The tour outlined above is the pathway for mainstream tourism to the island, embracing the resorts that most visitors want to see. Except for Negril, which attracts thousands of visitors, the itinerary discussed here is more of a journey into unknown Jamaica, embracing the inland city of Mandeville and going to rarely visited Spanish Town and even Kingston itself, which the average visitor to Jamaica never sees.
Again, except for Negril, the South Coast doesn't offer the luxury of such resorts as Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. But you'll get a truer picture of what Jamaica is really like off the beaten path.
Day 1: Arrival in Montego Bay
You may have already seen this resort if you completed the 1-week tour outlined above. If you've seen the highlights of Montego Bay, you can spend Day 1 of the 2-week tour by doing something different. Montego Bay is famous for its beaches. You can spend your day getting some R&R, which is what much of Jamaica is about. Or you can set out to do something more active, such as the Hilton High Day Tour of the historic plantation area or going on an evening cruise aboard the Calico, a gaff-rigged wooden ketch. Overnight in Montego Bay and try to get an early start for the tour west of Montego Bay the following morning.
Days 2 & 3: Southwest to Negril
Make the popular and rather hedonistic resort of Negril your base for the next 2 days as you take in the sights of the far western section of Jamaica.
The drive west from Montego Bay takes you along the coast-hugging A1 to the community of Reading after a distance of 8km (5 miles). Its days as a major shipping port for sugar in colonial times are just a memory now. As you continue, you'll pass such exclusive and pricey resorts as Tryall and Round Hill, where the likes of Meryl Streep, Paul McCartney, and Demi Moore prefer to spend their holidays.
The first sizable town you'll come to is Hopewell, lying 8km (5 miles) west of Reading. This community is called the "dormitory" for the hotel workers of Montego Bay who journey east every morning to make their living at the resorts. There's little of interest here unless you arrive on a Saturday morning, when vendors from the hills descend on the local marketplace to hawk their wares, often fresh fruits and vegetables.
Immediately to the west of Hopewell, you arrive along the A1 at Sandy Bay, a hamlet founded as a free village for emancipated slaves, with a still-standing Baptist Church from 1848.
To the immediate west of Sandy Bay, Miskito Cove is a long, narrow inlet that is a favorite place for yachties to anchor, their luxuriant lifestyle in sharp contrast to the poverty of the region. Jerk shanties and beer joints pepper the area, which is rimmed with mangroves. The rock pillar offshore is said to resemble Queen Victoria in profile.
In this area, if time remains, you can visit the working farm of Mayfield Falls & Mineral Springs.
After a visit, it's on to the largest town you will encounter en route to Negril. Lucea, pronounced "Lucy," 40km (25 miles) west of Montego Bay, was a bustling port town during the plantation era. Its crescent-shaped natural harbor, former stamping ground of Henry Morgan, is a shadow of itself today. Although the capital of the province of Hanover, Lucea today is a decaying Georgian town, its houses rotting in the sun. Its major attraction, the Cleveland Stanhope Market, is best seen on a Saturday. Pause at the large clock tower and restored town hall on Alexander Bustamante Square, officially dedicated by Queen Elizabeth in 1966.
After leaving Lucea, continue west for 6.5km (4 miles) to Lance's Bay, with its small, tempting sandy beaches. Our favorite for a dip is Guil Bay Beach. This peaceful cove is bordered by white sands.
As you head down the coast to Green Island, you will be immediately north of Negril and the famous swampland, the Great Morass. You may want to take your luncheon stopover at Hurricane Park, with many shady spots and a little nameless tavern that offers freshly cooked seafood. If you'd like to go for a dip, do so at Half Moon Beach, before pressing on to Negril where you can check into a hotel for 2 nights.
On Day 3, spend the morning enjoying Seven Mile Beach and perhaps have lunch in the area. In the afternoon, set out to explore the recreation area, the 122-hectare (300-acre) sight, Royal Palm Reserve, which has been carved out of the massive local wetlands, the Great Morass, north of the center of Negril.
Here you can glimpse some of the best wildlife in Jamaica, perhaps even seeing the Jamaican woodpecker. Wooden boardwalks allow you to walk 2km (1 1/4 miles) into the wetlands for a closer encounter with the wildlife.
For a final excursion for the afternoon, you can visit the Sir Alexander Bustamante Museum at Blenheim, lying 6km (3 3/4 miles) inland from Green Island. It was the home of Bustamante, a national hero who is a sort of George Washington to Jamaicans. Return to Negril for the night.
Day 4: The South Coast
On the morning of Day 4, leave Negril heading east along the A2. At this point, the main highway cuts inland away from the sea.
After leaving the resort, you'll pass through the low-lying Negril Hills, a bucolic Jamaica far removed from the bustling beach scene you've left behind. Most of the Rastas and other denizens who live in the ramshackle shacks here eke out a living by fishing. Bob Marley used to come here for R&R, and a sign points the way to Bob Marley's Spring, where the reggae king used to go skinny-dipping.
The first sizable town along the A2 is Little London, a study in dreariness. Pass it by, following the signs to the major port city of Savanna-la-Mar, which means "plain by the sea," although natives call it simply "Sav." It is the largest town in western Jamaica and the capital of the province of Westmoreland. Instead of an intriguing old Jamaican city of the 18th and 19th centuries, you get hideously painted (if at all) concrete structures. The reason for this is that a hurricane comes along several times a century and flattens the town. If you wish to visit, you need not spend more than an hour or so. Know that you are seeing a real Jamaican town at work, with locals going about their business, many of them heading to market. As a foreigner, you may be hustled for money. Caution is advised.
Return to the coast and pick up the A2 as it continues east, this time hugging the coastline.
Just before you reach the town of Ferris Cross, you'll see Paradise Park, a 405-hectare (1,000-acre) working cattle ranch that was used as a setting for some of the scenes in the hit film of yesterday, Papillon. Lying only 1.5km (1 mile) west of Ferris Cross, the park offers a chance for swimming in the Sweet River, hikes across lush terrain, and horseback riding. The grounds are open daily from 9am to 6pm.
Continuing east along the A2, you reach the twin towns of Belmont and Bluefields, with their fishing beaches. The approach to these towns is 19km (12 miles) southeast of Savanna-la-Mar.
Continue southeast to the sea-bordering community of Whitehouse, 8km (5 miles) along the coast from Bluefields, still following the A2. Here you can pause to visit reggae star Peter Tosh's Mausoleum. Whitehouse is also the setting for the best hotel along the South Coast, Sandals Whitehouse European Village & Spa. But this resort is for longer stays. As a motorist touring Jamaica, you'll look for inns or little hotels where you can check in one evening and check out the next morning.
Down the coast visitors arrive at Black River, where you will find two simple guesthouses. Instead of checking in here, we suggest you press on for the night to Treasure Beach .
Black River is the base from which to explore not only Black River, the second longest in Jamaica, but also the Great Morass. The Great Morass north of Black River evokes the Florida Everglades.
After your sightseeing, leave the A2 and continue southeast to Treasure Beach for the night. The small little town has the most diversified accommodations along the entire South Coast, our favorite nest being Jake's.
Day 5: North to Mandeville
Because of bad cross-country roads in Jamaica, Day 5 involves some backtracking, but it can be one of the most rewarding trips on this tour. If you arrived late in the afternoon, you can spend part of the morning exploring the sights around Treasure Beach itself. You can also follow the signs 11km (6 3/4 miles) southeast to Lover's Leap. One of the great panoramas along the South Coast unfolds here.
Return in the direction of Treasure Beach and backtrack to Black River. Here you can reconnect with the A2, which leaves the coast and moves inland, heading east to our final stopover for the day, Mandeville.
Two sights that you probably missed during your first stopover in Black River can be taken in during a morning visit. YS Falls is among the most spectacular in the West Indies, lying 6km (3 3/4 miles) north of the A2 and signposted after you leave the village of Middle Quarters. After that hamlet, continue 13km (8 miles) north to reach the site.
Middle Quarters also marks the beginning of Bamboo Avenue, the Caribbean's most beautiful drive, lying between Middle Quarters and Lacovia. This 4km (2 1/2-mile) highway is flanked by beautiful bamboo trees.
The A2 leads you east right into Mandeville, Jamaica's fifth-largest town. Hotels and restaurants are limited but adequate for an overnight stopover. You can take a walking tour of the town in the afternoon and sample a real Jamaican local town — not a resort — as night falls.
Day 6: Spanish Town & Port Royal
Leave Mandeville in the morning and get on the A2 once again. It dips southeast before heading east to the large town of May Pen, the capital of Clarendon Parish, just 58km (36 miles) west of Kingston. On the banks of the Minho River, May Pen lies midway between Mandeville and Spanish Town, which is the major destination for this day. On Friday and Saturday, a market is held south of the main square. Otherwise there is little of interest here.
We suggest bypassing May Pen, heading cross-country until you reach Spanish Town. You can spend 3 hours wandering this town and taking in its attractions, including the Jamaica People's Museum of Craft & Technology. Also check out the English cathedral with the Spanish name, San Jago de la Vega, dating from 1666.
Perhaps after a late lunch in Spanish Town, head for your final destination of the day, Port Royal, the once-notorious city signposted on an unnamed secondary road beginning southeast in Spanish Town.
Port Royal is a shade of its former self, but once was called "the wickedest city on earth." You can walk around it and explore Fort Charles in an hour or two. We suggest you anchor in here for the night at Morgan's Harbour Hotel & Marina, where you can also dine, your table opening onto a panoramic sweep of Kingston Bay and the Blue Mountains.
Day 7: Kingston, Capital of Jamaica
Your final look at Jamaica, its capital of Kingston, is not the most appealing, though it has its merits. It is noisy and congested and possibly dangerous, yet filled with some intriguing sights. If you don't want the hassle of checking into another hotel for the night, you can stay at Morgan's Harbour for a second night, just venturing into Kingston for sightseeing for the day, returning to Port Royal at night.
Sights in Kingston that can easily fill up a day of sightseeing include the National Gallery, Devon House, the Hope Botanical Gardens & Zoo, and even the Bob Marley Museum. Try also to time it so that you can wander an hour or so through the Kingston Crafts Market.
Kingston is the major transportation hub of Jamaica, and flights are possible for other destinations in the Caribbean or for your return home.
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.