Geographically, Jamaica is an island of intense color and contrast with tropical beaches and arid plains set among the misty Blue Mountains. Socially, the same contrasts endure as British ex-patriots mingle with spiritually expressive Rastafarians. Jamaica is one of the most dynamic nations in the Caribbean, which can make it both daunting and endearing to travelers.
Whatever vacationers think of Jamaica, it must be good, because they keep returning time and again. Jamaica is continually named as one of the top destinations in the Caribbean, in fact, between the years 2005 and 2011, World Travel Awards honored Jamaica with the "Caribbeans Leading Destination" award. The island's hotels have also won several awards over the years, and the country itself walked away with awards for the "Caribbean's Leading Tourist Board," and the "Caribbean's Leading Cruise Destination" in 2011. To continue the spree, in 2014, it was ranked as one of the top Spring Break destinations.
...every type of vacationer can find pleasure...
The most notable travel fact about Jamaica is that it is the birthplace of the modern all inclusive resort. The north coast of the island, particularly in the area of Negril and Seven Mile Beach, is lined with all-inclusive mega resorts that charge one price at the door to take care of all of your vacation needs, from your accommodations to meals to every imaginable recreational activity, all within a gated, guarded complex, safely sheltered from the outside world. From the colorful family-friendly getaways of the Franklin D. Resort to the racy pleasures of the adults-only Hedonism resorts, there's an all-inclusive to suit your needs. There is also a congregation of mega resorts around Montego Bay. They may not offer as much for one flat price, but you can still enjoy an entire vacation without ever leaving the guarded grounds of the resort.
For some people, this is the ideal Jamaican vacation, and all-inclusive has its merits. Everything you need is provided for you, and at your disposal whenever you want it. The environment is secure and safe, making for a worry-free getaway. However, for those who vacation to see new places and new culture, there is an experience unlike any other in the world waiting outside the resort gates. In December of 2010, Jamaica was honored with the Caribbean's Top Tourist Destination award, solidifying the idea that every type of vacationer can find pleasure in Jamaica.
...rivers for rafting, trails for hiking and...gorgeous scenery.
The island of Jamaica is the third largest island in the Caribbean. A land mass of 4,400 square miles, it's just a little smaller than the state of Connecticut and offers plenty to do for the nature lover. Thebeaches of the north coast are ranked some of the best in the islands, and offshore the island is surrounded by remarkable diving and snorkeling opportunities. In the southwestern part of the island, you'll find semi-arid coastal plains where sugarcane is grown. In the middle of the island, rising to an altitude of 7,402 feet, are the Blue Mountains, where the world famous Blue Mountain coffee is grown. Here, there are rivers for rafting, trails for hiking and of course, gorgeous scenery.
Many traveling to the Caribbean looking for sunbathing opportunities are invariably drawn to the island beaches, but some of Jamaica's prime bathing spots are in the tropical rock pools, many at the bases of waterfalls, to be found along the inland rivers and streams. Here, you can relax in the cool, clear water dappled in sunlight while enjoying the scenery and listening to the sounds of the surrounding jungle. However, Jamaica is also more densely populated than many other islands, so if you're looking for that quiet sensation of complete seclusion, it will be a little harder to find here.
...intoxicating music, colorful dress and tantalizing cuisine...
The natural beauty of Jamaica is unquestionable, but the feature of the land that most sets this island apart from the rest of the Caribbean is its people. More than 2.5 million people call Jamaica their home. The people of Jamaica are a strong-minded and vibrant, passionate about social and political issues and outspoken about their opinions, yet warm and fun-loving at heart. They share a spirituality that stands in contrast to the hedonistic lifestyles of some of the upscale resorts, and they have a unique culture with intoxicating music, colorful dress and tantalizing cuisine that is all their own. The streets of the cities are alive with a range of sights, smells and sounds that you won't find anywhere else.
While Jamaica remains a bastion of strength and character, it is not always the paradise promised by resort brochures. Once outside the gates of the all-inclusive, tourists exploring the island on their own should heed proper precautions to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip. Approximately 35 percent of the population lives below poverty level. Many of these people, living outside the large cities, do not have access to proper garbage disposal, so they usually pile it and burn it themselves in their yards or in a hole in the ground. While this does not pose a danger to tourists, it can be disturbing to some to encounter such images of poverty, making for an unpleasant trip to the countryside.
If you love to shopand bargain for prices, the island street markets will be an unforgettable experience. They are loud, crowded, colorful and lively, with countless merchants selling every imaginable product. There will likely be street performers on the corner, calypso bands playing to the crowd and a gamut of tantalizing sounds and smells to draw your attention. However, Jamaican vendors can be notoriously aggressive and will rarely take no for an answer, so be prepared to be firm. For those not prepared to engage in these kinds of social interactions, a trip through the market might not be pleasant.
Crime rates in Jamaica are known to be high, particularly in and around the city of Kingston. There are some areas of the island that tourists should avoid at night and other areas that should be avoided all the time, but as long as you educate yourself and pay attention, they aren't hard to stay out of. While violent crime is on the rise in inner city areas, most of the crime against tourists that occurs on the island is petty theft and pick pocketing. The most important thing to remember is to keep a close watch on your possessions at all times. Always keep cars locked; make use of your in-room safe; and don't leave any valuables in plain sight, even in a locked car. In the end, visiting the island of Jamaica is no different than visiting New York, Chicago, Miami, or any large city because common sense should always guide you away from uncomfortable situations. For more information on crime in Jamaica and how to avoid it, click here.
...bask in the sun, dive in crystal clear waters, hike through misty mountains...
The climate of Jamaica is an important consideration when deciding to visit as well, and that doesn't just pertain to weather. Although the higher altitudes can get quite cool in the mornings and evenings in the winter, the weather patterns of Jamaica are remarkably mild and temperate. More important to consider is the social climate at the time you visit. Jamaicans are extremely passionate about their politics, and the social environment in the more densely populated areas can become quite heated in the headlights of an upcoming election or other significant socioeconomic event. On the other hand, island-wide events like the annual Junkanoo Festival can bring Jamaica to a fever-pitch of music and dancing that is a sight to see.
There are many faces of Jamaica, many more than can be seen in one visit to the island. 1.2 million visitors travel to Jamaica every year, many of them on return vacations, to bask in the sun, dive in crystal clear waters, hike through misty mountains or talk down prices at the market. Once you're here and you've dined on jerk meats and conch fritters, washed them down with Red Stripe beer and danced to reggae or calypso until the sun comes up, you'll find there's no place on earth quite like the island of Jamaica. If you want to surround yourself with breathtaking natural beauty and vibrant people, Jamaica provides both with bravado. So read up on the risks, educate yourself on the proper precautions and take the trip of a lifetime.
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