Jamaica - Island of Marleys spirit
Get your legs up, up, up", screamed my Jamaican guide. It wasn't the usual sort of command you'd expect, but as I was racing along a zip-wire at full pelt towards the landing platform - it seemed a sensible request!
Only a few seconds earlier, I'd stood at the top of the tropical river gorge, knowing I would be skimming across the treetops held up by nothing more than just a couple of cables hundreds of feet up in the air.
Having reached the other side in one piece, my trepidation was swiftly replaced by elation and I felt ready to tackle anything. After all, this is just one of the adrenalinbusting activities designed to tempt holidaymakers off Jamaica's beautiful beaches and into its rugged, jungle-filled interior.
As the third-largest island in the Caribbean, Jamaica offers much to entrance visitors, from the misty peaks of the Blue Mountains with their beautiful landscapes of rivers and waterfalls, to the rocky cliffs and wide open sandy beaches of the laid-back resort of Negril, the coolest of all chill-out zones.
Jamaica is where you'll find historic old plantation houses rubbing shoulders with luxurious hotels and sprawling all-inclusive resorts; where you can hide away in chic boutique hotels tucked into rocky cliffs or on lush mountain slopes.
It is a place of local legends of buccaneering pirates and murderous witches, of romance tinged with royalty and old Hollywood glamour.
But underpinning it all is the raw reggae vibe that dominates this island and envelops its culture, stemming from Jamaica's most famous son Bob Marley, who planted his distinctive beat across the world.
Most of Jamaica's tourist resorts are along the north coast, though one or two resorts have sprung up on the lesser-developed south coast. These are the island's tourist areas:
Montego Bay - Jamaica's second city after the capital, Kingston - which is bigger and busier than the other tourist resorts. The hub of the city is Gloucester Avenue, the socalled "Hip Strip" full of restaurants, bars, art galleries and duty-free shops.
Mo Bay, as it is called by the locals, has its own marine park which covers 10 miles of coral reefs. There is also the famous white-sand Doctors Cave Beach and its mineral spring, said to have therapeutic powers. Nearby is the attractive town of Falmouth, noted for its well-preserved Georgian buildings, dating from the 1700s.
Ocho Rios - "Ochi" as it is affectionaely called, is more tourist-friendly than Montego Bay with its craft market, duty-free shops, restaurants and cafes and more relaxed atmosphere. centre in the heart of the resort which Visitors should aim for the outdoor Island Village shopping houses the Reggae Xplosion museum that tells the fascinating story of how Jamaican music has influenced the world.
Negril - the socalled "capital of casual" is famous for having the best beach on Jamaica and the most beautiful sunsets. This is a place to kick off your shoes, sit back and chill out. Some of the hippest boutique hotels in the Caribbean are tucked into the rocky cliffs behind the beach, offering a real laid-back escape. However, more active travellers can take advantage of the excellent choice of water sports or try out the local
Port Antonio - set on the north-east coast, this is the romantic heart of Jamaica where the Blue Mountains sweep down to the sea. Less touristy than the other resorts, this lush retreat is known for its beautiful setting which decades ago attracted film-stars, most notably Hollywood swashbuckler Errol Flynn, who declared it "more beautiful than any woman I have ever seen".
Kingston - Jamaica's capital is the largest English-speaking city in the Caribbean. It sits at the head of one of the world's biggest natural harbours which in years past was home to buccaneering pirates who based themselves at nearby Port Royal. The old city, described in the 17th century as the "wickedest city in the west", was destroyed by earthquake and now lies underwater in the bay. Kingston may have a tough reputation, but its location on the south of the island means it is far removed from the main tourist areas. It also has a number of its own visitor attractions.
South Coast - this is one of the most unspoilt parts of the island and one of the most beautiful with its deserted beaches, tiny fishing villages and traditional towns. This is the place to come crocodile spotting on wildlife safaris along the Black River or splash around in the cascading waters of the 120ft YS Falls.
The island's scenic beauty and colourful history have always helped it to attract legions of visitors, but in recent years Jamaica has turned up the thrill factor to offer an adrenaline-pumping alternative to adventure-seekers wanting to explore the stunning rugged interior. The top natural attraction has to be Dunn's River Falls near Ocho Rios. These 600ft falls were just made for climbing, and it is great fun to scramble over huge boulders and plunge into the tempting
You need to be reasonably agile and you have to concentrate, especially at some of the steepest points, but the reward is the great sensation of standing under one of the many waterfalls and gasping for breath from the sheer power of the torrent.
If you only do one thing when you're in Jamaica - do this. It's unique, invigorating and unforgettable.
Just a few words of warning....try to avoid visiting when cruise ships call, otherwise the falls are mobbed with cruise passengers. Aim for the mornings too, as these tend to be less busy than afternoons.
For a quieter alternative, visit Somerset Falls near Port Antonio, which are less-known, or the Mayfield Falls near Negril which are in a perfect area for cave diving, cliff jumping or simply messing about in the water.
And if you want And if you want a true chill-out, try river rafting on one of the long bamboo rafts that drift lazily down the Rio Grande or the Great or Martha Brae rivers.
Daredevils can visit Mystic Mountain, one of the island's newer attractions near Ocho Rios where they can soar through the treetops on a chairlift, hurtle through the forest on a bobsled or swing through the forest on a zip-wire.
But it's the beautiful Blue Mountains that were made for exploring and hikers; bikers and adventurers can discover a rich array of flora and fauna.
For serious walkers, the seven-mile hike to the summit takes three to four hours, while cyclists can get a lift up one of the mountains and enjoy the 18-mile downhill ride which finishes with a refreshing waterfall dip.
Alternatively they can splash around with stingrays at Stingray City on James Bond Beach, near the north coast village of Oracabessa, a 25-minute drive from Ocho Rios.
Nearby is Goldeneye, the former hideaway of James Bond author Ian Fleming, and Firefly, the beautifully-located retreat of famous English playwright Noel Coward which has been preserved and is well worth visiting, if only for the views.
Visitors looking for a more local flavour should step out on hikes in Maroon Country in the east of the island where there's the chance to meet local maroons - descendants of runaway slaves who made their home in the mountains.
But probably the most famous local is Bob Marley. He may have died nearly 30 years ago, but nowhere does his spirit live on more strongly than in Jamaica.
His birthplace and final resting place in the rural district of St Ann near Ocho Rios and the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston are among Jamaica's most popular tourist attractions, drawing thousands of visitors wanting to pay homage to the music legend.
The Bob Marley Museum is located in the superstar's original recording studio in New Kingston where he recorded many of his songs.
One of his former homes in the Trenchtown area of the capital, called CultureYard, is also open to the public.
His final resting place is the Bob Marley Mausoleum which comprises the tiny house in the village of Nine Mile where he was born.
Where to stay
Large family-orientated resorts, chic upmarket retreats, trendy boutique hideaways and small independent hotels - Jamaica has them all.
But it is most famous as the birthplace of the all-inclusive concept which started with the opening of the Jamaican resort, Couples,in the Seventies.
Couples Resort is still open, but it has since been joined by a huge choice of other all-inclusives, namely those owned by the Sandals/Beaches group and SuperClubs – both of which are owned by Jamaican families and have several resorts on Jamaica and other Caribbean islands.
More recently, Spanish hotel chains such as Riu, Iberostar and Barcelo have built a string of modern all-inclusive hotels, but holidaymakers wanting something more unusual should head for the mountains.
Strawberry Hill in the Blue Mountains is an 18th century plantation house that became the hideaway of record mogul Chris Blackwell and the place where Bob Marley recuperated after being shot in the 1970s. It offers rustic, laid-back luxury along with stunning views over Kingston.
Other one-off gems include Rockhouse, The Caves, Jake’s (described as the chic-est shack in the Caribbean) and Tensing Pen –built into the cliffs overlooking Negril’s stunning white-sand beach.
Well established upmarket alternatives that still hold traditional charm include Jamaica Inn in Ocho Rios, plus Round Hill and Half Moon near Montego Bay.
When to go
The best weather is from December to April, which is the high season. July and August are also popular, but are in the hurricane season which runs from June to September/October.
UK passport holders do not need a visa for stays of up to 90 days.
UK operators featuring Jamaica include:
- British Airways Holidays
- Thomas Cook Holidays
- Virgin Holidays
- First Choice Holidays
- Hayes & Jarvis
Choose from domestic flights between Kingston and Montego Bay, local buses, JUTA tourist buses, taxis or hire cars.Travelling around can be an adventure, but it gives visitors
a great flavour of the island. Make sure you travel only on licensed buses and taxis. Jamaica has a good network of roads but they may not always be in the best condition, plus other drivers tend to drive fast and furiously – so be warned!
Jamaica Tourist Office: call 020 7225 9090
All prices and details were correct when published, please check before you travel to Jamaica.