Most casual visitors to Jamaica pick a resort without paying much attention to its location on the island. That is particularly true for guests who prefer to spend most of their time at an all-inclusive resort, venturing out only occasionally to shop or to see some of the local sights. Even so, knowing a bit about the different areas of Jamaica can help you find the perfect resort for you.
Most travelers who visit Kingston do so for business reasons. But for the true Jamaican culture buff, the island's largest city offers the most museums, the best galleries, and some great historic sights. It also has more nightlife than most of the top resorts, ranging from jazz and reggae clubs to upscale supper clubs and English theater. But you don't come here for beaches.
Port Antonio is for the elite traveler who wants to escape the mass package tours of Ocho Rios or Montego Bay. Come here for some good beaches, plus great river rafting, scuba diving, and snorkeling.
To the west, Ocho Rios features some of the grandest and most traditional resorts in Jamaica, as well as some of the leading Sandals properties. But it doesn't have the best beaches, shops, or scenic attractions. Nonetheless, if you're resort-oriented, this might be your choice.
The grande dame of Jamaica is Montego Bay, which boasts four of the poshest resorts in the Caribbean. Although we prefer the beaches of Negril, those of Montego Bay are equally fine (if crowded in winter). Shopping here is superb for Jamaica; nightlife is surprisingly lackluster.
Negril's great beaches are for hedonists and families.
The South Coast is for back-road adventurers. Chances are you'll overlook the inland city of Mandeville, although it's a good day trip from Negril or the South Coast.
This is the number-one destination for all of Jamaica, appealing to the widest possible range of visitors. "Mo Bay," as it's known, has the best golf in the West Indies, and four of the grandest resorts on the island; the duty-free shopping here is great. This is about as far from rural Jamaica as you can get: The tourist dollar drives its economy. But it also boasts several attractions in its environs, including former great houses of plantations, decaying old towns such as Falmouth, and daylong adventures into remote Maroon Country.
Situated near Jamaica's relatively arid western tip, Negril enjoys a reputation as the nudist center of the West Indies, with a kind of gently provocative do-as-you-please attitude. Its Seven Mile Beach is one of the longest uninterrupted stretches of sand in the Caribbean. Other than that beach, its laidback lifestyle, and wild parties, there isn't much here. Outside the megaresorts, restaurants here tend to be locally run dives; amusing, but rarely the place for first-class cuisine.
The South Coast
The little-visited South Coast, lying east of Negril along the A2 (the road to Kingston), is undiscovered Jamaica -- although it's becoming better known all the time. Contrary to the island's lush, tropical image, this area is dry and arid. Hotels are few and far between, and they are frequently of the mom-and-pop persuasion. The chief draw here is Treasure Beach, tucked away on the secluded coast.
Located in south-central Jamaica, Mandeville is the country's highest-altitude town and is built in a style strongly influenced by the British. It is now the center of the island's noted coffee cultivation; a sense of slow-paced colonial charm remains a trademark of the town.
The North Coast
This region's primary natural attractions include its steeply sloping terrain, the setting for panoramic public gardens and dramatic waterfalls.
Set on a deep-water harbor easily able to accommodate cruise ships, Ocho Rios boasts a dense concentration of resort hotels and other vacation spots. It runs a very distant second to Montego Bay in its appeal, although its hinterlands do contain a number of Jamaica's premier attractions, including the overrun Dunn's River Falls. It also can't compete with Montego Bay in beaches or nightlife. What it does offer, however, are some of the grandest resorts in the Caribbean.
Directly west of Ocho Rios is the satellite town of Runaway Bay, which boasts a handful of resorts opening onto some good beaches and has the distinct advantage of not being as overrun with tourists as Ocho Rios.
The hub of verdant eastern Jamaica, Port Antonio still basks in nostalgia. Frequently photographed for its Victorian/Caribbean architecture, it is a refreshing change of pace from touristy Negril, Ocho Rios, and Montego Bay. Beaches such as San San are among the most alluring in the country, and this is also a base for exploring some of the major attractions in Jamaica's hinterlands, including rafting on the Rio Grande River.
Kingston & Spanish Town
Located on the southeast coast, Kingston is Jamaica's capital, largest city, and principal port. It's a cosmopolitan city with approximately 750,000 residents in its metropolitan area and serves as the country's economic, cultural, and government center. Residents proudly call it the world's reggae capital as well. The city's northern district, New Kingston, consists mostly of high-rises, modern buildings, business hotels, and upscale homes. There are, however, extensive poverty-stricken areas as well, and it's not the safest city to visit.
Nevertheless, Kingston could make for a fascinating 1-day visit; it has more cultural attractions, including the National Gallery, than anywhere else on the island.
Nearby are the remains of Port Royal, once an infamous lair of pirates and renegades. Twenty minutes west of Kingston by car is Spanish Town, a slow-paced village containing the Cathedral of St. James.
The Blue Mountains
A land of soaring peaks and deep valleys with luxuriant vegetation, the Blue Mountain range rises to the north of Kingston. Mountain roads wind and dip, and they are in bad repair, so don't try to visit on your own: It's easy to get lost. However, travel agents in Kingston can book you into tours throughout this region of coffee plantations and rum factories. Maintained by the government, the prime part of the mountain range is the 192-acre Blue Mountain-John Crow Mountain National Park.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.