Beautiful, brash Jamaica is much more than beaches and swaying palm trees. A sensual land of bright colours, soulful rhythms and unfailing creativity, the island retains a personality that’s more resonant and distinctive than you’ll find in any other Caribbean nation. We have explored Jamaica's variety and here is our take on the best things to do in Jamaica.
1. Admire the surroundings from the Firefly
Left just as it was when he died, Noël Coward’s former home offers a poignant insight into his life, and with a spectacular location above the St Mary coastline, Firefly has the ultimate “room with a view”.
Jamaica’s most northerly tip, five kilometres east of Oracabessa at the Galina Lighthouse, marks your arrival in playwright Noël Coward's country. It was while at his former beach house, Blue Harbour (now a superb if quirky guesthouse) that Coward stumbled upon the historical site that was to become Firefly, perched on the hilltop high above.
Firefly was the Jamaican home of both Coward and his partner, actor Graham Payn. Now it remains the area’s only organized attraction. In 2021, Firefly was closed to the public for renovations, however, they typically offer guided tours.
2. Enjoy the local nightlife
Specifically, Kingston is a great place to explore Jamaica's nightlife. Venues and street dances are nearly always packed, the music super-loud and dancers vying with each other for the best moves and dress
This is probably why these days it’s Kingston’s bar scene that locals are drawn to. From sophisticated hangouts with a long wine list to buzzy bars with nightly DJs. These venues are usually open-air, serve food, have no cover charge and occasionally offer theme nights or drink specials.
3. Visit Kingston
Visiting Kingston is one of the best things to do in Jamaica. Jamaica’s atmospheric capital is the cultural heart of the nation. You'll find here museums, galleries, blissful public parks and some simply brilliant bars and restaurants.
Kingston is a thrilling place pulsating with energy and spirit. This is the best place to experience Jamaica’s electric nightlife scene.
But there is plenty of natural sites here as well. A stunning backdrop to the city, the cool Blue Mountains offer plenty of marvellous hiking. While the nearby fishing village of Port Royal, once a great pirate city, provides some historic diversion.
Take a closer look at Jamaica's capital through the lens of our guide: In the footsteps of Bob Marley: a tour of Kingston, Jamaica.
Escape the busy city and admire the untouched nature and panoramic views of the Blue Mountains. Visit a coffee farm and learn about the production of an important local product on the Blue Mountain Hike and Coffee Tour from Kingston.
- Best for celebrity treatment: Terra Nova All Suite Hotel. Featuring a 10,000 square-foot gaming lounge and a choice of exciting dining options, this Kingston resort is just 600 m from the historic Devon House. The luxurious and spacious suites offer elegant décor, flat-screen TV and work desk. All come with a refrigerator and coffee maker, as well.
Where to stay in Kingston:
- Best for modern stays: AC Hotel Kingston has a restaurant, outdoor swimming pool, a fitness centre and bar in Kingston. This 4-star hotel offers a tour desk and luggage storage space. Beverly Hills is 2.1 km from the hotel and Liguanea is 2.3 km away.
4. Take a tour of the National Gallery
This Kingston institution offers the country’s premier collection of work by Jamaican artists. The pleasantly air-conditioned National Gallery – opened in 1974 – is one of the highlights of a visit to Kingston.
The permanent collection here is superb, ranging from delicate woodcarvings to flamboyant religious paintings, while the temporary exhibitions (up to four annually), including the Biennial, showcase the best of contemporary Jamaican art from the new vanguard of Jamaican painters, sculptors and mixed-media artists.
Get to know the traditions of Jamaica with our guide to fascinating Jamaican traditions and customs.
5. Have a taste of Ackee and saltfish
Sampling the national dish, a delectable and addictive combination of salt cod and the little-known ackee fruit is among the best things to do in Jamaica.
The classic – and totally addictive – Jamaican breakfast is ackee and saltfish. The soft yellow flesh of the ackee fruit is sautéed with onions, sweet and hot peppers, fresh tomatoes and flaked salted cod, producing a dish similar to scrambled eggs in looks and consistency but wildly superior in taste.
You’ll often find it served with leafy, spinach-like callaloo, boiled green bananas, fried breadfruit, and fried or boiled dumplings. Sometimes it is served with Johnny cakes (a Caribbean version of fresh baked scones).
Taste the flavours of Jamaica on this guided food tour in the Parish of St Mary. Ride in a carriage. Explore the 1,000-acre Prospect Estate, and have a cooking lesson followed by a delicious lunch.
6. Take a boat cruise
The catamarans, sail-swathed pirate boats and souped-up pirogues that cruise Jamaica’s coastline offer a wonderful perspective of the island. It is also a great way to access the nearby snorkelling.
On most days, the North coast reverberates to sound systems aboard pleasure cruises. Day trips go to Dunn’s River for climbing the falls. Meanwhile romantic or soca sunset cruises enjoy the afternoon or early evening, usually with unlimited alcoholic drinks and snacks. Or take a boat that serves as a crocodile search along the Black River.
Visit 3 of Jamaica's must-see attractions in one day. You’ll climb up to the top of Dunn's River Falls, see the home and final resting place of reggae legend Bob Marley, and take an optional evening cruise on the lagoon that glows!
7. Scuba dive in the Blue Lagoon
Jamaica abounds with turquoise swimming holes, but their king is undoubtedly Portland’s Blue Lagoon. You'll find here deliciously cool spring water layers over salty seawater from the blue depths below. If you are looking for a diving spot - visiting the Blue Lagoon should be on your list of things to do in Jamaica.
This beautiful lagoon is enclosed by high cliffs and forests, which give a deep green tint to the noticeably turquoise depths. The whole effect is very picture-postcard. The lagoon is a result of several underwater streams running down from the mountains. Swimming here is serene, with a layer of chilly fresh water covering the waves of the warm sea below.
Scuba/water sports operator Lady G’Diver offers dive packages and courses in specialist freediving at the lagoon.
8. Hiking in the Blue Mountains - one of the most exciting things to do in Jamaica
Cool, misty and fragrant with coffee and wild ginger flowers, the Blue Mountains are perfect hiking territory. The ultimate challenge is the highest point in Jamaica, Blue Mountain Peak.
Most places to stay in the mountains are a good starting point for information and guided tours. Some offer ascents or ridge walks directly from their properties. Cycling is also an attractive option. Shifting weather conditions and ecological protection projects mean that of thirty recognized hiking trails in the national park, only twenty or so are open at any given time. Weather updates and trail accessibility information is available at the main ranger station.
9. Relax at the Seven Mile Beach
From the north coast’s strips of fine white sand to the wind-whipped breakers and black volcanic sand in the south, Jamaica’s shoreline is immensely varied. However, the Caribbean sea is always warm and inviting.
Right at the island’s western tip, Negril is in pole position for the best sunset-watching in Jamaica. Seven Mile Beach is a near-perfect Caribbean seashore with inviting white sand with swaying palms and sea grapes. Bathing here is Negril’s trademark feature. The water is translucent and still, and the busy reefs are ornately encrusted.
This iconic beach is typically packed with tourists, locals and holidaying Kingstonians. It’s great for lively socializing – as the banter runs as freely as the rum cocktails.
Combine trails and waves in this one-of-a-kind adventure, the Horseback Ride ‘N’ Swim! After riding horses through Jamaica’s back-country trails, enjoy a horseback swim in the Caribbean Sea.
- Best for views: Ocean Cliff Hotel. Situated in Negril, 2.6 km from Seven Mile Beach, Ocean Cliff Hotel Negril Limited features accommodation with a restaurant, free private parking, an outdoor swimming pool and a bar. With free WiFi, this 5-star hotel has a garden and a terrace.
Where to stay in Negril:
- Best for location: Travellers Beach Resort. Set on Negril's 7-Mile Beach, Travellers Beach Resort features a gym and an outdoor swimming pool. It offers rooms with free WiFi and balconies
10. Watching the sunset from Rick's Café in Negril - one of the essential things to do in Jamaica
The sunset view from the West End is the best you’ll see. Being Jamaica’s extreme westerly point, .most evenings the sky blazes with absurdly rich oranges, pinks and blues that intensify as the sun dips behind the horizon. Eventually, the show merges into the deepest of blues, with the moon reflected way out to sea.
Sunset-watching is an institution. Most bars and restaurants offer sunset happy hours and thirty minutes before dusk the West End tends to get hectic. Coach parties descend in droves upon Negril’s biggest cliché, Rick’s Café. This is the venue of sunset cliff-diving demonstrations (local boys dive and pose for tips); while the drinks flow at the bar and bands churn out Marley classics.
Experience the amazing colors of a sunset on Jamaica’s west coast on this Negril 6-Hour Sunset Tour. Travel from your Montego Bay resort to Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville and enjoy the music and a drink and then head to Rick's Café to watch the cliff divers and see the sun go down.
11. Visit Port Royal
This former pirate haunt bristles with character and is also the jumping-off point for the clear waters of nearby Lime Cay. For several decades in the late seventeenth century, Port Royal was known as a riotous town – the notorious haunt of cut-throats and buccaneers. It was condemned by the church as “the wickedest city in the world”.
Fortunately, little of that none-too-salubrious past remains, and today it is very much a pleasant and hospitable little town. Home to the base of the Jamaica Defence Force Coastguard and a small fishing and tourism industry. Most people who visit come for the seafood at famous Gloria’s. While others use the area as a launch pad for day trips to nearby Lime Cay, a small sandy spot that offers lovely swimming and snorkelling opportunities.
Discover the historic site of Port Royal on a guided day trip from Port Antonio. Explore the sleepy fishing town which was once the busiest city in the Caribbean and learn tales of fascinating events.
12. Go river rafting on the Rio Grande or Martha Brae
A glide through the cool waters of one of Jamaica’s rivers is among the best things to do in Jamaica to see the countryside. Once a means of transporting bananas, rafting down the majestic Rio Grande is now Portland’s most popular attraction. It’s a delightfully lazy way to spend half a day, although the sun can get fierce.
From the put-in point at Berridale, the thirty foot bamboo rafts meander down the river for two hours through outstanding scenery. The boats are poled downstream by a captain. Stops are periodically made for swimming, waterfall hunting or to buy snacks.
Cruise down the Martha Brae River on a bamboo raft with your very own private raftsman. Learn about the tropical vegetation and the abundance of plant life as you take in the spectacular scenery.
12. Enjoy the laid-back atmosphere of the Treasure Beach
With its laid-back atmosphere, Treasure Beach offers a restorative antidote to the north coast resorts. South of the main A2 road between Black River and Mandeville, snoozy Treasure Beach is the bright spark of south-coast tourism.
Tourism is very much a community concern here. Many of the accommodation and eating places are owned by local families. As there are no fenced-off all inclusives to create a barrier between the locals and the visitors, everyone mixes easily together. One of the safest areas in Jamaica, this tight-knit, proud community has both a solid tourist infrastructure and a strong sense of its own traditional values.
It’s a tiny spot, with no neon beach-bars or jet-skis or sun loungers on the beaches. It attracts a mix of hip, bohemian jet-setters and young backpackers who simply want to unwind and absorb Jamaica’s gentler, more pastoral side.
If you are going on a backpacking trip to Jamaica first check out our list of tips for backpacking Central America.
13. Take a cruise from the Pelican Bar
Perched on stilts 1km from the shore, this ramshackle bar is a unique place to catch the sunset. A main Treasure Beach activity, Pelican Bar provides a thrill to the first-timer who heads off this fishing village coastline to the ramshackle, wooden bar on stilts in the middle of the sea. Order snapper with rice and beans, then take a swim until food (and the sunset) arrives.
There’s a souvenir shack attached to the main bar, but there’s no obligation to shop. For the 45min boat journey from Treasure Beach, check Basil’s. Ask at your accommodation or seek out a boat captain at Frenchman’s Bay; they can pick you up anywhere along the coastline, up to Great Bay.
Climb aboard a Catamaran Cruise and sail along the beautiful waters of Jamaica’s South Coast. Swim in the clear ocean, and sunbathe with appetizers and drinks. Relax at Floyde's Pelican bar before carving your name in the wood and sailing back.
14. Take a dip in the healing waters at the Doctor's Cave Beach
The magnificent Doctor’s Cave Beach is Montego Bay’s is a premium portion of gleaming white sand. It is located amid the parade of bars, cafés and tax-free in-bond shops at the northern end of Gloucester Avenue. The beach was put on the map in the late nineteenth century when Doctor Alexander McCatty founded the Sanatorium Caribbee, a private bathing club that’s still in existence.
The rapidly deepening, crystal clear waters are the best in town and facilities are excellent, though it does get very crowded at weekends. Beach umbrellas, sun loungers or snorkelling equipment are available (at high cost), and there are beautiful corals offshore.
Take a dip in the healing waters off Doctor's Cave Beach. Sunbathe on the white sand beach of the world-renowned Doctor’s Cave Beach Club while your cruise ship is docked in Jamaica. Head to the Groovy Grouper Beach Bar and Grill for drinks and food!
- Best for B&B: Polkerris Bed & Breakfast features an extensive garden, a lounge area with Caribbean Sea views, a sun terrace with swimming pool and free breakfast. It is close to Doctor's Cave Beach.
Where to stay in Montego Bay:
- Best for luxury stays: S Hotel Jamaica. Set in Montego Bay, S Hotel Jamaica - Boutique All Inclusive is a 4-star hotel that has a 24-hour front desk, swimming pools, sky pools, bars, room service and free WiFi. The restaurants serves Caribbean dishes.
15. Climb to see waterfalls
Visiting Jamaica’s waterfalls is among the most delightful things to do in Jamaica. Clamber up Dunn’s River, swing over the water at YS or enjoy a natural jacuzzi at Reach. Jamaica’s best-loved waterfall is Dunn’s River Falls. They are overdeveloped but still breathtaking, and remain the island’s major tourist hot-spot.
Masked from the road by restaurants, craft shops and car parks, the wide and magnificent 600ft waterfall cascades over rocks down to a pretty tree-fringed white sand beach. There’s a lively reef within swimming distance, and snorkel gear is available to rent from several touts.
YS (pronounced “why-ess”), an area dominated by the YS farm, is the home of the magnificent YS Falls. The YS Falls, a series of ten greater and lesser waterfalls, are great fun. A jitney pulls you through the estate and along the banks of the YS River to a grassy area at the base of the falls, where there are changing rooms and toilets.
Climb the amazing 600-foot limestone rock formation of the Dunn's River Falls as water cascades past you and splashes into the ocean below.
16. Take a tour of the Rose Hall Great House
Rose Hall, the site of the infamous Rose Hall Great House, is the inspiration for Jamaica’s best-loved piece of folklore. Built between 1770 and 1780, the dazzling white stone structure — surrounded by gardens and a bird-filled pond — is difficult to miss.
The 45-minute tours (by flashlight after 6 pm) make much of the embellished legend of Annie Palmer, the “White Witch of Rose Hall”. Starting in the gift shop, you gasp at blurred photos sent in by previous visitors that supposedly show the face of an unknown woman in the mirror or a bat in a chandelier.
Gawp at Annie’s bedroom, symbolically redecorated in shades of red, and the terrace from which she allegedly pushed a maid to her death. As the house was unoccupied and widely looted during the nineteenth century, almost all of its current contents have been transported from other great houses or from overseas.
See the highlights of Jamaica's second city on a tour of Montego Bay. Visit the 18th-century home of Annie Palmer and enjoy a candlelit tour of the haunted house of the "White Witch of Rose Hall."
17. Hike the Mystic Mountain in Ocho Rios
Serene Mystic Mountain boasts a kilometre-long chairlift over the forest canopy all the way up to the hilltop. Here you’ll find a visitor centre with a restaurant, a pool with water slide.
Take a two-person “bobsled” zipping through the trees. Or try the nearby series of canopy ziplines — one of the island’s best. A visit to the “Raggamuffin” inverted roller coaster is an essential for thrill-seekers.
18. Dive in the Blue Hole in Ocho Rios
Cool Blue Hole is a deep and beautiful swimming hole below the waterfalls of the White River. The attraction is a classic case of Jamaican DIY-tourism — on arrival you’re approached by a group of blue-shirted, enthusiastic locals who run the tours.
You’re then taken some fifteen minutes upriver to a number of beautiful diving spots and lovely deep blue pools. If you're brave, take the opportunity to into the large cave hidden behind the largest waterfall.
Create your own island adventure, a natural water park at the Blue Hole and Dunn's River Falls. Swim in rain forest natural pools, shower beneath waterfalls, and test your bravery with cliff jumping.
19. Visit Port Antonio
Bond fans will recognise Port Antonio as being the place where Dr. No (1962) and Not Time To Die (2021) were both filmed. Back in the day, Port Antonio was known for being a fabulous place where Hollywood's biggest stars took retreat.
Nowadays, glittering stars once more frequent the area’s hotels and several own villas tucked away in the hills. That said, sandwiched between the mountains and the sea, this somewhat sleepy place has a charm all its own.
The town is easily navigable, with two main streets, and you can walk the handful of sights in a couple of hours. West Palm Avenue runs into West Street (from the western entrance of Port Antonio to the central clock tower), while Harbour Street cuts through the middle.
- Best for comfort: Fantastic views at Friends. Offering free WiFi and a garden, Fantastic views at Friends is located in the jungle, 3 km from Port Antonio and 41 km from Kingston. Free private parking is available on site. All units feature a seating area. Some units include a terrace and/or balcony with sea views.
Where to stay in Port Antonio:
- Best for budget: Germaican Hostel is set in the tropical forest just 3 km outside Port Antonio. This hostel offers private rooms and beds in shared dorms, all with free WiFi and amazing jungle views.
If you are inspired by our Jamaican guide and looking for more exotic places to travel - read our guide to the 11 of the most exotic places to travel in the world.
Ready for a trip to Jamaica? Check out the snapshot The Rough Guide to Jamaica. If you travel further in Jamaica, read more about the best time to go Jamaica. For inspiration use the itineraries from The Rough Guide to Jamaica. A bit more hands on, learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay once you are there.
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