As you’ll quickly discover, sport is a Jamaican obsession – hardly surprising in a country that continues to produce so many world-class athletes – and you’ll find newspapers and TV news awash with sports reports. Jamaica is also a great place to indulge your own sporting passion, with excellent watersports and top-class golfing in particular.
Virtually every Jamaican has an opinion on cricket, the national game, and bringing it up in conversation is a sure-fire way to break the ice – though if you want to win friends, gloating over the recent failings of the West Indies cricket team may not be a brilliant idea. If you get the chance to catch a match, particularly a Test fixture or 20/20 game at Sabina Park, you’ll find the atmosphere very Jamaican – thumping reggae between overs, vendors hawking jerk chicken and Red Stripe, and a full-scale party at the Mound stand. As well as Sabina and the new Greenfield Stadium in Trelawny, built for the Cricket World Cup in 2007, there are smaller venues throughout the island: Melbourne Oval in Kingston; Chedwin Park near Spanish Town; Alpart Sports Club in Nain, St Elizabeth; Jarrett Park in Montego Bay; and Kaiser sports ground in Discovery Bay, St Ann. For more on West Indies cricket, visit windiescricket.com.
Since Jamaica’s national team, the Reggae Boyz (thereggaeboyz.com), qualified for the 1998 World Cup, football (soccer) has become another national obsession, more popular amongst young people than cricket. Although international matches, held at the National Stadium in Kingston, are relatively rare, league games (the main one being the Wray and Nephew Premier League) attract large and passionate crowds at grounds across the island. These are well worth attending, as much for the atmosphere as for the action on the pitch – visit premierleaguejamaica.com for details of fixtures.
Scuba diving and snorkelling are concentrated on the north coast, between Negril and Ocho Rios, where visibility is best. The state of the reefs is variable – pollution and aggressive fishing techniques have affected many areas, but there are still some gorgeous sites very close to the shore. The fish are nonetheless impressive, with multitudes of parrot, angel and trigger fish, as well as moray eels, turtles and the evil-looking barracuda. There are a handful of wreck dives – including several plane wrecks off the coast of Negril – and good trenches, overhangs and wall dives.
The main resorts are packed with operators offering dive trips and snorkelling excursions; the most reputable are listed throughout the Guide. For beginners, the most popular options are the one-day introductory resort courses (US$95–120), which offer basic instruction and a short supervised shallow dive close to shore. The longer PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) open-water certification course costs around US$420 and takes a few days, with practical and theoretical tests, safety training and several dives. Once you’re certified, you can dive without an instructor, though you’ll still need to go with a licensed operator – expect to pay US$90 for a two-tank dive, and remember to take your certification with you.
Parasailing, jet-skiing, water-skiing, kayaking, glass-bottom boat rides and sailing are available at all of the major resorts. You can surf at Boston Bay and Long Bay in Portland and Bull Bay just east of Kingston, though board rentals are scarce. Deep-sea fishing is best around Portland, particularly during October’s Blue Marlin tournament. Fully equipped boats are available for rent in all the major resorts; though, at a starting price of US$900 a day, the pursuit of big fish doesn’t come cheap.
Away from the coast, river rafting was first popularized in the 1950s by movie idol Errol Flynn, who saw that the bamboo rafts used to transport bananas along Portland’s Rio Grande could be used for pleasure punting. The Rio Grande remains the most spectacular spot for an idle glide, but operators have also set up in Ocho Rios, Falmouth and Montego Bay. Costs start at around US$75 for a two-person raft, more if you need transport to and from your hotel.
River swimming is idyllic in Jamaica, particularly in the Rio Grande in Portland, the Great River in Montego Bay and the White River in Ocho Rios. Dunn’s River in Ocho Rios offers the island’s ultimate waterfall climb, but there are plenty more cascades, many untouristed. For more relaxing options, mineral springs and natural spas are Jamaica’s hidden gems – locals flock to Bath in St Thomas, Rockfort in Kingston and Milk River in Clarendon for the restorative powers of the mineral water. River rising pools, such as Roaring River in Westmoreland, Cranbrook in St Ann or the Blue Lagoon in Portland, are also a delight.
Jamaica boasts no fewer than twelve golf courses, from the magnificent championship Tryall course near Montego Bay and the world-class course at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Rose Hall, just east of Montego Bay, to less testing nine-hole links in Mandeville, Kingston and Port Antonio. All are open to the public, except during tournaments. Green fees vary wildly from course to course, and there are additional charges for caddies, club and cart rental. For more on golf, visit visitjamaica.com or jamaicagolf.com
Though the heat doesn’t encourage strenuous exercise, hiking is by far the best way to get a flavour of the Jamaican countryside. The best opportunities are in the dense wildernesses of the Blue and John Crow mountains, where the ultimate trek is to the top of Jamaica’s highest point, Blue Mountain Peak, and in Cockpit Country, where trails originally blazed by Maroon warriors lead deep into the Jamaican interior, though there are enjoyable minor walks elsewhere.
It is strongly recommended that you use a guide for all but the shortest of hikes, as it’s perilously easy to get lost. Always stick to paths and trails; veering off into uncharted foliage not only encourages disorientation, but can destroy plants and lead to soil erosion. Never throw rubbish when hiking; even cigarette butts should be pocketed – a carelessly discarded cigarette can easily start a massive bush fire.
A labyrinth of caves networks Jamaica’s limestone interior, and many have been opened up as attractions with lights and stairs, so you don’t have to be an experienced spelunker to enjoy them. Best of the bunch are Nonsuch Cave in Portland, Roaring River in Westmoreland and Dromilly Cave in Trelawny. Serious cavers should head for Cockpit Country, where the limestone is at its thickest and many of the caves are unexplored; Windsor is the only easily accessible cavern. Contact Sun Venture Tours or Cockpit Country Adventure Tours for caving trips. For more information on caving in Jamaica.
Horseback trail riding is a lovely way of exploring the island, though some stables and their mounts are rather run-down; stick to those listed in the chapters or check with the JTB. The best stables are Hooves in St Ann, Chukka Cove in St Ann and Chukka Caribbean, the Good Hope stables in Trelawny and the Half Moon Equestrian Centre in Montego Bay; the latter also offers polo, dressage and show-jumping lessons. If you’re interested in watching a polo match, contact the Jamaica Polo Association (926 2916); fixtures are held throughout the year.
Cycling is surprisingly underpromoted in Jamaica. An alternative to demure processions aboard colour-coordinated resort cycles is a guided mountain-bike tour, available in the Blue Mountains; more serious mountain bikers should contact the St Mary Off-Road Biking Association (smorba.com).
If you’re after some well-regimented thrills, Chukka Caribbean (chukka.com) have the island’s soft adventure market completely sewn up, with bases in or around the three main resorts offering everything from zip-lining “canopy tours” to river kayaking and tubing, ATV rides and dogsled tours, with sleds pulled by rehabilitated pot-hounds.
Finally, many hotels offer tennis courts, and for those who can’t survive without their workout, plenty of resorts also provide gyms and aerobics classes.