Jamaica’s climate means hot sun year-round, but the weather is at its most appealing during the peak tourist season (mid-Dec to mid-April), when rainfall is lowest and the heat is tempered by cooling trade winds known as the “Doctor Breeze”, worth considering when deciding the best time to visit. Nights can get chilly during this period, and you’ll probably want to bring a sweater. Things get noticeably hotter during the summer and, particularly in September and October, the humidity can become oppressive. September is also the most threatening month of the annual hurricane season, which runs officially from June 1 to October 31.
Prices and crowds are at their highest during peak season, when the main attractions and beaches get pretty busy. Outside this period everywhere is quieter and, though the main resorts throb with life pretty much year-round and the summer school holidays see an upsurge in visitor arrivals, less popular tourist areas like Port Antonio and Treasure Beach can feel a little lifeless.
The good news is that hotel prices everywhere fall by up to 25 percent, there are more bargains to be had in every field of activity and a number of festivals – including the massive annual Reggae Sumfest – inject some summertime zip.
From regional food festivals to massive music concerts, Jamaica plays host to a huge variety of annual events, with as many geared towards tourists as they are to locals. We’ve detailed the main and most interesting events here, but for comprehensive listings, visit the website of the JTB (visitjamaica.com) for details of each year’s programme.
Throughout the year, the Jamaican Cultural Development Commission stages various events centred around traditional Jamaican song, dance and the arts, with the Festival Song Competition Finals at the Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre in Kingston being one of the highlights; see jcdc.gov.jm for full details.
Accompong Maroon Festival Accompong, St Elizabeth. All-day celebration of the 1739 Maroon peace treaty, held on January 6. Food and craft stalls, drumming, traditional dancing, speeches and a sound-system dance till dawn.
Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival Greenfield Stadium, Trelawny facebook.com/jamaicajazzandblues. This increasingly popular event has a fabulous setting and a big enough purse to attract some excellent international performers, from John Legend to Al Green.
Rebel Salute Grizzly’s Plantation Cove, Priory, St Ann facebook.com/rebelsalutejamaica. Large-scale annual concert with a festival atmosphere, featuring a huge line-up of cultural artists and attracting a large rootsy crowd. Meat and alcohol are banned from the grounds (but ganja certainly isn’t).
A Fi Wi Sinting Port Antonio fiwisinting.com. Daytime event highlighting Jamaica’s African heritage, with dub poetry, drumming, fashion and traditional food and craft stalls.
Bob Marley Birthday Week Nine Mile, St Ann; Bob Marley Museum, Kingston; Trench Town Cultural Yard, Kingston bobmarley-foundation.com, trenchtownculturalyard.com, bobmarleymuseum.com. Celebrations for the king of reggae are held on and around the anniversary of Marley’s birthday on February 6, from seminars to live shows and sound-system jams.
Jamaica Carnival Kingston, Ocho Rios and Montego Bay bacchanaljamaica.com. Featuring dynamic performances from top artists across the Caribbean, these high energy parties see scantily clad patrons “get on bad” at parties in Mass Camp (Kingston) and across the island, of which the best is Beach Jouvert in Oracabessa. Carnival culminates in a costumed parade through the streets of Kingston in April.
Blue Mountain Music Festival St Andrew bluemountainmusicfestival.com. A two-day music festival at Holywell National Park that includes opportunities to hike, practises yoga and listen to Maroon drumming. Past performers include Third World and Chronixx. Family friendly, camping available.
Jamaica Fat Tyre Festival Ocho Rios smorba.com. One-of-a-kind mountain-biking festival with unique organized rides that take participants through parts of St Mary, St Ann, up and over the Blue Mountains, and finishing in Bull Bay.
Spring Break Negril. Although not as popular as it used to be, Negril still pulls a decent Spring Break crowd when students descend on the main resorts (particularly Negril) for a two-week orgy of beer-drinking and slapstick antics. Student ID gets discounts on hotels and events.
Trelawny Yam Festival Albert Town, Trelawny stea.net. This tiny town, with a stunning setting on the outskirts of Cockpit Country, plays host to an incongruously large open-air party. As well as the prize tubers, competition categories include cooking and best-dressed goat.
Western Consciousness Savannah-la-Mar. Excellent rootsy stage show featuring the best of Jamaica’s cultural artists.
Jakes Off Road Triathlon St Elizabeth jakeshotel.com. Jamaica’s only off-road triathlon provides a unique trip through the local community by way of its three-leg course that takes participants for a swim across a beautiful sea bay, on a bike down bumpy farm lanes and finishes with a run through a quiet country town.
Calabash International Literary Festival Treasure Beach, St Elizabeth calabashfestival.org. Fabulous free literary festival in the laid-back surrounds off Treasure Beach, with book and poetry readings, seminars, discussions and some excellent parties too. Takes place on even years.
Ocho Rios Jazz Festival Ocho Rios ochocriosjazz.com. Jamaica’s original jazz festival, attracting top performers from all over the world. Concerts take place in hotels and open spaces in Ocho Rios, with a few events in Montego Bay and Kingston.
All Jamaica Grill Off Kingston facebook.com/alljamaicagrilloff. A great family and food lovers’ BBQ and grilling event that sees teams compete for the title of King/Queen of the grill.
Caribbean Fashion Week Kingston caribbeanfashionweek.com. A week-long event that draws international attention to local and regional designers who come to present their collections.
Kingston on the Edge Kingston kingstonontheedge.org. This brilliant urban arts festival sees a series of events, from gallery shows to poetry readings, dance performances and concerts, staged across the capital and showcasing the work of the country’s most interesting young artists and performers.
Little Ochi Seafood Carnival Alligator Pond, Manchester. Great seafood and music festival at this renowned beachside seafood joint.
Portland Jerk Festival Boston Bay, Portland facebook.com/originsofjerk. Celebration of Jamaica’s most famous dish, with jerk everything and all the trimmings cooked up by Portland’s finest on the beautiful Folly Estate amid music, kids’ attractions and games.
Makka Pro Surf Contest St Thomas jamsurfas.webs.com/whatsnew.htm. Two days of competitive surfing by local, regional and professional surfers preceded by a week of activities such as heritage tours and a culinary festival.
Reggae Sumfest Catherine Hall Entertainment Centre, Montego Bay reggaesumfest.com. Dubbed the greatest reggae show on earth, this massive four-night festival is the main event in the musical calendar, with sets from all the big players in the local music scene as well as international artists from Beyonce to Ne-Yo..
NDTC Season of Dance Kingston ndtcjamaica.com. Two weeks of performances by the highly acclaimed National Dance Theatre Company, Jamaica’s premier dance troupe.
International Dancehall Queen Contest Pier One, Montego Bay internationaldancehallqueen.com. Excellent annual event in which Jamaica’s most accomplished movers (as well as contestants from overseas) don sequins, fishnet and plenty of bling to vie for the coveted title of Dancehall Queen. Expect a brilliant display of all the latest dances and dancehall fashions, as well as some seriously sexy gyrating.
Dream Weekend Negril jamaicadreamweekend.com. The “Jamaican Spring Break”, held over Independence weekend, which sees thousands of well-heeled young Jamaicans descend on Negril for five days/four nights of non-stop all-inclusive parties and stageshows.
Denbigh Agricultural, Industrial and Food Show Denbigh Showground, May Pen jas.org.jm. This annual three-day event, which is over 60 years old, aims to showcase the best of the farming sector through creative displays of farm produce and livestock by farmers from across the country.
Peter Tosh Birthday Celebration Savannah-la-Mar, Westmoreland. Annual roots and culture tribute concert in memory of the reggae great, held on or around the anniversary of his October 19 birthday.
Restaurant Week go-jamaica.com/rw. A great chance to delve into the dining scene, with some of the best restaurants in Kingston, Ocho Rios and Montego Bay offering three-course set menus at significantly discounted prices.
(Biennial) National Exhibition National Gallery, Kingston nationalgalleryofjamaica.wordpress.com. Biennial showpiece exhibition of new artists and established names.
LTM National Pantomime Little Theatre, Kingston ltmpantomime.com. Annual theatrical institution, with ribald jokes, great costumes, political commentary and traditional Jamaican song and dance.
Reggae Marathon Negril reggaemarathon.com. Join thousands of people who come to participate in this uniquely Jamaican marathon, half marathon and 10k. Everyone receives a medal and the winners get the Bob and Rita Marley trophy.