More than Caribbean sun
Unwind on blinding white-sand beaches under the shade of tropical blooms, take in the crystal-blue waters of the Caribbean Sea and sink into the luxury of an all-inclusive hotel. But don't just leave it at that. Go explore the striking silhouette of the Blue Mountains, drink in the spiritual soul of Rasta and Obeah, or pull yourself into an underwater world of plane wrecks and sea life. Jamaica is too full of excitement to stay immobile on an albeit sun-drenched beach.Choose your soundtrack
The third-largest of the Caribbean islands, Jamaica is also one of the most vibrant. From the backstreets of Kingston to the beaches of Negril, you will find a nation of music lovers with a penchant for hip-swinging, whether to the lolloping off-beats of reggae, the lilting reaches of gospel or the synth-pumped sounds of the dancehall.Flavour fusion
This is an island that you could easily eat your way around. Street kitchens, family homes, fine-dining restaurants - all are dripping with the smells of Caribbean creole. Jamaican flavour is like a magic fusion between African spices - heritage of a slave trade which brought so many of the locals' ancestors to these shores - and the natural ingredients of the land. Chicken becomes jerk, yam and plantain are saturated with hot sauces and fish is grilled to spicy perfection. Finish it all off with your pick of tropical fruit, a fine shot of rum and prepare yourself for the next round.Religion and life
As the music Bob Marley and his band of Wailers will constantly remind you, Rastafarianism is at the heart of the lives of many Jamaicans. But it's the incredible mix of over one hundred different religions throughout the island that really makes this place one of a kind. You'll find pious christians, methodists and baptists living alongside jews, buddhists and practicers of voodoo, and it makes for one hell of a party.Incomparable beauty
The landscapes of this Caribbean island are what set it apart from its neighbours. The severe Blue Mountains descend into deep, thick jungle and vast plantations, where farmers grow acres of luscious bananas and mouth-watering coffee. From here, it's an easy hop into the verdant coastlines, the narrow stretches of sandy beaches and the wide open waters with their enchanting corals.Adrenaline Island
There's no better way to discover these swathes than by diving in head first. The sea provides a whole host of scuba activities, including underwater plane wrecks, east-coast surfing and cliff jumping. Otherwise, it's up into the mountains for an alpine adventure to discover hidden waterfalls, exceptional hiking trails and incredible vistas. If the prospect of so much activity seems daunting, never fear. Like every aspect of life on this chilled-out island, the going is ever so easy.
Surface area : 4244.0 km2
Population : 2847232 inhabitants
Jamaicans have gained international fame for the beauty of their paintings and wood sculptures. Clothing with original and colourful prints, spices, Blue Mountain coffee, exotic fruit jams, sauces and marinades, rum, and cigars are all souvenirs worth taking back home.
Downtown Kingston is also a destination for those wanting to get their hands on some vintage vinyl, with a few boutiques selling rare reggae records.
With fish, poultry, rice, vegetables, fruits and spices featuring as island staples, Jamaican cuisine is one of the most varied. Ackee'n saltfish, a national dish (and equally popular amongst those who have left the country for other lands), comprises crumbled cod and mixed vegetables, accompanied by ackee; a red fruit with yellow flesh that should be eaten very ripe to avoid food poisoning. Meat is invariably spiced and often barbecued, as exemplified by popular jerk pork and chicken dishes. Another favourite is curried goat, often served with mango chutney and bammies, a type of cassava flatbread.
Perhaps surprisingly, vegetarians are also well-catered for by traditional Rastafarian Ital fare; a flavoursome concoction of vegetables and soya chunks.
Beverages range from local beer Red Stripe (arguably as much of a staple in London) to local fruit punches and the supposed aphrodisiac Irish Moss; a potion of algae extracts and mariujuana tea. Of course, if you haven't already stuffed your suitcase full of the beans, make sure you sip a Blue Mountain brew before leaving.
From their African ancestors, the Jamaicans have been gifted with a love for folk tales, music and religious beliefs. This accounts for the numerous (easily over 100) religions which are practised all over the island. Many of the locals are very superstitious and believe in spirits (duppies).
To protect themselves, they have developed all sorts of stratagems, such as placing cross-shaped cutlery and a bible by the beds of babies to protect their sleep. Healers also have an important place in society, soothing the suffering of their countrymen with complex concoctions. Jamaicans have a humorous approach to life, taking everything with detachment, philosophy and notoriously laid-back vibes.
Jamaica, paradise of leisure lovers, abounds with incredible sites to be discovered. Trail the limestone towers of Cockpit Country or simply admire the superb cocoa and coffee plantations of the Blue Mountains. Jamaica is, perhaps more than anywhere else, a place to take your time and leave your worries behind.
It's true that the cruise ports of Negril and Montego Bay, on the island's west coast, attract the lion's share of tourists with their bulging resorts, lively clubs, fine restaurants and world-class golf. But try combing through the reefs at nearby Runaway Bay, just west of Ochos Rios. If you have the energy, you could even head southwards to try out the four coves of Treasure Beach for size.
Another recommended experience is the public transport systems. There's no such thing as an accurate bus timetable on the entire island but when they do come along, buses provide an excellent way of discovering some of Jamaica's more off-the-grid locations and meeting some of its rural dwellers. And what's more, the prices are extremely attractive.
If you want a little more liberty, car hire is also a great option. Though you might meet fewer kind-hearted locals willing to swap life stories for the duration of a bus journey, you will be able to suck in the beautiful landscapes at your own pace. Jamaican roads are, for the most part, an easy experience with the occasional pothole or bad stretch. Local advice will tell you to avoid driving at night and even though they drive on the left, stay focused - you'll find more than a few impulsive drivers to shunt you off the road.
A quick word about pot. Recent changes to the law now permit any person to possess a small quantity (57g) of marijuana and also to smoke it. Many residents can even legally grow plants for personal consumption and you'll be offered plenty of testers almost as soon as you set foot on Jamaican soil. But be warned, the government hasn't relaxed its laws concerning the transportation and trafficking of the drug so don't try to slip anything ?extra' into your suitcase on the way home.
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