Most of Jamaica’s tourist business is concentrated in the “big three” resorts of Montego Bay, Negril and Ocho Rios. A busy commercial city, Montego Bay has a string of hotels, bars and restaurants along its beach-lined tourist strip, and manicured golf courses and high-end all-inclusives hogging the coast to the east. West of here, its low-rise hotels slung along eleven kilometres of fantastic white sand and three kilometres of dramatic cliffs, Negril is younger, more laid-back and with a long-standing reputation for hedonism and buzzing nightlife. East of MoBay, and the least individualistic of the big three, Ocho Rios embodies high-impact tourism – purpose-built in the 1960s to provide the ultimate package of sun, sand and sea. The beaches aren’t wonderful, but the tourist infrastructure is undeniably strong and you’re right by several excellent attractions, including the famous Dunn’s River waterfall.
Away from these resorts, you’ll have to look a bit harder to find your entertainment – Jamaica’s quieter east and south coasts offer a less packaged product. In the island’s east, lush, rain-fed, sleepy Port Antonio and a number of villages to its east provide gateways to some of the county’s greatest natural attractions, like the cascading waterfalls at Reach and Somerset and outdoor activities such as swimming at the Blue Lagoon and rafting on the majestic Rio Grande. The south coast offers different pleasures, such as gentle beach action at the terminally easy-going Treasure Beach – the perfect base for exploring local delights like the YS waterfalls or boat safaris in search of crocodiles on the Black River. Set in the upper reaches of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the south’s inland towns, such as Mandeville and Christiana, offer respite from the heat of the coast and an interesting insight into Jamaica away from the resorts.
Kingston is the true heart of Jamaica. A thrilling place pulsating with energy and spirit, it’s not just the nation’s political capital but the focus of its art, theatre and music scenes, with top-class hotels, restaurants and shopping, and legendary fried fish on offer at the fabulous Hellshire beach. This is the best place to experience Jamaica’s electric nightlife scene; its venues and street dances are nearly always packed with patrons, the music super-loud and dancers vying with each other for the best moves and dress. A stunning backdrop to the city, the cool Blue Mountains are a captivating antidote, with plenty of marvellous hiking, while the nearby fishing village of Port Royal, once a great pirate city, provides some historic diversion.