get up close and personal with stingrays at Stingray City, where visitors can feed the complex’s 30 stingrays and snorkel with them. These stingrays were all caught humanely, and most of them are local to the area and were well known to locals before they became part of the complex.
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Port Antonio is a great destination for travelers looking to explore some of the beautiful rainforests, jungles, and mountains of Jamaica. Located on the northeast coast of the country, Port Antonio is conveniently located near the John Crow Mountains, the Rio Grande River, and is surrounded by beautiful green tropical jungle. Well known for its arts and crafts scene, as well as for its small town feel, Port Antonio looks beautiful from the water, and visitors can see for themselves from Frenchman’s Cove or Blue Lagoon. The small market town of Port Antonio was in its heyday when stars like Grace Kelly and Errol Flynn vacationed there regularly, but even though this quaint little town is now much quieter, it is still just as charming.
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Priory Beach is situated between Ocho Rios and Seville and is a wonderful destination for visitors looking to enjoy all the best parts of a Caribbean beach without the manufactured atmosphere of a big resort. The beach is a lovely place to sunbathe, swim, picnic, or play frisbee on the sand, and there are always food stalls nearby where visitors can buy some jerk chicken. But the real draw at Priory Beach is the weekly parties, which are held there on Sunday nights. From the early afternoon until sunrise the next day, Priory Beach becomes a place for music, dancing, and fun, with local bar and restaurants to supply food and drink, and well-known DJs (also called “selectas”) to provide music.
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This beautiful waterfall, located a few miles inland of Manchioneal, is the largest natural waterfall in Jamaica; at 65 feet wide and over 22 feet tall, Reach Falls is one of the hidden gems of Jamaica. It was originally discovered by runaway slaves escaping from the nearby parish of St Thomas, but today it is a stunning and peaceful paradise where visitors can swim, hike, and explore one of the Caribbean’s gorgeous rainforests. Above the falls, a short but strenuous hike will lead visitors to Mandingo Cave, where they will find another natural waterfall.
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Rio Grande, which means “Big River” in Spanish, is located in the eastern part of the island. This river is where rafting in Jamaica was born, helping people to transport bananas from the inland plantations where they were grown out to the trading ports and harbor of Port Antonio. Today, visitors to Jamaica can raft down this very river with the help of a company like Rio Grande Rivers or an independent rafting guide. Each of the long, skinny wooden rafts can carry two adults and one child, and a trip down the river will take about 2 or 3 hours, depending on speed.
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Unlike some of the more traditional resorts in Jamaica, Runaway Bay is made up of a number of hotels located near the waterfront. Although there isn’t an actual town, Runaway Bay is well equipped with restaurants, bars, and markets along its main coastal road. Visitors staying in Runaway Bay will find it a lovely and refreshing way to spend a holiday, with beaches, watersports, and golf. Those looking for adventure can scuba dive to find coral reefs and shipwrecks beneath the surface of the water or visit the Green Grotto Caves, which twist and stretch beneath the ground. Fans of Bob Marley can visit nearby Nine Mile, where the famous musician was born and is buried.
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Savanna-La-Mar is a town that was established by the Spanish during the early 18th century. In 1748, 1780, and again in 1912, Savanna-La-Mar was struck by a hurricane. These three storms did major damage to the town, and unfortunately because of them, much of the physical historical presence of Savanna-La-Mar has been wiped from existence. Still, the town is home to an old fort from the 18th century which, although never completed, still stands and is used today as a swimming hole for locals and tourists alike, as well as a beautiful church, court house, and an impressive cast iron fountain.
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A visit to the Seaford Town Historical Museum will tell the strange history of this town, where German settlers lived after the abolition of slavery in Jamaica. Unlike most other parts of Jamaica, the population here did not integrate with the black majority until recently, and held tight to their German heritage, and as such, everything from the architecture of the buildings to the speech and appearance of the residents feels less like a village in the Caribbean and more like a town somewhere in Europe. Seaford Town is a fascinating destination for a day trip, especially for visitors who love history and culture.
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Tower Isle is a town in Jamaica that is well known for the Couples Tower Isle Resort. This kid-free, adults-only resort is a romantic destination designed specifically for couples, and features great food, lots of activities, and several clothing-optional beaches. For those looking to avoid a resort vacation, however, Tower Isle is also home to some lovely villas and hotels for rent. Visitors to Tower Isle can spend a day with the locals at Reggae Beach or tour the Great House at Harmony Hill. Those looking to hike or swim can find the Irie Blue Hole, a gorgeous spot with lots of waterfalls and a swimming hole, or explore the gardens and nature trails at Turtle River Falls and Gardens.
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Despite the name implying just one, Treasure Beach is actually made up of four coves that comprise this beautiful resort. Located on the southern coast of the island, about 2 hours drive from Negril, visitors to Treasure Beach can enjoy many sightseeing opportunities within the town and region. Visitors can zipline through the canopy, tour the Appleton Rum Estate, or take a stroll down Bamboo Avenue. From a day at one of its beaches to a morning on the water catching fish, Treasure Beach also has ample opportunity for walking and hiking through the waterfalls and rainforests that surround the towns.
25 Best Jamaica Destinations
- Abeokuta, Photo: Courtesy of carline11 - Fotolia.com
- Bluefields, Photo: Courtesy of nusha86 - Fotolia.com
- Boston Bay, Photo: Courtesy of ICW - Fotolia.com
- Discovery Bay, Photo: Courtesy of mikasek - Fotolia.com
- Falmouth, Photo: Courtesy of jiawangkun - Fotolia.com
- Holland Bamboo, Photo: Courtesy of jirakit - Fotolia.com
- Irie Beach, Photo: Courtesy of Christian Colista - Fotolia.com
- Kingston, Photo: Courtesy of Rashid - Fotolia.com
- Lucea, Photo: Courtesy of macau - Fotolia.com
- Luminous Lagoon, Photo: Courtesy of Olivier - Fotolia.com
- Mandeville, Photo: Courtesy of gustavofrazao - Fotolia.com
- Montego Bay, Photo: Courtesy of Chee-Onn Leong - Fotolia.com
- Negril, Photo: Courtesy of Joel Calheiros - Fotolia.com
- Nine Mile, Photo: Courtesy of Nadezhda Zaitceva - Fotolia.com
- Ocho Rios, Photo: Courtesy of Ruth P. Peterkin - Fotolia.com
- Oracabessa, Photo: Courtesy of lieblingsbuerger - Fotolia.com
- Port Antonio, Photo: Courtesy of XtravaganT - Fotolia.com
- Priory Beach, Photo: Courtesy of upslim - Fotolia.com
- Reach Falls, Photo: Courtesy of jekurantodistaja - Fotolia.com
- Rio Grande, Photo: Courtesy of ICW - Fotolia.com
- Runaway Bay, Photo: Courtesy of David Brown - Fotolia.com
- Savanna-La Mar, Photo: Courtesy of alisontoon - Fotolia.com
- Seaford Town, Photo: Courtesy of Pavel Chernobrivets - Fotolia.com
- Tower Isle, Photo: Courtesy of elvirkin - Fotolia.com
- Treasure Beach, Photo: Courtesy of Katja Sucker - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of mikolajn - Fotolia.com
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