Jamaica is one of the favorite destinations in the world for a romantic getaway. Its white sandy beaches, lush foliage, rivers, mountains, and clear waterfalls all provide the perfect backdrop for honeymooners and couples looking for someplace to get away from it all. Jamaica also boasts the best golf courses in the West Indies, and some of the finest diving waters in the world.
Most visitors already have a mental picture of Jamaica before they arrive: its boisterous culture of reggae and Rastafarianism; its white sandy beaches; and its lush foliage, rivers, mountains, and clear waterfalls. Jamaica's art and cuisine are also remarkable.
Yet Jamaica's appealing aspects have to be weighed against its poverty, crime, and racial tensions, the legacy of colonial rule and subsequent political upheavals.
So, should you go? By all means. Just be prudent and cautious. The island has fine hotels and savory food. It's well geared to couples who come to tie the knot or celebrate a honeymoon. And Jamaica boasts the best golf courses in the West Indies, some of the finest diving waters in the world, and good river rafting. In this section, we'll lay out our favorite places and experiences.
The Best Beaches
Doctor's Cave Beach (Montego Bay): This 5-mile (8km) stretch of white sand made "Mo Bay" a tourist destination. Waters are placid and crystal clear, and there are changing rooms and a beach bar. This one is a family favorite.
Cornwall Beach (Montego Bay): Although it's often crowded, this beach is covered with soft, white, sugary sand. The water is clean and warm, and it's a good spot to take the family. But "hagglers"--vendors--will aggressively hawk anything from jewelry to drugs.
Seven Mile Beach (Negril): On the West Coast, this beach stretches 7 miles (11km). These golden sands are fine for families, though there are several (sectioned-off) nudist patches where guests bare all.
Treasure Beach (South Coast): Tired of fighting the crowds? Head for this beach on the dry, sunny South Coast. The undertow can be dangerous, so swimming is tricky. But crashing waves make it one of the most dramatic beachscapes in Jamaica.
Boston Bay Beach (Port Antonio): It's known not only for its white sands and clear waters, but also for the great jerk pork stands. This beach has the biggest waves in Jamaica, and you can rent surfboards and even get a lesson.
The Best Natural Attractions
Martha Brae's Rafters Village (Montego Bay, tel. 876/952-0889): Martha Brae's Rafters Village offers the best river-rafting experience in and around this popular resort. You sit on a raised dais on bamboo logs and watch the river scenery unfold.
The Black River (South Coast): You can explore what feels like real Tarzan country, with mangrove trees and crocodiles in the wild, on an outing with South Coast Safaris (tel. 876/965-2513). Lots of wild things grow in these swamps, and birders delight in the bird life.
Green Grotto Caves (Discovery Bay; tel. 876/973-2841). These limestone caves were once used to hide runaway slaves. They're a world of stalagmites and stalactites, with seemingly endless chambers and a Grotto Lake you can visit in a boat.
Somerset Falls (Port Antonio): Waters from the Daniels River race down a deep gorge through a rain forest. Flowering vines, waterfalls, and foaming cascades form a lush backdrop. You can swim in the deep rock pools.
Rafting on the Rio Grande (Port Antonio; tel. 876/993-5778): Shades of Errol Flynn, this is the grandest rafting experience in Jamaica. The rafts are propelled by bamboo poles.
Exploring the Blue Mountains (outside Kingston; tel. 876/960-6685): This is one of the biggest, wildest, and greenest parks in the Caribbean, ideal for exploring. You must hike 5 to 6 hours through thick vegetation (hearing amazing birds on the way) to reach the summit.
The Best Shopping
Art: Its paintings may never rival those of the finest Haitian artists, but Jamaica is at least the second-best center for art in the Caribbean. Prices are still reasonable, too, even when the artist has a certain renown. Although paintings are sold all over the island, the finest art is found in Kingston at either the Frame Centre Gallery or the Mutual Life Gallery, the two leading display showcases for the best of the island's artistic talent.
Handicrafts: Crafts come in many forms, ranging from alabaster and woodcarvings to weavings. But quality is highly variable. Any outlet of Things Jamaican, including the one in Montego Bay, has a good assortment of crafts, as does Harmony Hall outside Ocho Rios on the North Coast.
Fashions: Many artisans in Jamaica produce quality resort wear; Jamaican women are known as good seamstresses, and they often make quite passable copies of the works of top designers at a fraction of the original's price. Some of the best resort wear is found at Caribatik Island Fabrics, an outlet outside Falmouth.
Jewelry and Watches: Some watches at various outlets in Jamaica sell for 20% to 40% off stateside prices. Be sure to buy from a reliable dealer, not vendors hustling so-called gold Rolex watches. Jamaican gemstones include coral agate and black coral, and many fashionable pieces are made from these stones; quality handmade necklaces are sold nearly everywhere.
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