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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
We may earn commission from some of the external websites linked in this article, but this does not influence our editorial standards - we only recommend services that we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.