Jamaica Tourist Board
1-2 Prince Consort Road
London SW7
Tel: (0171) 224 0505
Fax: (0171) 224 0551

Physical geography

Jamaica is 4,244 square miles or 10,991 square kilometres. The island is divided into three counties and 14 parishes. It is 146 miles long with widths varying between 22 and 51 miles. It is the third largest of the Caribbean islands and the largest of the English-speaking Caribbean. It is a very mountainous country. Almost half the island is above 1,000 feet. Blue Mountain Peak, the highest point is 7,402 feet. The tides around the coast hardly vary. The difference between high and low tide is never more than 16 inches. Jamaica has some 120 rivers. Most flow to the coast from the central mountain ranges. Those on the north side tend to be shorter and swifter than those on the south side.


The northeast trade winds and mountain breezes keep the temperature pleasant year round. The annual average rainfall is 78 inches. Rainfall is unevenly distributed because of the effects of the mountains. Some hilly areas get nearly 300 inches a year while the dry southern plains get as little as 30 inches.

The annual average temperature is 80°F. The hottest months are in the summer. The winter months, December to March are appreciably cooler. For every 1,000 feet in altitude the temperature drops 3.5°F so that the Blue Mountain Peak has an average annual temperature of 56°F. Jamaica has several mineral springs. four of which are developed with facilities for bathing and some with accommodations. One is attached to the Sans Souci Lido hotel and three are public baths Bath in St. Thomas, Milk River in Clarendon and there is also the Rockfort Mineral Bath in Kingston.

A brief history

The first Jamaicans were the Arawak Indians. Christopher Columbus found them living here when he came. Soon after the Spaniards settled on the island, the Arawaks were all killed or died from overwork and European diseases to which they had no immunity. The Spaniards imported some Africans to work as slaves on their plantations on which they raised cattle, small stock and staple foods to feed themselves and supply passing ships. The word Jamaica comes from an Arawak word Xaymaca, meaning 'Land of wood and water'. Although the Arawaks of Jamaica are now extinct, they have left several words in the English language. The words hammock, hurricane, tobacco, barbecue and canoe now used in English were derived from the Arawak's language. Christopher Columbus landed in Jamaica on 4 May 1494 on his second voyage. The great discoverer first set foot on Jamaican soil at Discovery Bay on the north coast near Ocho Rios. He once spent a whole year in St. Ann's Bay. On his fourth voyage in 1503, he resided here because his ships were so worm-eaten he could go no further. A full year passed before help arrived and he was able to leave. This is the longest time he ever spent in any one place on any of his voyages.

Jamaica's first town, built by the Spanish in 1509 was Sevilla Nueva, near St. Ann's Bay on the island's north coast. In 1538, the Spaniards, having abandoned Seville, founded Spanish Town on the south coast and made it the island's capital. Sevilla Nueva, now lies beneath the earth in St. Ann. Archaeological excavations are being made of this Spanish settlement.

Jamaica became a British colony in 1655 when the English captured it from the Spaniards. The English turned the island into one vast sugar plantation which made them rich. In England they used to say 'rich as a West Indian planter' to mean the richest person around.

To grow the sugar cane the English brought many more Africans to work as slaves most of whom came from the west coast of Africa. The majority were from the Fanti and Ashanti tribes. Others from the Ibo and Yoruba tribes came from what is now present-day Nigeria. When the slaves were freed in 1838. most of them deserted the plantations and settled down in the hills to cultivate their own small plots of land. They founded a peasantry which is still today regarded as the 'backbone' of Jamaica. After slavery was abolished, the English brought in Indians and Chinese as indentured labourers for the plantations.

Jews are among the oldest residents of Jamaica. Some Jewish families have been here from the time of the earliest Spanish settlements. Although very small in number, the Jewish community has been very influential.

When the English came, the Spaniards fled to neighbouring islands and their slaves escaped into the mountains and formed their own independent groups called the Maroons. The Maroons were in time joined by many other slaves who escaped from the English. For a long time, they fought against the English who sought to re-enslave them. So successful were the Maroons, fighting from their fortresses, that the English were forced to sign peace treaties with them, granting them self-government and the mountain lands which they inhabited.

Descendants of the Maroons still live today on these lands in the parish of Trelawny, the hilly Cockpit Country in western Jamaica and at Moore Town in the hills of Portland to the east. They still maintain their lands and elect governing councils headed by a colonel, to administer their affairs. Maroons, however, are fully integrated into the Jamaican society and share the rights and responsibilities of Jamaican citizenship.

Over 90 per cent of the Jamaican population is of African descent. There has been much inter-marriage between the races over the centuries and this is reflected in the diverse physical appearance of Jamaicans and their unique culture. The African heritage is still strong here. We see it in the foods we grow and eat (eg, yam); in some religious groups; in our music and dances; in folk tales, proverbs, and aspects of our language. Jamaicans are unique because of their colourful and complex cultural heritage that forms the psyche of the people.


Kingston is the largest English-speaking city south of Miami. Jamaica has a very youthful population, 66 per cent is under 29 years of age. The majority of the population is Christian with small Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and Bahai communities. The older established churches are Anglican (Episcopalian), Baptist, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Moravian and United Church (Presbyterian and Congregational). The Pentecostals also have a large number of adherents. Many Jamaicans are members of indigenous religious groups, eg, Pocomania, Revivalism and Rasta-farianism. Rastafarianism is a religious sect which believes in the divinity of Haile Selassie, the late Emperor of Ethiopia. During the 1960s-1970s native Jamaican music rhythm Reggae, was popularised through the Rastafarian religion and the late reggae super-star, Bob Marley.

Languages spoken by nationals

The official language of Jamaica is English. However, the majority of the population speak Jamaican creole called patois, which is a mixture of English and derivatives of various West African languages. The Jamaican creole has been studied by many scholars.


Eastern Standard Time. Jamaica does not observe Daylight Saving Time.


The official rate of exchange fluctuates daily, depending, on foreign exchange markets. Foreign currency may be exchanged for Jamaican dollars at any bank during regular business hours or at licensed exchange bureaux in the airports and at hotels islandwide.

Offical holidays

New Year's Day (Jan. 1); Ash Wednesday; Good Friday; Easter Monday; Labour Day (May 23); Independence Day (1st Monday in August); Emancipation Day (Aug. 1); National Heroes Day (3rd Monday in October); Christmas Day (December 25); Boxing Day (December 26).

What one should not fail to see

Island-wide: Birding Tours: Birding in Jamaica is enhanced by the unique richness and variety of the landscape and the beautiful tropical climate. Rich in bird life, there are 25 species and 21 sub-species of birds which are found nowhere else on earth and the total number of different species is over 256. For more information on birding tours contact the Touring Society of Jamaica at (809) 954-2383.

Spas: Spas are to be found on the island: Sans Souci Lido Spa and Resort (Ocho Rios 809-974-2353), and Ciboney Villa and Spa Resort (Ocho Rios 809-974-1027) offer visitors a man-made spa.

Montego Bay Area: Barnett Estate Great House and Plantation Tour: Mon.-Fri. 9am-4pm. 10am & 2pm (Riding tour).
Belvedere Estate Tour: Plantation and heritage tour. 10am-4pm, Mon-Sat.
Blue Hole Museum, Great House, Plantation: Daily Guided Tour.
Croydon in The Mountains: A 132-acre working plantation in Catadupa (45 minutes from Montego Bay). Its main crops are coffee pineapples, plantains and citrus. Guided 1/2 day tour.
Doctor's Cave Beach: World famous white sand and clear water beach believed to be fed by mineral springs.
Fort Montego: Remains of old fort standing on a hill overlooking the harbour. The Fort Montego crafts market is located here.
Good Hope Great House.
Greenwood Great House: Over 200 years old. Formerly owned by the family of Elizabeth Barrett-Browning, the famous English poet.
Hampden Great House Tour: Great House, rum distillery and factory tour.
Hilton High Day Tour: Conducted full-day plantation tour including breakfast and lunch with an enjoyable Mento band. 7am-3pm, Tues, Wed Fri and Sun. Tel: (809) 952-3343.
Lollypop by the Sea: Glass-bottom boat ride with reggae band and dinner. Dancing on the beach.
Mobay Undersea Tours: Explore Montego Bay's marine sanctuary aboard an advanced vessel. Panoramic marine environment and coral reefs. Narrated by experts. Tel: (809) 979-2281.

Montego Bay Marine Park: The first of two pilot parks being established by the Protected Areas Resource Conservation Project (PARC), a Government of Jamaica project, which is sponsored by the USAID and Nature Conservancy has an overall goal to integrate the conservation of bio-diversity with the objective of sustainable development. It comprises an area of 15.3 square kilometres which includes the sea, the sea floor and all the marine life within its boundaries to a depth of 150 metres. Its purpose is to preserve and manage Montego Bay's marine resources for the benefit and enjoyment of the people of Jamaica and visitors to the island. The marine resources include the coral reefs, seagrass beds, mangrove wetlands, and all the fishes, conch, lobster and other plants and animals in the sea or along the shore line. Tel: (809) 940-0704.
Mountain Valley Ratting at Lethe: One hour rafting trip on The Great River disembarking at scenic recreation area. Optional hayride and plantation tour available. Tel: (809) 952-0527/912-0134.
Rockland's Feeding Station: Bird sanctuary at Anchovy. Bird feeding daily at 3:15 p.m. You can watch or you can hand-feed one yourself. Tel: (809) 952-2009.
Rose Hall Great House: Magnificently restored 1760 plantation where legend has it that Annie Palmer, the 'White Witch', ruled with cruelty and met a violent death. 9am-6pm, daily. Tel: (809) 953-2341/2456, 952-2009.
Tryall Water Wheel: Gigantic water wheel nearly 200 years old and still turning.

Falmouth area: Jamaica Safari Village: Crocodile exhibition and farm. Leah the lioness live snakes, mongeese, petting zoo and bird sanctuary. Guided natural history tours 9am-5pm, daily. Tel: (809) 954-3065.
Martha Brae Rafting: An hour and 15-minute river trip that begins at Rafter's Village four miles from Falmouth. Tel: (809) 952-0889.

Runaway bay area Chukka Cove Farm Ltd: The newest and most complete equestrian facility in the Caribbean.
Circle "B" Plantation: Walking tour of small working plantation. Lunch available. Tel: (809) 972-2988.

Ocho Rios area: Blue Mountain Tours: Downhill ride on mountain bicycles. Meet local coffee farmers. Breakfast, lunch and waterfall swim included with guides to accompany you. Tel: (809) 974-7075.
Calypso Rafting: A 45-minute ride through the tropical beauty down the White River to enjoy the scenery and stop to swim in the cool mountain river. 9am-5pm, dally. Tel: (809) 974-2527.
Chukka Cove: Riding stables. Tel: (809) 972-2506.
Coyaba River Garden and Museum: Tour. 8:30am-5pm, daily. Tel: (809) 974-6235.
Firefly: Named after the luminous fireflies seen after dark was once the Jamaican retreat of the late playwright Noel Coward, which was built in 1956. The spot where the property is located was originally known as Look-Out and had been used by the buccaneer Sir Henry Morgan 300 years earlier to keep watch for pirates. There is an admission fee for tours of the property. Museum: (Theme Lifestyle of Noel Coward). 9am-4pm, Mon-Sat. Tel: (809) 997-7201.
Golden Eye: Visit the home of Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond 007 legend. Tel: (809) 975-3663-5.
Hooves Limited: Fully guided tour on well-trained horses through countryside. Learn about medicinal properties of our indigenous fruits and plants. Tel: (809) 974-6245.
Jamaica Farewell: This is a free 60-minute song and dance spectacular show with a colourful carnival flavour. It will play on cruise ship days and is a unique way for Jamaica to say to all cruise passengers and crew members - 'goodbye and thanks for visiting us'.
James Bond Beach Club: 9am-6pm, Tues.-Sunday. Tel: (809) 975-3663-5.
Moonshine Festival: Moonshine Festival is the latest night attraction which takes place every Wednesday on the grounds of Coyaba Gardens from 6pm to 10:30pm. It is a cultural experience featuring a Jonkonnu Dance Troupe Mento Band, African Drumming, a local band and the 'Coyabalites'. A Jamaican Buffet is served with a wide selection of desserts/fruits and an open local bar.
Bob Marley's Nine Mile Tour, St. Ann: Nine mile experience of the beautiful countryside. Tour of simple lifestyle of Marley's childhood with his mother and his resting place. Tel: (305) 257-3737.
Prospect Plantation Tour: Daily tours of a working plantation in an open jitney... bananas, sugarcane, coconuts and breadfruit. 10:30am, 2pm & 3:30pm, daily. Tel: (809) 974-1058.
Seville Great House: Great House and heritage park. Tel: (809) 972-2191.
Shaw Park Gardens: Tropical gardens with waterfall overlooking town of Ocho Rios. 7:30am-5:30, daily. Tel: (809) 974-2723.
Sun Valley Plantation Tour: The 11/2 hour tour of this working plantation tells the history of the property from the slave era to present day. Boxing of bananas for export takes place at the farm. 9am, 1pm & 2pm, Mon-Fri. Tel: (809).

Port Antonio area: Boston Beach: Popular bathing beach. Waves are high enough for surfing. Famous Jamaican dish, 'Jerk Pork', originated in this area.
Castleton Gardens: Exotic flora abound. A horticulturist's dream, (in the Parish of St. Mary), an hour's drive away.
Caves of Nonsuch: See fossilised sea sponge, clam shells and a frozen waterfall on a mountain side plantation called the Seven Hills of Athenry. 9am-5pm, daily.
Crystal Spring Resort: 156-acre recreational centre, picnic ground, botanical garden, orchid forest, bird sanctuary and aviary (located in Buff Bay). 9am-6pm, dally. Tel: (809) 996-1400.
Nonsuch Caves and Athenry Garden: Caves rich in stalactite and stalagmite. It is equipped with a gift shop on three acres of well tended garden Tel: (809) 993-3740.
Rio Grande Rafting: A two-hour cruise on a bamboo raft for two poled by expert raftsmen through spectacular scenery. 8:30am-4:30pm, daily. Tel: (809)
Somerset Falls: The Daniels River plunges through a gorge of natural rock in a series of cascades and pools. Restaurant and rest rooms. 10am-5pm, daily. Except Christmas and Good Friday. (Indies Hotel, owners of the falls). Tel: (809) 926-0989.

Kingston area: Bob Marley Museum: 9am-5pm, Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri. Tel: (809) 978-2991.
Charlottenburgh: Great House Tour. Tel: (809) 994-9265; Fax: (809 927-6137.
Coins and Notes Museum: 8:30am-2pm, Mon-Fri.
Craighton House and Estate: Restored great house.
Devon House: Restored Great House. On the grounds are a Port Royal style Grog shop and restaurant specialising in Jamaican cuisine, a craft shop, souvenir shops and an African museum. 10am-5pm, Tues-Sat. Tel: (809) 929-6602/7029.
Fort Charles & Maritime Museum: 10am-4pm, daily.
Hope Botanical Gardens: Largest botanical gardens in the West Indies. Tel: (809) 927-1257.
Jamaica Defense Force Museum (The Military Museum): 10am-5pm, Mon-Fri. Tel: (809) 926-8121/8129/8153.
Museum of Historical Archaeology: 10am-5pm, Mon-Sat.
National Gallery of Art: 10am-5pm, daily. Tel: (809) 922-1561/63.

Port Royal Marine Laboratory of the University of the West Indies: Port Royal is a small seaside town situated at the eastern entrance to Kingston Harbor and is the site for the University of the West Indies' marine laboratory. Founded in 1955 it began as a small room in the Old Naval Dockyard, but later moved to a one acre site 'Crab Hall' beside the Navy Hospital. The Port Royal Laboratory has been important in undergraduate teaching of marine biology and marine ecology and in recent years has undertaken courses in aquaculture fisheries and coastal management. The contribution to the training of West Indians in areas such as oceanography marine biology and pollution has greatly increased the contribution and realisation of the marine environment in our island economies.

Spanish Town area: The Arawak Museum: 10am-4pm, Mon-Fri.
Fort Clarence Beach and Twin Sisters Cave: Small white sand beach with nearby steps that lead down to the 200,000 year old cave below sea level.

Mandeville/south coast area - Accompong: Tour an old Maroon Town. Tel: (809) 952-4546.
Appleton Estate Tours: Rum distillery tour. 10:30am-6pm, daily. Tel: (809) 963-9215. Apple Valley Farm Tour: Hiking, fishing and canoeing. Tel: (809) 963-9508.
Lover's Leap: Scenic view of the South Coast from a sheer 600-foot cliff that plunges to the sea. 9am-5pm, daily. Tel: (809) 965-2161.
Marshall's Pen: 18th-century Great House on a 300-acre wildlife sanctuary. Tel: (809) 963-8569,904-5454.
Mayfield Ranch: Horseback riding. 2pm-6pm daily. Tel: (809) 963-6034.
Milk River Bath: Mineral springs channelled into a guesthouse in a 19th-century building. Tel: (809) 924-9544
Treasure Beach: Collect fish stories from the fishermen in the village at one end of this beautiful south coast beach (in the Parish of St. Elizabeth). Tel: (809) 965-0010-4.
YS Falls: Situated on 2,000 acres of pasture. Has a waterfall which cascades down approximately 120 feet into the YS River. Tel: (809) 997-6055.

Negril area: Country Western Riding Stables: 8am-5pm, daily. Tel: (809) 957-3250.
Negril Lighthouse: The highest structure in Negril, it towers 100 feet above sea level. Tel: (809) 957-4875.
Rhodes Hall Plantation: Horseback riding, scuba diving tour. Sun-Fri. Tel: (809) 957-6333/4.
Anancy Fun Park: Located at Poinciana Beach Resort. Daily. Tel: (809) 957-4100.

What to wear

Lightweight tropical clothing is best suited throughout the year. On the beaches shorts and swim wear are acceptable. A light sweater is suggested for evening, especially in the winter months when semi-casual wear for evenings and a sports jacket for men is suggested.

What to eat and drink

Some of Jamaica's favourite foods, combine the same colourful, and sometimes spicy mix, illustrative of the many cultures and traditions in the island's past. National dishes include ackee and saltfish (the ackee is a bright yellow fruit sauteed with tomatoes, escallion and spices and then combined with codfish); rice and peas; jerk pork and jerk chicken; curried goat; chicken fricassee; oxtail and beans; stew peas and rice; escoveitch fish; pepperpot soup (a spicy spinach-type soup); pumpkin soup; roast yams; banana fritters; salads; fruits and exotic desserts.

What to buy

Crafts, market-wood, straw, beads, embroidery. In Bondgold, silver, china, electronic equipment, Rum, liqueur, perfumes and Blue Mountain Coffee.

Frontier formalities

Citizens of the United States of America and Canada do not require a visa to go to Jamaica as tourists, and are permitted to visit the island for a period not exceeding six months. Citizens, 16 years and older of these countries may use the following documents for entry: valid national passport (or passport which has expired for a period not exceeding-one year provided that the US immigration will re-admit such person on the expired passport), or an original birth certificate (with raised seal) or naturalisation certificate or certificate of citizenship along with a photo ID., if the traveller is under age, a birth certificate and an ID card, such as a school ID. will be accepted, (all documents must bear the same name). Residents may use an alien registration card, however some residents may require a visa. Press personnel on assignment will require a work permit. (Contact a JTB office near you). Additionally, all visitors are required to travel with a roundtrip or onward airline ticket for entry into Jamaica. UK/Commonwealth citizens need passport (no visa required). All other countries, please contact the JTB office near you for requirements. Japan: Passport required. (Visa required for stay of over 30 days.)

Health regulations

No vaccinations required unless you have visited the following countries within the past six weeks: Gambia, Ghana, Sudan, Nigeria, Zaire, Burkina Faso, Trinidad & Tobago, Belize, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Mexico, Guatemala, Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras, Haiti, South America. (Please check with the Jamaican Consulate near you).


Not allowed to enter.


Incoming-duty-free items are 1/2 pound of tobacco, one quart of spirits (including liqueurs, cordials and wine, six fluid ounces of perfumed spirits and twelve fluid ounces of toilet water. Incoming restricted items: fresh flowers, plants, honey, fruits, meats and vegetables (except canned), coffee (in any form), firearms, explosives and dangerous drugs (including marijuana). Persons who use only Kosher foods must have for all carcasses being imported: (a) meat inspection certificates from the U.S.D.A./Official Government Vet. Ministry of Agriculture & Veterinarian Division in Canada certifying ante and post mortem inspection; (b) stamp of approval on all carcasses; (c) an import licence from the Ministry of Agriculture in Jamaica. The Jamaica Tourist Board will make arrangements to obtain the license, if given two weeks notice.

U.K.: Visitors are allowed 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars, spirits or strong liqueurs one litre (no one under 17 is entitled to tobacco or drink allowance), all other goods including gifts and souvenirs £36 sterling value.

Tax-free status: Due to a tax treaty between the United States and the Jamaican Government made in December, 1981, all expenses incurred for holding a meeting or convention in Jamaica are tax deductible.


Communication: Telex, facsimile, cable, radio, television and telephone are available. There are three daily newspapers, two morning and one evening. An air mail letter to the US is JA$1.10 (subject to change without notice).