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Because of the island's size and diversity, Jamaica offers the widest array of accommodations in the Caribbean. All-inclusive resorts are a well-liked choice. Other options include renting a self-catering villa or apartment, where you can save money by making your own meals in your own kitchen. Also noteworthy are Jamaica's simple but decent guesthouses, where low costs combine with maximum exposure to local life. Unfortunately, these sometimes lie far from beaches and offer few diversions or activities.

What the Meal Plans Mean

  • AP (American Plan): This plan includes three meals a day (sometimes called "full board" or "full pension").
  • CP (Continental Plan): A continental breakfast (that is, bread, jam, and coffee) is included in the room rate.
  • EP (European Plan): This rate is always cheapest, as it offers only the room -- no meals.
  • MAP (Modified American Plan): Sometimes called "half-board" or "half-pension," this rate includes breakfast plus dinner or lunch.

All-Inclusive Resorts

One increasingly popular option is the all-inclusive resort. Well-publicized, solidly financed, and boasting a wealth of facilities, these tend to be large resorts where all your drinking, dining, and sporting diversions are offered within the hotel compound as part of one all-inclusive price. Although they tend to limit your exposure to local life, they are convenient.

When booking a vacation at an all-inclusive resort for a 7-night stay, most properties quote a weekly rate for two persons, which we list as double. However, look at the fine print. In some cases, as indicated in our listings, it might read "per person" based on double occupancy. Agree in advance on what the terms are before booking a room. You don't want any unpleasant surprises when it comes time to settle the tab at the end of a week.

Of course, this problem doesn't arise in most cases, because the price of the vacation is paid up front before arriving in Jamaica. In those cases, you have to open your wallet only at the end of the stay to settle any extras you've encountered.

The All-Inclusive: Safe Haven or Not for You? -- Of all the resorts of Jamaica, the all-inclusive has virtually taken over Ocho Rios, although Montego Bay and Negril have their fair share. The concept was pioneered by Jamaica's Butch Stewart with his Sandals properties (tel. 888/726-3257 in the U.S. and Canada; www.sandals.com) and has since swept the Caribbean, including such islands as St. Lucia.

All-inclusives are not for the independent traveler. At the all-inclusive, you get all your meals and most activities paid for as part of a package. Some dine-around plans help you break the monotony of eating at the same resort every night. With their 24-hour security force, these all-inclusives give you more protection than the smaller, independent inns without such expensive patrolling.

If you're an adventure traveler, you may not want such womblike security. You may prefer to stay at a small inn or little hotel where you're free to roam throughout the day, returning to your bed after a night of rum and reggae on the town.

Like a mother hen, the all-inclusive will pamper you during your entire stay, even pick you up at the airport and haul you back there for your return flight. At the little independent inn or small hotel, you're more or less on your own. The choice is yours.

If you don't want to stick to the all-inclusives, one of the best travel agencies specializing in hotel deals is Changes in L'Attitudes (tel. 800/330-8272; www.changes.com).

Small Hotels

Another option is the small hotel. Jamaica offers many of these, a few of which are the finest in the Caribbean. There, on any given day, you'll be given an option of dining either within the hotel or at any of the independent restaurants that flourish nearby.

Guesthouses

An entirely different type of accommodation is the guesthouse, where most Jamaicans themselves stay when they travel. Prices average anywhere from US$60 to US$125 for a double per night, although this can vary widely.

The term "guesthouse" can mean anything, however. Some resemble simple motels built around swimming pools; others are made up of small individual cottages with kitchenettes, constructed around a main building containing a bar and restaurant serving local food. Some are surprisingly comfortable, often with private baths and a swimming pool. (You may or may not have air-conditioning; rooms are often cooled by ceiling fans or breezes through open windows -- a security concern.)

Guesthouses can't be topped for value, however. Though bereft of frills, the guesthouses we've recommended are clean and safe for families or single travelers.

Condos, Cottages & Villas

If you're going as a family or group of friends, a housekeeping holiday can be one of the least-expensive ways to vacation in Jamaica. Self-catering accommodations are now available in many locations.

The more upscale villas have a staff, or at least a maid who comes in a few days a week, and they also provide the essentials for home life, including bed linens and cooking paraphernalia. Condos usually come with a reception desk and are often comparable to life in a suite in a big resort hotel. Nearly all condo complexes provide swimming pools (some have more than one pool).

Some private apartments in Jamaica are rented, either with or without maid service. This is more of a no-frills option than are the villas and condos. The apartments may not be in buildings with swimming pools, and they may not maintain a front desk to help you. Jamaican cottages often contain no more than a simple bedroom, small kitchen, and bath. During the winter, you'll need to reserve at least 5 or 6 months in advance.

Villas of Distinction, P.O. Box 55, Armonk, NY 10504 (tel. 800/289-0900; www.villasofdistinction.com), offers private villas with one to six bedrooms and a pool. Domestic help is often included. Descriptions, rates, and photos of the villas are available online.

At Home Abroad, 163 Third Ave., Box 319, New York, NY 10003 (tel. 212/421-9165; fax 212/228-4860; www.athomeabroadinc.com), has a roster of private upscale homes for rent in Jamaica, most with maid service.

Hideaways Aficionado, 767 Islington St., Portsmouth, NH 03801 (tel. 800/843-4433 in the U.S., or 603/430-4433; www.hideaways.com), publishes Hideaways Guide, a pictorial directory of home rentals worldwide, including Jamaica. It includes full descriptions so you know what you're renting. For most rentals, you'll deal directly with the owners. Other services include yacht charters, cruises, airline ticketing, car rentals, and hotel reservations. Annual membership is US$185; membership information, listings, and photos are available online.

One of the best sources for villa rentals on this lush island is through Linda Smith of Jamaica Villas (tel. 301/229-4300; www.jamaicavillas.com). With her quarter of a century experience on the island, she inspects and evaluates every property, and even sleeps in them to see if anything is wrong. In winter, villa rentals begin at $3,750 weekly, lowered to $1,900 off-season. Of course, some extremely luxurious properties can rent for $70,000 a week for those who've hit it big.

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.